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Biographies that inspire readers.

Years ago, biographies were often considered to be boring. Much has changed, however, and most nonfiction biographies today are written in an interesting and historically accurate manner. They can be picture books, partial life stories, simplified biographies, and complete biographies. We have included examples of all types in this column.

When choosing a biography, we want to consider the literary quality, accuracy of the text and illustrations, and references to primary sources. It is especially important that the subject of the biography be presented as an interesting and real human being with feelings, so there can be an emotional connection with the reader.

Both of us love reading biographies and that interest began when we were in elementary school. Around age 9, Maryann developed an interest in Jane Addams that grew into an addiction for details about the woman's life. The Norfolk Public Library in rural Nebraska had a long shelf of biographies for children. After reading one on Jane Addams, she actually lied to the librarian about needing to read books from the forbidden adult section. She would like to think that reading about Addams helped form some of her lifetime values.

In the 3rd grade, Lynn read a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Lorena Hickok, which inspired her because there were few biographies about strong women at that time. The biography was actually part of a Signature series of biographies published by Gosset & Dunlap, and that initial selection on Eleanor Roosevelt sparked Lynn's continuing interest in biographies.

The biographies reviewed here share fascinating information about a former president, the founder of the Girl Scouts, a dancer, and other artists. We hope at least one of the books reminds you of a biography you read when you were a student.

Figley, Marly Rhodes

EMILY AND CARLO. Il. by Catherine Stock. ISBN978-1-58089-274-2. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2012. 32pp. $15.95. This beautifully illustrated picture book introduces readers to another side of the beloved American poet, Emily Dickinson. Most people think of Emily Dickinson as a sad woman, but this story explores her relationship with a large Newfoundland dog. Her friendship with the dog, Carlo, influenced her writing and Carlo served as her constant companion in a lonely world. Emily and Carlo explored the world around them, and readers will see the direct influence this had on Emily's writing. Excerpts from Emily's letters and poems provide a glimpse into Emily's life and imagination. Catherine Stock's illustrations bring life to Emily's otherwise lonely world. Companion books for themes are A Voice of Her Own: Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet and Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott. Ages 5-8. (Katherine Allsopp Thomas)

Burleigh, Robert

GEORGE BELLOWS: Painter With a Punch! ISBN 1-41970-166-5. New York, N14: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012. 48pp. $18.99. This knockout biography describes the life and work of the turn-of-the-century artist George Bellows. Author Robert Burleigh artfully integrates Bellows' artwork and photographs from his youth to his early death at 42, helping this text come alive for a young reader. Burleigh explores the artist's connections with ordinary people as he reveals Bellows' life using the present tense. Bellows was captivated by what he saw in the daily life of turn-of-the-century New York City--bustling street scenes, children playing, tenements, women hanging laundry, boxers in the back rooms of saloons, and riverboat workers. Readers will also find an informative section with a list of the museums that house Bellows' source notes, an index, and a bibliography. Ages 8 and up. (Kristy Brugar)

Ransome, Lesa Cline

WORDS SET ME FREE. II. by James Ransome. ISBN978-1-4169-5903-8. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012. 32pp. $16.99. "We started with the letter A and continued from there." The story of Frederick Douglass and how reading saved him from slavery is an inspiring story. After being taught how to read by his new master's wife, Frederick knew that he "would secure his freedom one letter at a time." He learned to read and write by "scratching letters along the streets and fences of Baltimore." He taught his fellow slaves how to read and write until he secured his own freedom via the Underground Railroad. Reading about his passage to freedom and how he escaped from his master provides readers' opportunities to explore the courage and bravery of slaves who wanted to be free. Picture Book, Ages 5 and up. (Maria Perpetua Socorro U. Liwanag)

Vaughan, Marcia

IRENA'S JARS OF SECRETS. Il. by Ron Mazellan. ISBN 978-1-60060-439-3. New York, NY: Lee and Low Books, 2011. 40pp. $16.99. A Polish Catholic girl named Irena saved thousands of Jews in Warsaw, Poland, during the Nazis' reign of terror in World War II. Irena smuggled children out of the ghetto before their families were sent to a death camp. She kept a list of the children's names and the families who kept them safe in a jar under a friend's garden. She was eventually caught by the Nazis and tortured, but she never revealed her secret list. She was later saved by the Zegota, a secret organization helping Jews, and lived to reveal her secret list that helped reunite the children with their relatives. The last page includes more information about Irena Sendler and her true story of heroism. Ages 6 and up. (Maria Perpetua Socorro U. Liwanag)

Wise, Bill

SILENT STAR: 1he Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy. IL by Adam Gustavson. ISBN978-1-60060-411-9. New York, NY: Lee &Low Books, 2012. 40pp. $18.95. William Ellsworth Hoy was a great American baseball player. Born in Houcktown, Ohio, he lost his hearing at 3 years old after a bout of meningitis. Although he could not hear, he dreamed of playing major league baseball. This picture book biography of his life by Bill Wise will inspire readers. William eventually earned his living as a shoemaker in his own shop, but he never gave up on his dream to play baseball. In 1885, he was recruited while playing baseball at the back of his shoe shop and went on to make history. He was fondly called "Dummy," a name he carried with pride, for at the time it simply meant not being able to speak and was not a derogatory term. The author adds a note at the end of the book about how baseball historians recognize his impressive record as an outfielder and credit him for the use of hand signals by umpires. Ages 7 and up. (Maria Perpetua Socorro U. Liwanag)

Kalman, Maira

LOOKING AT LINCOLN. ISBN 978-0-399-24039-3. New York, NY. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012. 32pp. $12.95. A young girl implores readers to look, "just look," at the amazing life of Abraham Lincoln. Written in first person, this simple narrative for intermediate readers describes the 16th president's beliefs and accomplishments. Deep, rich colors, bold lines, and sharp contrasts add to the mood of the text throughout (e.g., black and gray illustrations reflecting the people's "grief for their fallen leader" directly precede pages replete with vivid cherry blossom pink where readers are assured that "Lincoln will live forever."). Through its conversational style and use of honest, youthful questions framed in a series of "I wonder" and "Maybe he was thinking" phrases, young readers not only learn about Lincoln, but also have an opportunity to connect with "this great man" across time. Ages 8 and up. (Cheryl A. Kreutter)

Wadsworth, Ginger

FIRST GIRL SCOUT: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low. ISBN 978- 0547243948. New York, NY:: Clarion Books, 2012. 224pp. $1Z99. Juliette Gordon Low (Daisy), born on October 31, 1860, grew up experiencing life in a way most girls during her time period never would. She spent a great deal of time outdoors--swimming, camping, skating, and hiking. Daisy was also highly educated, learning poetry, French, and art. Inspired to share this lifestyle with other girls, she started the Girl Guides (later named the Girl Scouts) in 1912. Daisy notes in the book that her ability to "hike, swim, and trap fireflies in jars" made her want other girls to have similar experiences. Ages 9-12. (Michelle Costello)

Borden, Louise

HIS NAME WAS RAOUL WALLENBERG: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II. ISBN978-0-618-50755-9. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012. 144pp. $18.95. The saga and mystery of Raoul Wallenberg is engrossing on any level. Borden starts at the beginning of Wallenberg's life, chronicles his studies at the University of Michigan, and creates a connection to the person who was Raoul. She then seamlessly situates Wallenberg in his role of hero to the large number of Hungarian Jews he protected from the Nazis with his schutzpass, or faux documentation, and relates the complex events of World War II that led to this appalling episode. At first, the free verse writing seems unusual, but soon adds interest to an otherwise potentially flat narrative style. Borden doesn't speculate on the mystery of Wallenberg's fate, which is still unknown. Authentic photos, maps, drawings, and documents heighten the appeal, and the author's note substantiates primary research. Ages 11 and up. (Brenda Dales)

Harvey, Jeanne Walker

MY HANDS SING THE BLUES. Romare Bearden's Childhood Journey. II. by Elizabeth Zunon. ISBN 978-0-7614-5810-4. Tarrytown, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2011. 40pp. $17.99. While numerous children's books have been written by and about this famous artist, My Hands Sing the Blues makes a mark in its ability to weave together the many aspects of Romare Bearden's rich life. The jazz-inspired lyrical text and artistic use of painted scenes with collage seamlessly tells and shows his childhood journey; both are obviously influenced by Bearden's artistic work, his love of jazz and trains, and his passions for social and political issues. As the child (Bearden) in the text creates his own collage, he is reminded of the people and experiences in his life who have guided him in his journey. This book is sure to inspire not only children but also adults to "take it slow and steady," in order to better understand our past and the empty canvas ahead. Ages 6 and up. (Cora Causey)

Nunnelley, Carol

JANIE SHORES: Trailblazing Supreme Court Justice. ISBN 978-1-59421-081-5. Birmingham, AL: Seacoast Publishing, 2012. 112pp. $4.99. This book documents the hard road for women entering the legal profession. Janie Shores overcame the barriers to become the first woman Alabama Supreme Court Justice. This book describes the poverty of her first 10 years on the family farm during the Depression, her father's service in World War II, her mother's hard work, her own determination to become educated, her many jobs to fund her education, and her successes in school. She worked years as a law secretary before she finally went to college and then law school. Despite graduating number two in her law school class, she faced rejection in 1959 by law firms. After years of discouragement and work helping other politicians, she ran for the Supreme Court. After losing her first election, she tried again and won the honor of serving on the Alabama Supreme Court. She served 25 years as a respected justice and opened many doors for other people. Ages 8-12. (Maryann Manning)

Kelley, True

WHO WAS ROALD DAHL? Il. by Stephen Marchesi. ISBN 978-0-448-46146-5. New York, NY: Grosset and Dunlap, 2012. 102 pp. $4.99. Who Was Roald Dahl? is a fabulous biography about the renowned children's book author who wrote James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many more favorites. This book teaches about Roald's childhood, his wartime experiences, his family, and his writing. The illustrations by Stephen Marchesi help make this book a quick, but fun read. Readers will learn about cool events from Roald's life, including killing a black mamba snake with a hockey stick and flying a Royal Air Force airplane solo with less than eight hours of flight training! This is part of the "Who Was..." series from Grosset and Dunlap publishers. Ages 7-11. (Emily Hagood, student reviewer)

Maltbie, P.I.

BAMBINO AND MR. TWAIN. II. by Daniel Miyares. ISBN 978-1-58089-272-8. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2012. 30pp. $15.95. Everyone loves Mark Twain, an author known for his southern charm and humor. What would people think if they met Samuel Clemens? Suffering from the loss of his beloved wife, Olivia, Sam shuts himself away with his daughter's cat, Bambino. While the sidewalk outside his home continually fills with visitors and reporters hoping to catch a glimpse of the renowned author, Samuel Clemens finds comfort in his grief with his spunky feline companion. When the blue-eyed cat runs away, Sam is forced physically and emotionally outside. After posting announcements for Bambino's return, Sam is inundated with visitors; many offer their own pets to help Mark Twain feel better. Fans of author Mark Twain might expect this biography to be filled with funny anecdotes; instead, they will find a beautifully crafted work about grief, depression, and recovery. A picture book for all ages includes messages about the power of love and new beginnings. Companion books for themes: Remember Beauty and Songs for a Blue Time by Jani Johe Webster & Nila J. Webster; books by Mark Twain. Ages 6 and up. (Allison Newton)

Bernier-Grand, Carmen 77.

ALICIA ALONSO: Prima Ballerina. II. by Rail Col6n. ISBN978-0-7614-5562-2. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2011. 64pp. $19.99. Born in Cuba in 1921, Alicia Alonso never stopped dancing. Through over 60 years of performances, Alonso faced many crises, including leaving family and homeland, losing her sight at a young age, and returning home during a time of great political strife. Did Alonso have the support of her fellow Cubans? How does she reflect on her life as ballerina? Her story, told in a series of poignant, yet graceful poems, captures the elegance, vivaciousness, and resolve of this Cuban ballerina. With illustrations as flowing and beautiful as the poetry itself, this biography is for ballet lovers as well as any student of Cuban history--young or old. The book includes a detailed chronology, glossary, and notes, and will leave readers well-informed and awe-inspired. Companion books on the theme of Cuban history and culture include The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez; Dance, Nana, Dance/Baila, Nana, Baila." Cuban Folktales in English and Spanish by Joe Hayes; Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Michael Austin; Road to Santiago by D. H. Figueredo; and The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle. Ages 10 and up. (Grace Mooney)

Kamkwamba, William with Mealer, Brian

THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND. II. by Elizabeth Zunon. ISBN 978-0-8037-3511-8. New York, NY" Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012. 32 pp. $10.99. During a severe drought in the African nation of Malawi, William's family watched their crops turn to dust. No longer able to afford school fees, 14-year-old William turned to the public library to feed his passion for understanding how mechanical things worked. He was particularly fascinated with windmills as a potential source of power to light the village and draw water from the ground. Could he build "electric wind?" Despite the villagers' teasing, William gathered materials from the local junkyard and fashioned them into a windmill that "leaned and wobbled like a clumsy giraffe." Yet, it worked. The wind generated enough electricity to power a small bulb that "surged as bright as the sun." Beautifully illustrated through collage, this picture book version of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller by the same title shows how knowledge and hard work meld together to spark creative solutions. Ages 6 and up. (Cheryl A. Kreutter)

Fern, Tracey

BARNUM'S BONES: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World. Il. by Boris Kulikov. ISBN978-0-37430-516-1. New York, N}5: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. 36pp. $17.99, This is a great story told with humor and wonderfully illustrated. Barnum Brown, a paleontologist with the American Museum of Natural History, is known for collecting more dinosaur bones than any other scientist--but is particularly remembered for finding the first Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. This story chronicles Barnum's life, beginning as a small boy collecting coral and shell fossils in Kansas to his adult career digging all over the world for fossil skeletons. It ends with his amazing discovery and seven-year reconstruction of a complete skull and upper body of a 45-foot-long T-Rex. He went on to collect fossils from all over the world and built up the largest collection of dinosaur and other extinct creature fossils to be found anywhere in the world. Ages 7 and above. (Bob Wortman)

Malaspina, Ann

HEART ON FIRE: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President. Il. by Steve James. ISBN978-0-80753-188-4. Chicago, IL: Albert Whitman and Company, 2012. 36 pp. $16.99. This amazing book details the specific circumstances involving Susan B. Anthony's attempt to register and vote in the 1872 presidential election. Congress had just passed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which she used as justification when she was arrested and taken to court. The simple yet powerful text relates the bravery of a woman daring to fight the dominant culture and judicial system of the day. The illustrations seem to place a special emphasis on the character's faces to display the underlying emotions of all parties at the time. The vignette of Anthony's life exemplifies and fleshes out a critical time for America's women in their battle for equality. Ages 7 and above. (Bob Wortman)

Coury, Tina Nichols HANGING ON JEFFERSON'S NOSE: Growing Up on Mount Rushmore. Il. by Sally Wern Comport. ISBN978-0-80373-731-0. New York, N)5." Penguin, 2012. 38pp. $16.99. This is a marvelously illustrated picture book that follows the "life" of Mount Rushmore from inception and the many tribulations that challenged the project through to its completion in 1941. The story is actually told through the experiences of the original sculptor's son Lincoln Borglum, who took over the 14-year project upon the death of his father. It highlights the main events that shaped the decisions about which presidents to capture in stone and the many pitfalls that befell the project over the years, including frozen jackhammers, lightning storms, and cracked granite that made it necessary to restart work on the Jefferson face in a different place. Throughout it all, Borglum persevered and completed work on one of America's most iconic symbols. Ages 7 and up. (Bob Wortman)

Schubert, Leda MONSIEUR MARCEAU: Actor Without Words. Il. by Gerard Dubois. ISBN978-1-59643-529-2. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press, 2012. 40pp. $1Z99. This is a wonderfully illustrated, simple tale about the famous mime, Marcel Marceau. The story begins with Marceau's fascination with Charlie Chaplin in silent films and continues through his heartbreaking childhood in Nazi-occupied Europe. It shares his bravery in working with the French Underground and helping many Jewish orphans escape to Switzerland. It concludes with a description of his work as a mime and several of his famous quotes. I was enthralled and engaged throughout the book. The illustrations and text are both focused and simple without being simplistic. It brings Marceau's life and work alive for the reader and provides a glimpse into this very brave and complex individual's life. All ages. (Bob Wortman)


JOAN OF ARC. II. by author. ISBN 978-0-76145-953-8. Tarrytown, Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2011.56pp. $19.99. Growing up, I read everything I could about Joan of Arc, so it pleases me to share this extraordinary picture book written and illustrated by Demi. This text opens with a quote by Joan of Arc that clearly symbolizes the life and work of this patron saint of France: "One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying." Joan of Arc, on a mission from God, leads the French army to victory, and helps the dauphin to be crowned King. Joan of Arc's life is one of courage, sacrifice, and total submission. In addition to being beautifully written, Demi's illustrations reflect the 15th century stained glass found throughout the magnificent French cathedrals. Throughout the book, Joan of Arc is depicted with an array of gold as an indicator of her unique favor with God. The illustrations and the courageous story will delight readers of all ages. Joan of Arc by Diane Stanley would complement this text beautifully. Both books support text-to-text connections among students. Ages 8-12. (Jennifer Summerlin)


Kristy Brugar, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan

Cora Causey, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Michelle Costello, State University of New York at Geneseo

Brenda Dales, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

Emily Hagood, Brock's Gap Intermediate School, Hoover, Alabama

Cheryl A. Kreutter, State University of New York at Geneseo

Maria Perpetua Socorro U. Liwanag, State University of New York at Geneseo

Maryann Manning, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Grace F. Mooney, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Allison Newton, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Jennifer Summerlin, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Katherine Allsopp Thomas, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Robert Wortman, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Lynn Kirkland and Maryann Manning, Editors
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Title Annotation:Books for Children
Author:Kirkland, Lynn; Manning, Maryann
Publication:Childhood Education
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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