Biographies That Inspire Readers

By Kirkland, Lynn; Manning, Maryann | Childhood Education, January-February 2013 | Go to article overview

Biographies That Inspire Readers


Kirkland, Lynn, Manning, Maryann, Childhood Education


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. …

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