Face to Face: Kids Warm Up to Biographies

By Kim Campbell, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 1998 | Go to article overview

Face to Face: Kids Warm Up to Biographies


Kim Campbell, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The recent boom in children's biographies is enough to make you want to be a kid again.

Figures whose achievements are boldly etched in history - like George Washington and Amelia Earhart - still occupy honored spots on the bookshelf. But increasingly they share that space with more contemporary figures, including author Maurice Sendak, environmental advocate Rachel Carson,and social activist Clara Hale.

"When I was a child, it was Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Ben Franklin," says children's author Barbara O'Connor. "Now, publishers, as well as teachers and librarians, are looking for biographies of people who've done really noteworthy things but are not necessarily famous." No numbers are kept on children's biographies, but there has been "significant" growth in the past five to eight years, says John Selfridge, vice president and publisher of Grolier Children's Publishing in Danbury, Conn. In Mrs. O'Connor's opinion, it's important for young students to dip into biographies. Fourth grade is a good time, she says, because "it helps them realize that nonfiction can be fun and interesting." The author of four biographies, O'Connor notes that such books help students see "that these people are everyday human beings with foibles like the rest of us who have either overcome something or really worked hard and accomplished something." Fourth grade is also about the time kids start looking for role models beyond friends, teachers, and family, notes Amy Gelman, editorial director of Carolrhoda Books in Minneapolis, publisher of O'Connor's biographies. With the biography boom have come more books on the lives of women and minorities. And in the last few years, biographies for beginning readers have multiplied as well. Librarians are fueling much of the demand, asking for more accurate, engaging material on a wider array of subjects, and for more ages. That women's lives are getting a fair shake is evident in a fourth-grade class at Foster Elementary School in Hingham, Mass. Here, banners hang from the ceiling - reminders of the achievements read about during Women's History Month in March. …

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