A month ago, I heard from a friend and she was in a panic! Her third grader arrived home with his culminating project for the quarter, and it was a big one. He needed to choose a historical figure, read a biography about that person, AND write an ORAL presentation that he would present at the school’s living history museum IN COSTUME!! And to top it off, he needed to know enough about his person to be able to answer questions in the first person, when all third grade friends and families visit the museum!! She didn’t know how to begin to help him, and he refused to read nonfiction.
This made me think back to the Living History Museums I have visited over the years. What amazed me, and made me so proud of the kids, was not their elaborate costumes, but their enthusiasm and knowledge about their person. The kids might have been very quiet and unsure of themselves normally, but I saw again and again the transformation when they began to tell me about “their lives.” The kids’ eyes would shine and they were so proud. Of course, what helped these kids to reach this accomplishment was research. And I knew I could help with that!
I promised to compile a list of biographies which are interesting and easy to read, but include lots of information. They would even grab her attention! BUT I told my friend, the costume is up to you!
A KID’S BIOGRAPHY FOR OCEAN LOVERS
Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Eric Puybaret is a lovely biography of Jacques Cousteau written with language that is both poetic and lyrical. It describes Cousteau from the time he was a very young boy who loved the feel of water, who wondered why things float, and who dreamed of creating a machine that would allow him to explore the sea and breathe underwater. He also loved movies and with his own movie camera, filmed everything around him. From the day he borrowed his friend’s goggles, which allowed him to actually see what was below the sea, he knew his life was changed forever. The acrylic paintings are delicate and graceful and lend a dreamy feeling to the story. This is a wonderful book to introduce a biography unit or to introduce a remarkable man to your kids.
SOME KID’S BIOGRAPHIES THAT INSPIRE PEACE
by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
Can you imagine being the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi? Can you imagine ever living up to such a great man? This is a biography of Gadhi, told by his grandson, Arun. When Arun was six years old, his father took him to visit his grandfather. Arun struggled. He didn’t know the language and worst of all, he had to share his grandfather with hundreds of followers. In fact, he rarely had a chance to speak to his grandfather privately. Things all came to a head for Arun, when he found himself about to strike a fellow soccer player with a rock, after he had been pushed and cut his lip. Arun was so shocked by his own behavior, that he rushed to see his grandfather. Arun confessed what he had almost done and his feelings that he would never be at peace. His grandfather interrupted his work to tell Arun a story about peace, about using his anger to illuminate and turn the darkness into light. He advised Arun to “use our anger for good, rather than letting our anger use us.” This picture book biography will clearly and simply introduce children to the peaceful teachings of a great man we need to remember today.
peaceful heroes by Jonah winter
At this time in our world, when we long for peace, this biography introduces us to fourteen people who risked their lives to achieve peace. They have worked to protect people from being killed or exploited and they accomplished this without ever using a weapon. The short, easy to understand biographies, only three pages in length, tell the stories of heroes from many parts of the world and many times in history. I learned about the amazing life stories of many people I was not familiar with. Perhaps this is a book your family could read together. It’s a great lead in to a discussion of the everyday peaceful heroes in your family’s lives.
KIDs’ BIOGRAPHIES FOR ASPIRING COOKS
I have greatly admired Julia Child for many years. I received The Joy of Cooking for a wedding gift, and unfortunately, because I was just learning to cook, I was a little intimidated. Through the years, however, I began to love her recipes and was a big fan of her TV shows on PBS. After reading her autobiography, My Life in France, I admired her even more, and most importantly I learned to NEVER apologize for your cooking mistakes! That is so reassuring to those of us who love to cook and experiment in the kitchen, and occasionally have that flat cake or burned sauce! Julia had a really remarkable life, even before she learned to cook in Paris. She was an extremely strong woman, who believed she could do anything! These two biographies are very different, but both are easy to read and are full of information. For kids who prefer graphic novels, Bon Appetit!, by Jessie Hartland, is a good choice. If kids prefer a chapter book, Who Was Julia Child? by Geoff Edgers and Charlene Hempel, is the one for them! Both are full of facts and would be inspirational to the reader. And maybe you’ll end up having a cook in the family! How fun is that?
A KID’S BIOGRAPHY FOR POETRY LOVERS
enormous Smallness tells us that Edward Estlin Cummings (E.E. Cummings) grew up in a house filled with lots of family, lots of pets and lots of love from his parents. The story describes the support and encouragement that he received from both his family and his teachers, which helped him to have the courage to follow his dream of writing poetry.
We learn that Estlin loved nature, but most importantly he loved letters and words from a very early age. He was so curious about the world and so full of ideas about what he saw, that his mother would write down the poems that he dictated even before he could write. As he grew older, he not only wrote about what he saw and experienced, but he also drew pictures of what he witnessed out his window or in the woods of his farm.
This book describes Estlin’s experiences from childhood through his years as a poet in New York City. It includes many of E.E. Cummings poems seamlessly woven into the story, as well as a timeline of his life. The personal details in the story, as well as the whimsical collage illustrations which include letters floating across the pages, will catch children’s attention. It may even inspire them to play with words and letters and to begin to write their own poetry!
a kid’s biography for girls who want to make a difference
Ruth Bader Ginsberg learned very early in life that she could disagree, but not be disagreeable. She has made a big difference in the world by doing just that, both as an attorney who argued cases in front of The Supreme Court and as a Justice on The Supreme Court. Through the years she has fought for women’s rights and equality for all. Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, Ruth encountered prejudice very early in her life. She soon learned that because her family was Jewish, there were many places they were not welcome. Not only that, she learned that no one, including her own father, thought she should do any more in her life than be a wife and mother. However, Ruth’s mother wanted more for her daughter, so she frequently took Ruth to the library. There she read about strong, independent women who take charge. She soon had the idea that she could do anything! She went on to be a role model for women when she went to college in the 1950s, graduated at the top of her law school class at Columbia, got married and had a family. In 1993 she became a Justice on the United States Supreme Court, where she continues to fight for equality for all and to make a difference in our country.
Well, to finish the story from the beginning of my post… I recently visited my friend’s son’s Living History Museum. As I expected, it was amazing and the good news, was that both my friend and her son survived the whole experience. In fact, she pulled me aside and whispered, “It was so much fun! Sam and I really enjoyed the whole process and now he wants to read more biographies!! Will wonders never cease?!”
Who does your child want to learn more about? Let me know, and I’ll help you to find some books that might be the perfect fit!
And here’s another post about biographies – Biographies Kids will Like and Read