Archive for Biography

Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure

Written by Sally Isaacs
Illustrated by Iva Sasheva

When you go for a walk, do you usually have to worry about polar bears? Not as long as you’re not walking alone to the north pole. But that’s exactly what Helen Thayer did in 1988. Helen was a mountain climber and adventurer who was always looking for a new challenge. When she reached the drop off point – a small village in northern Canada – a hunter insisted she take one of his dogs, Charlie, with her. It was a good decision, as the dog provided some protection against a bear and added warmth during a blizzard. Winds blew away many of her supplies, but Helen and Charlie reached their destination and were able to radio for pick up.

Detailed and accurate illustrations help to make the story come to life and become accessible to students. Reading the story aloud with a class would stimulate discussion on the perils faced in an arctic environment. Reading activities could include imagining what supplies need to be taken on such an expedition and how much they would weigh.

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  • Helen ThayerTitle: Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure
  • Author: Sally Isaacs
  • Illustrator: Iva Sasheva
  • Published: Capstone Press, March, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-1-62370-607-4
  • Extras: Map, Note from Helen Thayer, More About Helen Thayer, More About Charlie, Glossary, Read More, Internet Sites, Discussion Questions, Index

Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World

Written by Elizabeth Rusch
Illustrated by Oliver Dominguez

In this biography, re-published as part of the “Candlewick Biographies,” fourth graders learn about one of the dynamic personalities of the turn of the twentieth century. They also learn a little physics.

From the age of three, Nikola Tesla noticed things about electricity that no one else did. As a teen, he dreamed of harnessing the power of Niagara Falls. In college, he was unable to convince his professor that alternating current was a viable alternative to direct current. He had the same problem when seeking funding for projects, so he took many odd jobs before immigrating to the US. Thomas Edison refused to see his vision and even tried to sabotage his efforts. But he managed to convince Westinghouse of the practicability of AC and ended up lighting up the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. After that, he partnered with Westinghouse to build turbines at Niagara Falls and power Buffalo, NY.

A brief explanation of the difference between direct and alternating current and a more complete explanation of the workings of AC should help spark a student’s interest in this field. The wonderful illustrations help make that happen. Of course, a discussion of the dangers of electricity is also included.

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  • Electrical WizardTitle: Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World
  • Author: Elizabeth Rusch
  • Illustrator: Oliver Dominguez
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 56 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Biography, History, Science
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7978-1
  • Extras: Scientific Notes, Timeline, Source Notes, Bibliography, Index, and more

Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar

Written by Sally Derby
Illustrated by Sean Qualls

In this engaging biography, Sally Derby gets right to the heart of Paul Laurence Dunbar and his poetry. She chose to write directly to the reader and did an amazing job of drawing in that reader. The illustrations match the feel of the story perfectly.

Living only thirty-three short years, Dunbar made a huge impression on the world. As a poet, he was unusual. He was well-educated and knew how to write in “proper” English, but he chose to do much of his work in dialect. He demonstrated how real Negroes (as they were then called) spoke. Of course, his mother and his wife both preferred him to write in standard English. This was when they were most proud of him.

Dunbar’s parents and a half-brother were all born into slavery, and he felt the effects of not only that but also of the Jim Crow era. He grew up and went to high school in Dayton, being the only Negro in the school. One of his friends was Orville Wright. Upon graduation, he learned he didn’t have the same opportunities as his friend. His poetry career took off quickly, with early encouragement of such people as James Whitcomb Riley and Frederick Douglass. He became world famous and traveled extensively to share his work. Sadly, Dunbar died young of a not uncommon malady of the time, tuberculosis.

Fourth graders and up will learn a lot about history and civil rights and about the flexibility of poetry for expressing your feelings. They can practice their literacy skills reading the many poems included in this wonderful book.

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  • Jump Back PaulTitle: Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar
  • Author: Sally Derby
  • Illustrator: Sean Qualls
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardback, 128 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, Poetry, History, Civil Rights
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6070-3
  • Extras: Extensive notes, timeline, bibliography, index

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

In light of the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many books on the civil rights movement are being published. This book gives a personal face to the movement like no other. Set squarely in the events of the twentieth century, this is the story of one woman who had a profound effect on the world. The timeline is very helpful in letting the reader know what else is going on.

Fannie Lou Townsend was born to poor Mississippi sharecroppers in 1917, the last of twenty children. To say she had a rough childhood would be a severe understatement. She picked cotton alongside her family after suffering through polio. After her marriage to Pap Hamer, her doctor forced her sterilization, but she adopted two daughters. Partnering with white Freedom Riders, she learned of her right to vote and eventually ran for Congress. She was jailed and beaten into lingering injury. Any time she found herself at odds with a group seeking to give her limited help, she moved on to a more helpful group. The Democrats would not seat her group at convention, so she helped form a separate party. She also worked for women’s rights and for early education.

Weatherford’s use of language is striking, lyrical, and completely appropriate for the topic. Holmes’ use of collage for the backdrop adds immeasurably to the feel of the text and often lets the reader know about many of the events happening around Fannie Lou. Fourth graders will learn about literature, civil rights, history, and the biography of an individual. Parents and teachers may want to consider reading the text aloud to facilitate discussion.

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  • Fannie Lou HamerTitle: Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Illustrator: Ekua Holmes
  • Published: Candlewick Press, August 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 56 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History, Civil rights
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6531-9
  • Extras: Author’s note, detailed timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, copyright acknowledgements

The Kite that Bridged Two Nations

Written by Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Terry Widener

When it became time to build a bridge across the enormous Niagara Falls between the United States and Canada, the best way to begin seemed to include a single string. But how could anyone get a string between the two nations?

Charles Ellet, Jr. decided to sponsor a kite flying contest, with a reward for anyone who could span the chasm with a kite string. That was exactly what a young Irish immigrant boy named Homan Walsh loved to do more than anything else. Fly kites.

This is his story. It is written sparingly, like exquisite poetry. But it tells details. How he designed his kite, built it, named it, tested it. This story tells of his hardship of getting stranded by a huge winter storm.

Readers will cheer for Homan. Readers will be amazed and want to read about Niagara Falls. They will want to build kites and go outside to fly them. Fourth grade readers will dream big dreams and go forth to follow those big dreams.

Teachers and librarians can use this book in the core curriculum to teach geography, biography, history and research in a really entertaining way.

 

  • KiteTitle: The Kite that Bridged Two Nations
  • Author: Alexis O’Neill
  • Illustrator: Terry Widener
  • Publisher: Calkins Creek, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-59078-938-4
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Grade Level: 3-6
  • Extras: Extensive author’s note/ timeline/resources/ sources for further research

First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low

Written by Ginger Wadsworth

This engaging biography of Juliette Gordon Low will have special meaning for all current and former Girl Scouts, but it is well worth the time of all students. Daisy, as she was called, lived during a fascinating time in history, and she really did live life to the fullest. The author vividly depicts the living conditions and concerns throughout Daisy’s life. The reader learns a lot about her personality and some of her motivations.

Daisy was born shortly before the beginning of the Civil War in Savannah, Georgia. Her mother was from the North. Both families were prominent, so frequent guests at the home included General Sherman and President Taft. Daisy was well-educated, nearly deaf, and married to an Englishman. She knew royalty and had close encounters with danger due to her frequent travels during war and peace. She met Lord Robert Baden-Powell through friends in London. He was forming a group called Boy Scouts, and Daisy thought that sounded great for girls too. She would form a group of girl guides then promptly tell someone else to take over. But she stuck with the idea and started the movement in the US. At her death from breast cancer, there were millions of Girl Scouts worldwide.

Named to the 2013 Amelia Bloomer List by the American Library Association, this well-research and well-presented biography is perfect for fourth graders learning about research or about this period of history. The author’s excellent website, www.gingerwadsworth.com, has an eight-page teacher’s guide with many reading activities. This is also a great source to increase reading comprehension and literacy skills.

  •  First Girl ScoutTitle: First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low
  • Author: Ginger Wadsworth
  • Publisher: Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Genre: Biography, Civil War, First World War
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-24394-8
  • Extras: Table of contents, timeline, source notes, bibliography, list of places to visit, index

I Am Harriet Tubman

Written by Grace Norwich
Illustrated by Ute Simon

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This new addition to the “I Am” biography series allows middle grade readers to discover who Harriet Tubman was on their own. It is filled with realistic pencil drawings, maps, graphs and data boxes telling students about Harriet’s tips for survival, her fights for women’s rights and other helpful information about the times.

The format of this biography works well for educators involved with the common core. Students can find the meaning for words in the glossary, use the index when writing their own reports and check the websites included for further information. It is a quality non-fiction book written in an accessible narrative fashion that students will enjoy reading. They will find themselves deeply imbedded in the story and looking over their shoulders to see if they are being followed.

Teachers or librarians can use this book for read aloud time to introduce students in grade three or grade four to the genre of biography. Literacy skills strengthened include: reading for information, reading an index, using a glossary, reading maps and using picture clues to enhance comprehension.

  • Harriett TubmanTitle: I Am Harriet Tubman
  • Author: Grace Norwich
  • Illustrator: Ute Simon
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 127 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-48436-7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biography