Biography

All posts in the Biography category

Big Nate, by Lincoln Peirce

Published June 30, 2015 by Dagmar

The Big Nate series shares three things in common with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries: it flies off the library shelf, it appeals to all Big nate 4types of readers and is written with text and pictures.

Nate Wright is a sixth grader.  He’s not the best student.  In fact, he’s trying to avoid having to go to summer school. He has two best friends and a crush on a girl.  Sounds like he’s 12, right?  Wait until you hear Nate talk about his teachers!  Mrs. Godfrey, his social studies teacher, is the worst. “When a teacher snaps and starts screaming, it’s called a Full Godfrey. (When Mrs. Godfrey does it, it’s called Monday.)”

The day Nate gets a fortune cookie that says he “will surpass all others”, turns out to be the worst day ever.  He tries lots of different things to “surpass all others.” Whether it’s getting caught trying to set the world record in speed-eating green beans (from the school cafeteria – ick!) or wearing Coach John’s shorts stuffed with paper towels (long story), everything seems to earn Nate detention – everything.

Big Nate hits home with so many of my students.  My son read six Big Nate books on one trip.  I think it’s because Lincoln Peirce captures a 12 year old’s snarky voice so well.  It’s sure to be a hit.

If your students like Big Nate, they’ll also love Lincoln Pierce’s Big Nate comic books.

My Brother Martin, by Christine King Farris

Published January 17, 2014 by Dagmar

my brother martinI have some favorite books to read when celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and his tremendous life.  One, is Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport.  Like me, most teachers love Martin’s Big Words as well.  So finding something different but accessible to young audiences is a always a challenge for me in the library.

Here is a book that I discovered this year that I love for younger audiences.  Published in 2006, it provides a different perspective on this great man’s life that students haven’t heard before.  When I introduce this book to my students, I remind them that before Dr. King became “Dr. King”, he was a child just like them.  My Brother Martin was written by Christine King Farris, Dr. King’s older sister.

In My Brother Martin, Ms. King Farris tells of Dr. King’s childhood on Auburn Street in Atlanta, Georgia.  There are funny pranks that the children, Christine, M.L. (Martin Luther) and their younger brother A.D. (Alfred Daniel) played on neighbors and their piano teacher.  These stories made all my students smile.  Ms. King Farris also tells of the painful time when the children of a white store owner on their street were no longer allowed to play with Negroes (a word I had to explain to my younger students).  The white family sold their store and moved away.  After years of shielding their children from the injustice and cruelty dealt to black people, this episode brought all that home.  Christine, M.L. and A.D. were confused about why their friends would no longer play with them.  Their mother explained about all the “Whites Only” signs.  She also told her children that this injustice was there, “Because they just don’t understand that everyone is the same, but someday, it will be better.”  M.L. then replied, “Mother Dear, one day I’m going to turn this world upside down.”  And that he did.

M.L. and his sister and brother now were aware of segregation.  They watched as their father, a minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church spoke out against it and how he practiced what he preached.  Their father did not allow others to treat him differently because of his skin color and took his business elsewhere when store owners did.  Their parents’ example and the pain of their childhood friends’ leaving provided the inspiration for Dr. King’s pursuit of justice.

This is a heartening and inspiring story of Dr. King that provides insights other books don’t provide.  I highly recommend it to elementary school audiences.  The illustrations by Chris Soentpiet are wonderful.

Nelson Mandela, by Kadir Nelson

Published December 6, 2013 by Dagmar

mandelaYesterday, Nelson Mandela passed away.  He fought for freedom and won it for his people.  He was a tremendous man.  He lived 95 years and is a symbol of the power of protest for so many around the world.  President Obama said, “Let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived–a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”

How lucky for us that we have Kadir Nelson’s beautiful picture book about Nelson Mandela to help children understand the life and work of Nelson Mandela.  The book, written in verse, leads the reader through Nelson Mandela’s life from the time he was a child through the end of apartheid and his election as South Africa’s first black president.  The illustrations are full-page and incredible in the way that they capture the emotion of each scene.

On the back cover of the book, the author says, “My work is all about healing and giving people a sense of hope and nobility.  I want to show the strength and integrity of the human being and the human spirit.”  He certainly succeeded in this book.

Highly recommended.  Best for third grade and up, but could work for younger students as well.  Thank you to Junior Library Guild for introducing me to this book.

Anne Frank: Her life in words and pictures, published by the Anne Frank House

Published June 11, 2013 by Dagmar

Anne FrankMany adults know the story of Anne Frank, the 14 year old girl who died in the Holocaust and whose diary told the story of her family’s ordeal hiding from the Nazis in Holland.  When I was young, we not only read The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, we saw the play.  Both the book and the play had a huge impact on me when I saw the play in middle school.

It always surprises me that my students don’t know Anne Frank’s story.  It was heartening to hear the outrage they expressed when they realized that Anne was killed by the Nazis just because she was Jewish.  This injustice touched my students deeply, and this particular book about Anne Frank’s life was in high demand during my sixth grade girls’ biography unit.

This book has a unique format.  Published by the Anne Frank House, this book is six inches square and includes many family photographs of the Frank family.  The beginning of the book shows a picture of the diary that made Anne famous.  It’s a red plaid diary that she chose herself for her 13th birthday.  Pasted inside the front cover is a beautiful picture of Anne on her birthday.  Readers are drawn in by the picture of a young and pretty girl with a big smile.

After the Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power, the Frank family decided to leave Germany for Holland in 1933, because of the many restrictions Hitler and the Nazis placed on Jews.  In 1940, the Germans invaded Holland, and life for Jews changed dramatically for the worse.  In 1942, the Frank family went into hiding with the van Pels at Otto Frank’s office.  In June 1944, the Frank family celebrated as Allied troops landed at Normandy; but, in August, their dreams were shattered as they were captured by the Nazis and sent to different work and extermination camps.

I think this book was so successful with my students because Anne’s family’s story is interwoven with Anne’s own words from her diary.  There are many pictures of where Anne’s family and the van Pels family hid, so young readers can really get a sense of what Anne might have experienced as she hid from the Nazis.  Pictures of her diary pages are scattered throughout the book. This book brings the story of the Holocaust to a whole new generation very effectively.

Anne Frank and her sister Margot were sent to Bergen-Belsen camp.  The only member of the Frank and van Pels families to survive the war was Anne’s father Otto, who was liberated at Auschwitz by the Russians.

This is a powerful book and highly recommended.  This book was a Junior Library Guild selection.

Langston’s Train Ride, by Robert Burleigh

Published May 11, 2013 by Dagmar

S640SchLangstonjkt_0.tifThis is another wonderful book for African-American History month.  Langston’s Train Ride begins with Langston Hughes walking down a sidewalk celebrating the publishing of his first book of poems.  He then flashes back to the train ride he took to Mexico to see his father when he was 18 years old.  As the train travels, he reminisces about his childhood.  When the train crosses the Mississippi River, he thinks of what it means to his people, the slaves who were sent “down the river” and Abe Lincoln’s trip on the river “where he saw a slave auction and learned to hate slavery.”  His view of the Mississippi brings words to his head.  He thinks of other ancient rivers in Africa and begins to write down the words to his first poem: “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

This is a powerful book made more so by its incredible illustrations by Leonard Jenkins.  It is hard not to be moved by this book and the words of Langston Hughes’ first poem.

Story Painter, The Life of Jacob Lawrence by John Duggleby

Published May 10, 2013 by Dagmar

Story_PainterI love to read books about artists to my students.  This book is a particularly wonderful book about African-American artist, Jacob Lawrence.  I used this book for grades 1 through 6 during African-American History month.  It was wonderful to show my students Lawrence’s beautiful art depicting the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, The Great Migration, and Toussaint L’Overture’s battle to liberate Haiti.

This book is also a jumping off point to talk about important points in history.  Like many African-American artists, Lawrence lived in Harlem.  His Theater series illustrates the shows in Harlem’s famous entertainment halls, like the Cotton Club, and the Apollo. Jacob Lawrence was also a part of the Easel Project, a government art program stated in the 1930s to help artists.  Jacob Lawrence was paid to paint and was paid more than many jobs during the Great Depression.

Jacob Lawrence painted on paper and cardboard using tempura paint.  Remarkably, Jacob Lawrence would create series of paintings about a subject, sometimes as many as 40 paintings, by painting one color at a time.  He would put up all the sheets of paper for the series on his wall and then would move among the panels until he had painted all the colors.

This book is really a non-fiction book, but the color panels of his paintings are so dramatic and beautiful in this book that it makes a wonderful book to use as you would a picture book with groups of students.

This book is won the Carter G. Woodson Book Award granted by the National Council for the Social Studies, an award given to books that “encourage the writing, publishing, and dissemination of outstanding social science books for young readers that treat topics related to ethnic minorities and relations sensitively and accurately.”