Archive for Biography

This Side of Wild

Written by Gary Paulson
Illustrated by Tim Jessell

Gary Paulson once again takes readers into his spellbinding experiences of the natural world. His newest book, This Side of Wild, focuses mainly on his many experiences with dogs, and occasionally birds. Are we training them or are they training us? Are you sure?

After writing over 200 books for children and young people, he still has fresh insight into where he has been and what he has learned. His smooth, elegant writing style and down home good humor make this an enjoyable read for all ages.

He takes us along on adventures of his past with some repetition, then explains what he means about who is doing the training with such explicit details as to allow us to watch our own dog a little closer. We will also take a more serious note of that birdfeeder out back and the ruckus we used to think pointless.

Teachers and librarians can use this as an introductory book for reluctant readers who may not have met Gary Paulson yet. It is shorter than many of his, but quickly engages the reader. Especially if the reader is very interested in the outdoors and/or dogs.

Literacy skills within the core curriculum standards are definitely strengthen and fulfilled as are science and geography standards at the middle grade level. Students could use a map of the United States to track the adventures in this book between Minnesota, Alaska and the Pacific Ocean.  Various lifestyles, climates and wildlife patterns are explained. Parents might wish to use the book as an evening read aloud, or for the enjoyable activity of you read a page, and I’ll read a page. It isn’t just for reluctant readers, folks, it is a fun evening project for everyone.

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  • This Side of WildTitle: This Side of Wild
  • Author: Gary Paulson
  • Illustrator: Tim Jessell
  • Publisher: Simon& Schuster for Young Readers, September 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 120 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4814-5150-5
  • Genre: Autobiography, Human/Animals Relations, Animal Behavior
  • Grade level: 5 to 8

Henry David Thoreau for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities

Written by Corinne Hosfeld Smith

Chicago Review Press continues to produce quality biographies with a purpose for children with this informative volume about the nineteenth century essayist, teacher, botanist, and political activist. With tons of pictures and maps, his story unfolds to reveal the many reasons he endures as an influential force throughout the world. Among the people whose life he affected, in addition to his friends Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ellery Channing, were Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. His surveys and collections are still studied today, 150 years after his death. He was not the recluse that people seem to think he was, which the author quickly points out, but he did have specific ideas on how to live and did not worry about whether others would join him in every activity. He lived in a time when many diseases were known but not well-understood, so died at age 44 of tuberculosis, a disease that’s much more treatable today.

Thoreau’s methods and approaches were so straightforward that they lend themselves easily to adaption for children. Fifth graders can keep a daily journal, record animal behavior, measure the depth of water, or do one of 18 other activities carefully outlined. This is a great resource.

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  • ThoreauTitle: Henry David Thoreau for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities
  • Author: Corinne Hosfeld Smith
  • Published: Chicago Review Press, February 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 128 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 up
  • Genre: Biography, history, science
  • ISBN: 978-1-61373-146-8
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Time Line, Resources, Notes, Bibliography, Index, 21 Activities

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America

Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Mary was a great cook, but she was a carrier of the deadly typhoid disease. It was likely she unknowingly put germs in food of people who later became very ill and died. But Mary never understood what it meant to be a carrier and couldn’t accept help from the medical community. They were trying to save the people of New York City.

Once again, Susan Campbell Bartoletti has done extensive primary and secondary source research in support of the story. This biography is filled with details and each one is verified by its source.

Readers get a glimpse of the frustration felt by Mary, but then in later chapters can relate to the frustration of the health officials. They really weren’t targeting Mary, but trying to do what was best for everyone.

Students will learn about this particular event and also how to do a solid, non-fiction report of their own. Core curriculum standards in literacy, as well as American history and health/science can be fulfilled. Among the story of what happened to Mary, readers will notice a story of how the science of health was developing in this era. Anyone involved in women’s studies might also find it interesting that even while Mary was quarantined, several men also identified as carriers were treated and/or observed, but never quarantined on a far away island.

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  • Typhoid MaryTitle: Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
  • Author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 229 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-31367-5
  • Genre: Biography, history
  • Grade level: 5 up
  • Extras: Afterward, Photo Album, Chapter Footnotes, Extensive Bibliography, Index

Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures

Written by Erin Hagar

Julia Child was passionate and friendly, as is this new biography about her life and work. The text is conversational as well as informative.

Like many grown-ups, even Julia Child sometimes wondered what her real life’s work might turn out to be as she moved all over the world. Finally, one day while having lunch in a restaurant in Paris, France stirred up her passion for good food.

Grade three readers, or grade six readers and any others who pick up this biography will be amazed at how this girl from Pasadena, California grows up to become one of the most successful and famous chefs in history. Her cookbooks and television shows were followed by thousands. People still roast a chicken the same way Julia taught them, all while laughing and visiting with them and the TV filming crew.

Each chapter includes several full-page sketches depicting various events of Julia’s life. Readers will love how these sketches help transport them into her world.

Teachers, librarians, and parents will applaud how much this book can be a comfortable read, and also provide a bridge to research-based reading and writing. It fulfills many core curriculum standards in the areas of literacy, geography, history and culture. Students can use the index, glossary, bibliography and timeline while completing their own research into the life of this famous woman. This would be a great addition to any upper elementary or middle school, and public library collection. Also, a fun birthday or Christmas surprise for any third to seventh grader who loves to read and cook.

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  • Julia ChildTitle: Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures
  • Author: Erin Hagar
  • Illustrator: Joanna Gorham
  • Publisher: Duopress, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-938093-34-0
  • Genre: Biography
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Glossary, Index, Time-line, Bibliography, Illustrations of Julia Child Historic Kitchen in Washington, D. C.

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes

Written by Juan Felipe Herrera
Illustrated by Raul Colon

Twenty-One famous American heroes with Hispanic heritage are included in this beautiful biography collection. It is written by the Mexican-American Poet Laureate of California, who is himself the son of migrant workers.

The stunning portraits are paintings done by Raul Colon.

Each two – four page biography is skillfully written to include the education, dreams, goals, and quotes of those included. The heroes include those from sports, music, art, sciences, and politics. They span the past, as well as the present of American experience. Some of the biographies include: Roberto Clemente, Cesar Chavez, Desi Arnaz, Joan Baez, Ellen Ochoa and Sonia Sotomayor.

This volume will be a useful research tool in schools and libraries, but is also a pleasant straight-through read for any students interested in biographies. Literacy skills such as nonfiction reading, research skills, biographies, as well as the sciences and careers. Students can also use this as a starting point for studying about any one of these important people as there is a thorough source list as well as a related reading resource page in the back.

This is an important addition to broadening a library collection to include books about the diversity of the United States.

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  • Portraits of HispanicTitle: Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes
  • Author: Juan Felipe Herrera
  • Illustrator: Raul Colon
  • Publisher: Penguin, August, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-8037-3809-6
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
  • Grade level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Source notes, related reading list

Apache Chief Geronimo

Written by William R. Sanford

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They called the young warrior “Geronimo.” He would become known for his relentless raids, his numerous escapes from capture, and his resistance to white settler intrusion during westward expansion.

Part of the “Native American Chiefs and Warriors” series, this book examines the life of the legendary Apache Chief Geronimo. Born Go Khla Yeh (One Who Yawns), he grew up in the harsh desert lands of the southwest and belonged to a band of Apaches called the Bedonkohe, known for their hunting and survival skills. They continually battled against the Mexicans, and it was, in fact, Mexican soldiers that bestowed him the nickname “Geronimo.”

Tragedy would strike early in his life when a massacre killed his wife and young children. He vowed to seek revenge for their deaths and gained a reputation as a fierce warrior. Sometimes he would be captured, but he knew how to escape. He was a wanted man, spending most of his life on the run. When Geronimo’s people were forced onto reservations in different parts of the country, he fought for their return to their homeland. It was only after his death in 1909 when some Apache could finally go back to the southwest.

This book would be a great addition to a classroom library or media center, especially for fifth grade students studying biographies or Native American history. Sanford uses Geronimo’s own words and other written accounts to create authenticity. Archival photographs, illustrations, and maps support text complexity while adding interest to the straightforward narrative. Short chapters with simple sentence structures make this book accessible to all fifth grade readers, including reluctant ones. The glossary, index, and extra reading/web resources could also be used for literacy activities. More titles in this series can be found on the publisher’s website:

  • GeronimoTitle: Apache Chief Geronimo
  • Author: William R. Sanford
  • Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Paperback, 48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4644-0253-1
  • Genre: Non-Fiction / Biography / History
  • Lexile: 570

Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey

Written by Gary Golio

Illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez

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This is the latest in a series of books by Gary Golio about Jazz musicians. Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey is a brief, but compelling biography of John Coltrane’s journey: from the church where his mother played the organ while his grandfather preached the gospel, where John soaked up the music along with all he heard about the power of the Spirit to guide and heal each human being and taking us thru the depths of drug addiction and recovery. The story tells how John lived his music, how his music was him, not an extension of him. We also read about how he finally returns to his mother’s home, to rid himself of the drugs, and how his gift of music was restored, better than ever before.

“Swing, blues, bebop, hot jazz, cool jazz, gospel, and classical—everything John had ever heard was blending together in his mind and heart. It was a heavenly mix of sounds, like what he had imagined years ago, sitting in church as a boy.”

This story is an excellent story of rediscovering yourself, and turning your life around. A story of a life dedicated to the music, John felt inside that was struggling to get out. John had struggled to bury the sadness in his life from losing so many members of his family by turning to drugs, but then came to the realization that numbing his body and mind also numbed his music.

The book is awash with stirring paintings done by the illustrator Rudy Gutierrez. Gutierrez does an excellent job of catching the vibrancy of life and the soul searching that took place in John’s life.

This book can lead to discussions on making the right choices in life, on the value of family, on seeking the truth about who you are.

This book was written for 4-6th graders, and is an excellent book to introduce grade school children to the many facets of the musical world. This book has received several awards and is on many book lists.

  • Spirit SeekerTitle: Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey
  • Author: Gary Golio
  • Illustrator: Rudy Gutierrez
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • Reviewer: Carole Robishaw
  • Hardcover: 48 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0547239947
  • Genre: Music, biography
  • Lexus Score: 980