Archive for Biography

The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Poet

Written and Illustrated by Don Tate

Who would have thought a man who taught himself to read could come up with such beautiful poetry? While selling his master’s fruit at a university, George’s use of language caught the attention of college students. The students commissioned him to write love poetry for them, helped him learn to write, and to learn about literature and history. George paid his master to let him write full time and eventually published a volume of poetry, The Hope of Freedom. His master refused to let him buy his freedom outright, though. Eventually, the Emancipation Proclamation brought an end to his servitude and George moved west with the army.

Horton’s is an important story that should be covered in literature and in history. The Civil War was fought by human beings about human beings. Horton took great risks seeking his freedom. After he published his first volume of poetry, North Carolina outlawed speaking out against slavery and also outlawed teaching slaves to read and write. After that, Horton restricted himself to non-political poetry. He also published an autobiography, used by the author of this book. Tate’s illustrations help to bring the poet’s story to life. This could be read aloud in a classroom to stimulate discussion.

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  • George Moses HortonTitle: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Poet
  • Author/Illustrator: Don Tate
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Biography, Poetry, History
  • ISBN: 978-156145-825-7
  • Extras: Extensive bibliography, Author’s Note

The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can


“Achieveable,” Really? Girls going to school? Not born in Zimbabwe during the war. Then girls rarely got to attend school. Only after she grew up and had children of her own was Trent encouraged by the women of her village to learn to read. They needed her to read letters from their faraway husbands.

This beautifully illustrated story is based on the true life experiences of Dr. Tererai Trent, who now hold many degrees and is an advocate for learning and education world-wide.

Traditional values, beliefs and thatched roofed homes are described and illustrated in this full color book. Teachers, librarians, and reading specialists will fulfill core curriculum standards in geography, history, and literacy by using this book with grade three readers.

It also highlights the good possible accomplished by just one person in advocating and supporting education. While Trent dreamed of education in Zimbabwe, it became a reality in America, as she explains in the body of the text as well as in her author’s notes.

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  • Girl who buried her dreamsTitle: The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can
  • Author: Dr. Tererai Trent
  • Illustrator: Jan Spivey Gilchrist
  • Publisher: Viking, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-670-01654
  • Genre: Non-fiction, biography
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Afterward

Dolley Madison Saves George Washington

Written and Illustrated by Don Brown

Fire! Fire in the White House! Run away, run away, but Dolley Madison didn’t run away. She stopped to save the famous portrait of George Washington. It wasn’t a quick trick, either because the frame was too heavy to manage. She instructed some workmen to cut the portrait out of the frame and carry it to safety.

Don Brown’s biography begins with information about Dolley, including her charm, her ability to hostess wonderful parties, and her remodeling of the White House. He also tells readers how Dolley was actually related to George Washington by marriage.

The muted colors used in the illustrations are representative of the time. However, children will enjoy the great amount of action depicted in the story and the pictures. Teachers and librarians can use this biography to meet the core curriculum standards in literacy and American history. The author’s note also includes an interesting discussion about the many spellings of Dolley’s name. Students might use this as a springboard to studying other names with multiple meanings.

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  • DolleyTitle: Dolley Madison Saves George Washington
  • Author/Illustrator: Don Brown
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardback, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-544-58244-6
  • Genre: Nonfiction Picture Book, Biography
  • Grade level: PreK to 3
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Bibliography

Who Was Beatrix Potter?

Written by Sarah Fabiny
Illustrated by Mike Lacey

Not everyone born to wealth loves it. Case in point, Beatrix Potter. She was born to a wealthy family in 1866 London, but wealth tied her hands. Well, perhaps, not completely wealth. It was also the time in which she was born. A wealthy young woman was not supposed to study science, draw animals or make her own living.

But that is exactly what Beatrix wanted and finally accomplished. It is sad how long it took success to find her, but perhaps the illness and loneliness actually helped her become a better storyteller.

Young readers will be amazed to find out how her stories began. They were letters she wrote to a little boy who was sick. She didn’t know what to write to him about so she told him a story about a young rabbit named Peter who got into a garden.

It is fascinating to read what Beatrix did with all the money she earned from her stories and illustrations. She helped make the world a better place with her stories and saved the part she loved best for future generations to enjoy.

Fabiny wrote a smooth and engaging narrative that reads as comfortably as a letter.

Educators will use this to fulfill core curriculum standards in history, biography, art, and literature. Librarians will use it to introduce a famous author and her wonderful books. Art teachers will use it to show how precise her illustrations were, and to encourage their students to practice over and over again their drawing of real subjects. This is a beautiful addition to Penguin’s, “Who Was?” series.

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  • Beatrix PotterTitle: Who Was Beatrix Potter?
  • Author: Sarah Fabiny
  • Illustrator: Mike Lacey
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap/ Penguin, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 112 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-448-48305-4
  • Genre: Biography
  • Grade level: 3-7
  • Extras: Timeline, Bibliography, related web sites

There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Player that Ever Lived

Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares

Sports heroes are often colorful and have an interesting story to tell. Ted Williams falls into that category.

As a child, Ted Williams was skinny and not very muscular, but he wanted to be the best hitter in baseball. Through determination, he practiced every chance he got, swinging the bat long after the other kids had gone home for supper. He swung until his hands bled. He ate to gain weight and exercised to build muscles. His career was first interrupted by World War II and later by the Korean War. He was a very good fighter pilot. But, when he returned, his baseball skills always seemed to pick up where he left off. He led the Red Sox to the World Series and is commemorated in many ways at Fenway Park. In the author’s note, the author points out the conflict Williams had with the media and often with the fans, but those conflicts didn’t lessen his skill on the ball field. And he was dedicated to helping others, especially children.

Vivid illustrations make the story come alive, from the fields where he practiced in San Diego to Fenway Park to the airplanes he flew.

Third grade readers will learn about Ted Williams, history, World War II and the Korean War, sports, and following one’s dreams and talents. This volume of Candlewick Biographies will promote literacy skills and comprehension.

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  • there goes ted williamsTitle: There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Player that Ever Lived
  • Author/Illustrator: Matt Tavares
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, history, sports
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7655-1
  • Extras: Author’s Note, bibliography, Ted’s baseball statistics, index

Growing Up Pedro

Written and Illustrated by Matt Tavares

More than Pedro’s story, this is the story of two brothers and how they helped each other become two of the best pitchers in the major leagues. As a child, Pedro always looked up to his older brother, Ramón. Pedro wanted to play baseball with Ramón and his friends, but Ramón didn’t want Pedro to get hurt. Instead, the older brother instructed the younger brother to throw rocks at the ripe mangoes on the trees. A scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers spots sixteen-year-old Ramón on the Dominican national team and watches him at training camp. At seventeen, Ramón paves the way by reporting to the Dodgers. At every turn, he shares what he learns with Pedro, who takes his advice to heart. Pedro works on English as well as his fast ball. In 1990, Pedro is also drafted to the Dodgers. Ramón is still the pitching star of the family. The brothers work together on the major league team for little more than a season before Pedro is traded to Montreal in 1994. By 1996, Pedro has proven himself and starts pitching for the Boston Red Sox. He leads Boston to many great seasons. Meanwhile, he helps his family back in the Dominican Republic and also helps build up the village where he grew up. The illustrations are lively and realistic, with a definite feel for being at the ballpark.

All third graders will find the story heart-warming, helping them to work on literacy skills and comprehension. They will also learn something of recent history and about math with baseball statistics. This book is well-researched and well-told.

As a Baltimore Orioles fan, this almost made me like Pedro.

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  • Growing Up PedroTitle: Growing Up Pedro
  • Author/Illustrator: Matt Tavares
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, sports
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6824-2
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Pedro Martinez’ major league statistics, Bibliography

Explore the Cosmos like Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Space Science Journey

Written by CAP Saucier

From the first night he could see the stars from the roof of his Bronx apartment building, science has attracted Neil deGrasse Tyson. In this new book – part biography and part astronomy – Saucier follows Tyson from that early fascination to his status as one of the most respected scientists in the world. The result is a good representation of Tyson’s view of the universe. The author starts with a wide view of the universe and the Big Bang. The reader then learns about constellations, galaxies and how they were formed, black holes, stars, comets, different types of planets, moons, and asteroids. Along the way, the reader also hears about dark matter, dark energy, and space dust. Saucier includes Tyson’s hopes for the future of space travel and exploration and about the importance of all this knowledge to the human condition. The writer also incorporates enough details of Tyson’s life to give a sense of the man behind the science.

Most two-page spreads are highlighted by wonderful photographs of nebulae, galaxies, and planets. Kids will be drawn in by the colorful layout.

This is a very good beginning introduction for third grade and above. There is enough explanation to give kids a sense of the topics, but it leaves the reader to dig deeper. And it creates enough excitement to ensure that will happen.

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  • Explore the CosmosTitle: Explore the Cosmos like Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Space Science Journey
  • Author: CAP Saucier
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books, March 3, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 177 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, astronomy
  • ISBN: 978-1-63388-014-6
  • Extras: Table of contents, notes, glossary, bibliography, index, many full-color photographs and illustrations

Henry Aaron’s Dream

Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares

Nearly everyone who knows anything about baseball knows about Hank Aaron. He did, in fact, break the all-time home run record set by Babe Ruth. But do fans know about his youth? Drawing a picture of a hard-playing youth, Tavares makes the hero even more accessible to young readers. Young Henry Aaron loved baseball so much, he would swing any stick to make any object to make it fly. He began with a broom handle and bottle caps. He started playing with real baseball diamonds, bats, and balls when he was twelve. He grew up in a Mobile that was strictly segregated. So, when he began his career, only the Negro Leagues were available to him despite Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier with the Dodgers. Eventually, he was invited to play for a farm team for the Braves. He proved himself through his willingness to listen and learn, his perseverance, and his natural talent. He was one of the best players ever and one of the most respected men in sports.

Vivid illustrations make the story come alive.

The third grade reader hears about Henry Aaron, history, civil rights, sports, and following one’s dreams and talents. This volume of Candlewick Biographies will promote literacy skills and comprehension.

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  • Henry Aarons DreamTitle: Henry Aaron’s Dream
  • Author/Illustrator: Matt Tavares
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2012
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, history, sports
  • ISBN: 978-0763658205


A Home for Mr. Emerson

Written by Barbara Kerley
Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

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Ralph Waldo Emerson loved his home in Concord, Massachusetts. Perhaps more than most people love a home. And yet, this book is not only about the home, but the man who lived there.

He was a little boy in Boston who wanted to go to the country and be outdoors. As a young man his family moved about a lot, but they did end up in the country. He collected books and friends. He married a woman who loved chickens and rosebushes.

Reading this biography feels like getting to know a good friend. The narration is smooth and inviting while also being full of quotes from Mr. Emerson’s writings.

The illustrations are large and draw the reader right into his office filled with books and papers and a favorite rocking chair.

Fire strikes late in the night when Mr. Emerson is sixty-nine years old. The whole town comes to help save books, papers, clothes and furniture. But it is his spirit that is hurt the most. Finally, weeks later his friends convince him to go away on a trip to rest and recover. Only while away in England and then Egypt he missed his favorite people and home more than ever. When he returned to the Concord train station the whole town was waiting to greet him. The biggest surprise was how beautifully the town had rebuilt and refurnished his beloved home.

Third grade readers will enjoy this well-told biography and learn their literacy skills of using primary sources when doing their own reports.  They will also see how possible it is to include read quotations in a new narrative.

Librarians and teachers can use this as a wonderful read aloud and satisfy the core curriculum in the areas of biography as well as American literature. Art teachers can use the variations in illustrations to highlight usage of color to distinguish distance as well as personal attributes showing emotion along with many other well done techniques.

This biography is a joy to read again and again. It is a well done transition from real life facts to real life story.  The great team work of Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham also created the books, What To Do About Alice? The Extraordinary Mark Twain, and Those Rebels, John & Tom. It is a very talented duo!

  • Home for Mr. EmersonTitle: A Home for Mr. Emerson
  • Author: Barbara Kerley
  • Illustrator: Edwin Fotheringham
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-35088-4
  • Genre: Biography, nonfiction, community
  • Level: Grades 3-7
  • Extras: Author’s Note, list of primary sources and source list for original quotations

Here Come the Girl Scouts!

Written by Shana Corey
Illustrated by Hadley Hooper

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Girls of all ages will enjoy this true story about Juliette Low and her founding of the Girl Scouts. It is a fun read with great illustrations and quotes from Juliette, who was always known as Daisy.

Third grade readers will enjoy reading this story independently and especially will like the short grouping of text around the illustrated pages. It will be a great book to use for developing picture clues as that is where much of the humor is found.

Readers will be encouraged to be brave, courageous and hard working in all that they do in order to succeed. But none of these things are described in a negative or dull way. Oh no, excitement and adventure is what the Girl Scouts expect out of life whether it is when camping out under the heavens or earning badges on how to cure hams.

The art work supports how multicultural the Girl Scouts are in welcoming members from all over the world. It would also provide an art teacher with many examples of what can be done with images in a book as the actual quotes are in a kid-printing type font while the narrative is in a regular typed font. Many literacy skills can be practiced and enhanced through this fun nonfiction story.

This book could be the beginning of a great writing activity for individual girls to use as a model for writing about their own lives and what they enjoy doing.  It is an introduction to girls to develop spunk, gumption and initiative.

While some might consider this a biography of Juliette Low, it only briefly refers to her childhood in terms of her near complete loss of hearing and how she overcame it. Then her development of the Girl Scouts is explained. No other information about her later life is included so it is really the history of the organization.

The last two pages of the book show cartoon caricatures of famous women who were Girl Scouts. Women like Lucille Ball, Gloria Steinem and Hilary Clinton are included as well as an empty frame labeled only as “you,” meant for readers.

This is the kind of book that will draw even reluctant readers to the nonfiction section of the library.

Extras: Added information is included in the end matter, but the reading level is comparable and can be handled by the same readers enjoying the body of the book. It will take a longer time and more intensely interested reader.

  • Girl ScoutsTitle: Here Come the Girl Scouts!
  • Author:  Shana Corey
  • Illustrator: Hadley Hooper
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2012
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover/40p
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-34278-0
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Lexile: 720
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