The Children's Book Compass


Posted on: April 3, 2011

These biographies are each about men who made major contributions.  All of these books will interest a wide range of ages.  Since children today are so oriented towards visual expression, the picture book format of these books will make them more appealing.

Ben Franklin His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z by Alan Schroeder.  Illustrated by John O’Brien.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Ages 8-14.

What a clever format – a biography in the form of an alphabet book. Schroeder chronicles Franklin’s inventions, contributions, and life experiences with items for each letter of the alphabet.  For example, D includes: Deborah his wife, the Declaration of Independence, Doll – the French made a Franklin doll, and a Duet, he played with his daughter.  Each entry is explained with a short annotation.  Quotations, and adages from Franklin’s almanacs and writings are sprinkled throughout the pages.  There is humorous drawings, one for each of the entries, on each page.  They add to the fun of discovering the genius and amazing versatility of one of our country’s Founding Fathers.

The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn with considerable help from Robert Burleigh and Barry Blitt.  (2011).   Pages not numbered.  Atheneum.  Ages 9-14.

Burleigh sparks his biography of Twain with a narration in the voice of Twain’s character, Huckleberry Finn.  A “Warning to the Reader” at the beginning advises that the author of the book “… is NOT A WRITER!”  The warning goes on to explain that the reader needs to be prepared for the way Mr. Finn speaks.  Finn’s colorful first person dialogue enlivens the account of Twain’s life.  “This ain’t intendin’ to be some windy bioografy.”  Finn divides his account into logical chunks, “About When Sam Was a Boy,”  “About Sam the Steamboat Captain.”  About Sam Becomin’ a Writer” and more.  Children will chuckle over Twain’s adventures and learn about his colorful life at the same time.  Blitt’s action-packed illustrations feature Twain cavorting through his life all the time watched over by Finn.  A timeline at the end fills in some of the gaps in the chronicle..

When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan by Gary Golio.  Illustrated by Marc Burckhardt.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Little Brown.  Ages 8-12.

This account of the early life of musician, Bob Dylan, will introduce him and his hero, Woody Guthrie, to young readers.  Golio explains, “Woody was everything Bob wanted to be: a roamin’ and ramblin’ singer and storyteller who’d played for striking miners and starving farmers.  … he had written more than a thousand songs – about dust storms and tornadoes, heroes, hobos, and gunslinging outlaws.  He played country, blues, and folk music.  His song “This Land Is Your Land” was a national favorite.”  When Dylan learns that his hero is alive and ill he travels to New York City to meet Woody.  There he plays for Woody who is in the hospital and keeps visiting him.  The Afterword tells how in “meeting Woody, Bob came to know some of the most talented and important figures in American folk music.”  He then went on to become a famous musician.  The acrylic and oil portraits and illustrations flesh out the characteristics of the two men.  Sources & Resources are listed in the back matter for children to find out more about these musicians by reading more, listening to their audio recording and watching videos.  .  An author’s note describes how Golio was inspired to write the book by Bob’s search for his guiding star.  Finally, the back matter lists the sources of the many quotations from Bob and Woody that appear throughout the text.

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Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

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