Friday, November 21, 2014

Biographical Picture Books

I write about a variety of genres here on Top Shelf Text, but one thing that's fairly consistent is my choice of fiction over nonfiction when it comes to my bedtime reading material. The same goes for children's literature- I'll pick up anything that resembles a fairytale before I'm drawn to a nonfiction book. I've been changing that tendency bit by bit this year as I learn more about teaching and about development, so I'm making an effort to track down children's books that cover a wider range of topics. Today, I'm jumpstarting that effort with three biographical picture books that recently caught my attention. Not only are these all recently published (so it'll be easy to track them down in bookstores), but they're also about three men who got out what they put in- each one of them had to fight to make their specific dream a reality, and years later we get to learn from their example and be inspired by their dedication!

With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School by Suzanne Slade // Booker T. Washington had an incredibly determined spirit and ambitions to match. He was one of the last generations born into slavery, and though he was freed before age ten, he had to work extremely hard to secure an education for himself. Washington fell in love with learning and went on to build the Tuskegee Institute. This is a great biography for introducing children to a leader in education and in the African American community. Washington could also serve as a role model for working hard to achieve big dreams. 

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant // I had never given a thought to the origin of the most famous thesaurus (though I use one often) but stumbled upon this book shortly after its publication and decided to find out more. Not only is the story interesting- Roget organized his thesaurus not in alphabetical order but by meaning- but the illustrations are unlike any other picture book I've read this year. It's an eccentrically illustrated book for sure, but so creative and one that I can see becoming a quick favorite for young fans of reading. It also confirms the fact that biographies need not be boring. Definitely a must-have for your children's bookshelf.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis // This is my favorite of the bunch, simply because I found the story to be so enchanting. When I was little, I always wanted to visit Chicago because it was home to the magical (and at the time, only) American Girl Doll Store. I visited the city for the first time last winter (to see my bestie Allie) and absolutely loved it. It's a unique place and has history around every corner, but the history feels different from the kind that we're used to here in Boston. This book tells the story of one particularly important tidbit from the city's history- the invention of the Ferris Wheel. I had no knowledge whatsoever of the origin of this landmark from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, but it's a remarkable story of perseverance and creativity, and one that would be great to share with young aspiring inventors. 

I'm on the hunt for more books that can introduce children to nonfiction stories and serve as sources of inspiration! Do you or your child have a favorite famous figure that you think would inspire others too?

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