Friday, February 25, 2011


When I was a library helper in the fourth grade, I would take home two Childhood of Famous Americans books and read them every night. Stadium Drive Elementary School must have been stocked with a set of these; there was a whole section of them. It's harder to get students to read biographies now, and part of the reason is that so many are geared toward research rather than exciting reading. Here are two that offer more in the way of a story.

Sheinkin, Steve. The Notorious Benedict Arnold.
Wow. You can really tell when someone has a passion for a topic. Sheinkin admits to an obsession with Arnold, and this results in a book packed with exciting details and facts about this American hero turned traitor. After a brief description of Arnold's unfortunate early family life (his well-to-do father fell upon hard business times and became the town drunk), Sheinkin follows Arnold's exploits through the Revolutionary War, setting the scene for his eventual downfall. John Andre, Arnold's British contact, was a nice touch, and the first sentence was great: "It was a beautiful place to die." I'm not all that interested in this time period, but I thought it was fascinating. I just wish that Sheinkin's other titles were for older readers.

DeMallie, H.R. Behind Enemy Lines.
Without a doubt my most read biography, this true story of one man's experience in World War II is riveting. Shot down over occupied Holland, DeMallie escaped with the help of the Dutch people but eventually ended up as a prisoner of war and kept an account of his exploits on Red Cross notebooks. Afternotes and illustrations remind students that this exciting tale of survival really happened. Students told me that this had been made into a movie with Owen Wilson, but that identically named venture was set in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

We have a great biography collection in my library, although I finally had to weed out the more narrative tales of Lou Gehrig, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone because...well, there was some serious ponging going on.

Our guys tend to like biographies about guys like them, or who represent something they would like to be in the future. The Beatles have circulated well this year, but we also get a lot of mileage out of Harry Houdini, any sports figure, Spartacus and Caesar (in graphic novel format), and my favorite, poor Philo T. Farnsworth.

Never heard of him? He invented the television. This is why I love to read and recommend biographies!

1 comment:

  1. Those both look great, I'll definitely check them out.