We are in the midst of helping our fifth grader work through her big Language Arts assignment for the year: nonfiction biography (transitioning to autobiography). She’ll be reading the book and writing the requisite book report, but she’s also going to be creating a timeline of the person’s life, as well as an over-sized personalized 3-D book cover. [I love the creativity of that idea!]
My daughter has chosen a biography of Michael Phelps. She’s a swimmer with big dreams … and so was he. It taps into her personal passion and also is a “recognizable” individual with great kid appeal. In the process of trying to find that “perfect” book (read: the one that the Kiddo would stick with!) I went to my well of biographies that we’d read together previously. Here’s one that I remembered JUST by looking at the cover!
Bethany Hamilton – Follow Your Dreams
Defining Moments Series
by Michael Sandler
Bearport Publishing, 2007
This is a photo-illustrated biography about a teenager overcoming severe trauma.
Whenever she could, Bethany Hamilton went to the beach to surf. Her parents, also surfers, had moved the family to Hawaii because they loved surfing so much. On Halloween morning 2003, Bethany and her friends went out to catch a perfect wave. Instead, a shark caught her and she lost her arm. That hasn’t deterred her and within a few months she was back in the water.
- The cover originally put off my daughter, but after I started reading the story she moved in closer to see and hear everything. She was very impressed by Bethany’s story.
- This is a book to read with your kids at least the first time through. It might not bother a fifth grader, but third graders probably need that shoulder nearby.
- This is an incredibly well written, well presented story for transitional readers. The photography is incredible. The glossary is filled with words that are probably familiar to kids who play sports but they offer tried-and-true definitions that will help them.
- The story will likely give kids pause to think about their life and, hopefully, inspire them to do more.
You can read our full review, with recommendations on ways to use the book for education, at The Reading Tub® .
A statue of the African-American poet Phyllis Whitley resides at the Boston Women's Memorial on Commonwealth Avenue.
Why should a child be exposed to history lessons?
Well, if you are inclined to align your thinking with Herbert Hoover, our 31st president, you will appreciate this quote:
“The supreme purpose of history is a better world.”
American poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren was of the same opinion.
“History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.”
Maya Angelou also weighs in on the value of teaching history.
“Despite its wrenching pain, (history) cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
I think learning history is like figuring out how to navigate a traffic roundabout. Stay where you are…and you’ll soon be dizzy and bored with the scenery. If you venture beyond your immediate circle, you can explore all sorts of places and get a better appreciation of the lay of the land.
Unfortunately, there was a pretty big void in my education when it came to history. Changing curricula and uninspired teachers didn’t help, so what I learned I came by haphazardly – often from historical novels and roadside markers read on family vacations.
In recent years, watching the History Channel, writing my family history, and helping my children study for their world and U.S. history classes have filled in some gaps. Visits to New Orleans and colonial Jamestown and Williamsburg, Va., over the holiday break gave me a healthy dose of new facts about early America, too.
Although I am decades older than BigUniverse.com’s target audience (K-8), I love their history books, which feature primary source photos and documents, pull-out fact boxes, vocabulary lists and more. The books present history in an appealing way, so I have been reading them to increase my understanding.
One of the biographies by Teacher Created Materials Publishing that caught my eye was a 32-page reader (for Grades 4-8) about Phillis Wheatley, the namesake of a community center in my city. Embarrassingly, I did not know a thing about her, so I was eager to fill the void.
Born in Gambia or Senegal, Africa, in 1753, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped and later sold into slavery around the age of 7 – about the age of my twin nieces, who I visited this Christmas. (How young Phillis was to have gone through such a wrenching life change!) The little slave child soon found herself in Boston, where she was purchased by a Boston merchant and tailor, John Wheatley, to act as an attendant for his wife, Susanna. Phillis was named after the ship on which she arrived, “The Phillis.”
Fortunately, Phillis was a bright thing and learned English quickly. The Wheatley family was progressive in their thinking and soon embraced her, educating her as one of their own children. She was taught to read and write and remarkably was reading Greek and Latin passages by the time she was 12.
Phillis Wheatley wrote her first poem at 13, which was published in a newspaper. With subsequent poetry, she gained notoriety in Boston. Mrs. Wheatley took Phillis to England, where she helped her get a book of 39 poems published, making Phillis the first African-American woman to become a published author. The book was titled “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.”
Phillis Wheatley was eventually emancipated formally and later married and had children. Although she was plagued by ill health and died young, her place in early American history is secure. “Early America: Phillis Wheatley” is a good read at any time of the year, but particularly poignant during Black History Month.
Other history quotes I like:
“A country without a memory is a country of madmen.” – George Santayana
“If the past has been an obstacle and a burden, knowledge of the past is the safest and the surest emancipation.” – Lord Acton
“If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.” – Aristotle
“This I regard as history’s highest function, to let no worthy action be uncommemorated, and to hold out the reprobation of posterity as a terror to evil words and deeds.” – Tacitus
Dr. Carter Woodson
Note: Dr. Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week in 1926 to make the public aware of contributions African-American people have made to the fabric of our nation. Today, Black History Month (also called African-American History Month) is observed annually in February on a national scale.
For additional resources for Black History Month, check out the books listed in my blog “Books Introduce Black History Month Heroes” and other books offered at Big Universe.
Rourke's Encyclopedia, Volume 13
Got Non-Fiction? Big Universe does! Rourke Publishing LLC is a new addition to the Big Universe library! This publisher has a plethora of non-fiction books aligned with national curricular standards. Read books about Outer Space, Going Green, Food Webs, Drag Racing and more! Best of all, they offer a full set of encyclopedias: Rourke’s Complete History of Our Presidents Encyclopedia. This 14-volume encyclopedia is available in its entirety, from George Washington through President Barack Obama.
Lesson Idea: Presidential Bio Poem
Spruce up your next biography unit. Students research a president and create a Bio Poem using the following prompts:
Name of president
Who cares deeply about
Who would like to see:
Sample Bio Poem about Bart Simpson
Bartholomew “Bart” JoJo Simpson
Rebellious, mischievous, prankster
Related to Homer
Who cares deeply about being 10
Who feels bored in class
Who needs attention from his peers
Who gives his teacher’s the blues
Who fears Nelson’s bullying
Who would like to see Radioactive Man
Resident of Springfield
For more presidential poetry ideas, check out the American Presidents website.
Keisa Williams (aka Ms. K) is a K-5 School Librarian at Monarch Academy, a public charter school in Oakland, CA. She is certified in secondary and elementary education (MLIS and MEd) and loves collaborating with teachers and integrating technology into her library lessons. She considers herself a “Technology Diva” and “Gadget Junkie”.