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Monday, May 16, 2011

Biographies for Children

We have a few Joy Cowley books (linked to review) that we have really enjoyed, and continue to enjoy.  They are fun, colorful, and great for early readers.  Published by Hameray Publishing Group, these books are early readers that have been used and enjoyed by teachers and students for many years.  When Hameray let me know that they have a new biography series out, I was eager to read some of these high interest books!

Underwater EncountersUnderwater Encounters

Hameray sent me three biographies including Anne Frank, Sacagewea, and Barack Obama.  They are, generally speaking, for grades 3-8.  However, Hameray has very specific applications of reading levels, with several per grade (and various labels as well).  Anne Frank is guided level R (proficient reader, grade 4), Sacagewea is guided level N (fluent reader, grade 3), and Barack Obama is guided level P (fluent reader, grade 3).  All of Hameray's books, including the biography series can be used with small (or large) groups.  These books are meant to be high interest for all readers.  Many schools like to use Hameray books for reading, and they have a fabulous reputation.  I was happy to read and review these three biographies.

Having read the 1,400 page book on Sacagewea over the summer of 1999 (maybe into the fall, I'm not sure), I do know a bit about Sacagewea and the Lewis and Clark expedition.  (Oh, how sad was I when I loaned this book to one of my students...who did not return to the school the following school year.  I just hope she read it and passed it on!  That was a good book, though long!)  Though there are other children's biographies available (that I have not read), I thought Sacagewea was a well-written book for an elementary aged child, especially for grades 3 and 4, and even some second graders, and older children would still have interest in it, too.  Though I disagreed with the pronunciation the book gave for Sacagewea's name (I believe most sources use the /j/ sound), the book itself gave great information-and much more than you would find in a third grade history book.

Most people are familiar with Anne Frank-The Diary of a Young Girl, and fourth grade is probably about as early as some parents might want to introduce some of the details of the brutality of World War II to their children.  Homeschoolers may consider this book for a younger age and guided closely by a parent.    Hameray's Anne Frank would be a good way to get an overview of Anne's life and how it was cut short.

Our current President (and past President Ronald Reagan) also has a biography by Hameray.  Known for his powerful and persuasive speeches, it is no surprise that the book Barack Obama includes several quotes.  As with the other books that I have highlighted here, this gives a brief summary of his life.  It tells of his upbringing and education.  It shares why Obama got involved in politics and eventually became president of the United States.  I didn't think this was an unbiased biography, and though that wouldn't be surprising if it were for an adult, this is a book that will be used in classrooms.   As with all the books, vocabulary words are included, with a glossary in the back.  One of the words to describe Obama is "open-minded."  Some may agree, but most conservative people would disagree with that statement.  My much larger disagreement is in the way the vocabulary word "liberal" is defined.  Based on author Adria F. Klein (and Hameray's?) definition in the glossary, liberal means "beliefs that are more open-minded and willing to include all sides."  WHAT?  Gee, can you imagine a child going home from school and asking his parents if they are liberal and being shocked when they say no because that means they are not "willing to listen to other view-points"?  If that is the definition for liberal, how can a fair definition be given for a conservative politician or voter?

I would be very disappointed if my child's school used a book such as this to educate children about the President.  Let me clarify.  I think educating our children about our current President, no matter the political party is just fine, and even beneficial.  However, in a classroom setting, words such as conservative and liberal should be properly defined, and the books a teacher uses to teach should not be politically slanted-to any view.  You may think that this review is a bit unbiased in itself, but when a publishing company asks for a review, it will be an honest one here at Live, Learn Love.  Politics can be taught without such strong bias in any school, and should be!  (As a former teacher, I know how important it is to be neutral in these situations.  I also know that a teacher should be careful of how they present their views-and the books we share with our classes have the capacity to be very influential.  Many children believe if they read it, it must be absolute fact, especially when presented as fact such as in a biography.)

Overall, I would definitely recommend the Sacagewea and Anne Frank biographies by Hameray and would even like to read others in the series.  However, I cannot recommend the Barack Obama book for the reasons stated above.  I hope some changes are made to Barack Obama to make it less biased to uphold the reputation of Hameray.

These biographies were provided for review purposes by Hameray.


Jennifer said...

I've been looking for age-appropriate biographies for my girls as well. My goal is over the summer break to have her read one biography for each month of summer break. Ease her out of the picture books and into more challenging reading.

Rockabye Butterfly said...

You have another chance to win a Trip Clip and Activities for your kids! :)) Check it out!

~Rockabye Butterfly~

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