Wednesday, September 14

9 Newly Published Amazing Biographies for Kids (Plus One)

Biographies may inspire dread in some kids. It did for me, as a child, because the word "biography" was usually followed up with "book report" or "homework assignment." But reading biographies does not have to be a chore! No, there are so many awesome biographies of amazing people that are targeted at kids, that I'm going to share a few of my newest favorites here.

The Jerry Mock Story: The First Woman to Fly Solo around the World
Nancy Roe Pimm
Ohio University Press; 978-0821422168
(March 8, 2016)

This is the story of Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock. In her trusty Cessna, The Spirit of Columbus—also known as Charlie—she flew from Columbus, Ohio, on an eastward route that totaled nearly twenty-three thousand miles and took almost a month. Overcoming wind, ice, mechanical problems, and maybe even sabotage, Mock persevered, and became the first woman to successfully fly solo around the world.

I've always been fascinated by Amelia Earhart. And yet, it never occurred to me who actually successfully flew the fateful solo trip around the world after Earhart's tragic ending. Ms. Mock never did gain as much fame as Earhart, but her story is edge-of-your-seat exciting. This little ol' housewife left her husband and kids for the month-long solo trip, racing another woman who was also seeking the world record (yes, like flying alone around the world wasn't enough pressure). It's a thrilling story and I appreciate getting to know someone who isn't as famous as she could be. Ohio University Press has done some other awesome biographies for lesser-known heroes, including Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist and Kammie on First: Baseball’s Dottie Kamenshek.

Who Was Milton Bradley?
Written by Kirsten Anderson, illustrations by Tim Foley & Nancy Harrison
Grosset & Dunlap; 978-0448488479
(August 2, 2016)

Milton Bradley's early life consisted of several highs and lows, from graduating high school and attending Harvard to getting laid off and losing his first wife. These experiences gave Bradley the idea for his first board game: The Checkered Game of Life. He produced and sold Life across the country and it quickly became a national sensation. Working with his company, the Milton Bradley Company, he continued to produce board games, crayons, and kid-friendly school supplies for the rest of his life.

I really enjoyed playing Life. I don't know about you, but Milton Bradley's games are awesome. So I was intrigued to see this newest book from the Who Was...? series. Let's face it, all the books in the Who Was...? series are awesome, too. The books are just over 100 pages and dotted with illustrations, but still packed with useful biographical information. And there's a lot of books in the series. Chances are, there's a Who Was...? book highlighting your hero (for instance, the first one I ever bought: Who Is J. K. Rowling?).

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press; 978-1596439528
(September 22, 2015)

On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War, soon to be known as The Pentagon Papers. Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was responsible for the leak. Transformed from obscure government analyst into "the most dangerous man in America," he risked everything to expose years of government lies during the Nixon / Cold War era.

One of my top favorite books of 2015. Sheinkin is so good at making history into the gripping, thrilling, horrifying story that it is. Of course, I've heard of the Pentagon Papers, but to learn about the man behind them was particularly fascinating, putting the story on a more personal and intricate level. It's no coincidence that Sheinkin wrote this book after the controversy around Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks—Most Dangerous is not only well-written and educational but extremely relevant to current events. Also, try Sheinkin's The Notorious Benedict Arnold for more historical biography excitement.

El Deafo
Cece Bell
Harry N. Abrams; 978-1419712173
(September 2, 2014)

Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid.

A graphic novel! Yes, a brilliantly illustrated and put together graphic novel. It's not your standard biography—but then again, Cece Bell is not your standard author. This book is a personal memoir, yes, but Bell writes it in a way that makes it easy to commiserate and relate to the challenges of growing up. Kids (and adults) are sure to love her sweet story (it was one of my favorites of 2014!). If graphic novel memoirs are your thing, don't forget to also check out Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier.

Brown Girl Dreaming
Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books; 978-0399252518
(August 28, 2014)

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African-American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement.

I'm not usually one for poetry, but, oh man, is this book stunning. The writing is so beautiful, the stories so personal, that I really feel like I know Woodson as a friend. I love this book. Even if you're scared of poetry, like I am, read it. Not only is it a fascinating memoir, but the historical insight into the Civil Rights movement is really interesting.

Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood from Creative Legends
Written by David Stabler, illustrated by Doogie Horner
Quirk Books; 978-1594748967
(August 9, 2016)

Every great artist started out as a kid. Forget the awards, the sold-out museum exhibitions, and the timeless masterpieces. When the world’s most celebrated artists were growing up, they had regular-kid problems just like you.

Have I recommended every Kid Legends book available in some book list or another on my blog? Yes. Yes, I have. Because they're awesome. After Kid Presidents and Kid Athletes comes this, their newest publication all about different artists. Vincent Van Gogh to Yoko Ono, Jackson Pollock to Dr. Seuss...there's a lot to be learned about the childhoods of some fascinating artists.

Hitler's Last Days: The Death of the Nazi Regime and the World's Most Notorious Dictator
Bill O'Reilly
Henry Holt; 978-1627793964
(June 9, 2015)

By early 1945, the destruction of the German Nazi State seems certain. The Allied forces, led by American generals George S. Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower, are gaining control of Europe, leaving German leaders scrambling. Facing defeat, Adolf Hitler flees to a secret bunker with his new wife, Eva Braun, and his beloved dog, Blondi. It is there that all three would meet their end, thus ending the Third Reich and one of the darkest chapters of history.

If you haven't heard of Bill O'Reilly, then you're really missing out (I'm still on hold for his newest, Killing the Rising Sun). His history books are written for adults, yes, but that doesn't mean kids can't enjoy the Young Readers editions. This particular book is the abbreviated version of O'Reilly's Killing Patton and covers the lives of some of the most powerful leaders in WWII. Fact-filled, great photographs, and thoroughly engaging, history readers will love this book.

Breakaway: Beyond the Goal
Alex Morgan
Simon & Schuster Books; 978-1481451079
(June 2, 2015)

From her beginnings with the American Youth Soccer Organization to her key role in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Alex shares the details that made her who she is today: a fantastic role model and athlete who proudly rocks a pink headband.

To be honest, I haven't read this one. But I do want to highlight how awesome sports autobiographies can be for kids. Learning about the perseverance, practice, hard work, and rewards of becoming an excellent athlete from the athletes themselves make for great reads for young athletes across the board. If soccer isn't your thing, I bet there's one out there in your favorite sport. (I particularly enjoyed Grace, Gold, and Glory from Gabby Douglas and am looking forward to Courage to Soar from Simone Biles, coming in November.)

Tru & Nelle
G. Neri
HMH Books; 978-0544699601
(March 1, 2016)

Long before they became famous writers, Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) were childhood friends in Monroeville, Alabama. This fictionalized account of their time together opens at the beginning of the Great Depression, when Tru is seven and Nelle is six. They love playing pirates, but they like playing Sherlock and Watson-style detectives even more. It’s their pursuit of a case of drugstore theft that lands the daring duo in real trouble.

You're right, it's a novel. It's not actually a biography. It's fictionalized. BUT this book has been reviewed with so much praise and fanfare, I really wanted to include it on this list. The fact that it's based on Capote's and Lee's real lives may just inspire kids to explore more into their actual histories. Books like these are great for getting kids excited about history. Look forward to my full review coming next week!

Wait! Bonus favorite! It's not a recent publication, but since Roald Dahl Day was yesterday, I just gotta highlight this classic...

Boy: Tales of Childhood
Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Farrar, Straus; 978-0142413814

As full of excitement and the unexpected as his world-famous, best-selling books, Roald Dahl's tales of his own childhood are completely fascinating and fiendishly funny. Did you know that Roald Dahl nearly lost his nose in a car accident? Or that he was once a chocolate candy tester for Cadbury's? Have you heard about his involvement in the Great Mouse Plot of 1924? If not, you don’t yet know all there is to know about Roald Dahl.

It seriously feels like you're reading another of Dahl's wonderful, fantastical tales, and yet—it's a total, true-to-life autobiography. If you haven't had the opportunity to read about Dahl's life, I highly recommend this book. And then you'll know why I think of Roald Dahl every time I sit on a cold toilet seat.


How about you? What's your favorite biography written for kids?