Monday, April 27, 2009

Juvenile Biographies for All Ages

At the bottom of the back stairs, around the corner, on an A-frame shelving unit in the Youth Services room in the Thomas Ford Memorial Library, you will find new children's books, audiobooks, and DVDs on display. Whenever I visit that area, I glance at the offerings. Thinking about how Will Manly said in a recent column in Booklist that he enjoys juvenile biographies, I took three and read them this past week.

The first biography that I borrowed had just a woman's face on the front cover. Upon seeing it, I thought I recognized her, but I wasn't quite sure. She looked younger than in the standard depictions of a very famous person. Turning to the title page, I was affirmed; it was Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Gary Kelley is a handsome picture book about a woman who is remembered as a pioneer for women's rights and an activist for world peace. With a minimum of words, Rappaport describes Roosevelt's long life filled with both privledge and sacrifice. The author recounts the major events of the First Lady's life, even telling about her struggles with her mother-in-law and the hurt that she suffered when people described her as ugly. I enjoyed Kelley's soft, muted colors, which evoke the black-and-white world of the Depression and World War II eras. I think the page with Marian Anderson singing before the Lincoln Memorial would make a great poster.

The Many Rides of Paul Revere by James Cross Giblin was the second juvenile biography that I borrowed. I would not describe Giblin's book as a picture book, for there is quite a bit of text and even an index. Clearly it is aimed at students with assignments as much as pleasure readers. The primary message of this book is that Paul Revere did much more for the Revolutionary cause than one midnight ride. He was sent out by the Sons of Liberty on several occasions, traveling as far as Philadelphia to deliver messages. He was also a silversmith of renown, an early industrialist, and an articulate and respected member of his community. While looking at the many drawings and photographs, I enjoyed thinking about my family's past visits to Boston, including a visit to the Revere House, which is right off the Freedom Trail. Giblin's book is a substantial introduction to Revere for any age reader.

The third biography that I read was Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Duane Smith. In this book, Halfmann tells about a slave who in late 1863 spirited several African-American families across the Civil War battlefront by stealing a Confederate paddle boat. Posing as a white captain in the early morning light, he calmly guided the boat past several Confederate forts to the Union blockade of the Charleston, South Carolina harbor. In the afterward, the author tells how Smalls served five terms in the U.S. Congress. I liked Smith's broad brush illustrations dramatizing the bold escape.

I see now why Will Manly is enjoying juvenile biographies, which he has been reading with his grandchildren. The books are attractive, stories are compelling, and the research is substantial. More adults should notice these books with something to offer to all ages.

Rappaport, Doreen. Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt. Disney Hyperion Books, 2009. ISBN 9780786851416

Giblin, James Cross. The Many Rides of Paul Revere. Scholastic Press, 2007. ISBN 9780439572903

Halfmann, Janet. Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story. Lee & Low Books, 2008. ISBN 9781600602320

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