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Heroes of Diversity: Biographies for Inauguration Week

by Miriam Downey 26. January 2013 07:16

As I was watching the inauguration festivities this week, I was struck by the racial and ethnic diversity of the people on the stage with the president, from Justice Sotomayor, who administered the oath of office to Vice President Biden, to President Obama himself. Then, as the camera panned the crowd, I saw one of the most diverse crowds I have every seen. This was followed by an inaugural parade that had Native American horseback riders, Mexican dancers, and African American college bands.

I have collected a variety of biographies about some of the heroes of this diverse nation of ours. Some names will be familiar; some you won't know at all. Some of the books are available from the We Give Books website, while others will be available at your library or bookstore. Finish our month of biographies by reading one or more of these inspiring biographies. You will need to log on to the We Give Books website to access their online books, but I think that you will be glad that you did because there are several hundred books on that site.

PB means picture book or easy reader or picture book for the early grades; MR means books for children in grades 4-8; and YA means books for high school students. Enjoy!

African Americans

PB The Hallelujah Flight by Phil Bidner. Two African American pilots fly across the country during the Great Depression.

PB Who is Barack Obama? by Roberta Edwards. An easy reader of the the president's life.

MR Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves Deputy US Marshall by Vaunda Nelson. The story of a colorful career.

MR Free at Last: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. by DK Publishing. An easy reader of MLK's life.

MR The Voice that Changed a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman. A biography of the singer who broke racial barriers.

MR Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell. Sojourner Truth was one of the original abolitionists.

YA Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass. The amazing story of the escaped slave and abolitionist.


PB  Emma's Poem: The voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser. The story of how Emma Lazarus came to write the poem that appears on the Statue of Liberty.

PB Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Weatherford. How Tubman's faith sustained her on the road to freedom.

MR Women Explorers by Julia Cummins. Adventurous women.

MR Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming. The drama of Earhart's adventurous life.

YA Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Stone. How women tried to become astronauts in the early days of the Mercury astronaut program.

Hispanic Americans

MR  Soledad O'Brien: Television Journalist by David Robson. Highlights the life of the television journalist.

MR Sonia Sotomayor: First Hispanic US Supreme Court Justice by Lisa McElroy. On stage at the inauguration this year.

MR  Roberto Clemente by Thomas W. Gilbert. The story of the Puerto Rican American baseball player.

YA Ellen Ochoa by Judy L. Hasday. A biography of the first Hispanic woman to travel in space.

YA Cesar  Chavez  by Consuelo Rodriguez. A portrait of the man who organized farm workers.

Asian Americans

MR I.M. Pei by Mary Englar. A biography of the architect.

MR Yo-Yo Ma by Mary Olmstead. A profie of the world-renowned cellist.

YA Amy Tan: Weaver of Asian-American Tales by Ann Angel. Tan is an important Asian-American novelist.

Native Americans

PB Pocahontas by DK Publishing. Easy reader about native woman who maintained the peace between English colonists and Native Americans.

PB This Land is My Land by George Littlechild. The memories of a member of the Plains Cree Nation.

MR King Philip the Indian Chief by Ester Averill. An account of King Philip's War.

MR Native American Doctor: The Story of Susan LeFlesche Picotte by Jeri Ferris. The story of the first Native American woman doctor.

YA Sitting Bull and His World by Albert Marrin. One man's fight against the destruction of his tribe.

 If you need other book selections, please add a comment to this posting.

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Sports Biographies

by Miriam Downey 15. January 2013 07:30

We continue our month of great biographies with some biographies and autobiographies about famous athletes. Sports books are often the best way to get boys to read, but I also included some inspiring biographies about women athletes as well. Forgive me, but I had to include a new book written by Derek Jeter, shortstop of the Yankees. He is one of our hometown heroes and does a lot of good in our community with his Turn To Foundation.  Every year he comes to town and meets and talks with many of our community's children. Year after year, he inspires children to do their best.

That is what the best children's biographies do--serve as inspiration to readers. You can find short biographies of athletes on many websites. Here are just a couple of good ones: and has videos on the site which will be helpful for reluctant readers, but there are also advertisements on the site.

PB means picture book or easy reader; MR means middle reader (grades 408) and YA means high school readers.

Most of these books can be found at your local library. Some are available for your ereader. Enjoy!


MR Lives of the Athletes: Thrills, Spills (And What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull. The lives of 20 famous athletes.


PB  Teammates by Peter Golenbock. Tells the story of the friendship between Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese.

PB Home Run: The Story of Babe Ruth by Robert Burleigh. Biography of the first great baseball player.

MR  Heroes of Baseball  by Robert Lipsyte.  Short biographies of several baseball players.

MR  A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie "Peanut" Johnson by Michelle Y. Green. Mamie Johnson was one of only three women to play pro baseball in the Negro Leagues.

YA  The Life You Imagine: Life Lessons for Achieving Your Dreams by Derek Jeter. An autobiography by the famous New York Yankees pitcher.


PB  Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream by Roslyn Jordan. A picture book of the famous basketball player.

MR  Michael Jordan: A Life Above the Rim by Robert Lipsyte. The true story of the amazing athlete.

YA  My Losing Season: A Memoir by Pat Conroy. A famous author tells about his last season as a college basketball player.

YA  Counting Coup by Larry Colton.  A winning season on a girl's basketball team made up of Native American and White teenage girls.


PB  Family Huddle by Peyton Manning. A family story from the childhood of Peyton Manning.

MR  Sports Illustrated Football's Greatest by the editors of Sports Illustrated. Short biographies of famous football players.

YA  Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger. A town shaped by its football team.

YA  Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer. The biography of the football player turned soldier who was killed in Afghanistan.


PB  Hockey Hotshots: Young Stars of the NHL by Steele Filipek.  Easy reader profile of NHL players.

MR  Sidney Crosby: Hockey Superstar by Matt Doeden. How Crosby became a Stanley Cup champion.

MR  On the Ice with Wayne Grettzky by Matt Christopher. The life of the legendary hockey player.


PB Hope Solo: My Story by Hope Solo.  An autobiography for young readers.

MR  The Beautiful Game: The World's Greatest Players and How Soccer Changed Their Lives by Tom Watts. Profiles of several of the world's best players.

YA  Messi: The Inside Story of the Boy Who Became a Legend by Luca Laioli. Lional Messi is only 24, and he is already a legend.

Track and Field

PB Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull. Picture book biography of the famous runner.

YA  Pre: The Story of America's Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine by Tom Jordan. For four years Pre was the best runner in the U.S,

YA  The Best that I Can Be by Rafer Johnson. Tells the classic athletic story about hard work, success, and glory.

Other Sports

MR  Hawk: Occupation Skateboarder by Tony Hawk. A memoir by the famous skateboarder.

MR  The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers. An illustrated biography of the boxing great.

YA  I Was a Teenage Professional Wrestler by Ted Lewin. The children's author tells about an unusual year in his life.

YA Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox. The adventures of a long-distance swimmer.


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Great Biographies about Presidents

by Miriam Downey 3. January 2013 12:53

My nephew Evan is obsessed with Abraham Lincoln. He has dressed like Abe for Halloween and even had a log cabin birthday cake and a Lincoln impersonator come to his tenth birthday. He has read several biographies and knows lots and lots of details about Lincoln. He is my inspiration for the blog postings in January 2013.

During the month of January, I am going to concentrate my blogging on biographies for children and teenagers. Why biographies? Because biographies provide valuable lessons in life, and they help young readers know that life is not always smooth, even for the most famous among us. One online blogger suggests these reasons to read biographies:

  1. To discover fascinating people like Helen Keller or Babe Ruth.
  2. To rediscover people we think we know well, like the presidents.
  3. To assess infamous characters, for instance Billy the Kid or Jesse James.
  4. To get the story behind legendary characters, like St. Patrick or Christopher Columbus.
  5. To find a hero. I remember reading about Jane Addams who worked with immigrants in Chicago. I read the biography when I was 10, and it influenced my career choice.
  6. To learn history through the life of an individual, perhaps through Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut, or Martin Luther King, Jr.
  7. To experience adventure from the safety of one's armchair. Last year I read a great adventure story about Hiram Bingham, who discovered Machu Pichu, the ancient city in Peru.
  8. To celebrate one's culture. Perhaps a biography of Steven Spielberg or Bill Gates.

This week's entry will concentrate on books about the U.S. presidents.

There are many series of biographies about presidents; a few of the series have a book for each president. If your child is really into the presidents, he/she might want to read through the entire series. The books I am writing about in this blog posting are individual books that tell part of the story of the president mentioned. There is a picture book, chapter book, and young adult book for each president. Of course, I won't be able to list books for all the presidents, but here is a good selection. If you need a recommendation for another president, please make a comment at the end of the posting, and I will recommend an appropriate book. You will be able to get these books at your public library.

PB means picture book; MR means middle reader; YA means teen reading.

The White House website has some excellent biographical sketches of the presidents. You can find them here. Another good set of biographies can be found at the website. There are videos at this website which may be valuable to reluctant readers.

 George Washington

PB  George Washington's Teeth by Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora

MR  Washington at Valley Forge by Russell Freedman

YA  George Washington and the Founding of a Nation by Albert Marrin

Thomas Jefferson

PB  A Big Cheese for the White House: The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar by Candace Fleming

MR  What's the Deal? Jefferson, Napoleon and the Louisiana Purchase by Rhonda Blumberg

YA  Thomas Jefferson: Architect of Democracy by John B. Severance

Abraham Lincoln

PB  Abraham Lincoln by Amy Cohn and Suzy Schmidt

MR  The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming

YA  Lincoln and Slavery by Peter Burchard

Theodore Roosevelt

PB  Teedie: The Story of Young Teddy Roosevelt by Don Brown

MR Theodore Roosevelt: Champion of the American Spirit by Betsy Harvey Kraft

YA  Up Close: Theodore Roosevelt by Michael L. Cooper

Franklin D. Roosevelt

PB  Make Your Mark, Franklin Roosevelt by Judith St. George

MR  Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Russell Freedman

YA  The New Deal by Susan E. Hamen

John F. Kennedy

PB Jack's Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy by Doreen Rappaport

MR Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy by Ilene Cooper

YA  Kennedy Assassinated! The World Mourns: A Reporter's Story by Wilborn Hampton

Barack Obama

PB  Barack Obama: Out of Many One by Shana Corey

MR  Obama: A Promise of Change by David Mendell

YA  Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

Here are a couple of other notable books about the presidents:

MR  First Children: Growing Up in the White House by Katherine Leiner

MR  Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame, and What the Neighbors Thought by Kathleen Krull


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