A Dickens of a List

Another recent acquisition from Junior Library Guild, and the timing is perfect.  This is the time of year that I love to share biographies (and other books that feature famous people) with students.  Things get rolling with Martin Luther King Day, and by February we’re highlighting presidents and famous black Americans and then it’s on to the women in March!   Here’s a list (in no particular order) of twenty-one of my favorite biographies and not-exactly-biographies about people of note.  Click here for more suggestions and activities in my article at TeachersFirst.

Gerstein, Sparrow Jack

Klise,  Stand Straight, Ella Kate

Adler, Wilma Unlimited, Lou Gehrig: the Luckiest Man, America’s Champion Swimmer

Hopkinson, Fanny in the Kitchen, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, A Boy Called Dickens

Winter, Biblioburro, The Watcher:  Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps

Burleigh, Tiger of the Snows  (Tenzing Norgay)

Lindbergh, Nobody Owns the Sky (Bessie Coleman)

Stauffacher, Tillie the Terrible Swede

Ryan, When Marian Sang

Brown, Uncommon Traveler, Dolley Madison Saves George Washington

Martin,  Snowflake Bentley

McCarthy,   Strong Man: the story of Charles Atlas

Chandra,  George Washington’s Teeth

Winters,  Abe Lincoln:  the boy who Loved Books

Yolen,  All Star:  Honus Wagner and the most Famous Baseball Card Ever

I’d love to hear about some of your favorites for elementary readers.  Please leave a comment!



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Queen of the Falls

My last book order of the fiscal year arrived about a week ago and I was immediately drawn to Chris Van Allsburg’s Queen of the Falls.  (The true story of the first person to ever go down Niagara Falls in a barrel–sixty-two year old widow Annie Edson Taylor.)  You can read what Fuse #8 had to say about it here.  It fit the bill for my third grade classes perfectly.

Most of the students had never been to Niagara Falls and I wanted them to get a feel for the beauty and sheer power of its cascading waters so I began with a four minute clip that I found on YouTube.  Others are available on WatchKnow. I asked them to imagine what it would be like to be inside some sort of vessel at the top and then plunge downward.  They were primed and ready for the book at that point!

There is a lot of text to the book and we actually didn’t finish in one sitting.  The great part is that you can stop at a fabulous cliff-hanger page–right as Annie Taylor is about to drop seventeen stories on what Van Allsburg describes as a “liquid avalanche.”  She whispers “Oh, lord” and then she’s gone… The daggers were flying when I closed the book and said we’d have to continue next time.  (My dark side loves when I can do that!)

I’m going to use the excitement that the book generated to do an author study of Chris Van Allsburg for the remainder of the school year.  His books are always great to spark discussion and always leave me feeling a bit unsettled.  It’s been a while since I read a lot of his work to kids.  Queen of the Falls is the perfect reason to return to it.