You may have seen (or read some of) the “Who was/is . . .” series of biographies (published by Penguin). As a teacher, I found my students loved to read these books.
I admit that, at first, I was a little dubious of their value. I am always a little hesitant with book series as they can be formulaic and lacking in promoting acquisition of new vocabulary (Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia and other classic series excluded). Also, as a fifth grade teacher, I felt the reading level was a little low for my students. However, as I have read many in the series over the years, I have concluded that they are definitely worth the investment (in terms of both money and time).
The main reason for this is that the books help young readers identify traits, attributes, and other characteristics associated with achieving fulfillment in a chosen field. As a creativity researcher, I am very interested in the traits of creative individuals. Although there is not really a consensus list of traits, those commonly associated with creativity include (but are not limited to):
The architect of this series (the books have different authors) obviously is interested in traits, too. In an unobtrusive but identifiable manner, the series examples that are about creative individuals highlight these traits and detail experiences from the subject’s life that demonstrate them. The books often go beyond illustrating the traits – they discuss the activities (even in childhood) that these individuals engaged in to develop these traits (as well as attributes and skills).
The same is true when reading the series entries about leaders, scientists, entrepreneurs, etc. It is easy to see (from childhood on) the traits and attributes associated with (and that contributed to) each individual’s accomplishments in his or her field.
I have included some items here that might be helpful as you use the books (files at the end of this blog post).
Effectively, the books serve as mini-mentors – showing children a pathway to fulfillment in a chosen career. As a bonus, the biographies tend to lay bare the subjects’ failures, illustrating for the reader the ways in which failures can be learning experiences and how one can move on from them.
As with just about enterprise, the “Who was . . .” series has its own website. The main purpose of the website is to sell books (of course), but they do offer a pop quiz, an app adventure game, lesson plans and worksheets.
If you work with a child who is between grades three through six, dig into some of these books and learn all about the traits that helped these individuals achieve their goals.
From Pictures to Words: A Book about Making a Book
Age Level: Upper Elementary
Best Use: Shared between adult and child
I’ve seen and heard a lot from parents lately about working with their children on their writing, so I thought I would review this book about writing.
Writing can be one of the most intimidating activities for children. On the other hand, some children find it a pleasure. In her book, From Pictures to Words: A Book about Making a Book, author Janet Stevens provides support for moving kids from the former group to the latter and offers motivation for your child to create his or her own literary masterpiece.
Through a dialogue with, and captivating illustrations of, the characters in her imagination, Stevens introduces children to the process of creating a book by working through that process herself. She explores selecting a setting, works through developing a plot, and describes the integration of illustrations to enhance the story. Her work lays bare the mystery of the writing process elucidating how writers come up with ideas, choose the best ones and refine them until they are just right to deliver an exciting experience for the reader.
After reading, children (and adults) have a better understanding of the parts of a book and how a book develops from an idea to the finished product on the shelf. And, the book can be used as a springboard for children’s writing. Here are some ideas for extending the experience:
Write stories on Blank Books (or a book on a favorite topic)
Good Biographies of Writers
If you are interested in some other great biographies of authors, there is a longer list here at the bottom of the activity.
Now, off to work on my own book!
*For our Tampa area friends, this book is available at Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative.
What Marco Polo Saw: An Adventure on the Silk Road
By Sandra Markle
Age Level: Upper Elementary
Best Use: Shared Reading (Adult and Child), though accomplished readers can read it alone
Despite the way the title sounds, The Animals Marco Polo Saw is more than a catalog of camels, elephants and other unusual beings. In fact, many different aspects of Marco Polo’s journeys to the East are detailed and beautifully illustrated in this book that introduces the reader to the history and exotic features of this long ago highway of trade.
The colorful prints lend support to the text and describe such events as Marco Polo’s boyhood and family mercantile business, the initiation of the journey to the East, run ins with bandits, a bout of disease in the bitter colds of Tajikistan, crossing the mountains, meeting and working for Kublai Khan, and, finally after 17 years, heading home.
At each point in the journey, an inset offers pictures and information of an animal integral to the experiences there and provides interesting facts such as the differences between Dromedary and Bactrian camels.
The book is actually part of a series on the explorers (individuals whose explorations “had a major impact on people’s view of the world”). Each book describes the adventures of an explorer with the same underlying structure of featuring animals the explorer witnessed along the way. Other explorers in the series include Robert Scott, Christopher Columbus, and Charles Darwin.
Not only is this book fun to read, but it is useful to instigate further activities:
We hope you find the book as valuable as we did. Either way, comment on this blog to let us know.
*Tampa residents, this book and some of the others in the series are available through Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative.
Do you have a child at home that is a perfectionist? Perhaps he/she simply keeps working – erasing, rearranging - until he/she feels satisfied with a product. Or, it’s a negative situation and he/she gets heavily frustrated and agitated while making those changes. Or, even worse, he/she gives up in the middle. Or, still worse, he/she never tries in the first place, “knowing” that whatever is created will not be up to par.
There are many great books on the topic of perfectionism to read with your children. We’ll be looking at several of these over the next few months but today we start with “The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes” by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein. (Even if you don’t have a perfectionist around, this is a great book for reminding all of us that failure is part of life and it’s not failure but what we do after we fail that is important).
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes does a great job of representing many feelings perfectionist children possess. Beatrice, the main character, is a perfectionist, and as such, she feels a great deal of pressure to maintain perfection at all times. Her perfect record, and the pressure that derives from it, weigh heavily on her. You can feel the pressure build as Beatrice goes through her day. To compound the issue, she has an “almost mistake” which makes her scared that she might make an actual mistake, so she withdraws and refuses to participate in any activities.
What makes her situation worse, and is experienced by many perfectionists, are expectations from others. Everyone knows she is perfect, in fact, she is literally known as "the girl who doesn’t make mistakes.”
Looming over Beatrice is the evening’s talent show, which she has won three years running. Soon, she begins to doubt herself – an experience which afflicts many perfectionists.
As you might expect, her juggling act in the talent show does not go well. But, fortunately, Beatrice handles the situation with, if not grace, then, at least a little aplomb, and not a small amount of humor, providing a great example for children who suffer from the anxieties of perfectionism. The world does not end, and, all of the mounting pressure released, Beatrice has the best night’s sleep she’s ever had.
The next day, Beatrice faces the world from a new perspective and delights in the activities she shunned out of fear on the previous day.
Although it is unlikely this book will perform a miraculous turnaround, as is witnessed in the book, the conversations it might evoke between you and your perfectionist child could be helpful. It might prompt your child to verbalize any troublesome feelings similar to those of Beatrice. Or, you might use it as an opening to talk about any of your anxieties with making mistakes, and better yet, share times when you made mistakes and failed but got right back up again ready to face new challenges.
Then perhaps, over time with further discussion, modeling, and living life, your perfectionist child will feel freer to try out new activities and be able to take risks despite the possibility of failure.
Picture Books are a great way for all ages of children to learn about various topics. A great example is the book I Took a Walk by Henry Cole. In this book, the reader takes a nature walk through the eyes of the "walker." By opening the fold out pages, the reader discovers all sorts of animals and other organisms “hiding” in grass, trees, ponds and streams. Cole demonstrates that observing nature requires quiet looking, listening and reflecting.
In addition to just sharing some bonding time with your child enjoying a pleasurable read, the book can be used to prompt activities. After reading, you might engage in a little research to learn more about the organisms found inside - and even drawing their own pictures of the organisms.
Since the book is such a wonderful model for observation in nature, it is a springboard to your own nature adventures. Step outside and follow Henry Cole's lead to get a glimpse of the amazing, complex world just outside your door.
I Took a Walk
by Henry Cole