Let's Go To The Library
I know you are all perfectly capable of going to the library and picking out biographies all on your own. But a blog just isn't as fun without pictures, so I took my camera to the library today to show you how I do it.

(Admit it, you like pictures, too. I think that's why I love blogs so much because deep down I am a snoop and pictures on blogs let me get glimpses into other people's homes and lives. I have always loved to snoop, which is a bad, bad habit. I know. In my defense,  I haven't really snooped since my babysitting days. Um, a note here to the families I babysat for: please don't think less of me. I never betrayed any of your secrets. Unless I was with my friend Julie. I'm sorry. Let's just assume the statute of limitations has long since expired on this.)

Okay, so back to the library. Our library has a pretty great children's section. Here is the row of biographies. Both sides on the left and the right are full of information about people.

The books are divided into topics like sports, Civil War, presidents, Native Americans, civil rights, etc. I don't usually go to the library with a particular person in mind. I just browse different sections and look for the following three things: 1) Anything with African Americans. 2) Anything my kids would find interesting. 3) Anything I think they should know. So my criteria could be different from your criteria.

Today I found this book propped up on a display rack. I did not plant it. I promise. It was just sitting there. Barack Obama's Family Tree. So you know I grabbed it. It's probably not checked out very often in my city, which is why it was on display, I'm sure.

I dug through a few more sections and found a Shaun White book that I knew Carver would luuu-huuuuve. I flipped it open to check how long the chapters were, and saw that it was short and easy. This book we could read in one night. A keeper.

I soon found a fabulous graphic biography. A graphic story is written in comic book style. They are a big hit with both my boys, so it's fun to find one that meets all the criteria I listed above. This one is about Matthew Henson, the man who discovered the North Pole. (Did you know that? Isn't that awesome?)

I was happy with my current finds, but they would only last us through four days at the most. And then I hit the jackpot. This little beauty. I learned a long time ago to never judge a book by its cover. Don't always assume the flashiest or prettiest books are best. This book, African Americans Who Were First, is probably the best book I've come across so far.

The book is in chronological order, beginning in the 1600's when the first Africans were brought to the English colony as slaves. It ends with Beverly Harvard in 1994, the first African-American woman police chief of a big city. Each page of this book tells the story of an African-American that was the first at something. Did you know the first person to make a clock in the American colonies was black? The person that invented the gas mask and traffic lights was also black. How about the first to set up a blood bank, or win 4 Olympic gold medals, or the first to separate conjoined twins! If you guessed an African American, then you would be right.

I plan to read about a person each night, but you can bet my kids will beg me to read more than that. Still, even if we read two or three at a time, this book will take a few weeks to enjoy. I can hardly wait to see the pride on my kids' faces as they discover how their forefathers accomplished so much that is valuable and noteworthy.

What's more, I just read the introduction to African Americans Who Were First. You'd almost think I set it up to work out this way, but I promise you I didn't. I'm going to type it here. Ready for chills up and down your spine?

The history of African Americans is not separate from what we call American history. To have a complete picture of the history of our country, we must understand the role played by all the people who helped create it. When we were children, the books we read in our classrooms did not record the deeds and contributions of African Americans. It was as though they had played no part in our country's growth. In writing this book, we wanted you to discover men and women whom we did not learn about at your age. We wanted to introduce you to people you could take pride in and whom you could respect for the things they have done. We hope you will explore further the lives of these pioneers and the many others who were also great achievers. The best reward for our efforts would be for you to share what you learn with your family and friends, and to let the lives of these courageous people guide you in setting your own goals.

-----The authors, Joan Potter and Constance Claytor

Yeah. I'm still coming down off the ceiling from that awesome introduction.

So that wraps up my very scientific way of finding books for the kidlets. I hope your library is full of a variety of biographies as well. I'd love to hear from you about what biographies you want to read with your kids. I know my children are a few years older than most of yours. I think 5 or 6 is a pretty good age to undertake biographies. Not that younger children can't handle biographies, but once your kids are school age, you can find books that are better written about more diverse people.

In a few days I'll write about my thoughts on what you can do if you live in a mostly Caucasian neighborhood, town, or part of the country.


rebekah said...

Great information - I will track down the book of firsts. Love that.

Did you know I used to be a TA for a class called 'Race, Racsim and Prejudice in the US, 1607 to the present.' It was astoundingly eye opening and also depressing as hell. We (white Americans) have systematically held down and erased the history of African Americans. I honestly thought I'd teach history from the perspective of those whose history has been neglected. Didn't happen, but still a passion of mine.

I also TA'ed for 'Native American History, 1890-present.' I sarcastically called those years after 1890 the good years. You know, reservations, boarding schools and being ripped off by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

jayme said...

The book of firsts sounds amazing! That's exactly the sort of thing I want to share with my kiddos. As for biographies, we've only got a couple of them so far (Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Barack Obama) but I'm sure our collection will be expanding as our kids get a little bit older.

I'm definitely drawn to biographies about people who broke the mold in some way. For example, Elijah would love books about scientists, so I'll go out of my way to find women and people of colour in science.

Sadly, lots of the people I'd love for my kids to read biographies of just don't exist in kid book form.

Rebekah, do you happen to still have the reading list for that class? I'd be very, very interested.

cathy said...

Jayme, let me know when you read George Washington Carver to Elijah, as that's who we named Carver after. : ) We've found some obscure scientists here and there. Well, I should correct myself. They shouldn't be obscure but they were to me, sadly. As he gets older you'll be able to really expand on his interests. Rebekah, what amazing experience you have had. Feel free to share any resources or information that you think would help the rest of us.

Vivi said...

I've loved this read-biographies-together idea of yours for quite a while now, but just hadn't gotten myself organized about it yet. Banany reads constantly and we're always looking for new books at the library for her.

This post sealed the deal. I love the African Americans Who Were First book idea...just put it on hold at our library. I think she'll love it. She is fascinated by Rosa Parks and it made me realize that I'm not intentional enough about exposing her to her to other cultures, races, history etc.

I mean, please, you can only learn so much from Barbie.

Vivi said...

And by the way, your picture tutorial was actually quite helpful since I've never done a search for biographies to read to kids.

hotflawedmama said...

Thank you so much for this! I CANNOT wait to get started!

I'm a total snoop too. I actually picked out one of my color's based on a blog I read. Oops! :)

Melodie Monberg said...

Love the book recommendations. My kids will love that last one too! Thanks for sharing!