"So a feminist is like Susan B. Anthony?" Biographies for my favorite 8-year-old.
December 30, 2009 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Frabjous day! My eight-year-old cousin likes biographies. What are good biography resources that are age appropriate?

I was delighted to discover while I was home for Christmas that my eight-year-old cousin, Lauren, loves biographies. (After I defined the word "feminist" for her, she recited the details of the lives of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Blackwell to me over dinner. Hooray!) I'd love to give her some books of short biographies that would be appropriate for her reading level (she's a devoted but slow reader).

Which books should I be looking for? I'd like to give her a collection, either of books in a series or an anthology. Ideally, the bios would be an even mix of men and women, and wouldn't be Americans only.
posted by ocherdraco to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As a kid I really loved Lost Star: The Search for Amelia Earhart.
posted by librarina at 8:05 PM on December 30, 2009

Oh man, probably too young now, but get her Anne Frank's Diary in a couple years.

Eleanor, Quiet No More looks age appropriate. Her autobiography may also be good in a few years.

When I was around her age, I did a report on Ella Fitzgerald, and I found her story very interesting. Up Close: Ella Fitzgerald may be a good choice to find out about her.
posted by piratebowling at 8:07 PM on December 30, 2009

It may be a bit of a stretch, age-wise, but I think I went through every back issue of Biography Magazine when I was around her age.
posted by piedmont at 8:16 PM on December 30, 2009

Bit of a stretch, maybe, but the Little House series could be considered autobiographies.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:28 PM on December 30, 2009

They're out of print (and possibly hard to find?), but as a kid about that age I really liked the ValueTale series, each of which features a biography of a person (not all American, but pretty much all Western with the exception of Confucius; many women; some persons of color) to illustrate a value (e.g., Thomas Edison, the value of creativity; Nellie Bly, the value of fairness; Cesar Chavez, the value of conviction). They have many pictures and are fairly easy reading. I think they'd be exactly what you have in mind, if you can find a used set! (I see they appear to have been reprinted in the 90s, and there is a set of those on eBay, but how that would differ from the originals, I have no idea.)
posted by lysimache at 8:43 PM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had a biography of Anna Blackwell when I was a kid, and also one of Florence Nightingale. I think they were published by Scholastic.
posted by gt2 at 8:43 PM on December 30, 2009

Both autobiographical volumes by Roald Dahl about his childhood are excellent. Start with Boy, then Going Solo.
posted by Blacksun at 8:45 PM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I remember reading some of a series of biographies for kids at that age level (Martin Luther King Jr., JFK ....) in the mid-70's but I don't remember who published them.
posted by brujita at 9:06 PM on December 30, 2009

Response by poster: roomthreeseventeen, my sister just gave her the entire Little House series for Christmas, so she's set on that front. :)

lysimache, the ValuTale series sounds perfect, but a cursory google seems to indicate that they're expensive and/or hard to find. I'll keep looking.

I should clarify: she particularly likes being able to learn and recite a person's entire life, so short ones are better than long ones like the Dahl books for this specific purpose (though I'll probably get her Boy, as I love Dahl, and it is a great book).
posted by ocherdraco at 9:41 PM on December 30, 2009

I know you said that you were looking for an even mix of men and women, but when I was younger I really enjoyed the HerStory books, which were short biographies of lesser-known Canadian women along with some bigger names. A preliminary Amazon search doesn't come up with anything at first glance, but it does show this book, edited by Gloria Steinem that contains biographies of the lives of numerous (international!) ladies. It is for ages 11&older but it sounds like your niece might be able to handle it :)
posted by hepta at 9:47 PM on December 30, 2009

This is, of course, male-focused and American, but when I was her age, I read this book. I got completely fascinated by the details of the Lincoln assassination.
posted by Madamina at 9:52 PM on December 30, 2009

I seem to remember a whole series of biographies aimed at kids ... well maybe boys. I remember going to the library and checking out and reading bios of Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Ben Franklin, er, ... there were scads of others, I know, a whole shelf full of them, from the same publisher, all bound similarly -- my favorite shelf at the time. This would have been when I was in about the 6th grade -- 11 years old. My 40... no, 41 year old brain can't seem to recall them much at all now, d'oh! I do remember the books were old even then (ca 1980).

I remember discussing this with a friend in college (ca 1988) and he fondly remembered reading the same books as a kid.

I don't really even have a good idea of what to google for to find out what those series of books was called.
posted by smcameron at 9:57 PM on December 30, 2009

Time For Kids Biography series? Looks like they're ~$3.99 each on Amazon for softcovers. They've got: Abigail Adams, Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Clara Barton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Henry Ford, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Rosa Parks, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison.

There's also the "Who is/was..." series, which is less US-centric. Also available individually on Amazon.

And the Rookie Biography series, which I think is my favorite since it includes Marie Curie (but not via the first link, I don't think). It's for 4-8, though, so it might be a little young.
posted by sentient at 10:00 PM on December 30, 2009

I DEVOURED the All-of-a-Kind Family books when I was about her age. They're more like Little House on the Prairie than an actual biography -- but they're all about a family growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the very early 1900's. I would pretend to be various characters in the books and make my brother act as the other ones. We had entire afternoons devoted to playing "immigrants on the Lower East Side."

I also really liked books about Harry Houdini and Sally Ride. That Harry Houdini is part of a collection of books that I remember reading as a kid -- they're biographies focusing on famous people when they were kids.
posted by melodykramer at 10:09 PM on December 30, 2009

I loved Jean Fritz's books when I was a kid. I haven't tried them on my kid yet - maybe I'm resisting the patriotism or something but I definitely remember them as accessible and fun.
posted by serazin at 10:43 PM on December 30, 2009

Would she like the Dear America series? It's fiction but i remember loving them as a kid. They all have excellent ratings on Amazon, too. Basically they are diaries of young girls in a bunch of different time periods.

Here's the wiki.
posted by Amanda B at 2:04 AM on December 31, 2009

well here is a pretty good list, i don't know if all the books are factual but there is a series called "Who was...." that seems right up this kiddos alley. Also, might I recommend for self motivated learners, a kids encyclopedias like this one. I am 27 and I love it and I think it's perfect for an 8 year old. here are a couple more links. this and this ....here's a good list of educational reference books too. tell your cousin happy reading!!! and make her some really nifty bookmarks....just print out her favorite images, laminate or tape them, punch a hole through the top, thread some yarn through it...and tada a pretty page holder for your little cuz. books and diy bookmarks make the best gifts.
posted by madmamasmith at 3:01 AM on December 31, 2009

Beverly Cleary's autobiography, A Girl From Yamhill, is wonderful, especially if your cousin likes her novels - large portions of Ramona's childhood were lifted directly from Cleary's own.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:30 AM on December 31, 2009

I loved the World Leaders: Past and Present series when I was in 6th grade. They are highly readable and may be available at your public library.
posted by reenum at 7:36 AM on December 31, 2009

If you memail me your info, I'll send some signed copies of the Daring books!

Both of the big volumes (Daring and Double-Daring) are non-fiction, and feature lots of biographies and stories (in addition to how-to instructional chapters -- the books are a mix of things to know and things to do). In the first volume there are bios of queens of the ancient world, Joan of Arc, women inventors and scientists, modern-day princesses, women Olympians, and (my favorite) pirates and spies. In the second, there are bios/stories of notable women astronomers, musicians, dancers, artists and writers, and mathematicians and scientists; Eleanor of Aquitaine; cowgirls and Calamity Jane; women of the underground railroad; and much more.
posted by mothershock at 10:22 AM on December 31, 2009

Response by poster: These are great leads, people; thanks so much.

mothershock, that would be FANTASTIC. Memail forthcoming.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:47 PM on December 31, 2009

Some I've liked recently are Strange Mr. Satie and Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, by M.T. Anderson; "Open the Door to Liberty: A Biography of Toussaint L'Ouverture," by Anne Rockwell; "Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor" by Emily Arnold McCully; and "How High Can We Climb: The Story of Women Explorers" by Jeannine Atkins.
posted by coffeeflavored at 9:54 PM on January 1, 2010

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