Slice of Life: Power of Biographies

As a kid, I wanted to like books.  I could read, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t connect. The one book I remember in elementary school was a collection of biographies of women athletes.  The whole idea of a female athlete, a champion, was captivating.  I poured over this book. Read it again and again. There was a fascination in the drama of athletics and in overcoming difficulties. It was a hero’s quest. And maybe, because they were female, one I wanted to identify with.

Last week I was talking to Melinda* about books. She told me she had read every book on Martin Luther King, Jr. Everyone. I handed her Powerful Words and asked if she had read it.  She opened it and searched for her hero. Then she devoured it. This kind of interaction happens a lot in my classroom. Kendra* is an Anne Frank expert. Loves to read anything about her. Cassie* has read and re-read everything written about Helen Keller. Every year, this happens.  The Who Was… series of books is as popular as graphic novels. They are the kind of books that go underground passed from kid to kid.

I was like my students.  And, I’ve found that, like me, many students who are not avid readers love biographies.  Perhaps the power lies in that real life hero’s journey.  Perhaps it’s the pursuit of excellence in the face of real obstacles. We want a part of that. This love of biographies made me think of my kiddos’ responses last week to this question: “Why are you here, in school?”

They want to learn —

 about stufff grown ups do in life

so that in life — in case we have to do something, we have a guide

They want life mentor texts.

Literature is the ultimate “how-to-be-human” guide,  but I think for some of our kiddos this type of connection needs to be assisted by a teacher. They can’t do it on their own, yet. Perhaps, biographies are more of a direct how-to/inspirational mentor text.

Our kids need and want mentor texts for life: books that speak their language, that contain characters that look like them, and books that provide a road map to real success, like biographies. The value of literature is evident for many readers; for those who don’t see the connections to their life yet, biography can provide a direct bridge.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.


6 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Power of Biographies

  1. This is a wonderful example of “there’s a book for every reader.” Wishing you a peaceful holiday season with good books to read.

  2. There have been some great biographies published recently. I loved Some Writer. And I remember reading a lot about Helen Keller and being fascinated. And I have enjoyed sharing that interest with students, too.

  3. I have those readers, too. Lynzee told me the other day that she has not read much nonfiction, so we went to the library and she got a book about Benjamin Franklin. Both of us learned some new things about this great man. I should turn to biographies more often. Thanks for this reminder.

  4. Interesting that you mention biographies because I, too, was drawn to that genre when growing up. I remember reading the Life Story of Mother Cabrini (I went to Catholic School) and was fascinated by the historical time period and her servant leadership role. Come to think of it the book was exactly what you said “how-to/inspirational”. Have a wonderful holiday, Julieanne.

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