One series I’ve been reading over the past two months are books from the Childhood of Famous Americans series. I found them to be a mixed series. Some of the books are fabulous, while others are a slog.
For the most part, each book in the Childhood of Famous Americans series has 15 chapters. The chapters follow a predictable pattern, mostly focusing on the childhood of the American in discussion. The last chapter is a snapshot of a scene in the famous person’s adulthood, when others are talking about how and why the person is so special. This is the general pattern, and I found some of the books did a wonderful job. Some may wonder if the pattern is tiresome. It is just right, I believe, for the age of children for which these books are intended. I remember loving the predictable patterns in the series of books I read.
Clara Barton by Augusta Stevenson, Helen Keller by Katharine E. WIlkie, and Benjamin Franklin by Augusta Stevenson were a few of the books that followed this pattern and provided a nice overview of the people discussed in them. They were written succinctly and clearly. Pocahontas by Leslie Gourse and John Glenn by Michael Burgan also did an okay job, although these were not as tightly focused on the childhood of the famous person. Other books I picked up in the series were ponderously long. As I read Louisa May Alcott by Beatrice Gormley and I found myself bored with the dense prose and detailed minutiae; I cannot image a child maintaining interest throughout. I already like Louisa May Alcott! I did not read others in full, but I found the same problems as I flipped through Christopher Reeves and Mr. Rogers.
The bottom line is that for the majority of the books I read in the Childhood of Famous Americans series, I felt I could hand them to a third grader and the student would read them and enjoy them. Some of the books in the series, however, are difficult to read. I find it a shame that I cannot assume that these books are at the third to fifth grade level and send my son to enjoy learning about the famous Americans in history. That said, I’d be curious to read a few more from the series. I like the premise, and I think kids could really appreciate learning history from biographies; I only wish they were more predictable.
Note: I read these books from library copies for a set of custom-order book studies that I created. I was not compensated for my review.