Childhood of Famous Americans series

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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.

Reviewed on June 28, 2013

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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  1. We had something that sounds very similar to this in my third-grade classroom, although it may have focused on just American women — I remember reading all about Harriet Tubman and Clara Barton, particularly. Did the books talk about things in the people’s early lives that nudged them in the direction of the work they would end up doing? That was always interesting to me as a kid.

    1. Yep! Sounds very similar. As you see, I read mostly about some of the famous women. There are a few different kinds of books like this, but YES, these books are all about the famous people as children, with little fact about their grown up life. The newer written ones are less tightly related to childhood, though. I feel that some of the books fail to keep that focus, to their detriment, unfortunately. In general, though, a fun way to approach American History.

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