Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Small Readers: You Should Meet Mae Jemison and Jesse Owens by Laurie Calkhoven, illustrated by (respectively) Monique Dong and Elizabet Vukovic

I have a couple book club attendees who are very interested in biographies. I've noticed that it's only the high-level readers who are interested in this genre; lower-level readers and reluctant readers are much less likely to pick up biographies at this age.

This series features both well-known and minority people who made an impact on history. I chose two titles for our book club in March; Mae Jemison and Jesse Owens.

The biography of Mae Jemison talks about her early life, her determination to succeed and try out different things, and her eventual success in multiple careers. It's upbeat and inspirational with lots of short narrative stories that my readers can relate to.

Jesse Owens' biography touches briefly on his disadvantaged early life, where he battled poverty and prejudice, and his eventual triumph at the Olympics in Berlin. However, this did not last long as Owens continued to battle prejudice and poverty for the rest of his life. I felt that this story lacked enough context for younger readers to understand what was going on, although it's an ok introduction to Jesse Owens.

Verdict: My preference is for the National Geographic easy reader biographies - I feel they have more context of the history surrounding the people they profile. However, the You Should Meet... series does a better job of choosing minorities and women to feature. So you should get both series! These are a higher reading level, so they're probably only going to appeal to higher-level readers, but then they are the ones most likely to appreciate biographies anyways.

Mae Jemison
ISBN: 9781481476508; Published 2016 by Simon Spotlight; Purchased for the library

Jesse Owens
ISBN: 9781481480963; Published 2017 by Simon Spotlight; Purchased for the library


Annette said...

So interesting that it's the higher level readers who are interested in biographies! I would have guessed it would be the other way around--kids who love the real world instead of the world of books would be drawn to real life stories.

Do you have any guesses why it's that way? Maybe that biographies are not usually laugh-out-loud funny?

Jennifer said...

I think it's partly that biographies - and nonfiction in general - tend to be more challenging reads because of the vocabulary so higher-level readers gravitate to them. Also, they don't have that instant appeal of funny books, comics, etc. When you bump up a notch in reading level they appeal more across the board - the Who Was series for example - but for the kids who are still working on the actual mechanics of reading trying to process the facts and history as well as or on top of a simple story is too daunting.