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Teaching Biographies Just Got Easier!

By Brian Smith on April 13, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

Ordinary people change the world. A true statement and now one of the best new series of books that I’ve seen in a long time. Author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos are the geniuses who created Ordinary People Change the World, a biographical series that is perfectly targeted for students in kindergarten through third grade. (And that’s not an overstatement!)

  • Written from a first-person perspective, there are books about Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, and Rosa Parks. The subject of each biography is drawn as a child and they remain that way throughout.

  • There is a story from each subject’s childhood which echoes how they eventually changed the world. Lincoln made his friends set some turtles free that were being treated very cruelly. Earhart made a roller coaster in her backyard so she could fly.

  • The books are told using clear and concise words about age-relevant events that make them perfect for beginning readers or for read-alouds.  

  • The funny illustrations contribute to the story through word bubbles. For instance, throughout the book, Lincoln tells people that he’s going to be on the penny. The unanimous response? “What's a penny?”

  • Each book includes quotes from the actual individual that sum up the main idea/central message of each book.

  • The back of each book displays pictures of the real individual, reinforcing that what the student just read is about a real person who changed the world.

I also love how well it plays into the idea of how my students can make a difference. I’m sure we’ve all seen local news programs that promote a student who collected books or socks or some item for different causes. I believe this is important for students at all levels to hear because they can often feel like their world is dictated by others all the time (which is partly true). By allowing our students to realize that they can make a positive difference in their life, community, or even the world, it can often help them steer clear of making choices that have negative consequences.

I have to take one quick "daddy" moment on this topic. Our daughter, Ella, started a charity almost two years ago when she was 7 years old. She knows that she is adopted from Guatemala and knows that in the United States we are afforded many more luxuries than most of the citizens of her birth country. Driving through a bad summer thunderstorm one day she asked if it rained in Guatemala. When we learned that Guatemala had an entire rainy season, she decided that we needed to send umbrellas to the families so that they don’t get wet waiting for the buses (an important form of travel in Guatemala). She worried for the mommies carrying babies and the younger kids who have to help carry things to town or back home. She found a teacher at her school who knew some missionaries that travel to Guatemala and asked if they would take umbrellas that she collected. We just sent 125 umbrellas to Guatemala, which puts her collecting and sending at just over 400 umbrellas. She has a Facebook page for her charity, Ella’s Umbrellas, if you would like to check it out.

Here is one last great thing about the Ordinary People Change the World series: it’s relatively new. This can make a difference to my wallet (where all the money that goes into my classroom comes from) because it won’t be as expensive to start your collection. Pick up the first couple of books and then get the new ones as they are released.

If Meltzer came to you and asked who you would like to see included in this series, who would you suggest? I personally would love to see Vincent van Gogh, Jim Henson, and Elvis Presley highlighted in this series. I can't wait to hear your suggestions.

Let’s connect on Pinterest and Twitter.

I can’t wait to see you next week.

Comments (8)

Betsy Ross, Pocahantas, MLK Jr and George Washington, please. :)

Oh Ms. Booth! Great suggestions. I especially love the Betsy Ross idea!

I think my first grader would love these books.

She really would. The comic aspect mixed with facts about when they were kids is just the perfect combination to bring young readers into the fascinating world of biographies.

I must get these! Awesome!

You will love them and I just read that Jackie Robinson book is scheduled to be released in January.

How about for black history month? Martin Luther king, Harriet Tubman, rosa parks etc??

Hi Jodi!
Rosa Parks will be available June 17th (I'm pretty sure about that date). I think having a whole set of these for Black History Month would be great.
Thanks for reading.

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