Biographies provide models for young readers

Published: Saturday, July 28 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Biographies for young readers range from simple life stories to highly detailed portrayals of people from politics, sports, science, the arts and history. Following is a selection of picture-book biographies for children about strong characters with worthy life-time ambitions.

I, GALILEO,” by Bonnie Christensen, Knopf, $17.99, 40 pages (nf) (ages 8-12)

An aged Galileo is portrayed as he recounts his scientific discoveries from the early years to an emotional scene at his Inquisition. Bonnie Christensen uses both light (“the truth has a way of escaping into the light”) and dark tones (“I’m ending in darkness”) to highlight a portrait of an influential man of science.

Each level of Galileo’s achievements is explained in understandable terms accompanied by explanatory oil and gouache paintings. A time line of Galileo’s life and research with an extensive glossary and bibliography make “I, Galileo” a masterful resource for middle-grade readers.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND FREDERICK DOUGLASS: The Story Behind an American Friendship,” by Russell Freedman, Clarion, $18.99, 128 pages (nf) (ages 9-12)

Freedman is well-known for his many award-winning photo essays but especially “Lincoln: a Photobiography,” which won the Newbery Award in 1987. “Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass,” as in all his works, includes reprints to support and expand the story line that include engravings, journal entries, photos, posters and cartoons of the era. The dual biography shows similarities in Lincoln and Douglass, such as both rising from poverty to prominence, and accounts of the men dedicated to their own and others’ scholarship and a shared passion for freedom for all mankind. Glimpses of the Civil War become the backdrop of the Lincoln-Douglass friendship, with an impact evident in United States history.

THE AMAZING HARRY KELLAR: Great American Magician,” by Gail Jarrow, Calkins Creek, $17.95, 96 pages (nf) (ages 8 and up)

When one thinks of magicians as performers, the name of Harry Houdini immediately comes to mind. But American-born Harry Kellar (1849-1922) performed 25 years prior to Houdini and was his mentor. As a world-renowned illusionist, Kellar, as many believed, was the more talented of the two. His modesty combined with exceptional showmanship thrilled audiences worldwide.

Born to German immigrants, Heinrich “Harry” Kellar sold newspapers, worked as a pharmacist’s assistant and was tutored for the ministry. After seeing a magic show, he “got the urge to go on the stage.” Hired as a helper to the Fakir of Ava, he later followed his own dream as a magician and performed around the world for a half century.

Jarrow has captured Kellar’s professional life with notes from his personal journal and black-and-white photos, but more impressive, dozens of posters advertising the amazing stage performer. The author’s extensive research is supported by time lines, source notes and an impressive bibliography.

SILENT STAR: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy,” by Bill Wise, pictures by Adam Gustavson, Lee & Low, $18.95, nf (ages 6 and up)

After an illness at age 3, William Hoy was left without ability to hear. His studies at the Ohio School for the Deaf included participation on a baseball team, in which he excelled. While he dreamed of playing major league baseball, the odds were against him. Professionally, there had been only two deaf players, both pitchers, who made the big leagues and William was an outfielder.

William Hoy learned the trade of a shoemaker and become a successful craftsman. But when a coach for an amateur team saw him playing with a neighborhood group, he signed Hoy. His prowess did not go unnoticed. He was drafted by the Washington Nationals and later played for the Cincinnati Reds. Hoy’s baseball statistics are impressive when compared to many of baseball’s greatest players.

Bill Wise’s straightforward telling of this outstanding athlete includes the hardships as well as the many successes. The author lists detailed sports statistics, information on the Baseball Hall of Fame and the later life of this courageous man. The artist, Adam Gustavson, not a baseball fan, admits to spending months researching baseball rules, uniforms and stadiums before beginning the stirring oil paintings for “Silent Star.” The endpapers list many of the baseball signs and signals used on the field between players of which Hoy was so dependent.

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