Sunday, August 19, 2012

Biography Subjects for Children

How should authors choose subjects for biographies for children? Children can find biographies about people such as Adolf Hitler, Benedict Arnold, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and Lenin.

What are the limitations of books about figures such as these that are written for children? 

Do the limitations of vocabulary and page length found in juvenile literature allow adequate treatment of controversial subjects? 

In addition, picture book biographies always deal with figures that are less than perfect and humanly flawed.

What information do authors owe their child audiences? 

How would you go about choosing a biographical subject if you were to plan a book for children?


  1. I think the biographies done on these people should be chosen by teachers and/or parents and there should be less concern about the author's choices. All biographies done on "controversial subjects" should be proofread by an adult, before children read them. Especially with the content, vocabulary, and other things invovled in the biography. Some things are better left unsaid, and maybe wait until the children are older. I don't think teachers/adults/parents always need to give all the information on the person being studied (i.e. Hitler's views/Treatment of Jewish people) I'm not sure that can be fully understood or should be at a young age.

  2. I would refer to websites such as Reading Rockets in order to decide what biographies are appropriate for students. I think where it becomes more difficult is in the middle school arena. Authors owe children accurate information. It’s important that an educator reads the literature/biography first to determine its appropriateness for the grade level. I suppose there are limitations with page length and vocabulary regarding controversial subjects but children need to progress slowly toward learning this controversial information- in stages, just as they learn in all other subject areas.

  3. Hi Denise,
    What do you want your students to understand from reading a biography? Are they suppose to look for bias language? Is the point to learn how to read a biography? Wouldn't that matter in making your selections. I don't know...Your thoughts? You always pose such great questions, Denise.

  4. I agree with Carie that children learn everything in stages--controversial information in history included.

    Kris, for our older students, I think you ask good questions. Usually we/I read biographies to learn about famous people. I remember reading about Sammy Davis, Junior, and Walt Disney when I was in 8th grade, and thoroughly enjoying them. I hope my students will find some biographies they enjoy this year too.

    One thing I've done is shown students different versions of biographies and let them notice the differences. For instance, last year on Columbus Day, we watched a video made for young children and then we also read a chapter in Howard Zinn's book of history of America that tells the story from different perspectives--in this case, the Arawaks from the West Indies. Eighth graders could handle the vastly differing accounts and, I believe, enjoyed the conversation that ensued.

    So many questions! So much fun to walk the journey of answering them, I think!

    Thanks, everyone,