Slice of Life: Power of Biographies

As a kid, I wanted to like books.  I could read, but I didn’t want to. I didn’t connect. The one book I remember in elementary school was a collection of biographies of women athletes.  The whole idea of a female athlete, a champion, was captivating.  I poured over this book. Read it again and again. There was a fascination in the drama of athletics and in overcoming difficulties. It was a hero’s quest. And maybe, because they were female, one I wanted to identify with.

Last week I was talking to Melinda* about books. She told me she had read every book on Martin Luther King, Jr. Everyone. I handed her Powerful Words and asked if she had read it.  She opened it and searched for her hero. Then she devoured it. This kind of interaction happens a lot in my classroom. Kendra* is an Anne Frank expert. Loves to read anything about her. Cassie* has read and re-read everything written about Helen Keller. Every year, this happens.  The Who Was… series of books is as popular as graphic novels. They are the kind of books that go underground passed from kid to kid.

I was like my students.  And, I’ve found that, like me, many students who are not avid readers love biographies.  Perhaps the power lies in that real life hero’s journey.  Perhaps it’s the pursuit of excellence in the face of real obstacles. We want a part of that. This love of biographies made me think of my kiddos’ responses last week to this question: “Why are you here, in school?”

They want to learn —

 about stufff grown ups do in life

so that in life — in case we have to do something, we have a guide

They want life mentor texts.

Literature is the ultimate “how-to-be-human” guide,  but I think for some of our kiddos this type of connection needs to be assisted by a teacher. They can’t do it on their own, yet. Perhaps, biographies are more of a direct how-to/inspirational mentor text.

Our kids need and want mentor texts for life: books that speak their language, that contain characters that look like them, and books that provide a road map to real success, like biographies. The value of literature is evident for many readers; for those who don’t see the connections to their life yet, biography can provide a direct bridge.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.