One-Minute Book Reviews

March 3, 2007

Good Biographies for 9-to-12-year-olds

Filed under: Book Reviews,Books,Children's Books,Libraries,Newbery Medals,Reading — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:59 pm

Russell Freedman’s books help children get excited about the lives of great men and women

By Janice Harayda

If you’re looking for good biographies for 9-to-12-year-olds, I have two words for you: Russell Freedman.

Many authors have written captivating nonfiction for preteens, including the prolific and much-admired James Cross Giblin, who won the Washington Post-Children’s Book Guild Award for his body of work. But Freedman’s work is the gold standard for the sort of book known as the “photobiography,” a heavily illustrated book that takes a documentary approach to history. Along with other books, photobiographies can help 9-to-12-year-olds make the transition from simple chapter books to more complex works that may or may not have pictures.

Freedman is best known for his elegant Newbery Medal–winning Lincoln: A Photobiography (Clarion, 1987). But he has also written many other acclaimed biographies for 9-to-12-year-olds, including Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery (Clarion, 1987), Martha Graham: A Dancer’s Life (Clarion, 1998), Babe Didrikson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion (Clarion, 1999), and The Voice That Challenged: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights (Clarion, 2006). Freedman’s books tend to be as beautifully designed as they are well-written, so they make wonderful birthday and holiday gifts.

Parents and grandparents: This post was inspired by a visitor searching for “a biography for a 9-year-old.” If you can’t find what you need, why not leave a comment with your question or send an e-mail message to the address on the “Contact” page? Many teachers and librarians visit this site. So if I can’t answer your question, they may be able to help. Please put your question in the e-mail subject heading. One-Minute Book reviews is a noncommercial site that does not accept advertising or free books, so its recommendations aren’t influenced by marketing concerns.


© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Yup, he’s great. I’ve taught Eleanor: A Life of Discovery to three different sets of middle school girls with great success — in a few cases, I’ve had girls develop an intense devotion to this insecure, awkward child who becomes a compassionate world leader. It’s a great gift for high school girls, too.

    I wouldn’t necessarily give it to a nine-year-old, though. It deals quite frankly with FDR’s affair and 6th-8th graders are better able to explore the difference between public and private morality.

    Comment by Mrs. K — March 5, 2007 @ 8:34 pm | Reply

  2. That said, I’ve known several third/fourth/fifth graders whose “entry level biography” has been Lincoln: A Photobiography (the pot of this genre?). Really good — particularly in light of all the BAD BAD BAD children’s biographies out there. Ever visit this section of the library? Depressing. A terrific memoir for this age is Ruby Bridges, “Through My Eyes.” I also recommend “Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary.”

    Comment by Mrs. K — March 5, 2007 @ 9:00 pm | Reply

  3. A thousand thanks. Parents will be grateful to you, too. Even when a critic loves a book, people may wonder, “What if my taste differs from the critic’s?” So comments like yours can be extremely helpful to them (and are one reason why I love blogging). I’ve never read the Ruby Bridges book but have heard great things about it. Hope I can get to it soon.

    You’re so right about the bad biographies. People often ask, “Why doesn’t the ALA give more Newbery Medals for nonfiction?” It’s my impression that part of the answer is that the ALA doesn’t see as much good nonfiction as it would like. And when the judges find somebody like Freedman, they embrace him.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — March 5, 2007 @ 10:47 pm | Reply

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