So, awhile back I was blogging on biographies. Click here for an intro.
I was saving my favorite biography for last, but then life, baby reflux and the stomach bug got the better of me.
I’m back, and I’m ready to talk to you about my favorite biography for students.
But, before I delve in, I would like to tell you my non-research, nonacademic, teacher-opinon on biographies.
Two Types of Biographies
I think there are two types of biographies. For our purposes, I’ll refer to them as “set biographies” and “story biographies.”
Every elementary library probably has a nice little series of biographies. Maybe they are in the reference section, maybe not. It might be a set of all the U.S. Presidents, or famous athletes, etc. These are the Set Biographies. They may all have been written by the same person. Each of these biographies use the same structure.
Set Biogprahies are fine. They are informative. They teach features of a biography such as use of chronological order, timeline, photos, etc. They’re fine.
Let’s look at the 5th grade Reading
(A) identify the literary language and devices used in biographies and
autobiographies, including how authors present major events in a person’s life.
Literary Language. The presentation of events in a person’s life.
So, these little sets of biographies in the library. The presentation of the events is chronological at best. It’s almost too simple.
Literary language? Haha. These are written in such a matter-of-fact way that I don’t feel that they carry the beautiful language of Story Biographies. Story Biographies are like the types I’ve shared with you. Biographies that use more of a story structure to share the person’s life. In my humble opinion, the rich story-like biographies work better with the standards and provide way more engagement for students!
Thank you for bearing with me…Now onto the most beautiful Story Biography…
by Pam Munoz Ryan
illustrated by Brian Selznick
Summary: Marian Anderson is one of the most famous African American singers in U.S. History. She had great talent, and traveled the world singing. However, she was denied the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall in D.C.. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was furious, and worked to give Ms. Anderson the opportunity to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial! And, to a much larger audience.
“When Marian Sang” uses such beautiful flowing language, that you feel like you are gliding through her life. The illustrations are lovely. I have read this book to 10 different sets of 5th graders, and every single group of students is enthralled. The toughest guys, to the most withdrawn girls.
The story begins with Ms. Anderson growing up singing in church choir, and then continues her journey as she struggles to grow as a singer and performer because of the oppression of racism.
The journey wraps up with Anderson singing at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and then later accomplished her ultimate dream by performing at the Metropolitan Opera.
Along the way, there are song lyrics embedded. Songs that Marian sang. Each song represents what Anderson was going through at that time. This leads to some AMAZING discussion. I never like to spoon-feed that to my kiddos. Ask, “why do you think the author chose those lyrics?”. or “What can you infer about Marian’s feelings from the lyrics?”..Strong writing prompts, too.
Both the lyrics and the text itself offer figurative language by using phrases such as “sometimes I feel like a motherless child.”
I hope you enjoyed a basic summary of the book with a few sparks of lesson ideas. Tomorrow, I’ll be back with a few additional ideas you can use while reading aloud, and then for follow up!