Sunday, July 22, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: They Stood Alone by Sandra McLeod Humphrey

by Sandra McLeod Humphrey
Prometheus Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61614-485-2
Grades 3 and up
Copy provided by author for review.

Synopsis from

Imagine this: For centuries everyone has believed that the sun and all the planets revolve around the earth. But by studying the old books and observing the heavens, you have concluded that the earth and all the other planets revolve around the sun. Your theory is so radical that you are hesitant to tell others about it. Your name is Nicolaus Copernicus. Although at first your beliefs are denounced and ridiculed, your observations are eventually proved correct. In time, you come to be called the founding father of modern astronomy.

Or imagine this: It's the early 19th century and women have few legal rights. Married women can't own property, their wages belong to their husbands, and they don't even have the right of guardianship over their children. You know the laws are unfair, but as a young woman yourself, what can you do? Your name is Elizabeth Cady Stanton. You spend your life fighting for women's rights, and later many give you credit for being the architect and founder of the Women's Rights Movement.

Nicolaus Copernicus and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are just two of the twenty-five extraordinary men and women whom you will have a chance to meet in this inspiring book that explores and celebrates people who had the courage to follow their own convictions, even when everyone around them said they were wrong. They were people of vision who saw life from a new perspective and were willing to question conventional wisdom. And their revolutionary breakthroughs changed and shaped the course of history.

There are a growing number of biographies written for children, generally of well-known men and women who've left their mark on the world, for better or worse.  Writing biographies for children is challenging because you want to provide enough information so the reader can come to know the subject, but sometimes there are things in the subjects life that aren't really appropriate to share with children. Humphrey does a very nice job of being honest about her subjects without cramming in too much information.

I especially appreciated the way she opened each chapter with a quick 'Imagine this' scenario about the subject, without actually naming the person. This is a feature that I plan on using with my fifth grade students.  It's a way to get the child reader thinking about the person as a living human being rather than a famous person. The writing is perfect for sharing, not once did I have to go back and say, 'huh' what does that mean. Child readers could read this very easily and get a good picture of the life and times of each person.  I also appreciated that the author did not ignore her subjects weaknesses. None of these people were perfect and all of them made mistakes just like the rest of humankind.

I also appreciated the fact that the author included people from all over the world from a variety of backgrounds and a variety of cultures, some familiar and some not so familiar. Both women and men are included. I recommend this as a valuable introduction to the biographical format as well as a nice introduction to 25 people who through courage and persistence left a strong legacy.

Head on over to Perogies & Gyoza for more great nonfiction recommendations.


  1. I really like the idea of introducing the setting before the person. A little nonfiction world-building!

    Thanks for linkin up this week!

  2. Yes, I think the idea of opening each chapter with an "imagine this" scenario" will draw in the reader. Thanks for sharing this book -- I plan to check it out to see who were chosen to be included. And, I agree that it's good that the author included their weaknesses -- we're all human!

  3. I loved reading biographies of famous people (authors, at least) as a kid. And I do also love those scenarios @ the beginning. Maybe kids will start feeling they can tackle the "unchangeable" circumstances in their own lives someday

  4. Hi there Heidi, thank you for letting us know about this book. I have just reviewed Kathleen Krull's Lives of Extraordinary Women, and this one seems to have a similar feel to it. Would check this book out, thanks for sharing.


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