Monday, January 2, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Interesting History

Big Wig: A Little History of Hair
written by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Peter Malone
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2011
ISBN:  978-0-439-67640-3
Grades 1-5
Reviewed from copy borrowed from library.

BLURBHistory has never been hairier. Did you know that kings AND queens wore fake beards in Ancient Egypt? Or that hair was used in medicine at the height of the Incan Empire? Or that Queen Elizabeth I had more than 80 wigs in various shades of red? Kathleen Krull and Peter Malone start at the dawn of history and bring us up to contemporary times, using incredible bits and bobs of hair fact and lore to show us just how much things have changed (and how they haven't!). This is a perfect way to introduce young readers to the idea of a longitudinal study. And it's also an irreverant and playful look at what funny fashion victims we humans have always been!

As I read this book, I confess, there were parts where I wrinkled my nose and went, ewwwh.  I found it kind of gross to read about the use of animals droppings in one's hair.  I thought to myself, well, it's a good thing we don't do that now.  And then the humbling thought came, are we really any different in the amount of time and effort we put in to fixing up or caring for our hair?  I would have to say no.  All one has to do is walk down the hair care aisle at a store to realize that we are just as fussy about our hair, dying, shampooing, conditioning, highlighting.  The products we use may be different, but we are just as vain as those who came before.  This book would be fun to share with students.  I am always looking for history books to use with my students that demonstrate how interesting history can be.  This one makes a good addition to that list.  Recommended for students who enjoy learning about some of the odd behaviors of the past.

A Boy Named FDR: How Franklin D. Roosevelt Grew Up to Change America
written by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
ISBN:  978-0-375-85716-4
Grades 2-5
Reviewed from copy borrowed from library.

BLURB Franklin D. Roosevelt was born into one of the wealthiest families in America, yet this ultimate rich kid grew up to do more for ordinary Americans than any other president. This appealing picture book biography shows how, from childhood on, FDR  was compassionate, cheerful, determined, and enormously likable. Though he had private tutors as a young boy and later attended an elite boys' school, he played pranks and had down-to-earth fun just like any boy today.  Kathleen Krull's animated picture book biography focuses on FDR's childhood years through his entry as a young man into politics and his battle with polio. A summary of his achievements as president and a chronology of his life are included. The well-researched text and the evocative illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher provide an inspiring introduction to one of our greatest presidents.

Picture book biographies are a great way to introduce real people to the younger crowd.  However, when using them, one needs to realize that they are not complete in any way (as if any biography could be), and they often tend to focus on the good points of the subject.  Such is the case here.  Krull does a nice job of giving the reader a look at FDR's privileged childhood.  As an only child, FDR usually got what he wanted.  His determined nature helped him weather rejection.  I appreciated the writing which was easy to read and would be great for a read-a-loud.  The illustrations help place the story in its historical setting.  The timeline at the back is great for reports, as is the list of additional references.  Overall, a good introduction to a very influential man and the characteristics and experiences that helped make him the man he became.  Recommended.

 These books were reviewed for consideration as finalists for the 2013 Beehive Book Awards Informational.

Head on over to The Nonfiction Detectives for more great nonfiction recommendations as part of Nonfiction Monday.


  1. A book about hair! But you are right, that's a window for our kids to think about cultural history and mores. Just think about the books they will be writing about what we do today!

  2. More Kathleen Krull love!!! I enjoy picture book biographies - I feel that they are an underutilized resource in the classroom - would add this to my ever-growing list of picture book biographies to check out from our library. :)

  3. I love microhistories for adults (Emperor of all Maladies etc.) so Big Wig sounds fab to me. Thanks for the recommendation.


Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Story Time kit by Kristin Aagard