Friday, May 23, 2014

Memories of Famous Americans Children’s Biographies

By Jeff Burns

 
            I started reading at an early age, and I had soon devoured  just about every title in the children’s section of the Ohoopee Regional Public Library.   Many of the books in that section were from series, the Childhood of Famous Americans series, published by the Bobbs-Merrill Company.  I was reminded  of these recently when I found a  box of my daughter’s childhood books, including a copy of the Amelia Earhart bio.




The series began with Augusta Stevenson's Abe Lincoln:Frontier Boy published in 1932.  Eventually, the series included 208 titles..  The classic originals were published through the 1960s in hardback, and reissued in paperback in the 1980s.

 
            Abe Lincoln  established the formula for style, vocabulary, and content that the others followed, and the books were designed to introduced young readers to biography and history.  Strictly speaking, they are really biographical fiction, especially when it comes to telling the childhood stories of their subjects, particularly for those people like Sacagawea, Pocahontas, and Virginia Dare about whose childhood nothing is known.  The books are definitely products of their time, and contain elements which many would call racist or sexist today, even jingoistic,  However, when I read the books, I was exposed to the lives of all Americans, male, female, black, white, native American, immigrant.  The stories represented the multiculturalism of America before multiculturalism was even a word.    And, at the time, I didn’t care that conversations , and maybe other stories, may have been made up; the stories introduced me to whole new worlds and people and whetted my appetite for more history.  

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