I love this time of year; anticipating the fresh start of a new school year around the corner. I love striving to do better than I did the last. And one goal I always have is to help all students connect better with literature that fits them. I believe in using a wide variety of literature in mini lessons, in hopes that a few kids will connect and go on to read more. I've written about many biographies here, here, and here. Different historical figures connect with different students, and it is fun to use a variety.
Past biographies I've written about are picture books that could probably be read aloud in completion. The books I'm featuring today are great biographies that are longer. I like to use a few pages for a mini lesson and provide copies for students to read independently if they choose.
The other cool thing about these books is that they are both written from a unique perspective!
Lewis and Clark and Me is written from the perspective of Meriwether Lewis's dog, Seaman. It is so fun to experience the expedition from the dog's eyes! This book is 64 pages broken into 9 chapters. Each chapter has a beautiful illustration. The text size is a bit larger than your average novel, making it a not-so-intimidating chapter book. I also found this book to be very ELL friendly for many of my intermediate 5th graders because the pictures in each chapter provide great support, there is a great map, and not too much confusing jargon.
For mini lesson ideas:
Preview and Predict: If you introduce it being from the dog's perspective and show the map, then you can have student's predict what types of things a dog would think about on a journey like this. (How would he eat? Would he hunt? Would he have to protect the men during danger? Is he a guard dog?)
Visualize it!: For fun, I like having my kids crawl on their hands and knees for a second and imagine the dog's physical perspective for a minute. What kinds of things is Seaman seeing?
Primary Source Documents: The end of each chapter contains a very short excerpt from Meriweather Lewis's journal. This makes for great discussion on Primary Sources, authenticity, validity, etc.
You can play around with this book and use it in many ways. The chapters are very episodic, so you could easily pick one from any point in the book and read it aloud to suit your lesson purposes. The last chapter is a sweet chapter that connects to anyone who has a strong relationship with a pet. It's very sweet. This would be a great book to enjoy with your students or your own children! :-)
Play, Louis, Play! is a biography of Louis Armstrong told from the perspective of his horn! Kinda extra cool that it's written from an inanimate object, and that gets me going with all sorts of writing ideas. Anyways, this book is 112 pages and feels like you're reading a novel and not a non-fiction biography.
This story is a beautifully told tale of trials and obstacles Louis overcame. You can use this book to discuss theme, perspective and author's purpose. And SO much characterization of Louis. One of my favorite things in this book is Louis response to kids calling him names like "Sachelmouth"...Louis would keep smiling and say "A good nickname is hard to find." He never let anyone get his goat. It's an inspirational book for students!
My kids also loved watching YouTube clips of Louis singing. This book is a great read!