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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Biography, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 550
1. Alaska's Dog Heroes by Shelley Gill

Alaska's Dog Heroes: true stories of remarkable canines by Shelley Gill; Illustrated by Robin James Sasquatch Books. 2014 ISBN: 9781570619472 Grades 2-5 I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library. <!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

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2. A Day for Biographers

Today's guest blogger is Catherine Reef, author of Leonard Bernstein and American Music; The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne; and Jane Austen: A Life Revealed.


I can easily conjure up little Eleanor Roosevelt suffering through her lonely childhood, or Helen Keller, on the cusp of adult life, announcing her intention to go to Harvard; both scenes were imprinted on my memory by my early reading of biographies.
Biography thrives as a literary genre because people love to read about other people. This is true for readers of any age. A good biography breathes life into a figure readers may have met only briefly in a classroom or history book; it takes them behind the scenes, where they get to know the subject in family life; it places them on the spot as the subject experiences triumphs and setbacks, sorrow and joy, and learns how to navigate life.
                  I still like reading about people, but today I like writing about them as well. Biography lets me do what writers love to do: tell good stories. Even better, through biography I can explore a character in depth and create a vivid portrait in words. But writing is a solitary task, so like many writers I welcome opportunities to mingle with other people doing the same kind of work, to talk shop and gain from others’ wisdom. This is why I was happy to discover Biographers International Organization, or BIO for short.
                  BIO is young (founded in 2010), but it has been strong and active from the start. Having as its mission “to promote the art and craft of biography, and to further the professional interests of its practitioners,” BIO presents the annual BIO Award to a distinguished biographer for his or her body of work. This year’s recipient is Stacy Schiff, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Véra and other notable works. BIO also hosts a terrific annual conference that always sends me home with many new ideas to think about and apply to my work.
                  At this year’s Compleat Biographer Conference, which will be held at the University of Massachusetts Boston on May 17 and 18, I will moderate a panel on young adult biography. On the panel will be two accomplished biographers, Mary Morton Cowan and Kem Knapp Sawyer, and a representative of the world of children’s book blogging, Dorothy Dahm.
Cowan received a 2010 National Outdoor Book Award and other honors for Captain Mac: The Life of Donald Baxter MacMillan, Arctic Explorer (Calkins Creek). She has also published numerous magazine stories and articles, a novel based on MacMillan’s experiences, and a book on logging in New England. Cowan has said about her work, “I am pleased and proud that these books give young readers a glimpse of relatively unknown history—dangerous and adventurous chapters of history!”
Sawyer’s recent biographies are of Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela (both from Morgan Reynolds) and Harriet Tubman and Abigail Adams (both from DK Publishing). “I try to figure out what gave my subjects the ambition and the drive to set out to change the world,” she said in a recent interview. “And I like to focus on what they were like when they were young, before they went on to become leaders.” Sawyer has written as well about current social issues such as the situation of refugees worldwide, and historical subjects such as the Underground Railroad. She also reports on youth in developing countries for the Pulitzer Center, an organization that supports journalism and education.
In recent years, book bloggers and online reviewers have become increasingly influential in the world of children’s literature. Dahm’s lifelong interest in biography for young readers led her to launch the Kidsbiographer’s Blog (http://kidsbiographer.com/), where she reviews new and noteworthy biographies for children and young adults and interviews their authors. A professor of English at Castleton State College in Vermont, Dahm has contributed articles and reviews to publications in the United States and Great Britain. I’m eager to hear what she has to say about the state of young adult biography today and what she looks for in a book of this genre.
Other conference sessions will focus on such matters of craft as creating suspense in biography and finding the right balance between a subject’s life and work, and on practical aspects of the writing life: dealing with agents, marketing, and the like. There will be plenty to interest biographers writing for any age level. You can learn more about the Compleat Biographer Conference from BIO’s website: http://biographersinternational.org/conference/. I hope to see you in May!

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3. Living with a Wild God

Ehrenreich's latest is a bit of a departure from her political and sociological work, but her voice is as engaging and passionate as ever. An intensely personal yet rigorously thoughtful examination of mystical experience, Living with a Wild God is a unique and fascinating look at the inexplicable. Books mentioned in this post Living with [...]

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4. The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life  by Lois Ehlert Beach Lane Books, 2014 ISBN: 9781442435711 Grades PreS-3 The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from the public library. I think I have found my favorite nonfiction book of the year. One glance at the cover the The Scraps Book, and I knew it was something special. This picture book autobiography about the life and work of Lois Ehlert

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5. “A peaceful sun gilded her evening”

On 31 March 1855 – Easter Sunday – Charlotte Brontë died at Haworth Parsonage. She was 38 years old, and the last surviving Brontë child. In this deeply moving letter to her literary advisor W. S. Williams, written on 4 June 1849, she reflects on the deaths of her sisters Anne and Emily.

My dear Sir

I hardly know what I said when I wrote last—I was then feverish and exhausted—I am now better—and—I believe—quite calm.

Anne Brontë - drawing in pencil by Charlotte Brontë, 1845

Anne Brontë by Charlotte Brontë, 1845

You have been informed of my dear Sister Anne’s death—let me now add that she died without severe struggle—resigned—trusting in God—thankful for release from a suffering life—deeply assured that a better existence lay before her—she believed—she hoped, and declared her belief and hope with her last breath.—Her quiet Christian death did not rend my heart as Emily’s stern, simple, undemonstrative end did—I let Anne go to God and felt He had a right to her.

I could hardly let Emily go—I wanted to hold her back then—and I want her back hourly now—Anne, from her childhood seemed preparing for an early death—Emily’s spirit seemed strong enough to bear her to fullness of years—They are both gone—and so is poor Branwell—and Papa has now me only—the weakest—puniest—least promising of his six children—Consumption has taken the whole five.

For the present Anne’s ashes rest apart from the others—I have buried her here at Scarbro’ to save papa the anguish of return and a third funeral.

I am ordered to remain at the sea-side a while—I cannot rest here but neither can I go home—Possibly I may not write again soon—attribute my silence neither to illness nor negligence. No letters will find me at Scarbro’ after the 7th. I do not know what my next address will be—I shall wander a week or two on the east coast and only stop at quiet lonely places—No one need be anxious about me as far as I know—Friends and acquaintance seem to think this the worst time of suffering—they are sorely mistaken—Anne reposes now—what have the long desolate hours of her patient pain and fast decay been?

Why life is so blank, brief and bitter I do not know—Why younger and far better than I are snatched from it with projects unfulfilled I cannot comprehend—but I believe God is wise—perfect—merciful.

I have heard from Papa—he and the servants knew when they parted from Anne they would see her no more—all try to be resigned—I knew it likewise and I wanted her to die where she would be happiest—She loved Scarbro’—a peaceful sun gilded her evening.

Yours sincerely
C. Brontë

The Oxford World’s Classics edition of Charlotte Brontë’s Selected Letters is edited by Margaret Smith, with an introduction by Janet Gezari.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

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Image credit: Anne Brontë – drawing in pencil by Charlotte Brontë, 1845. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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6. Five interesting facts about John Tyler

By Michael Gerhardt


John Tyler remains one of the most interesting, active, and constitutionally significant presidents we have ever had.

To begin with, he is the first vice president to be elevated to the presidency because of the death of the incumbent, William Henry Harrison. Harrison died 31 days after his inauguration in 1841. Many congressional leaders and the cabinet believed that the vice president, Tyler, did not automatically become the president upon Harrison’s death. They argued that he merely became the acting president or remained the vice president but was eligible to use some of the powers of the presidency with the full power and authority of the office. Tyler contested the claim. In his first meeting with Harrison’s cabinet, he convinced them to accept the legitimacy of his claim to take the presidential oath. He persuaded skeptical congressional leaders as well. In doing so, he established a practice and understanding that was later enshrined within the Constitution in the Twenty-fifth Amendment and is still followed to this day.

Second, John Tyler is the only American president whose party expelled him while he was the president. Tyler had been a life-long Democrat who left his party to become the running mate of William Henry Harrison, a Whig, in 1840. After Tyler became the president, Whigs did not trust him. After he exercised power in ways that Whigs did not approve, they formally expelled him from the party. For the remainder of his presidency, Tyler was, as he himself said, a man “without a party.”

John Tyler blog post image

Third, throughout his presidency, Tyler battled successfully against congressional efforts to thwart a number of unique presidential powers. As a result, he successfully consolidated the nominating, removal, and veto powers of future presidents.

Fourth, Tyler was also the only president to have had virtually all of his cabinet resign in protest over his actions. When Tyler vetoed a tariff bill, which his entire cabinet thought he should sign, all but Secretary of State Daniel Webster resigned in protest. Tyler happily accepted their resignations and replaced all but Webster with people who actually supported him politically.

Fifth, Tyler set a record for the numbers of cabinet and Supreme Court nominations that were rejected or forced to be withdrawn. In fact, he made eight nominations to fill two Supreme Court vacancies, only one of which the Senate confirmed.

As a bonus, Tyler also took unilateral action to clear the path for Texas to become a state. Though the Senate refused to ratify a treaty which would have made Texas statehood possible, Tyler got a majority in the House and a majority in the Senate to approve an annexation bill. Tyler signed the annexation bill three days before leaving office.

Through all of these and other actions, Tyler made the presidency stronger, but at the cost of his own political fortunes.  He left office widely politically unpopular and ended his days as a member of the Confederate Congress.

Michael Gerhardt is Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A nationally recognized authority on constitutional conflicts, he has testified in several Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and has published five books, including The Forgotten Presidents and The Power of Precedent. Read his previous blog posts on the American presidents.

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Image credit: “Official White House Portrait of John Tyler” by George Peter Alexander Healy, February 1859. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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7. Torment Saint (staff pick)

With the exception of Benjamin Nugent's 2004 biography Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing and Autumn de Wilde's photo/interview book Elliott Smith, not much has been published in the decade following the singer-songwriter's too-early passing. William Todd Schultz's Torment Saint, however, not only remedies that notable lack but serves as what may well come to [...]

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8. JOSEPHINE rocks, and so does her author!


Thanks to my occasional INK book reviews, I sometimes get presents from publishers. Opening an envelope from Chronicle and seeing JOSEPHINE by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by ChristianRobinson,  nearly took my breath away.  When I began reading it, I had to sit down to still my heart.  Which is rather counterproductive because Powell’s book is all about dancing! It’s a gorgeous book, with text, artwork, design perfectly matched. As a biographer, I’m delighted to see it expand the genre of picture book biography. To learn more about the genesis of Josephine, I asked author Patricia Hruby Powell – a professional dancer herself – a few questions.






Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker breaks a lot of boundaries.  It is a 104-page picture book biography divided into chapters, 3800 words long – way beyond usual picture book length. Is this the length and format that you had in mind before you began writing?

No, not at all. It began as a picture book, 1475 words long, which is too long for a PB, so I got it down to 1000 words. After taking it to a workshop I revised it as a 7500 word book for YA, imagining b & w illustrations along the lines of the Paul Colin poster art whose work helped launch Josephine’s rise to fame. I know, there’s really no such brief illustrated YA genre, but I was writing what impassioned me.

That odd manuscript won me my agent. After we received many complimentary rejections, my visionary editor-to-be at Chronicle Books asked if the author would cut it down to about 3000 words and make it younger for a picture book reader. I got it down to 3400 and that manuscript was purchased by Chronicle and in the editing process we added back some stanza/paragraphs.


The SLJ review lists it for grades 2-4, Booklist, for grades 5-8. What do you think?

I think it works for 2-4 and 5-8 and even high school. I know it’s being used for all those ages.


This book is so rich and multi-layered. It’s the story of one African American woman’s life.  It’s the story of the racial climate of the U.S. vs. Europe.  It’s the story of the evolution of an artist. What drew you to JB? Any dark nights of the soul along the way?

Way back in 2005, while on duty as a children’s librarian, I got to know a group of unfocused African-American preteen girls who showed up daily and pretty much wreaked havoc in the library. I thought Josephine Baker would be a great role model—with her high spirits which she channeled into great success (dancer, singer, star, civil rights worker, pilot, spy for the French, mother of 12). As I said, JOSEPHINE won me my agent at the end of 2009, and the book sale in 2010. At that point there was not really an awful lot of editing to do except for adding stanzas back in and tweaking here and there.

Darn those dark nights of the soul. We must talk about that.


Did you always intend to write in free verse?

Yes and no. The language was always razzle dazzle, but the line breaks came over time. What you write evolves, and as the words became more rhythmic I followed that rhythm and it became more important over several drafts. And the line breaks enhanced the understanding and the rhythm.


You’re a dancer, so you have a deep understanding of body and rhythm.  Did you dance while you were writing this?

I did dance while I wrote—occasionally—I mean I’m always dancing. If you dance for a lifetime or if you’re born wanting to dance, the rhythm just lives inside you. I watched early footage of the magnificent young Josephine and was wowed. I tried to translate that into words on the page.


The design and illustrations are glorious: the bright colors, the typography, the illustrations showing figures against a blank background. Were you involved in any of those decisions?

I was, actually. I had veto power over the publisher’s illustrator choice—a privilege rarely given to a non-star writer. Later, after Christian Robinson was chosen, my editor and I would sit over his early sketches (sent online) and we discussed the accuracy, the energy, the placement in the story—all very cool. And then we worked together on the placement of words on the page (how they sometimes cascade down the page) and the “shout out” words—those in caps. The designer got the final word, but I got to participate in that. What a great experience. I love Chronicle and I love my editor (who is way too busy so I’m keeping her name under tabs so we can get back to my next piece together ;-). And the publicity people and the designer--great. And I love Christian’s illustrations. Just magnificent.



How do children respond to the book, and to your dancing the Charleston for them?

Kids appear to be mesmerized by the book. I love seeing black kids seeing themselves in the illustrations. As for dancing, it certainly draws their attention. In our culture we don’t do enough dancing. I always encourage kids to dance. And to draw, paint, sing, write, tell stories, anything that offers self-expression. I’ve done a couple events where we’ve all danced together. Very fun.


Did your research on Baker lead to other book projects?

Struttin’ With Some Barbecue – another biography in jazzy verse about Lil Hardin Armstrong, jazz pianist and composer, Louis Armstrong’s wife – has not yet sold, but I think it will.

Loving vs Virginiais scheduled to come out with Chronicle in Fall 2015. This is a documentary novel for teens in verse about the interracial marriage between Mildred Jeter (black) and Richard Loving (white) in 1958 Virginia, when miscegenation was illegal. It’s a beautiful love story set against a backdrop of the civil rights movement.

I have a couple of other picture book biographies in the works and I look forward to getting back to a jazz age novel. Thanks for asking, Gretchen.


For a pitch-perfect trailer of Josephine by illustrator/animator Christian Robinson, click here


For the story of the Christian Robinson’s illustrations, including post-it sketches and paintings, click here.


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9. Discussing Josephine Baker with Anne Cheng

By Tim Allen


Josephine Baker, the mid-20th century performance artist, provocatrix, and muse, led a fascinating transatlantic life. I recently had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Anne A. Cheng, Professor of English and African American Literature at Princeton University and author of the book Second Skin: Josephine Baker & the Modern Surface, about her research into Baker’s life, work, influence, and legacy.

Josephine Baker, as photographed by Carl Von Vechten in 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Josephine Baker, as photographed by Carl Von Vechten in 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Baker made her career in Europe and notably inspired a number of European artists and architects, including Picasso and Le Corbusier. What was it about Baker that spoke to Europeans? What did she represent for them?

It has been traditionally understood that Baker represents a “primitive” figure for male European artists and architects who found in Baker an example of black animality and regressiveness; that is, she was their primitive muse. Yet this view cannot account for why many famous female artists were also fascinated by her, nor does it explain why Baker in particular would come to be the figure of so much profound artistic investment. I would argue that it is in fact Baker’s “modernity” (itself understood as an expression of hybrid and borrowed art forms) rather than her “primitiveness” that made her such a magnetic figure.  In short, the modernists did not go to her to watch a projection of an alienating blackness; rather, they were held in thrall by a reflection of their own art’s racially complex roots. This is another way of saying that, when someone like Picasso looked at a tribal African mask or a figure like Baker who mimics Western ideas of Africa, what he saw was not just radical otherness but a much more ambivalent mirror of the West’s own complicity in constructing and imagining that “otherness.”

Baker was present at the March on Washington in August 1963 and stood with Martin Luther King Jr. as he gave his “I have a dream” speech. What did Baker contribute to the struggle for civil rights? How was her success in foreign countries understood within the African American community?

These are well-known facts about Baker’s biography: in the latter part of her life, Baker became a very public figure for the causes of social justice and equality. During World War II, she served as an intelligence liaison and an ambulance driver for the French Resistance and was awarded the Medal of the Resistance and the Legion of Honor. Soon after the war, Baker toured the United States again and won respect and praise from African Americans for her support of the civil rights movement. In 1951, she refused to play to segregated audiences and, as a result, the NAACP named her its Most Outstanding Woman of the Year. She gave a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall for the NAACP, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Congress of Racial Equality in 1963.

What is fascinating as well, however, is the complication that Baker represents to and for the African American community. Prior to the war and her more public engagement with the civil rights movement, she was not always a welcome figure either in the African American community or for the larger mainstream American public. Her sensational fame abroad was not duplicated in the states, and her association with primitivism made her at times an embarrassment for the African American community. A couple of times before the war, Baker returned to perform in the United States and was not well received, much to her grief. I would suggest that Baker should be celebrated not only for her more recognizable civil rights activism, but also for her art: performances which far exceed the simplistic labels that have been placed on them and which few have actually examined as art. These performances, when looked at more closely, embody and generate powerful and intricate political meditations about what it means to be a black female body on stage.

Did your research into Baker’s life uncover any surprising or unexpected bits of information? What was the greatest challenge you experienced in carrying out your research?

I was repeatedly stunned by how much writing has been generated about her life (from facts to gossip) but how little attention has been paid to really analyzing her work, be it on stage or in film. The work itself is so idiosyncratic and layered and complex that this critical oversight is really a testament to how much we have been blinded by our received image of her. I was also surprised to learn how insecure she was about her singing voice when it is in fact a very unique voice with great adaptability. Baker’s voice can be deep and sonorous or high and pitchy, depending on the context of each performance. In the film Zou Zou, for example, Baker is shown dressed in feathers, singing while swinging inside a giant gilded bird cage. Many reviewers criticized her performance as jittery and staccato. But I suggest that her voice was actually mimicking the sounds that would be made, not by a real bird, but by a mechanical bird and, in doing so, reminding us that we are not seeing naturalized primitive animality at all, but its mechanical reconstruction.

For me, the challenge of writing the story of Baker rests in learning how to delineate a material history of race that forgoes the facticity of race. The very visible figure of Baker has taught me a counterintuitive lesson: that the history of race, while being very material and with very material impacts, is nonetheless crucially a history of the unseen and the ineffable. The other great challenge is the question of style. I wanted to write a book about Baker that imitates or at least acknowledges the fluidity that is Baker. This is why, in these essays, Baker appears, disappears, and reappears to allow into view the enigmas of the visual experience that I think Baker offers.

Baker’s naked skin famously scandalized audiences in Paris, and your book is, in many respects, an extended analysis of the significance of Baker’s skin. Why study Josephine Baker and her skin today? What does she represent for the study of art, race, and American history? Did your interest in studying Baker develop gradually, or were you immediately intrigued by her?

I started out writing a book about the politics of race and beauty. Then, as part of this larger research, I forced myself to watch Josephine Baker’s films. I say “forced” because I was dreading seeing exactly the kind of racist images and performances that I have heard so much about.  But what I saw stunned, puzzled, and haunted me. Could this strange, moving, and coated figure of skin, clothes, feathers, dirt, gold, oil, and synthetic sheen be the simple “black animal” that everyone says she is? I started writing about her, essay after essay, until a dear friend pointed out that I was in fact writing a book about Baker.

Tim Allen is an Assistant Editor for the Oxford African American Studies Center. You can follow him on Twitter @timDallen.

The Oxford African American Studies Center combines the authority of carefully edited reference works with sophisticated technology to create the most comprehensive collection of scholarship available online to focus on the lives and events which have shaped African American and African history and culture.

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10. Sous Chef

What's it really like to work as a chef? What actually goes on behind the scenes? Severely hungover staff, malfunctioning ticket printers, temperamental bosses, and the joy of doing the impossible nightly — it's all here. A 24-hour snapshot of a busy restaurant kitchen. Books mentioned in this post

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11. Michelle Obama & Su Dongpo: A Character Analysis with Bloom’s Taxonomy

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

First Lady Michelle Obama travels to China this week from March 19-26 and will be focusing on the power and importance of education. In an open letter to American students, the First Lady writes, “During my trip, I’ll be visiting a university and two high schools in Beijing and Chengdu (which are two of China’s largest cities). I’ll be talking with students about their lives in China and telling them about America and the values and traditions we hold dear. I’ll be focusing in particular on the power and importance of education, both in my own life and in the lives of young people in both of our countries.”

We at Lee & Low Books wish we could join the First Lady, but since we can’t this time around, we will be reading the biography of one of China’s greatest statesmen, poets, and humanitarians, Su Dongpo. This scholar is a shining example of how persistence and dedication to one’s studies lead to achievement beyond the classroom and enable one to affect meaningful change.

Su Dongpo, Chinese Genius

Su Dongpo, Chinese Genius

This biography presents a rich setting for Standard 3 of the Common Core State Standards: character analysis. We follow Bloom’s Taxonomy to illustrate the range of questions you can use to meet your students’ needs and access their literary strengths. By creating a progression of questions within one standard, we differentiate for students within a class, provide extension opportunities for ready learners, or move the whole class from literal- to higher-level thinking over the course of several readings.

Knowledge:

  • What are Su Dongpo’s appearance/physical attributes, deeds/actions, thoughts/dialogue, and feelings/emotions?
  • What are other character’s opinions of and reactions to Su Dongpo?
  • Can you select sections showing how Su Dongpo relates to other characters?
  • How would you describe Su Dongpo in a paragraph?

Comprehension:

  • How would you classify Su Dongpo’s character trait(s) based on these actions, thoughts, and feelings above?
  • How would you summarize Su Dongpo’s opinion or feelings about Wang Anshi?
  • How would you describe Su Dongpo’s feelings about being banished from his job and home?
  • What problems does Su Dongpo face and how does he solve them?
  • How would you summarize Su Dongpo’s opinion about the purpose of government?

Application:

  • When Su Dongpo was twenty, he took the official exams and earned status as the First Scholar for his academic achievements. Based on what you know about Su Dongpo’s character traits, how would he have handled the situation differently if he had not earned such high marks the first time?
  • How would Su Dongpo react if his brother, Su Ziyou, became a corrupt government official?
  • What would need to happen or change for Su Dongpo to work for Emperor Zhezong?
  • How would Su Dongpo distinguish a “good” government from a “bad” government?
  • What would Su Dongpo likely think about our end of the year state assessments or the Common Core State Standards?
  • What advice do you think Su Dongpo would have for students who take state and national tests today?
  • If Su Dongpo worked for the U.S. Department of Education, what might Su Dongpo feel and think about the role of education in America today?

Analysis:

  • How did Su Dongpo’s upbringing prepare him for his career in government?
  • What inspired Su Dongpo’s beliefs about the purpose of government?
  • Why did Su Dongpo not care about “instant glory” or “worldly fame” when making a decision?
  • Compare Su Dongpo and Wang Anshi’s motivations for working in the government.

Synthesis:

  • Compose and present a speech that will communicate the thoughts and feelings of Su Dongpo to the Chinese people after he is pardoned when Emperor Zhezong dies.
  • Imagine you are Su Dongpo and write a diary account of your daily thoughts and activities. What would you say about the work that you do, the people you meet in government and in the villages, and the challenges you face?
  • Rewrite the scene of Su Dongpo hearing he is pardoned after the death of Emperor Zhezong. What would Su Dongpo feel and what would the Chinese people think about him if he were not pardoned?

Evaluation:

  • Defend whether you would or would not like Su Dongpo to work in your government.
  • Argue what lessons Su Dongpo learned from his career in and out of government.
  • How effective is Su Dongpo as a humanitarian?
  • Determine whether Su Dongpo was or was not disrespectful of government.
  • Assess whether Su Dongpo changed from the beginning to the end of the book based on his character traits.

Additional resources:

Sign up for updates from the First Lady throughout her trips and opportunities to ask questions.

Explore PBS LearningMedia for the First Lady’s blog, a map of China, and other resources.


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: biography, bloom's taxonomy, CCSS, character analysis, children's books, close reading, common core standards, differentiation, Educators, ELA common core standards, guided reading, higher level thinking, History, reading comprehension, rigor, white house

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12. Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale by Demi Henry Holt and Company, 2014 ISBN: 9780805097290 Grades 2-5 The reviewer received a galley from the publisher. Elementary school students are often assigned a project in which students are asked to choose a biography from the school or public library, read the book, then write a report or create a project that highlights the accomplishments of the person. As a

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13. Celebrating Women’s History Month

world

This March we celebrate Women’s History Month, commemorating the lives, legacies, and contributions of women around the world. We’ve compiled a brief reading list that demonstrates the diversity of women’s lives and achievements.

Women in Asia

Map of Asia

The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, Edited by Martha Feldman and Bonnie Gordon

Delve into courtesan cultures, including artistic practices and cultural production, often overlooked or diminished in relevancy.

The Power of Gender and the Gender of Power: Explorations in Early Indian History by Kumkum Roy

Discover the distinct strategies through which men and women constituted their identities in India for all their implications, tensions, and inconsistencies.

Cornelia Sorabji: India’s Pioneer Woman Lawyer: A Biography by Suparna Gooptu

Learn about Sorabji’s decisive role in opening up the legal profession to women long before they were allowed to plead before the courts of law, including her writings and personal correspondence.

Women in the Middle East

Map of Middle East

Cleopatra: A Biography by Duane W. Roller

Uncover not the figure in popular culture, arts, and literature of the last five hundred years — but the real last Greek queen of Egypt.

Conceiving Citizens: Women and the Politics of Motherhood in Iran by Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet

Place women in their proper role as mothers of a nation — central to the history of Iran during successive regimes in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire by Leslie P. Peirce

Examine the sources of royal women’s power and assess the reactions of contemporaries, which ranged from loyal devotion to armed opposition.

Women in British History

UK Map

Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War by Virginia Nicholson

Try to keep up with a generation of women fated to remain unmarried in the aftermath of the Great War.

The Wealth of Wives: Women, Law, and Economy in Late Medieval London by Barbara A. Hanawalt

Consider an overlooked contribution to London’s economy—the wealth that women accumulated through inheritance, dowry, and dower.

Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts by James A. Winn

Study the life and reign of Queen Anne through literature, art, and music from Dryden, Pope, Purcell, Handel, Lely, Kneller, Wren, Vanbrugh, Addison, Swift, and many other artists.

Women in European History

europe

Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline P. Murphy

Illuminate the brilliant life and tragic death of Isabella de Medici, one of the brightest stars in the dazzling world of Renaissance Italy, the daughter of Duke Cosimo I, ruler of Florence and Tuscany.

Writing the Revolution: A French Women’s History in Letters by Lindsay A. Parker

Investigate nearly 1,000 familiar letters, which convey the intellectual, emotional, and familial life of a revolutionary in all of its complexity.

The Burgher and the Whore: Prostitution in Early Modern Amsterdam by Lotte van de Pol

Delve into the cultural, social, and economic conditions of the lives of poor women in a seafaring society from the perspectives of prostitutes, their bawds, their clients, and the police.

Women in American History

U.S. Map

Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy by Elizabeth R. Varon

Probe the life and work of one of the most remarkable women of the Civil War era–the leader of the North’s key spy ring in the South.

Working Women, Literary Ladies: The Industrial Revolution and Female Aspiration by Sylvia J. Cook

Trace the hopes and tensions generated by expectations of gender and class from the first New England operatives in the early 19th century to immigrant sweatshop workers in the early 20th.

Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement by Sally McMillen

Join the meeting that launched the women’s rights movement and changed American history.

I Died for Beauty: Dorothy Wrinch and the Cultures of Science by Marjorie Senechal

Enter the provocative, scintillating mind of the talented and flawed scientist.

African American Women Chemists by Jeannette Brown

Connect to the lives of African America women chemists, from the earliest pioneers through late 1960′s when the Civil Rights Acts were passed, to today.

Women in Latin American History

Map of Latin America

Power and Women’s Representation in Latin America by Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer

Look at the recent trends in women’s representation in Latin America, and the complex and often incomplete nature of women’s political representation.

Refusing the Favor: The Spanish-Mexican Women of Santa Fe, 1820-1880 by Deena J. Gonzalez

Uncover the key role “invisible” Spanish-Mexican women played in the US takeover of Mexico’s northern territory and gain a greater understanding of conquest and colonization.

Weaving the Past: A History of Latin America’s Indigenous Women from the Prehispanic Period to the Present by Susan Kellogg

Reach back through women’s long history of labor, political activism, and contributions to — or even support of — family and community well-being.

Women’s history encompasses the history of humankind, including men, but approaches it from a woman‐centered perspective. It highlights women’s activities and ideas and asserts that their problems, issues, and accomplishments are just as central to the telling of the human story as are those of their brothers, husbands, and sons. It places the sociopolitical relations between the sexes, or gender, at the center of historical inquiry and questions female subordination.

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Image Credits: (1) Physical World Map via CIA World Factbook (public domain). (2) Map of Asia by Bytebear. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Map of Middle East by NuclearVacuum. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. (4) Map of Britain by Anonymous101. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (5) Map of Europe via CIA World Factbook (public domain). (6) Blank US Map by Theshibboleth. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. (7) Map of Latin America and the Caribbean by Yug. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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14. In memoriam: Tony Benn

By Jad Adams


Tony Benn has left as an enduring monument: one of the great diaries of the twentieth century, lasting from 1940, when he was fifteen, to 2009 when illness forced him to stop.

They are published as nine volumes but these are perhaps ten percent of the 15 million words in the original dairy. I am one of the few people to have had access to the manuscript diary, in the course of writing my biography of Benn. For this I received every assistance from him and his staff in the jumbled, chaotic office in the basement of his Holland Park Avenue home.

The diaries of course are of historic interest because they reveal the work of a cabinet minister and member of parliament for more than fifty years. Over time the Benn charts post-war hope, the rise of the Labour militants, the battle of Orgreave, and the decline of the Left. The books also have descriptions of constituents’ experiences in his weekly surgery, an opportunity to meet the people and sample their woes, which is hated by some MPs but was embraced by Benn.

They also show the development of Benn’s family of four children, twelve grandchildren, and the suffering of the death of parents and partner. One would be hard put to it to find anywhere in literature a more poignant description of death and continuing loss than Benn’s of Caroline, his partner of more than fifty years whose illness and death was described in remorseless detail in manuscript, some of which was published in More Time for Politics (2007).

Benn had always felt he ought to be writing a diary, as a part of the non-conformist urge to account for every moment of life as a gift from God. He explained at one of our last formal conversations: ‘It’s very self obsessed. I must admit it worries me that I should spend so much time on myself, I saw it as an account, accountability to the Almighty, when I die give him 15 million words and say: there, you decide. I think there is a moral element in it, of righteousness.’

Tony_Benn

This need to see time as a precious resource to be accounted for went back to his father, William Wedgwood Benn (Later Lord Stansgate) who expected the boy Benn to fill in a time chart showing how he had made use of his days. Benn senior had read an early self-help book by Arnold Bennett called How to Live 24 Hours a Day on making the best use of time. ‘Father became obsessed with it,’ Benn said.

Tony Benn had been keeping a diary sporadically since childhood. It had always been his ambition to keep one, and early fragments of diary exist, including one during his time in the services, where diary-keeping was forbidden for security reasons so he put key words relating to places or equipment in code. In the 1950s he began keeping a political diary and wrote at least some parts of a diary for every year from 1953. The emotional shock of his father’s death in 1960 and subsequent political upsets stopped his diary writing in 1961 and 1962 but, with a return to the House of Commons in sight, he resumed it in 1963.

He started dictating the diary to a tape recorder in 1966 when he joined the cabinet because he could not dictate accounts of cabinet meetings to a secretary who was not covered by the Official Secrets Act. Benn would store the tapes, not knowing when he would transcribe them, or indeed if they would be transcribed in his lifetime. His daughter, Melissa spoke of arriving at their home late at night when she was a teenager, and hearing her father’s voice dictating the diary, followed by snoring as he fell asleep at the microphone.

Benn stopped writing the diary after he fell ill in 2009 in what was probably the first stroke he was to suffer. He explained to me:

‘You can’t not be a diarist some of the time. One day is much the same as the other and it is a lot of effort. You really do have to be very conscientious and keep it up in detail and keep up the recordings and so on and it took over my life, also I’m not sure now that I’m not in a position on the inside on anything where my reflections would be interesting. I think my reflections might be as interesting as anybody else’s but whether it constitutes a diary when I’m not at the heart of anything…

‘I never thought of it as an achievement, just something I did, it’s been a bit of a burden to have to write it all down every night. It began as a journal where I put down things that interested me during the war, I drew a little bit on that for Years of Hope (1994). You can say you’ve achieved a reasonably accurate daily account of what has happened to you and since people are always shaped by what has happened to them so if you have a diary you get three bites at your own experience: when it happens, when you write it down and when you read it later and realise you were wrong.’

Benn did not think he would publish it in his lifetime, but in about 1983 he decided to type up six months and have a look at it. He invited Ruth Winstone to help with the diary in 1985 and found they worked so well together that she stayed and edited all the diaries.

His final thought on the long labour of the Benn Diaries was: ‘I couldn’t recommend anyone to keep a diary without warning them that it does take over your life.’

Jad Adams’ Tony Benn: A Biography is published by Biteback.  His next book is Women and the Vote: A World History to be published by OUP in the autumn.

Image credit: Portrait of Tony Benn. By I, Isujosh. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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15. Women of 20th century music

Women musicians are constantly pushing societal boundaries around the world, while hitting all the right notes. In honor of Women’s History Month, Oxford University Press is testing your knowledge about women musicians. Take the quiz and see if you’re a shower singer or an international composer!

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

Portrait of Billie Holiday, Downbeat(?), New York, N.Y., ca. June 1946. via Library of Congress.

Portrait of Billie Holiday, Downbeat(?), New York, N.Y., ca. June 1946. via Library of Congress.

Maggie Belnap is an intern in the Social Media Department at Oxford University Press. She is a student at Amherst College.

Oxford Reference is the home of reference publishing at Oxford. With over 16,000 photographs, maps, tables, diagrams and a quick and speedy search, Oxford Reference saves you time while enhancing and complementing your work.

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16. Women's History Month Book Review: Clara and Davie: the True Story of Young Clara Barton, Founder of the American Red Cross, by Patricia Polacco (Scholastic, 2014)

Recommended for ages 6-12.

Patricia Polacco is one of our great contemporary picture book authors, and specializes in picture books with serious content such as racism, disabilities, and even cancer, making them appropriate for older elementary school readers.  In her newest book, which fits in perfectly for Women's History Month, she explores the girlhood of one of the most famous female figures of the 19th century, Clara Barton.

Clara was the fifth child to be born into the Barton family in Massachusetts, and with her mother in ill health, she was virtually raised by her siblings, particularly her older brother Davie, whom she adored.  Joyous illustrations in Polacco's signature style show Davie showing Clara how to ride on a horse while she flings her arms in the air in delight.  She helped Davie with his chores on the farm, and had an immediate affinity for nature and particularly with animals.  But she had a speech impediment that made her shy and afraid of people; because no one understood this sort of problem in that day, her older sister punished her for not speaking correctly.  School was a nightmare for her, and finally her parents agreed she could be taught at home.  Even as a young girl, Clara had healing hands and neighbors let her treat their farm animals.  When Clara's beloved brother Davie breaks both legs in an accident, she becomes his nurse and with her coaxing, urges him back to health, giving him the courage to try to walk again.

This is a touching introduction to a famous woman from history from a unique perspective--her love for her brother.  Children will be able to easily identify with Clara's inhibitions, her love for nature, and animals, and her desire to help her brother heal.  An author's note tells more about Barton's career as a teacher, nurse, and founder of the American Red Cross.  In an intriguing author's note, we learn that Patricia Polacco herself is distantly related to Clara Barton, on her mother's side of the family, and they own a vase which is reputed to once have belonged to Clara Barton herself.

See Mary Ann Scheuer and Louise Capizzio's post on Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month for more great suggestions on how to pair this book with other resources on Clara Barton.

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17. Women's History Month Book Review: Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holliday and the Dog Who Loved Her, by Amy Novesky (Harcourt Children's Books, 2013)

Recommended for ages 5 and up.

Amy Novesky's most recent picture book, Mister and Lady Day, an ode to jazz great Billie Holiday and her pet dogs, just arrived at my library in time for Women's History Month.

This is Amy's fourth book on prominent female figures in cultural history; she has also penned Me, Frida (on artist Frida Khalo), Georgia in Hawaii (on artist Georgia O'Keefe), Imogen (on photographer Imogen Cunningham).  She is currently working on a picture book on sculptor Louise Bourgeois.

Billie Holiday's tragic life. which included working as a prostitute, living in a workhouse with her mother, drug addiction, a prison sentence, and more, might not seem like a natural fit for a picture book for young children, and indeed, this side of Holiday's life does not appear in Novesky's book.  Novesky focused instead on Holiday's love for her many dogs, and in particular for her boxer named Mister.  Love for a dog, of course, is a theme that children identify easily with, as do many adults (OK, I'm a sucker for a good dog story).

We first meet Billie Holiday as a young girl, dreaming of being a star, singing on a borrowed gramophone.  Illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton, whose charming illustrations are done with gouache and charcoal with collage elements, depicts Billie in a beautiful setting on a fancy chair, dressed up with a bow in her hair (perhaps a bit fanciful given the realities of her childhood!).  The next spread shows her already a star, the great Lady Day. (Illustrated 2-page spreads from the book can be seen on Novesky's website).   Novesky introduces a note of melancholy in the text from the beginning, by explaining that even stars need someone to listen to them, and that's the role Lady Day's dogs played.  We meet her small dogs, chihuahuas Pepe and Chiquita, her big dogs (a Great Dane named Gypsy, and finally her favorite dog of all, Mister, who we see in a fabulous illustration, walking with Billie on a leash wearing matching mink coats.  Instead of a sidewalk, they are walking on a piano keyboard, with the buildings of New York in the background.  Mister had the life of a star himself; he was so pampered he got to eat steak while she was performing in glamorous clubs, and he waited for her while she performed, even serving to keep eager fans at bay.

Novesky tells young readers that "Lady got into trouble. She had to leave home for a year and a day. And Mister couldn't come."  In an afterword, she explains that Billie Holiday was in fact in jail during that time for drug possession.  When she returned, Mister was there to welcome her, and even accompanied her to a grand concert at New York's Carnegie Hall.  The story ends on a hopeful note, with Billie singing her heart out, and Mister listening in the wings.

An author's note gives some more background on Holiday's life, appropriately omitting some of the uglier facts, and provides additional sources and a web resource.

There's no CD with the book, but readers could easily find CD's of Holiday's unique singing style at the library or on YouTube, which would enrich the story.

This is a moving yet charming book about a difficult subject, and could be integrated into units on Black History Month, Women's History Month, or jazz.

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18. The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield

The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the advent of The Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield Abrams. 2014 ISBN: 9781419707964 Grades 6-12 I received a copy of this book from the publisher. In 1950, fifteen-year-old Barbara Rose Johns was sick and tired of the horrible conditions she and other black students endured attending the Robert R. Moton High School.

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19. A Garden of Marvels

A lively botanical excursion: from the world's largest pumpkin to a truly black petunia, this is a delightful romp through the world of plants. Books mentioned in this post A Garden of Marvels: How We... Ruth Kassinger Used Hardcover $21.00

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20. Have you heard? Oxford DNB releases 200th episode in biography podcast

By Philip Carter


Way back in 2007, when Twittering truly was for the birds, a far-sighted editor at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography piped up: maybe people would like to listen as well as read? So was devised the Oxford DNB’s biography podcast which this week released its 200th episode—the waggerly tale of Charles Cruft (1852-1938), founder of the eponymous dog show held annually in early March.

Over the last seven years we’ve offered two episodes of the podcast per month. Each lasts between 10 and 25 minutes and follows a set format: the reading aloud of a single biography of a historical figure, taken from the Oxford DNB and chosen by Dictionary editors. The structure of an ODNB biography is ideal for the podcast format; dictionary entries being concise, rounded accounts of a life (personal as well as public), told chronologically, and written by specialist authors. Notable writers whose work appears in the podcast list include Will Self on J.G Ballard, Bernard Crick on George Orwell, David Lodge on Malcolm Bradbury, and Anthony Thwaite on Philip Larkin.

Since 2007 many episodes have been commissioned to mark noteworthy anniversaries. For example, Captain Edward Smith and the bandleader Wallace Hartley on the centenary, in 2012, of the sinking of the Titanic; or Ludwig Guttmann, creator of the Paralympics, for the London Games later that year. Others mark notable birthdays (the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing in June 2012, for instance); or dates in the British history calendar (the extraordinary story of Guy Fawkes for 5 November and Fred Perry for Wimbledon fortnight); or one-off events such as the enthronement in March 2013 of Justin Welby, the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, with the story of the first incumbent, St Augustine.

A great many of the 200 episodes—all of which are available free in the archive—chart the lives of well-known people: Anita Roddick, Roald Dahl, Scott of the Antarctic, Dr Crippen, Wallis Simpson, and so on. There are many more familiar names we’d love to include. However, the restrictions of the podcast format (a 25-minute recording allows an upper limit of c.3000 words for a script) means that this isn’t, unfortunately, the place for a Dickens or a Darwin whose ODNB entries run to more than 20,000 words. Even so, it’s possible to touch on major historical figures through the lives of those with whom they spent time: the story of Nora Joyce sheds light on James; that of Alice Liddell (of ‘Wonderland’ fame) on Lewis Carroll.

Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographic study "Pomona" (Alice Liddell as a young woman). 1872. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Photographic study “Pomona” (Alice Liddell as a young woman) by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1872. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

A few episodes, among them Orwell and Diana, princess of Wales, have been reduced from the original Oxford DNB article for reading aloud. Likewise, a handful of episodes take the form of dual lives comprising two Dictionary entries fused together: 15 minutes with the motor-car designer Charles Rolls just wouldn’t seem right without the accompanying story of Henry Royce; and so too the combined talents of Fortnum & Mason, Mills & Boon, or Eric & Ernie. Aside from these edits, what’s read aloud is pretty close to what you’ll find in the Oxford DNB for that individual. People with complex lives tend not to receive the podcast treatment: complicated, multi-layered stories are hard to untangle in 15-20 minutes. More suitable are recognizable people who dedicated themselves to a particular purpose (Alexander Fleming and penicillin, for instance) or lesser-known individuals closely associated with a familiar event or artefect, such as Charles Lucas, first recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Over the course a year, we hope to put out a mix of episodes covering a range of time periods, topics, and tones. Our earliest life is Boudicca (d.60/61 AD), the most recent (in terms of date of death) is Beryl Bainbridge (1932-2010). In between there’s plenty for the medievalist as well as the modernist—the life of Emperor Hadrian is much more than the story of wall-building, while that of the hermit St Godric is an ear-catching account of the privations of an 11th-century anchorite. Some of the chosen stories make for difficult listening. Try, for instance, Margaret Roper or Annie Darwin, daughters of Thomas More and Charles Darwin respectively. Others, like the scandalous medieval cleric, Bogo de Clare, or the raffish socialite Neil ‘Bunny’ Roger, are pure pleasure.

Entertainment is important, of course. But the podcast also provides an alternative route to historical biography for school teachers and pupils—many of whom, it’s fair to say, would not otherwise turn to a work of academic reference like the Oxford DNB. Episodes on Wilfred Owen, the abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, or the suffragette Emily Davison relate to aspects of the UK’s national curriculum. Hopefully, the series can also spring a few surprises on older listeners, be they the Hanoverian female soldier Hannah Snell; the doyen of pigeon racing, Albert Osman; or Charles Isham, bringer of garden gnomes to England.

About 650,000 episodes are downloaded annually from the ODNB podcast. Three things may account for this. First, there are our readers, Paul and Lynne—professional voice actors who have brought to life the words and worlds of writers, politicians, criminals, inventors, eccentrics, and—with Elizabeth Parsons—a would-be ghost. Then there’s the London studio where each episode is recorded, edited, and polished to a high standard.

Finally, and most importantly, there’s our common love of human stories, and of other people’s business—as testified by popular BBC radio series, such as “Great Lives”, “Last Word”, or the “New Elizabethans”. The Oxford DNB biography podcast makes a modest contribution to our fascination with real lives, albeit one that spans nearly 2000 years of British history and offers more than 50 hours listening time. That you can—while cooking dinner or walking the dog—be in the company of Mrs Beeton or, now, Charles Cruft seems rather wonderful.

Philip Carter is Publication Editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a collection of 59,003 life stories of noteworthy Britons, from the Romans to the 21st century. The Oxford DNB online is freely available via public libraries across the UK, and many libraries worldwide. Libraries offer ‘remote access’ allowing members to gain access free, from home (or any other computer), 24 hours a day. You can also sample the ODNB with its changing selection of free content: in addition to the podcast; a topical Life of the Day, and historical people in the news via Twitter @odnb. A new e-brochure offers more on the Oxford DNB podcast, along with selected content. All 200 episodes are available as free downloads in the Archive. New episodes in the podcast are available on alternate Wednesdays as ‘Oxford Biographies’ via iTunes.

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21. Bringing Up the Dead

I have this recurring nightmare that my mother is alive. She never died. I've made a terrible mistake. I have to call my editor. We can't publish the book. I don't know how I could have made such a wild mistake. I mean, she looked dead. I signed the papers. I let the man from [...]

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22. Sky Time in Gray’s River

Pyle beautifully and poetically captures both time and place in this collection of essays. Village life and nature entwine in Gray's River, a tiny hamlet in rural southwest Washington, as Pyle meditates on the cycles of human, flora, and fauna. At once an accounting of both a year in passing as well as a simpler [...]

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23. The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow: The Mystical Nature Diary of Opal Whiteley

The nature diaries of Opal Whiteley are amazing for their magical, wide-eyed descriptions of forest and farm life. Raised on a Willamette Valley settlement in the early 20th century, Whiteley claimed to write this diary on scraps of paper at the age of six. Though her claims were disputed both in her lifetime and after, [...]

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24. This Boy’s Life: A Memoir

Wolff's memoir retells his hardscrabble childhood in a dysfunctional family, but rather than inspire sympathy or pity, he evokes laughter. Wolff's teenage years, spent in Skagit County, Washington, are filled with the desperation of enormous creativity trapped in a midcentury small town, which left me rooting for young Tobias's escape through whatever dubious means necessary. [...]

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25. Review – Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett

9780060572150After reading Ann Patchett’s This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage I had to go back and read this book. Firstly because I learnt Ann writes non fiction just as beautifully as she does her fiction and secondly she talks in the book about a controversy surrounding Truth & Beauty.

In 2006, Clemson University assigned Truth & Beauty to the freshman class and Ann was invited to give the Convocation Address. However one parent deemed the book inappropriate, the media got involved and mass ignorance ensued. Ann details the events in ‘“The Love Between the Two Women Is Not Normal”’ in her frank and forthright style, her humour keeping you from boiling with outrage. After reading the book the whole incident seems even more ridiculous and also I sense more hurtful that Ann let on in her piece.

Truth & Beauty is the story of Ann’s friendship with Lucy Grealy. Lucy had a highly aggressive form of cancer when she was a child which left her with a badly disfigured jaw. Lucy had numerous operations throughout her life to try and correct and/or alleviate her disfigurement.

Lucy’s whole life was (rightly and wrongly) dominated by her face. It defined how people treated her and it defined how she saw herself. It was a part of who she was and shaped her as a person, good and bad. It was also a burden that became impossible for her to bear but her friends were always there to help pull her through.

Ann met Lucy at college but they became friends when they both attended the Iowa Writers Workshop together. Their lives and careers became entwined from that day forward. Ann writes about her friendship with Lucy warts and all. The good times and the bad. The times when Lucy was on top of the world and vice versa. How they supported each other through thick and thin and all the difficulties any friendship faces along the way.

Ann tells the story of her friendship with Lucy with clarity and emotion, with honesty and understanding. Heart breaking and gut wrenching. Truth and beauty. Ann Patchett at her best.

Buy the book here…

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