Who Was Beatrix Potter?

You know you’ve waited in the doctor’s office a long time if you are able to start and finish Sarah Fabiny’s Who Was Beatrix Potter?.  This is exactly what happened to me this past week.


Beatrix Potter, the author of the twenty-three “tale” books including The Tale of Peter Rabbit was not only a groundbreaking author, but also a trailblazer in women’s rights.

Born in 1866 into a wealthy family. Potter was raised to be seen and not heard until she would eventually marry or simply stay at home and care for her aging parents.  Those were her options.  While her brother was sent to a boarding school to be schooled. Potter took art classes at the South Kensington Museum and excelled.  Thankfully, Potter’s brother Bertram, while home from school on a visit, encouraged Potter to send out her drawings to publishers, and the rest is history.

Although met with adversity and hardship along the way, Potter is a true example of someone who can achieve her dreams with hard work and determination as told in Fabiny’s Who Was Beatrix Potter?.

Who Was Helen Keller?

As mentioned in a previous post, my daughter and I (and now hub) are addicted to the Who Was/Is? series of young reader books.  This past weekend while frozen in we read Gare Thompson’s Who Was Helen Keller?, illustrated by Nancy Harrison. I knew Keller was deaf and blind and that a devoted teacher, Annie Sullivan, was able, after much perseverance, to open the world to Keller.  Yet, I had no idea of the numerous obstacles Sullivan and Keller conquered together until Sullivan’s death in 1936 as well as the history behind schooling for deaf children.  Go Gallaudet!

What amazed me probably more than anything else is how, in order for Keller to be able to learn at Radcliffe, Sullivan had to spell every lecture into Keller’s hand.  Every lecture . . .  Yet, their combined efforts prevailed, and Keller graduated from Radcliffe in 1904 with honors.  What an amazing lesson to be learned by all less-than-motivated learners.


What amazed my eight-year-old daughter was how Keller had met every president from Cleveland to Kennedy.

Not only an ideal chapter book to use in teaching students how to overcome adversity, but also ideal in discussions about interacting with people whom are different than ourselves.  For in chapter 9, we learn, “The girls were friendly [at Radcliffe], but many did not know what to say or how to act around Helen”  (87).

Unfortunately, the English teacher within must mention the dreaded typo found on page 92, “The book also revealed Helen’s wonderful imagination ad [sic] how she pictured her world.”  What is nice to note is that my squirt noticed the error, too, in her reading.  Yesssssssssssssssss!

For my daughter’s book report assignment, she opted to create a newspaper based on Who Was Helen Keller?  Thank you Ms. Gann for such creative learning opportunities.  Amazing!

IMG_1862Who Was Helen Keller? just may be a contender for my daughter’s next book selection for Book Club Babes as they will be exploring the biography genre.

Who Was Harriet Tubman?

My eight-year-old daughter discovered Yona Zeldis McDonough’s Who Was Harriet Tubman? while sifting through the books handed down to her from our generous teen neighbor.  She was excited to make this find because she had already read McDonough’s Who Was Rosa Parks? at school.  Her passionate recommendation regarding this series was, “It’s not like you don’t want to read these books,” said in a hurried speech.  Hey, this more than works for me.

My daughter allowed me to read Who Was Harriet Tubman? first because she is currently reading Janet B. Pascal’s Who Was Abraham Lincoln?.  I read Who Was Harriet Tubman? in one sitting;  it was that good.

Not only did I learn crucial biographical facts, but I also heard Tubman’s voice through key quotes.  When finally a free woman, Tubman declared, “‘I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now that I was free.  There was such a glory over everything, the sun came like gold through the trees and over the fields and I felt like I was in heaven’”  (45).  As a spy in the Union army, Tubman concluded, “”I made up my mind [that] I would never wear a long dress on another expedition . . . but would have a bloomer as soon as I could get it’”  (82).  My kind of lady . . .

With illustrations by Nancy Harrison which further reinforce Tubman’s story, this is an ideal book for even the reluctant reader.

My next assigned reading [from my third-grader] is What Is the Statue of Liberty? by Joan Holub.  I am looking forward to uncovering what all I had failed to learn or simply forgotten since my time in third grade.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

What immediately comes to mind after reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken:  A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, is the fact my history training in high school and college did not do justice to the coverage of World War II (and I am certified to teach middle school social studies).  A biographical account of Louie Zamperini, I now understand why author Rhonda Tibbs repeatedly asked me if I had read this work of nonfiction yet.

Unbroken, divided into five parts covers Zamperini’s mischievous childhood years, his appearance at the Olympics, his time spent as a bombardier on the B-24 Liberator in the Army Air Corps, his ability to endure life on a raft for forty-seven days, the horror of his existence as a POW (Prisoner of War), his troubled life after the war, and finally, his capacity to come to terms with all that he experienced at the hands of other human beings and offer forgiveness.

As a reader, just when I thought the abuse would have to come to an end, further accounts were revealed in the subsequent pages.  Reading through some reviews prior to my reading. one person wrote about Unbroken, “I was bored in the middle,” while another wrote, “It was so repetitive.”  Now, for me, these comments beg the question, “Do you realize this is the true story of a man’s life, not meant to entertain but to inform?”  With Hillenbrand’s extensive research as noted through numerous footnotes, I walked away more knowledgeable regarding the atrocities a human can withstand, yet still make a difference in the world by example.

While on the raft with two of his fellow crew, Mac and Phil, Zamperini’s faith first surfaced with, “Impossibly, though there were bullet holes all the way around the men, even in the tiny spaces between them, not one bullet had hit either man” (156).  In addition, ” . . . the raft offered an unlikely intellectual refuge. . . .  his mind was freed of an encumberance that civilization had imposed on it.  In his head, he could roam anywhere, and he found that his mind was quick and clear”  (167).  Thus, despite the bleak situation, Zamperini was able to uncover the good, a lesson to be learned by all.

Without going into horrific detail here about Zamperini’s abuse, his thoughts summarize the truth of it all, “All I see, he thought, is a dead body breathing”  (175).

Furthermore, Hillenbrand writes with such honesty, the reader is left with much to contemplate as in:

“Men subjected to dehumanizing treatment experience profound wretchedness and loneliness and find that hope is almost impossible to retain”  (182).

“Dignity is essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen”  (183).

“When he [Zamperini] thought of his history, what resonated with him now was not all that he had suffered but the divine love that he believed had intervened to save him” (376).

A definite must-read, I now anxiously look forward to the movie adaptation of Unbroken coming this month.