HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: My First Book of Biographies: Great Men and Women Every Child Should Know
Author: Jean Marzollo
Illustrator: Irene Trivas
Publisher: Scholastic Inc., 1994
ISBN-13: 978-0590450140 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 059045014X Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0590450157 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0590450158 Paperback
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 6-10
Rating: **** 4 stars
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Marzollo, Jean. My First Book of Biographies: Great Men and Women Every Child Should Know (1994 Cartwheel Books, a trademark of Scholastic Inc., 555 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012). This collection of short biographies contains 36 alphabetical, one-page sketches which introduce young readers to 45 well-known men and women of varied interests, from different time periods and cultures, and with diverse ethnic backgrounds who have made a mark in the history of this world. Each entry is illustrated with a bold, colorful, full-page watercolor painting by illustrator Irene Trivas. In the Introduction, author Jean Marzollo says that the brief biographies in this book “are meant only to introduce you to these folks” so that “Hopefully, you’ll find them so interesting that you’ll want to read more about them now and as you grow.”
Yet, one of the biggest complaints I saw about My First Book of Biographies is that while the biographies do introduce children to some of the greatest people in history, they are so short as to be of questionable value because there is very little of substance. Of course, one must keep in mind the age and ability of the children for whom it was written. It works well as an introduction for first to third grade range but would probably not be as appropriate for older children. Any time one has a collection of biographies, there will always be the question as to why some people were chosen and others were not. It is easy to see why Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill were included. A good case can also be made for George Washington Carver, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and even Babe Zaharias and Amelia Earhart, as well as many of the others.
But Katsushika Hokusai? What average, American adult has ever even heard of this person? Obviously multicultural “diversity” is a prime consideration here. And some political correctness must be included. After statements about how many nations celebrate Christopher Columbus, it is said, “Native Americans, or ‘Indians’ as Columbus called them, feel differently. For them, Columbus is no hero because he began the European conquest of their homelands and their many peoples.” Yeah, that’s right—blame it all on dead, white, European males. On the other hand, the book does use, and even explain, the abbreviation B.C. instead of the vacuous B.C.E. so common today. With its easy-to-read text, it is a good first exposure for youngsters to some fascinating figures, both historical and contemporary, of major cultural importance.