Episode 136: Biographies and the Power of Testimony

In this episode of “Books that Spark,” we look at picture book biographies to help encourage and challenge our children to do amazing, world-changing things. Biographies are basically testimonies of what people and God have done. They are powerful in discipling our children. 

Biographies Discussed in This Episode:

St. Patrick’s Day Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Welcome to “Books That Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that help us with everyday discipleship, every day, sparking important conversations with our children.

I’m very excited to meet with you today and to talk about some great books as we’ve just finished Black History Month and have gone into Women’s History Month and Irish American History Month celebrating the Irish American culture. And as we go through the rest of the year, we have Asian American Month and Hispanic American Month, and we celebrate all these different cultures and people, and it got me to thinking what we really need to do is just every day be reading biographies to our children. As a child, I loved to read biographies and some of the first chapter books I enjoyed were biographies because I found people so interesting and inspirational. And so that’s part of what I want to talk about today are some of the biographies out there. Now, some of these biographies, and I’m mostly sticking with picture book biographies, there are so many of them and so many of them are so excellent, it’s very hard to narrow it down. So I picked some of my favorites, but you can certainly look online and find some really wonderful, well-written biographies of all kinds of people, and if you have someone you’re interested in, you might just see if there is a biography about that person.

There are some series of biographies that are written, and right now one of these series is on Kindle Unlimited, so you could read it on your Kindle for free. This series that’s “Meet [so-and-so]”, and there’s a whole group of these biographies. There’s Meet Vincent Van Gogh, Meet Claude Monet, Meet Leonardo da Vinci. They have artists and writers and important people, all kinds of biographies. And then one of the other series that is really kind of cute, and I have several of these books in my library is the ‘Who Was’, and then it has whoever and it’s from Who HQ, as well as other authors and illustrators, but who was so-and-so and Who Was Dr. Seuss, Who Was Albert Einstein. And it even has modern day people who are currently still alive, and so it’s got a lot of good biographies that we can share with our kids and that they would enjoy. There’s another series of books, and this one lists the person’s name and then it says “A Kid’s Book About” like for Michael Jordan: A Kid’s Book About Not Fearing Failure So You Can Succeed and Be The GOAT. It’s the Mini Movers and Shakers series, and there’s a whole bunch of those, and these are available to read for free on Kindle. This series, I believe every single volume is free to read on Kindle Unlimited, and they have the Wright Brothers, Walt Disney, Kobe Bryant, Bruce Lee, Anne Frank, so there’s a lot of women and men who have done many things, things in sports and science, art, everything. They’re great.

Some of my all-time favorites–one of them I just love is Poet, Pilgrim, Rebel: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Published Poet by Katie Munday Williams, illustrated by Tania Rex. This is such a beautiful book, I like to read it too, cause sometimes the feel of the book is so great. These pages just feel great, they’re thick and it’s just a lovely book, but I love it because it tells such a cool story of a rebellious woman in Puritan times who still did what she needed to do to communicate her heart and her ideas in a culture that did not allow women to express their feelings, and she did it in such a smart and clever way. Reminds me of the scripture that says to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves because that’s exactly what she did. I’ve always loved her poems too, when we would research those and read those in literature class. But anyway, this book is very well written and has a lot of back matter that gives you more information about her life and it’s just one of my favorites. So that one I highly recommend reading to your kids for biography and especially in this month of celebrating women, and many of the ones that are my favorites are ones about authors. That’s no surprise, probably because of being a writer. I just find author’s stories so interesting.

Another one, this one we could have used last month, but it is just such a good story. And there’s a few picture books about this person, and it’s As Fast as Words Could Fly by Pamela Tuck and illustrated by Eric Velasquez. It is about Mason Steele, and he was a boy who grew up during the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties and he was a part of the desegregation and wound up going to being bussed to a white high school as a black boy. He stood up against prejudice and discrimination. His father was also an activist. He used his ability to write and to type to be able to share his voice and to make a difference. It’s just a great story and what I love about it is his tenacity and his determination to stand up even in the face of ridicule and not to give up, and so it’s just a great book to help our kids see determination, and that’s most of what I love about biographies is that whether a person is overcoming a disability, whether they’re trying to tackle dyslexia, or they have some sort of a physical injury and they have to overcome that, or they’re dealing with the attitudes of other people of prejudice or limitations put on them by a society or a culture, whatever it is, they’re overcoming those things. You know, we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. We should be sharing these stories with our children to inspire them to be strong and courageous, to take a stand even when times are difficult, also to share our stories of what has happened in our lives and in our family’s lives, because I can guarantee you every single family has at least one story of overcoming something, whether we’re overcoming poverty or just going through a difficult time, we overcome and we become victorious with God’s help. So those are great stories of faith and great stories of victory and determination that our children need to hear.

There’s one book that’s called Before They Were Authors: Famous Writers as Kids by Elizabeth Haidle. I love this book, it’s kind of like a graphic novel sort of feel to it, but it tells the different stories of different writers, but what they did early on in their life and what their lives were like as children, so it’s just kind of a fun collection.

I’m going to just go through some of these books that I just love and list them off. A new one that I’ve recently read is Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers by Laura Renauld and Illustrated by Brigette Barrager. It is a really nicely done picture book, and there are other picture books and bigger books about Mr. Rogers. I really like this one, it talks about when he was a child and how he felt alone, even sometimes ridiculed by others. So I just really think this is well done and will speak to children.

Another book that I really love is The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin. You probably know her story, this is by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley. She’s a professor and a writer who has autism and has overcome autism, the ability to live on her own and be successful, and actually adds so much to culture and especially to ranching. So I love her story, especially with my family and us dealing with autism in our family, I think it’s a wonderful story.

Another really beautiful biography is The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding The World’s Coral Reefs: The Story of Kid Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe. This is a great little book and it really talks about rebuilding the coral reefs and how that has been such an important part of rebuilding our oceans and helping them to be healthy and to survive. They discovered a lot in their process of studying the reefs and learning that we do need to help them to survive, so it’s really well done.

There’s Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by P.J. Lynch, and this is a little different biography of Abraham Lincoln because it’s more dealing with the man as a father and him being in his family, and I love that cause it gives us a different picture. Your children learn about him in history and in school and it’s just kind of nice to see a different take on who he is, so it’s really nice.

Another new one that I’ve read, it actually came out in 2017, but I only read it recently, is John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien and it’s by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, and this is a really pretty book and a really nice story and shows his mind of how he used his stories to escape the war and the things that were happening to help him deal with the war and the things he had to deal with, it’s just a fun picture book.

And then another really beautiful picture book that I’ve recently read is Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos. It is written by Monica Brown, and illustrated by John Parra. So she’s a Mexican artist and she loved animals. This book is so much fun because it talks about all her crazy pets she had and talks about character qualities, talks about her art, talks about her overcoming two accidents she was in where she was crippled and overcame it once and then crippled again. Just such a good book, so much to glean from this one. I highly recommend this one, lots to talk about with our kids.

Another one is Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré. And I don’t know that I said that right, but she is Puerto Rican and it is by Anika Aldamuy Denise and illustrated by Paola Escobar, and I am sorry if I butchered their names, but this book is beautiful and she was a librarian and a storyteller and helped children fall in love with reading and with stories and built a whole legacy in the Puerto Rican culture, so it’s just a wonderful, wonderful book.

Another one that is new to me that I really enjoyed, I will tell you, you’ll have some trouble reading part of it, because it’s not in English and part of it is. A Likkle Miss Lou: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice. And it’s written by Nadia Hohn and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes. This book is so full of joy and fun, I think I would’ve enjoyed meeting this woman in real life and she’s a very famous woman in Jamaica, I just love it. It’s so much fun, and there are several books about her, she’s so interesting, such an interesting person.

Okay, so these are some of the new ones that I’ve seen that I really liked, and I want to share a few others with you. Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez and illustrated by Felicita Sala. This one is a great book I’ve mentioned before on this show. I just love it, my daughter loves it.

Okay, there’s so many stories of Harriet Tubman, but this one is called Before She Was Harriet, and it is by Lisa Cline-Ransome and Illustrated by James E. Ransome and they’re husband and wife. And it’s beautiful, just a beautiful picture book, and it tells her story of moving north and finding freedom before she started helping with the Underground Railroad. So this is a great book.

Of course we’ve got Hidden Figures: The American Dream and The Untold Story of The Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win The Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman, and there are several books about them individually as well that are really well done. And so any of those would be just a great book to share with your kids.

So another brand new book for me and one of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis, this one is called Finding Narnia: The Story of C.S. Lewis and His Brother by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Jessica Lenan. It’s a picture book, so it’s really great cause most of the stories about C.S. Lewis are not picture books. So I love that they have a picture book about him.

There’s one called Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant and Illustrated by Boris Kulikov, this is about the man who invented Braille for the Blind.

There’s some other Christian collections if you want to talk about Christian history. Of course, having our older children read Corrie Ten Booms’ The Hiding Place and the Diary of Anne Frank and all of those when they’re in middle school and high school are so important. But we also have a book of 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith by Michelle DeRusha. There’s another one, 50 Men Every Christian Should Know. And so learning about the heroes of the faith, both of these books just have short biographies of people from fairly modern times to couple hundred years ago. So it’s really got a good collection of short biographies. This would be for your older children, it’s not illustrated for young children. There’s 10 Girls Who Changed the World and 10 Boys Who Changed the World by Irene Howat, and these are for, I would say older elementary through middle school children, and they have a whole collection of these people who made a difference, people who shared their talents, who didn’t give in a whole collection of these, and they’re all by Irene Howat. So you can check those out, and those are from a Christian perspective.

Okay, and then I wanted to share a few books for us, for the parents, for our older children, our high schoolers, because we enjoy biographies too. I haven’t read all of these, they have come highly recommended to me. I own them, I just haven’t finished reading them, but I feel pretty confident sharing them with you. One is called Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis by Patti Callahan, and this one is available in Kindle or hardcover or paperback. It just is fascinating to me their story and their life together and how wonderful that was, such a testimony of God’s grace.

And then The President and the Freedom Fighter: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Their Battle to Save America’s Soul by Brian Kilmeade. This comes highly, highly recommended. It’s only $5 in Kindle, but it is a highly recommended book, really well written from what I hear, I can’t wait to read it, but I have not read it yet. I bought it for my son and I hope he has read it or will read it, but it’s supposed to be excellent, and I just love stories about Frederick Douglass. I found him to be such an amazing and interesting man in history, and if you haven’t read his story, please do, it’s really fascinating. Man, he was a tenacious, determined man who stood in the face of so much evil. This is not the civil rights movement, this is slave trade period, this is back with Lincoln. And he wore the scars of being a slave and he became a respected statesman among everyone, even in the world as tumultuous as it was back then. He was at the table with people like he met with Wilberforce and so many other important people in history and had such an impact as a spokesman, as an activist, as just a mover and a shaker. Really interesting life story, so that’s why I wanted to recommend this one.

Now because we are also emphasizing Irish American heritage, or I think Irish heritage in the month of March. I wanted to include a few books specifically about Irish people, and namely of course, we want to talk about St. Patrick with St. Patrick’s Day coming up. And so there’s a cute picture book by Tomie DePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, and I just love his artwork. Most of his books don’t have a whole lot of words in them. They are more pictures and lots of pictures to look at, and this book is nice. Another picture book by an author I like is St. Patrick’s Day by Gail Gibbons, and this is also a very cute book. And then my friend Marci Seither wrote, Miss Marci Goes to Ireland. And I had her on the show before and she talked about her book, but this is just a really cute little book about her trip to Ireland, so you might enjoy reading that with your children. It just is a cute, cute book. And then another friend of mine or acquaintance, Susy Flory with Patrick Barrett, the story is about Patrick Barrett. And Marci actually took the photography in this book I believe, because they went to Ireland together to write this story. But Susy Flory wrote this story about Patrick Barrett and his donkey sanctuary. It’s called Sanctuary: The True Story of an Irish Village, a Man Who Lost His Way and The Rescue Donkeys That Led Him Home. This is definitely not a children’s book, this is a book about a man who was an alcoholic and had PTSD and found his way out of that, and a lot of it came from helping to rescue these donkeys and having this sanctuary for them. So it’s a very interesting story of faith and just what this man has gone through in his life.

So I know that’s a lot to look at, a lot to think about, but I highly encourage you, again, share your stories with your kids, share your family’s stories with your kids of how your family has overcome trials and tribulations, has had joys and triumphs and victories, and how your faith has grown as you have learned more about Christ and grown in Him, then find these wonderful biographies that are about your favorite writers or about your favorite artists or people from other cultures who have been immigrants here in America and how they’ve overcome the trials and challenges they faced. I think our kids can learn so much through the biographies we share with them, and there are some really great ones about missionaries as well, and I didn’t cover those today, I’ll cover those another day. But like I said, I love biographies and I think they are extremely valuable because it’s testimony and we know that testimonies help so much in seeing what happens when people step out in faith, when we see what people have gone through and what they have done, we learn and we gain strength from that. So testimonies are super powerful things in our lives as believers, and that’s what a biography is. I think it’s great because we get to see their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and we can learn from their mistakes, from their triumphs and from all that they have gone through. So I hope you can enjoy some great biographies and I love that there are so many of them in picture book forms so that we can read them quickly together and cover many biographies with our families. We also have some really great movies that are our biographical in nature, and I’m probably going to do some social media posts and reels about some of those movies because they are so great, and so watch for those on social media.

Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark,” where we encourage each other to live out everyday discipleship, helping to equip our children to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you enjoyed this episode, please like and share on social media so people know we’re here, we would really, truly appreciate it. If you would like to connect with me, you can join my mailing list or comment at TerrieHellardBrown.com. We love to hear from you, and I respond to every comment and question. We pray you feel empowered as a parent or caregiver to walk by faith and to embrace everyday discipleship, every day with the children in your life.

Other Episodes about Great Biographies:

Episode 18: Helping Our Children Embrace the Uniqueness of Others
Episode 91: Interview with Amy O’Quinn and Learning from the Lives of Others

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

2 thoughts on “Episode 136: Biographies and the Power of Testimony”

  1. Terrie, what a fabulous post! I want to read all of these books, and have put several on hold at our local library. As a writer myself, I’m always fascinated to learn about other writers and their back story, especially authors who write for children. That was one of the reasons I loved writing the book about the Newbery Medalists, learning about the author’s life.

    I’m going to have to tag this post and reread it again when I can make note of more books to read.

    Thanks for this blog, you always put in a lot of work and thought.

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