We were shopping at Ollie's when we came upon these neat-looking biographies in the "Who Was... ?" series published by Grosset & Dunlap. I was excited to find them at bargain prices since my boys love biographies.
However, even though the back cover of each book tells us they are written at the 3rd grade reading level, I'm not so certain all of them contain appropriate material for your average 8 or 9 year old. While there's bound do be disagreement, I just don't think that children need to know that Louis Armstrong's mother had "lots of different boyfriends," each one of whom he called step-father or that he was married four times. They also don't need to know about Sally Ride being in love with another woman. Yes, these are all facts about the lives of real people, but they are facts that can wait until children are older.
Some of these books also have more editorializing than I think should be in a biography aimed at young folks. These little ones are not yet discriminating enough to recognize a writer's bias and easily mistake opinions for fact.
For example, in the book about Abraham Lincoln, we learn about the Civil War, "The war did not end quickly. On both sides, soldiers died in bloody battles that didn't accomplish anything." Is this a fact? Or is the author just adding in a personal belief about the meaninglessness of war?
In the book about Jackie Robinson, we read about young Jackie and his friends, "They'd swipe fruit from local stands. They'd throw dirt at passing cars. Sometimes they'd take golf balls from a golf course, then sell them back to the players. It wasn't right, but the boys never did anything violent or got into big trouble." I don't really want my sons to read this and think it isn't really a big deal to behave in these ways; boys will be boys-ha!
Overall, I cannot either recommend or denounce the entire series because I haven't read all of the titles. From the ones I have read, the books are interesting and have extra historic tidbits to further explain the time period. Many of them also do have some degree of bias, some minor, some not so minor. I would say that if you are concerned, you should read a specific title before handing it to your boy. They are not all written by the same author, and some are simply better than others.
Except for the above quotation, I really liked the "Who Was Jackie Robinson?" book, written by Gail Herman. The book showed Jackie to be an excellent role model who practiced self-control and was a hard worker. It was an enjoyable read.