Classic StoryTellers Book Reviews

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School Library Journal, August 2008

On Jacqueline Woodson

This biography details the life of a popular African-American author. It covers her childhood, the challenges she faced growing up during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, what inspired her to begin to write, and her many literary successes. The book is filled with photos of the writer at various stages of her life and the covers of some of her books. Young people should find inspiration in Woodson's story, especially those who are fans of her work and would like to know more about her.

Lane Education Service, January 2008

On Ray Bradbury

The five chapters of this Classic Storytellers selection follow the familiar Mitchell Lane format – lots of related sidebars and photos, chronology, notes—all the good research stuff. Bradbury’s story is fascinating – the politics that led to Fahrenheit 451, the great imagination that led his sci-fi stories to inspire astronauts, and the twisted take on many aspects of life that make Halloween his favorite holiday.

Lane Education Service, January 2008

On Edgar Allan Poe

This entry in the Classic Storytellers series credits Poe with the invention of the mystery story. There is almost as much text and many more photos related to extraneous events and connections to Poe's life as to his story. With the chronology, list of selected works, timeline and glossary there is more than enough information for the typical middle school report. The list of related resources is both print and internet.

Lane Education Service, January 2008

On Jack London

Bankston's biography of Jack London is vivid and full of details that give considerable insight into the man and his works. Pulling no punches, Bankston describes London's turbulent childhood after being abandoned by his father as a baby and living as a child under the shadow of his mother's violent mood swings. He also tells of the tough jobs Jack London worked at from age fourteen to support his sickly stepfather and demanding mother, including shipping out on a seal hunting ship and later, following the gold fever trail into Alaska. Throughout the biography, Bankston points out how London's writing skills evolved and gained depth in emotion and understanding of situations and characters. This book is well-written and gives a clear picture of Jack London along with his successes and failures in life. From the introduction to the ending, it follows a logical progression so the reader can easily recognize how events and people influenced him and steered his life into unique directions. At various points, one page FYI (For Your Information) articles tie in related information, such as what the Alaskan gold rush was like and who Ina Coolbrith was and how she helped Jack to discover a love of reading. The chronology of London's life at the end of the book is clearly developed and easy to use, but a following Timeline in History has little obvious reason for being part of this book. It's followed by a short but adequate glossary. The bibliography and further sources of information is excellent and offer great resources to readers wanting to learn more. The book's graphics and choice of photographs are nicely done with changing background colors and a continuing repetition of black and burnt-umber margins that draw the attention and lend a sense of history to the text. This sturdy, library-bound biography is one that will last a long time through the regular usage it is bound to get.

Booklist, January 2005

On Katherine Paterson

In easy chatty style, with color photos, this short biography in the Classic Storytellers series introduces middle-grade readers to the life—and especially to the times—of a popular prize-winning writer. In addition to showing how Paterson's fiction draws on her experience of being the outsider kid, Kjelle gives historical and cultural background, including full-page inserts on Japan (where Paterson worked as a missionary), the Newbery Medal (which she has won twice), and Flannery O'Connor (Paterson's literary role model) ... the backmatter, with full chapter notes, a bibliography, and personal and historical time lines, provides a wealth of resources for further reading. Other authors covered in the series include Mildred Taylor and E. B. White.

School Library Journal, January 2005

On F. Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen Crane, E. B. White, and John Steinbeck

These books introduce important authors, explaining how their works reflected their experiences and the eras in which they lived. Each one opens with a defining episode from the author's life, such as Steinbeck's travels with migrant workers or Fitzgerald's broken engagement, which changed his outlook and inspired his best work. The authors then go back and trace each man's life, emphasizing how his experiences shaped his writing and how his work in turn both defined periods of American history and influenced American attitudes and behaviors. The books also discuss each writer's legacy and contributions to literature. A single-page "FYInfo" at the end of each chapter provides background information about historical events, popular culture, and economics that are mentioned in or related to events that are discussed. The authors are all objective about their subjects, discussing how their often chaotic or troubled personal lives affected their work. Colorized and black-and-white photos are included.