Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: LIVES: Poems about Famous Americans

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Introduction
Lives: Poems about Famous Americans
, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Leslie Staub, is a wonderful collection of various types of poems about all different kinds of American heroes. Fourteen poems compose the book, with illustrations of the characters to match. Individuals who shaped and changed the course of American history are highlighted in different types of poetry including rhyme, narrative, and free verse.

Summary
Fourteen poems are in the book, each accompanied by a matching illustration saying the name of the character and their respective life span. Each poem is written by a different author and the poems are written in many styles. The poems  are written about Paul Revere, Sacagawea, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Harriet Tubman, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Langston Hughes, Rosa Parks, J.F.K, Martin Luther King Jr., and Neil Armstrong. An introduction is included by Lee Bennett Hopkins and detailed notes on the lives of these specific American heroes are offered at the end of the book.

An excerpt from the poem written about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy can illustrate the ways in which the poems tell important facts and events in American history:

“No roses seen./ No songbird heard./No moonlight./ Not a single word./Till…/Annie/ came.

Then-/ words,/ Sudden near./ Pulsing/ Clear.” (page 14)

Each poem is written in a different style and tells about each specific character. Some poems may be difficult for children to understand, but they all include the basic importance about each American and present the information in a different, unique way.

Curriculum Connections
This book is a very helpful way for young students to learn basic reasons why these specific characters are famous Americans. Reading the poems to the students, and the students looking at the illustrations to become familiar with the faces of these Americans, is a different way for students to learn about these key American figures. Students will be able to identify such figures as Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, and Martin Luther King Jr. as Americans whose contributions improved the lives of other Americans (Civics SOL 2.11, Civics SOL 3.11 (b)).

Additional Resources

  1. This website provides students with coloring sheets and handouts about all 44 presidents. It is a helpful and fun way for students to learn the names of the presidents as well as the ability to identify the American presidents in chronological order.
  2. Americas Library offers biological information about famous Americans, such as Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, and Thomas Edison. For each individual pictures, timelines, and specific stories are offered.
  3. This lesson plan provides teachers with a project to use where students choose a famous American and create a detailed report about the person’s life.

Book: LIVES (Poems about Famous Americans)
Author: Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrator: Leslie Staub
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date:  April, 1999
Pages: 40
Grade Range: 2-4
ISBN: 978-0-06-027767-3