A few years ago, when my son was in kindergarten, I volunteered once a week in his school’s library. After spending several months helping kids of all ages to find books, I started to notice a trend among the older boys. They were practically obsessed with a series that highlighted people, places and events throughout history, as well as modern day. They couldn’t get enough of these stories, and there seemed to be so many of them. I found myself looking forward to the day when my own son, who was barely sounding out words at that point, might also be interested in learning about history and current events.
The Who Was? series is produced by WhoHQ and currently offers over 250 titles. The collection features a wide array of well-known figures as well as some kids may not be familiar with. Written by a bevy of different authors, these chapter books average 125 pages and are fully illustrated in black and white. They also include photographs, charts and timelines to better inform the reader of the topic. And the topics… such a wide range of topics!!
The spotlight on artists include famous figures like Frida Kahlo and Pablo Picasso but also highlight Chuck Jones, illustrator of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote. Musical superstars like Bob Marley, Dolly Parton and The Rolling Stones come to life in a way that is both informative and engaging. Star Wars fans will be engrossed in the volume about George Lucas and animal lovers will be absorbed in the life story of Steve Irwin.
As a ‘boy mom’, I’m often looking for ways to teach my son about strong women and girls, since there seems to be so much divisiveness between boys and girls in some children’s stories. The Who Was? series offers an impressive variety of biographies of tenacious historical and modern day women, including Susan B. Anthony, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Malala Yousafzai. And because I also know how important it is that my son learn about solid men that he can look up to, I appreciate that the collection also includes such visionaries as Barack Obama, Jim Henson and Mister Rogers.
For parents like me who are acutely aware that their children need exposure to other cultures, races and life experiences, the Who Was? series features the Tuskegee Airmen, Cesar Chavez, Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I also feel that the collection addresses injustice in an age appropriate way, in its coverage of the ruthless Genghis Khan, the racist treatment of American Olympian Jesse Owens and the cunning ingenuity of Lakota Sioux leader, Sitting Bull.
Speaking of challenging topics, the series also addresses well known events that don’t necessarily show our fellow man behaving in a positive light. Of course, it’s absolutely necessary that our children learn about history so they can keep moving us forward. I believe that this series does a good job in presenting the facts in way that they can process while shining a light on those who stepped forward to try to make things right. Such titles focus on the Holocaust, the Twin Towers, the Great Depression, the Salem Witch Trials and Hurricane Katrina.
Having shared some of the low points in human history, there are many other less heavy volumes that teach the reader about defining moments in our collective past, including Woodstock, the creation of NASA and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The third focus of the Who Was? series actually informs the reader of where places are, taking them on journeys around the modern and ancient world. Kids learn about Mount Everest, the Great Barrier Reef, the Colosseum, Machu Picchu, the Tower of London, the Bermuda Triangle, Disney World and many others.
I highly recommend this series to spark interest in independent readers. We all know that kids are like sponges who are just looking for an opportunity to soak up information. There are so many different people, places and events to explore that there’s truly something for everyone.
My son was particularly enthralled by the book about famous primatologist Jane Goodall. In fact, just by reading about her life’s work he found his own love of all things apes. From that point on, he’s been consumed by learning as much as he can about the history of man, fossils, behaviors of modern apes and he’s convinced that he’s moving to Tanzania when he’s 11 to live with chimpanzees, just like Jane did.
I can speak firsthand to the power of putting the right book in the hands of a child because I have seen my son’s interest in primates come alive before my eyes. Sure, he may move on to something new within a matter of months but when your child tells you that he’s found ‘his thing’, there’s something magical about that. I hope that your kids also find their passion in the pages of a Who Was? book!