Friday, June 26, 2015

A Biography That Invites Us to Learn More: The House That Jane Built

            I like nonfiction books with voice. In these books the author talks to readers, urging them to move beyond what is offered in the book and keep learning about the subject. One book that does this is Tanya Lee Stone’s new book, The House That Jane Built, a picture book biography of Jane Addams.

            In this book readers learn how the wealthy Jane Addams founded Hull House in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago as a way to help those in need. Here she reached out to the community, responding to people’s pressing needs. Addams’ work at Hull House—her selfless caring for others—is an excellent message for children and a fine lead-in to a discussion about civic mindedness.

            Yet there is more. In an Authors Note: A Little Bit More, author Tanya Lee Stone writes, “There is much more to know about Jane Addams than could possibly fit in a picture book.” She urges readers to continue to learn about Addams, especially her role as a peace activist, an advocate for women’s suffrage, and a founding member of NAACP and the ACLU.

            This is an important message for readers. First, young readers need to know that one picture book cannot possibly cover all the important information about a dynamic mover and shaker like Jane Addams. There is a lot that was left out. Anyone who really wants to understand the life of Jane Addams needs to look further. Second, the author suggests topics to look into. Why, for example, was Addams called “the most dangerous woman in America,” and why did the FBI keep a file on her? The author’s note also includes several photographs of Addams. It is not hard to locate many more. We can learn a lot more by looking at additional photographs.

            As I said at the beginning of this post, I like a book with voice. The voice in this author’s note is one that encourages children to join the club of people investigating the past. That’s a much-needed voice, indeed.


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