My middle school library had a large collection of “Childhood of Famous Americans” books that I couldn’t read fast enough. Even way back then, they were already ancient. The bright orange covers had faded to a light shade of Georgia clay. The pages had turned a yellowish hue and smelled like a granny’s attic. About a million other moody little 13 year old hands had already touched these tired volumes by the time I got to them, but the stories inside remained powerful.
I started my own collection of these books years ago, when I first saw one at an antiques market. I spotted the familiar orange cover, and caught my breath as if I had run into my dearest old friend. Over the years, my collection has grown, and I’ve enjoyed reading these stories to my children. The books are old, the characters are historical, but the themes are timeless.
The series of fiction books are based on factual events of famous American’s childhoods. They are the story behind what made these individuals so great. My favorite in the series is George Washington Carver. When I attended the exhibit on Carver at the History Museum of Mobile
a few years ago, I already knew so much about him from reading this simple story. I guess reading really is good for you.
My latest purchase last week was “Betsy Ross, Girl of Old Philadelphia,” by Ann Weil and published in 1954. I discovered it in an Antique Store in Downtown Fairhope, pushed behind some other old books on a shelf. I think that brings my collection up to somewhere around 29, but there are still hundreds out there.
One of my favorite authors, Andy Andrews, credits the Will Rogers edition for inspiring him to move from being homeless and sleeping underneath the pier in Gulf Shores, to becoming a wildly successful author and motivational speaker.
Things we see, hear and do as children really do make a difference. That’s why I’m convinced the current generation will grow up to be vampires.
There’s something about the older books that I love. The stories are simple, sweet, and patriotic. The lessons they teach are basic American values. Hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance create success.
“The boy was only ten years old . . . Worse still, he didn’t know how he’d get food or where he would sleep. He had no money and he had no work. But there was something he did have, and plenty of it too – courage. He didn’t even think of turning back.”
– George Carver, Boy Scientist, 1944.
Let’s see Harry Potter or some vampire kid do that.
“Childhood of Famous Americans” has been acquired by Simon and Schuster.
I read them, too, when I was a child. I took them out of the library at school every week and then again in summer from the book mobile that visited our neighborhood. As a young girl, I particularly loved the biographies of distinguished women…Mary Mapes Dodge, Molly Pitcher, Julia Ward Howe, Dolly Madison, Abigail Adams, Jane Addams…I also remember reading one about Crispus Attucks…which was pretty ahead of its times…they were so inspiring, even way back when. The orange covers are instantly recognizable. Filled with nostalgia. Thank you.
These wonderful books inspired my life long love of reading and of history. I have 5 of the silhouette versions: Abe Lincoln: Frontier Boy, Rachel Jackson: Tennessee Girl, Robert Fulton: Boy Craftsman, Martha Washington: Girl of Old Virginia and Ernie Pyle: Boy from Back Home. Treasures from MY childhood.
Tennessee Girl sounds interesting. I’ll have to research that one! Glad you found the post and have such good memories of these books.
What a delight when I stumbled across your site. I read every single one of these books I could find in my elementary school library in Frankfurt, Germany where I spent 4 years with my family when my father was in the military in the late 1950s. I feel in love with learning about inventors, presidents, and so many other patriotic Americans! Writing my memoir in more recent years, I recalled my overwhelming interest in reading this series of books but could not remember the series name or authors. I looked online; however, was unable to find helpful information. I completed my writings a few years ago but never found any information to add about one of my “favorite things.” Every now and then I see a history story on TV and my curiosity peeks again. I am watching a new program about George Washington this week and again recalled reading about George and Martha in my little “orange” books. I decided to google it again and there you were, even with the perfect picture. It immediately brought a smile to my face. I was so thrilled to see and read your story but am discouraged knowing that you find them so difficult to locate. Amazing you have found as many as you have. Lucky you! I may have to go out on a treasure hunt myself. I hope you enjoy hearing from those of us who appreciate you sharing your love for these collectibles.
Kathy, thank you so much for this note! What a great way to learn about American history while living in a foreign country. I understand the pull these books had on you because I’ve always felt the same way. Since I first wrote this story years ago, the books have all but vanished. I think they are being thrown out of libraries because many were written in politically incorrect ways, but true to the time period. The newer updated versions don’t have the warmth of good storytelling to them and are in shorter paperback versions, but I’ve still bought several of them. Happy hunting and thanks for writing!
I love these books! I have been looking for these books for many years. They were my favorites from the middle school library way back around 1970! I could not remember the name of the series and so I started researching and finally found them today. The ones I read had the blue cover. I hope to start my collection now that I have discovered the series.
Good luck finding them. They are become rarer since many are being destroyed due to politically incorrect language from that time.
The ones in our school library were also blue. I read every one that they had in the mid-60s, and I still prefer biographies to almost any other genre.
I was just looking for a series of historical biographies that I read in elementary school and found your site. Are the pictures in these books simple black silouettes? If so, these were my favorite books in our school library? I have never tried to contact someone online and I really hope to hear back from you.
Hi Marsha. I love these books! Some have the plain black silouettes and others have line drawings. It’s so hard to find them now because they aren’t politically correct, and have been thrown away by many libraries. I haven’t seen any in years in antique stores where I used to find them. Thanks for the note, and I’m glad you found my blog!
I love this collection of books. I collect old “readers” used to teach Reading. Now I’m inspired to search for first edition Trixie Belden books!
What a beautiful collection! I lived in Hawaii and the story of Liliuokalani is a delight and one that many of the school children know. This is such a treasure trove, my friend.
I love books like these, and what an awesome collection you have!!! Children’s books are honestly some of my favorites, I bring them home from the library regularly. Thanks for sharing your awesome books with us! Mary
I don’t recall this series, but I wish I had read them as a kid. I love that you collect them! What a neat way to collect memories and wonderful stories at the same time!
Thanks so much for joining in this week!
Those look like great books and your collection is lovely. I literally laughed out loud when I read that this generation will become vampires. Ha! I don’t get the craze at all. When I was 12-13, I read every single Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book I could get my hands on. My second son was a voracious reader until technology started becoming a part of every day life, even school life, a couple of years ago. I think it’s rather tragic. Technology is good when used properly but I think for so many it has gotten way out of hand. What happened to those simpler times? Hope you are having a great day! Tammy
I’ve been an avid reader since I was young, but am not familiar with this series. Although I’m glad to hear they continue in print, I’d take the faded hardcover copies any time. This is a wonderful “favorite thing”.
These look familiar..I am sure my school library had these or something similar when I was young!
These look familiar…I am sure my school library had these or similar series when I was young!
I think I do remember the ones like “Molly Pitcher” with the illustrated covers. Didn’t know they published so many of these. Neat post!
What a great collection! Like you say the older books have simpler and often sweeter stories. I have a few old books that I like to re-read every year.
I loved these books when I was growin up! They should be required reading for all school children. Never before in the history of our great nation have kids needed inspiration from achievers more than today. Pop culture icons have taken the place of real life heroes and heroines, and it’s a tragedy. Kids know the words to every hip-hop song, but can’t name the first president. And it’s not a lack of money — it’s a lack of discipline.
The vintage versions are so much prettier.
Even as an adult I have enjoyed the rare times I have spotted those special orange books in antique stores. I never realized there were so many. I am sure I read all that my small school library had back years (and years) ago. You are so right about the positive influence they can have on young readers.
I loved reading those books when I was a kid. I still have all my books from back then, but I never had any of those. I got those from the library. My husband will never understand why I still have all my Nancy Drew books and Little House on the Prairie series.