The “Great Lives in Colorado History Biography Series” offers Colorado’s 3rd and 4th grade students the opportunity to peek into the lives of some of Colorado’s most interesting personalities from the past. In a partnership among the Denver Public Schools Social Studies Department, the Colorado Humanities Organization, and publisher Filter Press, the 33 biographies were written by teachers who were inspired to provide resources to teach Colorado history to their elementary school students.
I was one of those teachers/authors who had the opportunity to participate in the Great Lives project. The three biographies I wrote for the series gave me a foundation for my future work as an author of both children’s books and encyclopedia articles. The experience ignited my passion for detailing the past through lives well lived and introduced me to the pleasure of delving into research that reveals information about a person in the context of their time.
The project was premised on the belief that viewing history through the lens of a person’s life is a meaningful experience for elementary school students. As the students read a biography, they are able to see that ordinary people can lead extraordinary lives. From humble beginnings, these Colorado luminaries rose to make a difference in history.
Students gain knowledge and appreciation of the struggles and hardships that one person had to overcome, perhaps gaining insight and perspective into their own problems. Students can also be inspired to pursue their dreams or to act in more principled ways with insight from real lives. Understanding a person in the context of history can help students know a specific time and place, as well as stimulate a broader interest in history.
Each teacher wrote a biography of an interesting Colorado historic figure of their choice. The resulting set of books represent of a cross-section of people that include writers, politicians, activists, adventurers, explorers, dissenters, professional people, visionaries, and pioneers who were men and women of all ethnicities.
To write the biographies, we used the same skills we expect of our young students: to identify and locate reliable resources for research, to document those sources, to use appropriate information from the resources, and to convey the information we learned in an interesting and creative way. We adapted our writing to our upper-elementary audience, explaining difficult concepts and using student-centered vocabulary.
Being teachers, we made sure the books were resources that included all the elements of non-fiction that we teach to our students. The books are traditional biographies in the “cradle to grave” format. There are chapter headings, a table of contents, a glossary, an index, pictures with captions, a timeline, a bibliography, an “about the author” page, and a dedication. The books were published in English and Spanish, reflecting our student population.
The result is a full classroom set of age-appropriate, accessible biographies on truly notable and fascinating people from Colorado’s past. Students are able to read and research on their own, learning valuable reading and writing skills. In my elementary school, each student is given their own biography. They read about and study their person, then write a first-person account of the subject’s life. The students dress as their person and tell about “their” lives in a Great Lives in Colorado History event. It is the second-best day of the school year (the first always being the Denver Public Schools Shakespeare Festival.)
My three books in the series were Helen Hunt Jackson: Colorado’s Literary Lady; Ralph Carr: Defender of Japanese Americans; and Felipe and Dolores Baca: Hispanic Pioneers. To this day, four of the people I admire most in the world include Helen, Ralph, Felipe, and Dolores.
The books are available through Filter Press. They are great gifts for elementary students and are a bargain at $8.95 each. The entire set of 33 can be purchased for only $237.00 and would be welcome in any Colorado classroom.
Here is the link to access the series on the Filter Press Website: https://www.filterpressbooks.com/shop/greatlivescolorado/3
The “Great Lives in Colorado History” Series includes the following bilingual titles:
Augusta Tabor: Enterprising Pioneer
Barney Ford: Pioneer Businessman
Benjamin Lindsey: Father of the Juvenile Courts
Bill Hosokawa: Journalist
Charles Boettcher: Colorado Businessman
Chief Ouray: Ute Chief and Man of Peace
Chin Lin Sou: Chinese-American Leader
Clara Brown: African-American Pioneer
Doc Susie: Mountain Doctor
Elbridge Gerry: The Paul Revere of Colorado
Emily Griffith: Educational Opportunity for All
Enos Mills: Rocky Mountain Conservationist
Fannie Mae Duncan: Entrepreneur
Felipe and Dolores Baca: Hispanic Pioneers
Florence Sabin: Scientist and Teacher
Francis Wisebart Jacobs: Denver’s Mother of Charities
Hazel Schmoll: Colorado Botanist
Helen Hunt Jackson: Colorado’s Literary Lady
Kate Slaughterback: Legendary Rattlesnake Kate
Katharine Lee Bates: Author of “America the Beautiful”
John Dyer: Snowshoe Preacher
John Routt: Colorado’s First Governor
John Wesley Powell: American Hero
Josephine Aspinwall Roche: Humanitarian
Justina Ford: Baby Doctor
Little Raven: Chief of the Southern Arapaho
Otto Mears: Pathfinder of the San Juans
Ralph Carr: Defender of Japanese Americans
Richard Russell: City Leader
Robert Speer: Denver’s Building Mayor
Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales: Chicano Activist
William Bent: Frontiersman
Zebulon Montgomery Pike: Explorer and Military Officer