Eugene Cernan – The Last Man on the Moon
This is a long book, marketed as an adult read, it is fine for the older teen and best for NASA enthusiasts. Mr. Cernan begins with the Apollo fire in 1967, fills in the backstory of the NASA space program to that point and ends with his return from the moon. It is an excellent companion to the “From the Earth to the Moon” series.
Richard Feynman – Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, What Do You Care What Other People Think?
Nobel Prize Physicist, Richard Feynman was a “curious character”. The first book is a collection of stories he told and put in chronological order. Not a true autobiography but close enough for this purpose. My oldest daughter introduced the books to me. You do not have to be a physicist or a science minded person to enjoy the books and be in awe of everything Feynman accomplished. His storytelling is entrancing. He speaks and writes with such common sense and humor. I need to go back and find the exact quote that I often think about. Something like – If a person can’t explain a high level concept in layman’s terms, then perhaps the person doesn’t understand it well enough to explain it. In other words, cut out the buzz words and speak plainly. Feynman attended MIT when he was 17, then went to Princeton, then was recruited to work on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos. He served on the faculty at Cornell and Caltech and had many adventures with ups and downs in his life. Towards the end of his life, he was on the team that investigated the shuttle Challenger disaster. What a vibrant character who truly lived life to the fullest. Best for older teens, the books are considered adult. Classic Feynman: All The Adventures of a Curious Character (2006) is a compilation of his stories and includes a CD of his lectures. Born and raised in New York, he has a distinctive accent that adds to the flavor of his talks. In 1996, the movie, Infinity, based on his early career was produced starring Matthew Broderick as Feynman. The timeline seemed jumbled in the movie, but it makes for a good introduction to Richard Feynman.
Jean Fritz – Homesick, My Own Story (Newbery Honor)
Jean Fritz was raised in China during the 1920s and this is a fictionalized autobiography because the author cannot remember the exact details of her childhood. Close enough. Born in China to American missionaries, she lived in China until she was thirteen. She kept a journal during many of those years. This was a time in Chinese history when foreigner’s were not treated so well and viewed with distrust. Beautifully told. She grew up to be an award winning author of many biographies.
James Herriot – All Creatures Great and Small,All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful, The Lord God Made Them All, Every Living Thing
I suppose not a true autobiography because the names are changed, however the stories are based on his life. Close enough for these purposes that I will put them under autobiography. James Herriot is the pseudonym for James Alfred Wight (Alf). The first book in the autobiographical series was first published in 1972 about a veterinarian practicing in the English countryside. The books were turned into a popular television series in England beginning in 1978, and then the series came to the states and aired on PBS. I devoured all of the shows, and then read the books. For anyone that loves animals and warm, heartfelt stories, these books are perfect. The first in the series tells of his arriving fresh out of veterinary college to practice in the Yorkshire Dales in 1940. Through the span of the books, the author describes not only country vetting and the people of the Dales, but how WWII affected the people. Many public libraries have the series DVDs in their collection. Check them out and read the books. One biography of James Herriot is written by his son, Jim Wight, entitled, The Real James Herriot: A Memoir of my Father.
Homer H. Hickam, Jr. – October Sky
The movie, October Sky, was based on Hickam’s book. The book was originally published as Rocket Boys: A Memoir, the title was changed when the movie came out. October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys. Growing up in a small coal mining town, Hickam was caught up in rockets and the space race. He and his friends, with encouragement from a wonderful science teacher, experimented with rocket design and fuels with the determination to better their lives. Hickham did work for NASA beginning in 1981 as an aerospace engineer, a true rocket boy.
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston – Farewell to Manzanar: a True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After World War II Internment
During World War II, Japanese Americans were ordered from their homes, their businesses, their lives, and sent to internment camps. While the author describes her experiences as a child, she describes the dignified adjustments that the older generations had to make. She also explains the difficult entering back into society after the war was over.
Peg Kehret – Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio
I used to read this to each fourth grade class when I was an elementary librarian. I’d stop reading when she was at the height of her illness and leave them hanging. The book got checked out a lot! Of course we know that Kehret lives, she is a prolific author. She went home for lunch and never returned to school. From the hospital to her rehabilitation, the author’s story is expertly written. It continues to be a favorite among students.
Helen Keller – The Story of My Life
An intense illness as a toddler left Helen Keller blind and deaf. With the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, she went to college, became and writer and lecturer. She was a talented writer so that the autobiography of her amazing, accomplished life is an engrossing read.
Adeline Yen Mah – Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter
The author’s story is perfect for the middle school and high school audience. Her follow-up novel, Falling Leaves is better for high school and adult audiences. The author’s mother died giving birth to her so her family considered her bad luck and treated her badly. Her life from age 5 to 14 during the time of World War II is covered. She was born into an affluent family, yet when his father remarried, she and her siblings got very little while her step-brother and step-sister were spoiled. Always a favorite with students.
Gary Paulsen – My Life in Dog’s Years, Guts, How Angel Peterson Got His Name
The author of Hatchet details his life in this series of books, all make excellent read alouds. Paulsen is an outdoorsman and adventurer. He survived a difficult childhood and brings a unique authenticity to his books, fiction and autobiography. He chronicles his life by the dog’s that he has owned including Cookie that saved his life by pulling him from an ice fishing hole. Guts details his childhood. He often went hungry, unless he killed his own food. How Angel Peterson Got His Name is more about the fun aspects of his childhood and the wild adventures he and his friends had.
Johanna Reis – The Upstairs Room (Newbery Honor)
The author writes of her youth spent in hiding during the Holocaust. She and her sister were hidden by a Gentile farmer and his wife in Holland for many years. She begins the story with her family in Holland and their survival plans as the Germans invade Holland and begin the restrictions on the Jewish people. After her father escapes to Switzerland and her mother is hospitalized, the author and her sister are smuggled into their hiding place where they were to stay for several years.