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Extraordinary Americans Profiled in Book Series

Share Two new installments in the Extraordinary People book series provide middle school kids with dozens of role models, from the talented people who shaped the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s to the gifted women who broke through gender barriers in sports.

Many teachers struggle to find appropriate role models of accomplished adults who students can look up to. Extraordinary People, a book series published by Children's Press, helps fill that need by providing biographical information on a diverse selection of people. Each volume in the series, aimed at students in middle and high school, covers dozens of accomplished individuals.

The two new books in the series, Extraordinary People of the Harlem Renaissance and Extraordinary Women Athletes, complement the other books in the series, which include

  • Extraordinary American Indians,
  • Extraordinary People With Disabilities,
  • Extraordinary Women in Politics,
  • Extraordinary Jewish Americans,
  • and
  • Extraordinary Women of the American West. (See Education World's review of this book in The Real American West.)


Book Cover ImageExtraordinary People of the Harlem Renaissance, written by the husband-and-wife team of P. Stephen Hardy and Sheila Jackson Hardy, examines the contributions of 44 uniquely talented people associated with the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. As the Hardys report in the introductory chapter, "The New Negro," more than 2 million southern blacks migrated to northern cities in the years between 1920 and 1925. They were searching for a better, more equitable way of life, but many became disillusioned when they discovered that, even in the North, many Americans still considered African Americans naturally inferior. Even more oppressive, according to the Hardys, was the idea held by many African Americans that their chances for success depended on the abandonment of their own cultural heritage and the adoption of the behavior and beliefs held by white Americans.

"Today, we understand culture to mean all the ideas, customs, skills, and arts that make a group of people unique. But at the turn of the century in America, culture could be achieved only by leaving behind one's ethnic identity. One had to learn the behaviors that were considered 'proper' and acceptable to upper-class whites. American schools taught that culture was not the way your parents talked and behaved. Culture did not have accents, or dialects, or 'old folks' tales.' The question remained, some fifty-six years after slavery, whether black Americans had achieved a level of culture that would make them equal in the eyes of white Americans."

With the exception of a few chapters describing specific aspects of the Harlem Renaissance -- such as music and journalism -- each chapter covers one extraordinary person, with a brief biographical sketch and at least one black-and-white photograph. The diverse group includes

  • musicians and singers (such Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, and Eubie Blake);
  • artists (Henry Ossawa Tanner, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, Palmer C. Haydon, and Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller);
  • writers (Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, and Sterling Allen Brown); and
  • activists and reformers (W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Alain Leroy Locke).

Not surprisingly, many of the subjects of Extraordinary People of the Harlem Renaissance had to overcome incredible obstacles during their lifetimes. Writer Nella Larsen was born into a mixed-race family in 1891. When Larson, who had distinctly African American features, was in her late teens, her family severed all ties with her when they decided to pass for white to escape racism. As a child, sculptor Augusta Christine Savage suffered regular beatings from her minister father who believed the figures his daughter fashioned from clay were "graven images." Later, Savage was refused admittance to an art program in France because the selection committee felt that, as the only African American student, she would not fit in.

At the end of the book, the section "More Extraordinary People of the Harlem Renaissance" contains brief descriptions of more than three dozen additional contributors to art, literature, commerce, education, and music. A glossary and lists of books and online resources are especially useful for additional study.


Book Cover Image In Extraordinary Women Athletes, writer Judy L. Hasday presents biographical sketches of more than 40 outstanding women in such diverse sports as tennis (Helen Wills Moody, Margaret Smith Court, and Chris Evert), golf (Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Kathy Whitworth, and Nancy Lopez Knight), and gymnastics (Larissa Latynina, Olga Korbut, and Nadia Comaneci). The book includes some participants in team sports as well, including the players of the AAGBL (All-American Girls Baseball League, which was active from 1943 through 1954), basketball players Nancy Lieberman-Cline and Cynthia Cooper, and soccer player Mia Hamm.

Readers of Extraordinary Women Athletes may infer that some of the women seem to have been born too soon. For example, the African American tennis champion Ora Washington was born in 1898, an era in which there were few opportunities for black or women athletes. Although she was often undefeated in the all-black ATA (American Tennis Association), she never had the opportunity to compete against the leading white women tennis players of her time.

Patty Berg, who became the first president of the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) enjoyed playing quarterback for a local boys' football team as a child, but at the age of 13, was persuaded by her parents to abandon contact sports in favor of the more "ladylike" game of golf.

Hasday estimates that tennis great Martina Navratilova's public acknowledgement of her homosexuality might have cost her millions of dollars in income from potential endorsements.

After the initial introductory chapters detailing the lack of opportunities for women athletes throughout most of history, Hasday proceeds to chronologically highlight prominent women athletes of the 20th century. Each chapter includes biographical information, career highlights, and one or more black-and-white photographs. Also included are descriptions of hardships and obstacles that the women faced. The back of the book lists organizations, names of books and online resources, and a list of an additional 66 important women athletes.

The books highlighted this week are available in most bookstores. If you are unable to locate the book you are looking for, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly.

  • Extraordinary Women Athletes, written by Judy L. Hasday, and Extraordinary People of the Harlem Renaissance, written by P. Stephen Hardy and Sheila Jackson Hardy, are published by Children's Press, a division of Grolier Publishing Co., 90 Sherman Turnpike, Danbury, CT 06816.

Lauren P. Gattilia
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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