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These books are excellent examples of the principle that biography makes the best way to teach history — for the simple reason that children like them and will read them on their own. The series was orginally published by Bobbs-Merrill in the 1940s, ’50s & ’60s – the same time period that Random House was releasing its Landmark series. The COFA books were written for a slightly younger audience than the Landmarks.
Many parents will remember them as hardback titles with either plain red covers, or half-toned drawings. They are currently re-packaged as paperbacks with blue covers and a red & white banner over the name of the “Famous American.” Below is a sample of the covers that have been used for the Robert E. Lee biography:
The text has stayed the same all these years.
In the late 1950s, the interior pages of the Bobbs Merrill editions described their success this way, “it is the children themselves who have made the series so enormously popular. They read the books, love them, reread them.”
WHY SHOULD YOU ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO READ THESE BOOKS?
- Because they are so interesting that they make children good readers. The pleasure children find in these books – and the enlargements of their interests – open the whole world of books to them – and this is perhaps the greatest gift in your power to grant them.
- Because they make the child of today the friend and playmate of the great Americans of the past. He sees why they became famous, sees in them as children the traits which later earned them renown. He is inspired to imitate them, to develop the characteristics you want him to have. Thanks to these good stories – true to time, place, and character – he meets great Americans as old friends whom he knew as children when later he studies the details of our history.
- Because they reflect true Americanism, a love of freedom, equality and fraternity, a strong distaste for racial or religious, economic or social prejudice. They radiate honesty, courage, ambition, kindness. They cover the whole panorama of American life in all periods and regions, showing the way our people lived, their hardships and their triumphs.
- Because their appeal is not limited by age. They have a low vocabulary level, the widest age-level range of interest, the greatest variety of interest. Mary grabs them at eight, still loves them at fourteen. John may not catch the fever until he is twelve. Whatever a child’s interests are, whenever they may develop, whether he is a quick reader or a slow reader, he will find a book here to delight him – and lead him on to other books.
- Because these books compete successfully with distracting interests less helpful to your child. Children don’t have to be coaxed to read them. They always ask for more.
ReadingWell.com in North Carolina specializes in out-of-print, classic children’s books. They have an extensive selection of out-of-print COFAs available for sale on their website. Let them know that Greenleaf Press sent you their way.
Simon and Schuster owns the copyrights to the series now. They have kept many of the original in print, and seem to be re-issuing selected titles that had earlier gone out of print. They’ve also been extending the series. The four book covers across the top of this post show NEW titles in the series. Each has been written in the pattern of the original. The focus is on the CHILDHOOD of someone who later became famous – and how their childhood experiences shaped them.
The story of Christopher Reeve is exhilirating, as well as tragic – but Reeve’s courage and good humor keep it from becoming depressing. Reeve knew quite young that he wanted to be an actor. He worked hard in community theater productions and while pursuing a degree in theater from Cornell, he auditioned for the very prestigious Advanced Acting Program at Julliard. Competing against 200 other applicants, only two of whom were selected for admission. Christopher Reeve and Robin Williams were the two selected – and became lifelong friends.
Its hard to believe that the orginal series did not include George Patton in its list of Famous Americans, but until now there was no title in the series on him. Patton is unique in many respects, not least his being informally educated by his family (who read the classics out loud to him) and his struggle with what was later diagnosed as dyslexia. Among the intriguing details from Patton’s childhood is the story of his having met the retired Confederate veteran, John Mosby (of Mosby’s Raiders) who had moved to California after the civil war and became a friend of the Patton family.
I think I would really like the editors at Simon & Schuster who are keeping this series available – and adding biographies of Reagan, Patton, & Dale Earnhardt!
There are currently 69 COFA titles in print. We have them in their own section in our on-line store. You can order any of them directly from Greenleaf.