Every summer my kids tend to get hooked on a particular TV show during their allotted screen time. Last summer, it was Phineas and Ferb and they spent all their free time pretending to go on crazy adventures like those boys do. This summer, they fell in love with Netflix’s Who Was show, based on the best-selling Who Was series of books.
My oldest son had read a few of the books, as both his school library and our public library have shelves full of them. I love that there are such a wide variety, to capture whatever interests your children might already have (sports, art, pop culture, science, etc.). Most are biographies, but some are about historical events or famous places. The cover art is definitely the hook here: the goofy illustrations look like bobble heads, making these otherwise serious historical figures relatable and fun.
Thoughts on the Who Was TV Show
The TV show very much plays off the wacky appeal of the book’s cover art. To be honest, I didn’t sit down and watch every episode with my kids, but I was usually within earshot. At first, seeing serious people from history depicted in such a whimsical way gave me pause (Ghandi and Ben Franklin singing a song about being ugly and bald, but still making it on their country’s currency made me cringe, although my children were belly laughing).
While every episode had a few of those moments of feeling uncomfortable (from an adult perspective… my kids never felt this way at all), the show does a great job of demonstrating the overall importance of each figure profiled and the relevance of their many accomplishments to the present day. To some extent, it doesn’t sugar coat history, either. I love that whenever my children start whining, I merely have to quote the somewhat helpless Louis and Clark from the Sacagawea episode for them to realize how unnecessarily needy they are being.
This is a great TV show to use as a springboard for family discussion after watching.
Ask them what they learned about the person, or what they admire about them (or didn’t admire… they are not all admirable!) Share what you know about these people, too, or your opinion of them.
It reminds me of our post about the importance of book choice. It matters not what your child is reading, just that they ARE reading and enjoying it. This show is much the same way… who cares how they get hooked on history, as long as they do!
What to Read Next for Fans of the Who Was Series
If your children have already discovered this series, and perhaps have read all the titles that pique their interest, then there are plenty of other options that continue to explore their desire to learn more about people, places, and events.
The Ordinary People Change the World/I Am series: Honestly, I think I prefer this series to the Who Was series. They’re interesting and challenging enough for my 9 year old to read independently (he can read each book in one or two sittings, they’re fairly short), but simple enough that I can read them aloud to my 6 year old in a way he can understand. The only way I can think to describe them are mini graphic novel meets biography.
Little People, Big Dreams: Another example of great cover art capturing the attention of young readers. The covers of these books are dreamy. The inspiration continues inside the books, as all the titles feature remarkable women from history, like Anne Frank, Maya Angelou, and Frida Kahlo. The Jane Goodall book comes out in just a couple of weeks, so preorder that one for your animal lovers.
My Itty-Bitty Bio: These are the easiest to read of all our suggestions, great to read aloud to young children or an older child will enjoy breezing right through them (so grab a stack if you’re checking them out of the library). I like the mix of cartoon illustrations and actual historical photos, as sometimes my fact-checking kids ask me what something “really” looks like.
More books and collections of short biographies that are very popular include:
- She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton and the sequel, She Persisted: 13 Women Who Changed History
- Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton
- Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating
- Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
- Kid Presidents: True Tales of of Childhood from America’s Presidents by David Stabler
What biographies do your children love? Be sure to share in the comments! Below are some of our favorite Who Was titles:
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