50 Impressive Kids And Their Amazing (And True!) Stories

Author: Saundra Mitchell
Publisher: Puffin Books, non-fiction

In the age of Google, Wikipedia and short attention spans, do we need a book about amazing kids that is almost all blurbs?

The chapters read like a mash-up of Twitter and Snapchat, as seen through the focus of a Wikipedia entry – short bursts of information on the kids which are told, in a palsy sort of way, with some questionable facts and edited by someone who wanted the book to be “like, accessible to the, you know, kids today”, so “keep it short but, you know, like fun and informative, but short, cool?”

There are chapters on children from across history and around the world, with a perhaps heavier focus on American children than entirely necessary. We are introduced to kids who have been impressive in sports, academics and society. To give you a general idea of the various younglings, there are chapters on Venus and Serena Williams, Elagabalus, Helen Keller, Pocahontas, Malala Yousafzai.

This is where it gets to be a tough one for me. The amount of detail provided on each kid feels like the weekend assignment you blew off instead of completing the homework.

Come presentation time first thing on Monday morning, you find yourself in front of the class, unprepared and winging through your delivery, with a couple of jokes thrown in, and in high hopes that someone even worse is going on after you.

str2_leigh50kidsR_ev_2_coverFor example, calling Beethoven a “solid A-student” in the year 1780 is meant to give kids today a reference they can relate to by referring to his intelligence with a letter grade. The problem here is that letter grades weren’t used to evaluate students back in the Age Of Enlightenment.

50 Impressive Kids And their Amazing (And True!) Stories may have been written for children aged 10 onwards, but the book reads more like for kids up to 10 years old.

To be fair, Mitchell has an engaging style. She has a flair for the subject and seems to really enjoy writing about all the various kids.

The length of the chapters are short by necessity, and being completely accurate in only a few hundred words for each child means some shorthand was used out of necessity.

Thankfully, there’s an extensive bibliography included, so if there’s a story that actually piques a child’s interest, there’s a ready springboard of what to pick up next to provide a more in-depth look.

That brings me back to my first point. Most of these little factoids are readily available on the Internet. If you have a reluctant reader on your hands who enjoys being told what other kids have accomplished, or a child without ready computer access, then this book is something to consider.

After the main chapters, Mitchell includes some extras like class exercises asking what would you do if you caught a classmate cheating off of you in a test; and following the chapter about the child inventor of braille, there are jokes told in braille to decipher and chuckle at.

Otherwise, this seems very much like a book of its time. It’s not a game-changer and it’s not a page-turner, but it could still be enjoyable for a few minutes a day for the child who’s just getting into the reading habit.