Childhood of Famous Americans: Living Books for Young Learners

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Over twenty years ago, a veteran home educator suggested I read titles from the Childhood of Famous Americans series to my children.  Doing so would bring history—real problems solved by real people—alive, she claimed.

I purchased our first COFA and the children and I curled up on the couch to read. The book fueled questions, fostered wonder, and begged my children to read more. What a find!

That mom was right!

The Childhood of Famous Americans (COFA) series, praised by parents, teachers, and librarians for over sixty-five years, was first introduced to the public in the 1940s and continued to be printed into the 1960s by Bobbs-Merrill. Originally printed in hardback form, these fictionalized biographies (suitable for independent readers third grade and up or to be read aloud to any age) became instant favorites and were reintroduced in an infamous red, white and blue paperback form in the 1980s.

These books have engaged my children since the early 1990's.

Our family prefers the original hardcover books. Their large font invited emergent readers to read and allows younger eyes to comfortably read the text. Sadly, the hardcovers are now out of print. However, they can be found in online sales or in used bookstores.  If we cannot get our eyes and hands on these hard-bound treasures, we look for the well-known red, white and blue covers.

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Over the years, whenever we began new unit of study or a learner developed a new interested, we tried to find a COFA title to personalize learning. These books have allowed our young learners to learn history through real people, real problems, and real solutions. When we study a specific era, I use this list. With over 170 COFAs to choose from, there is sure to be one to be woven into any study.

Recently, the COFA flame was recently rekindled as one of my youngest children wanted to read about “real baseball players”.  I immediately looked through the stacks of COFAs on our shelves. Indeed, we had a paperback cover copy of Roberto Clemente: Young Baseball Player and a hard cover copy of Knute Rockne: Young Athlete.  I pulled those from our collection.

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I am thankful for that experienced mom’s recommendation to begin reading books from the COFA series. Since that day, we’ve been eagerly reading about the childhood lives of famous Americans, learning some very interesting lesser-known facts about people we have come to admire.

More about the Childhood of Famous Americans series:

  • The books are fictionalized, though based on information about the childhoods of these famous Americans.
  • Children find the books inviting because of their focus on the childhood life of people they know only as adults.
  • Each book is packed with noteworthy experiences, personality traits, and adventures from the growing up years of famous inventors, scientists, statesmen, and explorers.
  • Children gain understanding of how a person’s experiences and personal gifts contribute to and impact the lives of other people.  
  • By the end of each book, the reader is left with the desire to find out what happened next, a perfect lead to further study.


In recent years, several publishers are working to bring the once-out-of-print-titles back to life. A great endeavor, however in the process some of the books have undergone editing and rewording. One publisher, Patria Press, began reprinting the stories in 2002, renaming the series Young Patriots. 

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Want to learn more about the heroes and heroines who shaped our country?

Find a COFA title and relax on a comfy couch. You and your children will discover inspiring details from the lives of the men and women whom we often know only through their adult accomplishments.

Bringing Physics to Life

My soon-to-be high schooler loves science, always has. She builds, creates, designs. Tape, staples, duct tape disappear overnight. There are springs from pens and spare flashlight bulbs stored in a tackle box, in case they're needed. 

Then we found this treasure in the new book section of the library. 

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After reading The Physics of Everyday Things, I understood the workings of items I see used every day.

Physics came to life! 

I wish physics made sense to every learner. 

In fact, I think it can. 

Two of my three graduates have completed middle and high school physics. As with other subjects, we endeavored to bring physics to life with Living Books. This learning season, we found yet another living physics gem!

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Reading The Physics of Everyday Things started a learning frenzy. Within a few days of checking out the book, my learner needed more books. I began the search. 

  • Albert Einstein, Pamela Zanin Bradbury (Messner biography)
  • Electrical Genius, Nikola Tesla, Arthur J. Beckhard (Messner biography)
  • Electronics Pioneer, Lee DeForest, I.E. Levine (Messner biography)
  • Isaac Newton, Harry Sootin (Messner biography)
  • Rocket Boys: A Memoir, Homer Hickam (adult biography section of the library)
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • The Discoverer of the X-Ray, Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, Arnulf K. Esterer (Messner biography)
  • The Story of Benjamin Franklin, Enid LaMonte Meadowcroft (Signature series)
  • The Story of Madame Curie, Alice Thorne (Signature series)
  • The Wright Brothers, David McCullough (adult biography section of the library)

These books really did add practical application to the physics concepts, concepts which were once words on a textbook pages--difficult to grasp--now had real life meaning and application. In addition, we watched the movie October Sky as a family. The movie is based on the book Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam. (The movie should be previewed by adults, first)

For those of you have multiple children spanning the ages, there are books for younger learners which can fuel an interest in all things science and inventions. Our favorites are from the Childhood of Famous Americans series. These may be helpful to your family. They were for ours! 

  • Eli Whitney, Boy Mechanic, Dorothea J. Snow (COFA)
  • George Westinghouse, Young Inventor, Montrew Dunham (COFA)
  • Harvey S. Firestone, Young Rubber Pioneer, Adrian Paradis (COFA)
  • Lee DeForest, Electronics Boy, Lavinia Dobler (COFA)
  • Robert Fulton and the Steamboat, Ralph Nading Hill (Landmark series)
  • Robert Fulton, Boy Craftsman, Marguerite Henry (COFA)
  • Robert Goddard, Pioneer Rocket Boy, Clyde B. Moore (COFA)
  • The Story of Atomic Energy, Laura Fermi (Landmark)
  • The Story of Submarines, George Weller (Landmark)
  • The Wright Brothers, Quentin Reynolds (Landmark)
  • Tom Edison, Young Inventor, Sue Guthridge (COFA)
  • Wilbur and Orville Wright, Young Fliers, Augusta Stevenson (COFA)