WOW – I can’t believe that it’s been almost twenty years ago that I happened upon the Alabama Roots series in a local bookstore. Since I LOVE Alabama History, the stories written for middle school students caught my eye, so I purchased all the titles that were available, read each biography that very week and decided that I definitely wanted to be a part of this series! I contacted Tom Bailey with Seacoast Publishing and scheduled a time to meet with him – and the rest – well, the rest is history! I first wrote about W. C. Handy from my hometown of Florence, Alabama and later gathered information about three of our governors and completed those within the next year.
There are many reasons why I adore Alabama Roots . . . they are all written by men and women who appreciate Alabama’s rich history; they all tell about the place, time and events that shaped each person chosen for the series; and each book follows a similar format, beginning with childhood and continuing through adulthood while capturing events which led to each individual becoming a memorable part of Alabama’s legacy. However, what I truly appreciate is the way all of the biographies capture how each and every character within the series faced difficulties and trials throughout life, yet they persevered and accomplished great things – what a powerful message for middle school students and readers of all ages!
As I read and re-read books from our series, I am reminded of the biographies of famous Americans from my elementary school library that I eagerly checked out each week as a 3rd and 4th grade student myself (I believe these were from the Childhood of Famous Americans Series). Their messages spoke to my young heart and told me that life is not always easy, but trials we face make us stronger . . . and ultimately make us who we are. It is my sincere hope that young readers today will gain and appreciate this very message from the biographies of Alabamians within our Alabama Roots series
It is common for first time visitors to the Jesse Owens Museum to comment “I can FEEL Jesse’s presence here” as they look out on the Alabama fields where Jesse learned to run. Reading Devon Hind’s and Kate Bergstresser’s biography of Jesse Owens from the Alabama Roots Biography series creates a similar feeling for the reader. While reading this book, I could SEE and HEAR Jesse and his family as they made the difficult decision to move from the poverty of Alabama cotton fields in search of a better life in Cleveland, Ohio.
Hind and Bergstresser capture the many lessons learned by young Jesse, as he attends school, works to help his family, and is noticed by a high school track coach, Charles Riley. Coach Riley mentors Jesse as well as coaching his running style. Later, at Ohio State, Coach Larry Snyder took over and honed Jesse’s natural speed and agility to an even sharper degree. The authors make Coach Riley and Coach Snyder come to life as they counsel Jesse.
The 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Jesse changed history by winning his four gold medals, also recounts the unexpected friendship with German athlete Luz Long, who helped Jesse qualify for the long jump.
Absent of any hint of romanticizing Jesse or trying to make him appear perfect, the authors have accurately and colorfully depicted a real boy, a real teenager, a real college student, a real athlete, and a real man. After closing the book, the young readers will feel they know Jesse.
By far, the best book for young readers about Jesse Owens, the authors have made him come alive for us as we travel along with him during his amazing journey. As the Student Liaison for the Jesse Owens Museum, each time I conduct an interview with a student from the US and other countries who have selected Jesse Owens for their History Project, I strongly recommend this book.
~ Devon Hind and Kate Bergstresser
Great series of biographies on famous people in Alabama which contain detailed information in story form. I taught 4th grade Alabama History for around 34 years, and these were excellent books to get facts out of and they kept my students spellbound. These can be read by students for book reports, or just to gain interesting data. I would highly recommend this series for school and public libraries, including teachers buying their own collection. Before COVID, I talked to librarians about purchasing for their inventory because Alabama History needs to be kept alive, and these books do it.
~ Debbie Wiggins
Former 4th Grade Teacher
Hats off to everyone who envisioned, researched, and authored the Alabama Roots series. I read each of the books and can truthfully say I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, they were so interesting and informative yet not controversial. Each book from this series should be required reading for Alabama history classes. In fact, every person in Alabama should read about the famous people featured in the Alabama Roots biographies.
Recently, I read that books are designed to entertain and enlighten. That is the perfect description for the biographies in this series.
Great people, great state, great reading, great job!
~ Beverly Bentley