Whatever is True: Biographies

Having an excellent library in our home is a high priority for me. I firmly believe that character is shaped and influenced greatly by what we read. It is important to me that every time my children pick up a book, it is an excellent one. I wrote a post a few months ago about choosing the best books, so I won’t rehash those ideas in this post. Suffice it to say that my guiding principle in evaluating reading material for my children and myself is this:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

This post is the first in a series dedicated to helping you build an excellent home library. I am including many links so you can see what these books look like. One of the posts in this series, however, will be about finding books through the library and through used book sources. I only buy new when I absolutely have to!

Whatever is true…

We read a lot of biographies in our home. It is valuable to read the stories of those who have gone before us, learning from their successes and failures. I particularly like reading missionary biographies and stories of faithful Christians which encourage and inspire myself and my children.

A good biography will tell “whatever is true”, not glossing over the struggles in order to portray a person who always went from glory to glory. Our family finds it encouraging to read real stories about real people to whom God was faithful, even in the midst of hard times. Truth alone does not make a book excellent, however. Some famous people aren’t worth reading about, so use your judgment.

Last year for Christmas I received two excellent books in this biography category. Beloved Bride tells the story of Stonewall Jackson and his wife through the loving letters he sent her while they were apart. He is best known as an amazing general, but he also had a remarkable marriage. I enjoyed every minute of this book. Another good marriage biography is Marriage to a Difficult Man, an encouraging book about the life of Sarah Edwards, wife of the famous theologian Jonathan Edwards.

Last Christmas I was also given Scots Worthies, which details the stories of faithful Scottish men who died for Christ during the 16th to 18th centuries. I confess, I haven’t made it all the way through this hefty book, but I intend to, even if it is slow going. This is not a “light read” by any means, but it is an encouraging one.

Another great biography for women (NOT children) is True Grit:Women taking on the World for God’s Sake by Deborah Meroff. This book tells the inspiring testimony of nine modern-day female missionaries. Brief fact files between the stories reveal global abuses faced by women and girls in other countries. It gave me lots of things to pray about.

My children and I will begin reading Trial and Triumph this spring, which tells the stories of many Christian martyrs. There are several excellent Christian biography series for older children, including the YWAM-published Christian Heroes Then and Now series and the Leaders in Action Christian Heroes series.

One of my favorite children’s biography series’ is difficult to find in the United States, but worth looking for. If you are in Canada or the UK you’ll have an easier time. Heroes of Faith and Courage has colorful pictures, an interesting story about the featured hero, and sidebars with extra information. For example, the book about Martin Luther has several sidebars which explain false doctrines and practices which led to the Reformation.

We don’t confine ourselves to Christian biographies only. I want my children to have a thorough understanding of history, and biographies play a crucial part in that, particularly for older children.

In choosing biographies about historical figures, it is important to keep subject matter age-appropriate. Last year when we studied World War 2, my younger boys read just one biography, My Secret Camera. This was a simple photo-journal introduction to the fact that Jews were made to live in ghettos during World War 2 and they were persecuted. That was the most I felt those boys could handle, and we read it when our youngest was asleep so that he wouldn’t hear it at all. The rest of their World War 2 study focused on age-appropriate battle tales rather than biographies.

My oldest son had already read Diary of Anne Frank with me when he was entering fifth grade. Anne Frank focuses on the time the family spent in hiding, with nothing said about concentration camps. It was a good “next step” for him at that age. Last year he was more mature, and we read Corrie Ten Boom’s biography The Hiding Place. This book has many pages which detail their lives in a concentration camp. Although I felt my son was mature enough to read that book last year, I didn’t want him to sit down alone with the material, so we did it as a read-aloud. I still do several read-alouds with him each year, even though he is an excellent reader, so that we can be “on the same page” as we discuss difficult topics.

A biography series I like for early elementary is Childhood of Famous Americans. For beginning readers I like On My Own Biographies and Rookie Biographies. Landmark and World Landmark are excellent series’ for this age group, too.

I highly recommend getting a book like All Through the Ages to aid you in your search for good biographies. Christine Miller has put together this exhaustive book which arranges over 7,000 living book titles by historical era, geographical region, and reading level.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8


  1. Really clever, Molly. Enjoyed this post and look forward to the rest of the series.


  1. […] post is part 2 in my Home Library Builders series. As I noted in the first post of the series, Whatever is True: Biographies, it is critical that we make the most of time spent reading by choosing the best reading material […]

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