Gale Biography in Context

Bibliographic Information: Gale Biography in Context (n.d.). Retrieved from via the San Francisco Public Library eLibrary: Articles and Databases page (library card barcode and pin number required).

Plot Summary/Resource Description: Gale Biography in Context is an online reference source for those interested in researching people.  It contains over 600,000 biographies, with “50,000 new or updated bios added annually, in addition to daily updates to account for awards and events,” (About Gale Biography, 2010).  This updating is possible because the reference source is online.

This is a great resource for young adults interested in satisfying their own curiosity about their favorite singer or athlete or, of course, for use with school assignments.  The Biography in Context database also includes the Lives & Perspectives Collection which “supports high-school curricula and university coursework by providing multidisciplinary content on notable figures and the societal forces that have shaped their lives,” (About Gale Biography, 2010).   So, content of the database is “curriculum aligned.”

Each biographical entry contains an essay plus a plethora of additional media sources, from newspaper and magazine articles to reference books and academic journals to photos, videos, and audio clips.  Biographical subjects include current and historical figures from the United States and around the world.  A “fact box” allows information seekers a quick glance at relevant information for each person covered.

Critical Evaluation: With such a wide breadth of information provided for each biography, this resource is invaluable for those in need of biographical information.  The essay provides a thorough, but not overwhelming, overview, and then the additional resources allow information seekers to go into whatever level of depth they need or desire.

Another great feature, that enhances the value of Gale Biography in Context, is that there is a “resources” page with many tools to help users with the database. A few examples of these “resources” are training video tutorials, research tips and tools, and, specifically for students, there are “Access Tools To Help Complete Your Assignment: Tools for Getting Started and Wrapping Up” (Resources, 2010).

Reader’s Annotation: The Gale Biography in Context online database contains over 600,000 biographies of contemporary and historical figures from all over the world.

Information about the Author/Editors: Editors and subject-area experts provide authoritative content that can be updated as often as necessary (Gale, Cengage Learning, 2011).

Genre: Non-fiction

Category: Online Reference

Curriculum Ties: Useful for any areas of the curriculum in need of biographical research

Booktalking Ideas: What one place can you find Adele, Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King?

Reading Level/Interest Age: All

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this well-known and respected reference source.

Why is this book included? High School teachers often require their students to do biographical research for assignments.  This database contains useful and accessible information for teens, college students, and adults.


About Gale Biography in Context. (2010). Retrieved from

Gale, Cengage Learning. (2011). Gale Biography in Context (fact sheet for public libraries).  Retrieved from

Resources. (2010). Retrieved from

The Tree of Life by Peter Sis

Bibliographic Information: Sis, P. (2003). The Tree of Life: A Book Depicting the Life of Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist & Thinker. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  ISBN:0374456283.  44 pages.

Plot Summary: Charles Robert Darwin was born February 12, 1809, in Shrewbury, England.  That day no one knew that young Charles would one day change the world.  From his early days trying to live up to being the boy his father wants him to be, Darwin struggled with formal “indoor” learning and his strict boarding school.  “He wants to be outdoors, riding, shooting, fishing, taking long walks through the countryside collecting things.”  Eventually, Charles discovers his passion for the natural sciences: geology, zoology and botany, which he much prefers to the medical science path his father wants him to follow.  Through his naturalist studies Darwin finds his way to a boat, the H.M.S. Beagle.  The Beagle takes Darwin on a journey around the world where he discovers clues that will ultimately lead him to write his controversial and ground-breaking book, On The Origin of Species.  Through intricately rendered illustrations, diary entries and explanatory text, Charles Darwin’s story comes to life.

Critical Evaluation: The Tree of Life is not a child’s picture book.  It is a beautifully illustrated, deeply rich introduction to the life and work of Charles Darwin.  Sis has managed to take picture books to a whole new level, with complex concepts and explanatory illustrations, maps and diagrams.  Visual learners will be in heaven as each two-page spread contains multiple images that explicate parts of Darwin’s story.  The amount of text is significant, but not overwhelming, and the writing is appropriate for teens through adults.  Sis has clearly done his homework in presenting biographical as well as scientific details that many people will be fascinated and interested to learn.  His detailed illustrations of Darwin’s specimens would have made Darwin himself proud.  This New York Times Best Illustrated Book is a unique and welcome addition to the cannon of biographies.  Writing a report on a famous scientist was never before this fun. 

Reader’s Annotation: Peter Sis brings Charles Darwin to life in this picture book biography, with beautifully and intricately rendered illustrations, maps and diagrams, in addition to diary entries, and explanatory text.

Information about the Author: In his author’s note Sis wrote “Charles Darwin regretted that he hadn’t learned to draw.  Instead, he kept detailed descriptions of everything he saw.  It is these dense and vivid written passages in his diaries, letters, and journals that have inspired me to use my own drawings, based on contemporary sources, to tell this story of his life.”  It must be strange for Sis, who expresses himself so impressively through drawings, to imagine Charles Darwin being unable to draw images of those things that so fascinated and impressed him.  Sis has illustrated children’s books in addition to other tween, teen, and adult-level picture books.  He has also, “contributed more than a thousand drawings to The New York Times Book Review and his illustrations have appeared in Time magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, Esquire and many other magazines in the United States and abroad.”  (

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Science

Format: Alternative Format: Graphic Book

Topics Covered: Biology, Evolution, Botany, Zoology, Naturalists, Independent Thinkers

Curriculum Ties: Science, Biology, Botany, Zoology, Naturalists, Evolution, 19th Century history

Booktalking Ideas: Start with one of Darwin’s quotes and discuss the negative responses he received for his work.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 12-18

Challenge Issues: Some people’s religious beliefs lead them to think that Darwin’s evolutionary theories are not correct.  A potential challenge regarding this issue could be addressed by the several positive reviews of the book as well as awards and honors it has received.

Why is this book included?  Initially found while reading Cart, who wrote about Sis, “Both his picture book biography of Charles Darwin, The Tree of Life…and his autobiographical book The Wall…were selected as Best Books for Young Adults,” (Cart, 2010, p. 113). The format of this book is unique, so it has the potential to appeal to people to whom a linear, text-only biography would not.  Additionally, it provides excellent information for all readers.


Cart, M. (2010). Young adult literature: From romance to realism.  Chicago, IL: ALA.