Betsy Harvey Kraft grew up in Crawfordsville, Indiana, a small college town in the middle of flat Midwestern countryside where she was surrounded by cornfields, big backyards, and books. Her family’s house was full of books since her father taught at the college and her mother was a children’s librarian. Today, she lives in Washington, DC and writes nonfiction, the stories of real people and events. Recently she met one of the most interesting characters in American history, Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. “He lived one hundred years ago, but he seemed quite alive to me as I was writing about him.” Theodore–or Teedie as he was called when he was young–was a weak and sickly child. But he boxed, lifted weights, hiked, and rode horseback to make himself stronger and went on to become one of our most adventurous U.S. presidents. Betsy didn’t like history classes when she was in school. They were all about memorizing dates and what she considered boring details. Later, though, she realized that history is all about people–idealistic, ambitious, sometimes vain, sometime bright, sometimes ordinary, sometimes successful, sometimes failures. People like us. When she writes about people from the past, she likes to know about their weaknesses, as well as their strengths. After all, who wants to read about someone who is always perfect?
Theodore Roosevelt: Champion of the American Spirit
Betsy Harvey Kraft
In school we learned about the early presidents–Washington, Adams, Jefferson and of course, Lincoln, therefore they tend to stick in our minds when we think of past presidents. After those individuals there doesn’t seem to be a lot of emphasis on the other men who have served in this office. However, if you have ever seen a picture of Mount Rushmore, there is the face of another great president–Theodore Roosevelt. He was a fascinating, brilliant and incredibly energetic man. Kraft has skillfully described this complex man and the many facets of his life in her book. She traces his story from his early years as a child who suffered from asthma, but one who never let the affliction keep him from leading an active childhood filled with a desire to learn about animals and natural history. Coming from a privileged family, he traveled the world before he was twenty. His first marriage ended with the death of his beloved Alice and contributed to his total immersion into politics that really set the pattern for the rest of his life. He was elected as an assemblyman from the “Silk Stocking District” and fought for legislative reforms relating to elections and the underhanded activities of those in his social circle such as the railroad magnate Jay Gould. Roosevelt rose higher and higher in the Republican Party, always fighting for reforms. When disillusioned or exhausted he would head West to restore his soul and spirit. Roosevelt was not a perfect man. But he is certainly a president who students should study. He was a man of great integrity; one who strongly believed in and participated in family life, but also never lost his love of learning and adventure. Throughout the book, there are black-and-white illustrations that include photographs, reproductions of letters, diary pages, political cartoons and much more. This is an important book, and one that should be a part of any school or public library collection. 2003, Clarion/Houghton, $19.00. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children’s Literature).
Sensational Trials of the 20th Century
Betsy Harvey Kraft
From the case of Sacco and Vanzetti to Watergate, to the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, this book covers eight of the most talked about American trials of this century. Kraft deftly provides the background for each case, relates the dramatic events of the trial itself, and then offers a concise summary of the aftermath. The trials are depicted in chronological order, including the Scopes “monkey” trial; the Lindbergh baby kidnapping; the Rosenberg espionage case; Brown v. Board of Education; and John Hinckley, Jr. In the best judicial tradition, the facts are well researched and related objectively, leaving readers to decide for themselves if the outcome for each case was the proper one. Black and white photographs enhance this fascinating glimpse of American jurisprudence. 1998, Scholastic Press, $16.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning (Children’s Literature).
Mother Jones: One Woman’s Fight for Labor
Betsy Harvey Kraft
A controversial figure from America’s period of industrialization is brought to light in this evenhanded account of the small, but feisty Mother Jones. The accounts of the fights between labor and management; the publicity-seeking antics of the dedicated Ms. Jones, and the stories of battles won because of her commitment to the cause make for compelling reading. For advocates of the rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of workers, and the rights of Americans to know about their country’s past, this book is a welcome addition to the fray. 1995, Clarion, $16.95. Ages 9 up. Reviewer: Judy Katsh (Children’s Literature).
Betsy trailors sessions to the needs and age levels of each group. Sessions are interactive and lively. She brings in notes, photographs, illustrations, rough drafts, galleys, and finished books and encourages students to ask questions. With the group she explores ways to find ideas, conduct research, and write clearly. She picks a topic that interests the class then explores possible research sources and looks at organization and writing techniques. Fees, possible presentations, and schedules are negotiable.
- How Random Ideas Become Books: Explores the journey of how a small seed of interest can blossom into a book. Follows the research and writing process as well as the various stages of publication.
- The Collector’s Box: Encourages young writers to collect objects, articles, photos, videos, and other material as they prepare for their writing projects. Discusses how to shape the information gathered into an informative, well-written paper.
- So You Have to Write a Research Paper: Guides students through selecting a topic, scheduling the various elements of the project, finding good research sources, developing a theme, and organizing material for clear and effective writing.
To learn more about Betsy Harvey Kraft and her publications please visit www.childrensbookguild.org/betsy-harvey-kraft.