Kathleen Krull

Kathleen Krull

Use this author’s books in art, English, music, science, social studies, and other disciplines.

If I were an administrator or literacy coach in a middle school, I would encourage my faculty to conduct a school-wide author study of Kathleen Krull. Her books relate to most content areas, including music, art, English, physical education, social studies, and science. Students would find Krull books throughout the school, and would probably find teachers talking excitedly to each other and to their classes about them. They’d see connections among the disciplines, and their vocabulary and background knowledge would grow as they read the books themselves. Krull has a popular series of biography collections students may peruse to find important information along with often funny details about people within the categories her books represent. I call them her Gossip Series. Even the titles beckon curious readers. Here they are, along with examples of the intrigue within:

Krull, K. (1993). Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (And What the Neighbors Thought). Illus. K. Hewitt. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Chapter titles give glimpses of what’s to come in the biographies: “Traveling Troubadour” (Woody Guthrie), “The Entertainer” (Scott Joplin), “Tender Tyrant” (Nadia Boulanger). I love the chatty “Musical Notes” at the ends of the chapters, from which I learned things such as Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” being written for his dog. Did you know that to play all of Mozart’s music in a row would take 202 hours, or that Clara Schumann didn’t learn to talk until she was eight years old, the same age at which point she was becoming a world-famous pianist? After reading this book, you’ll be able to gossip in the best of music circles, and you’ll be searching for more knowledge about these and other musicians.


Krull, K. (1994). Lives of the Writers: Comedies, Tragedies (And What the Neighbors Thought). Illus. K. Hewitt. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.
Each chapter is titled descriptively. Edgar Allan Poe’s chapter is called “Imp of the Perverse”; Mark Twain’s is “Killingly Funny”; Isaac Bashevis Singer’s is “Blintzes Stuffed with Cheese.” After several pages of biographical information, the chapters end with “Bookmarks,” which some readers will like best of all: tidbits of information that help explain the times, contexting each writer’s life; and follow-ups on how the writer’s works have influenced society or subsequent literature. For example, readers learn that Martin Luther King Jr. used Langston Hughes’s poems in his speeches, and Zora Neale Hurston’s
 Their Eyes Were Watching God was named the out-of-print book most in demand by the Modern Language Association (which may have helped bring it back into print!).

Krull, K. (1997). Lives of the Athletes: Thrills, Spills (And What the Neighbors Thought). Illus K. Hewitt. New York:Harcourt Brace & Company.
Again, the chapter titles are enticing; who could resist turning to “The Power of Pickled Eels” (Babe Ruth), “Dragons, Dragons, Dragons” (Bruce Lee), “Coffee, Boxer Shorts, and Pajamas” (Pelé), or “A Tigerbelle in the Fresh Air” (Wilma Rudolph)? The brief biographies end with “Athleticisms,” anecdotes that reveal something about the subject’s character. We learn that Arthur Ashe walked off the tennis court when his opponent’s racial taunts became unbearable, “defaulting rather than responding in anger” (p. 77). Babe Didrikson Zaharias practiced golf for as long as 16 hours a day. “Sometimes she hit fifteen hundred balls in a row, bandaging her hands when they became bloody or blistered” (p. 41).

Krull, K. (1999). They Saw the Future: Oracles, Psychics, Scientists, Great Thinkers, and Pretty Good Guessers. Illus. K. Brooker.New York: Atheneum.
The Table of Contents contains fascinating quotes that help us immediately begin to know the subjects of the chapters: “I know the number of grains of sand, and all the measures of the sea” (The Oracle at Delphi), “What haven’t you noticed lately?” (Marshall McLuhan), “I see and hear and understand at one and the same time” (Hildegard of Bingen), “Sometimes dreams are wiser than talking” (Nicholas Black Elk). This book takes a topic many students are fascinated with (and some parents are wary of) and brings in medical and scientific information to help us think about the subjects’ skills and abilities. For example, we’re told:

Recently doctors have looked again at Hildegard’s descriptions of her visions. Her physical symptoms correspond to what we now know to be signs of migraine attacks. These headaches of overwhelming intensity are usually followed by temporary paralysis and blindness—all reported by Hildegard: “I did not die, yet I did not altogether live.” When they pass, there is a euphoria, also described by her: “Every sadness and pain vanishes from my memory, so that I am again as a simple maid and not as an old woman.” (p. 40)

Krull, K. (2000). Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (And What the Neighbors Thought). Illus. K. Hewitt. New York: Harcourt.
This book’s chapters include very different titles, such as “A Blazing Light” (Joan of Arc), “Strongman or Granny?” (Golda Meir), “Tiger Among Monkeys” (Indira Ghandi), “Hair Like a Halo” (Eva Perón), “Life at the Library” (Cleopatra), and “Dancing on the Roof” (Wilma Mankiller), but what these chapters have in common are depictions of extremely strong women. The “Ever After” sections at the conclusion of chapters give evidence of the person’s legacy. For example, we learn that Eleanor Roosevelt, after noticing that only nine of JFK’s first 240 appointments were women, sent him three pages of names of qualified candidates; after which, Kennedy established the Commission on the Status of Women. Hillary Clinton calls herself a die-hard Eleanor Roosevelt fan, and has spoken of imaginary talks with her. “When confronted with a particular situation, I might say to Mrs. Roosevelt, ‘Oh, my goodness, what do I do now?’” (p. 69).

Krull’s achievements don’t end with this series. She wrote Presenting Paula Danziger (1995), part of the Twayne’s Young Adult Author series. It’s a combination biography and commentary on Danziger’s books. I knew this was going to be an honest work when I read in Krull’s Preface her reaction upon meeting Danziger and hearing her speak at a conference:

“. . . she also struck me as possibly in need of therapy, or maybe more therapy. Her anger was towering, almost out of control. She seemed a troubled soul, full of compassion for others but only unhappiness with herself. . . . She talked of Holden Caulfield (the narrator of The Catcher in the Rye) as her emancipator and of the healing power of writing and the written word . . . (p. xi)

Use this book along with some of the obituaries and tributes written by Danziger’s fellow authors after her death in 2004.

Krull’s The Book of Rock Stars (2003) provides mini-biographies of 24 musical icons. Numerous school-related references can be good-naturedly pointed out by teachers, such as Joni Mitchell’s dedicating her first album to her seventh-grade English teacher, “‘who taught me to love words,’” or the fact that Kurt Cobain excelled in art class in high school. Of course plenty of musical information is there, too, along with block print portraits of the musicians by Stephen Alcorn.

In 2003, Krull published Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. Here Krull shows Chavez’s happy boyhood on the Arizona family-owned farm; the move to California as migrant workers when drought destroyed all but hope; the gradual understanding of the violation of human rights he and others were experiencing, and also the power of nonviolence; and the courage and conviction of the young adult Chavez as he organized what was to be the first successful farm strike in the country.

Next, Krull came out with a book on a very different biographical subject. The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss (2004) chronicles the growing-up years of the great author and illustrator. But wait—not everyone found him great or even promising. When he took his one and only art class in high school, the teacher scolded him for breaking rules and warned him he would never be successful at art (p. 20). Dartmouth classmates voted him “‘Least Likely to Succeed’” (p. 26). When he started publishing his cartoons, the response was also mixed. “A prisoner on death row wrote to say he didn’t mind dying if Ted’s work was the best publishers could do” (p. 34). In the four-page “On Beyond Fairfield Street” at the end of the book, Krull fast-forwards readers through the rest of Dr. Seuss’s incredibly prolific and successful life.

Also in 2004, Krull published an adaptation of the diary of a 12-year-old who lived in New York City in 1912. Anne Elizabeth Rector was given art supplies and a diary by her parents for Christmas, and the journal that resulted was later found in her childhood home.Anne Elizabeth’s Diary: A Young Artist’s True Story gives us the child’s words and pictures, and Krull’s sidebars give us information both about the girl, who would go on to become an accomplished, recognized artist, and details about New York City at this point in history. Sidebars give facts, all related to Anne Elizabeth’s diary entries, about school, the underwear of the day, girls in sports, dentistry, African Americans struggling for equal rights, movies, and more. Krull also adds sections called “What Happened Next?” (p. 56), “A Note from Anne Elizabeth’s Granddaughter” (p. 59), and “Some Tips on Keeping a Diary” (p. 60). Krull’s 2004 picture book biography, A Woman for President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull (2004), will surprise students who do not realize that in the 1800s a woman actually ran for president of the United States. Krull brings readers back to the mid- 1800s, when “Personal ambition in a woman was thought to be evil” (unpaged) then carries them through the unusual life of Woodhull, fortune-teller and healer, friend of rich and influential people such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, founder of the first American stock-selling and -buying company that was female owned, suffragist, newspaper founder, and the Equal Rights Party’s candidate for president in 1872. Quite a life, quite a book. Krull has begun a new series of easy readers (appropriate for upper primary grades and beyond) that includes The Night the Martians Landed: Just the Facts (Plus the Rumors) About Invaders from Mars (2003) and What Really Happened in Roswell?: Just the Facts (Plus the Rumors) About UFOs and Aliens (2003). Both contain historical and scientific information, and direct curious readers to further resources. In addition, she has an entertaining “Giants of Science” Series appropriate for middle and high school students. Go on Krull’s website, www.kathleenkrull.com, for ideas about how to teach her Lives of . . . series, and also for general suggestions about teaching biographies.

Selected Works by Kathleen Krull

Krull, K. (2006). Isaac Newton. Illus. B. Kulikov. New York: Viking.

Krull, K. (2006). Sigmund Freud. Illus. B. Kulikov. New York: Viking.

Krull, K. (2005). Leonardo da Vinci. Kulikov, Boris. New York: Viking.

Krull, K., & Velasquez, E. (2005). Houdini: World’s greatest mystery man and escape king. New York: Walker & Co.

Krull, K. (2004). A woman for president: The story of Victoria Woodhull. New York: Walker.

Krull, K., Johnson, S., Fancher, L., et al. (2004). The boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel grew up to become Dr. Seuss. New York: Random House.

Krull, K. (2003). The book of rock stars: 24 musical icons that shine through history. Illus. S. Alcorn. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.

Krull, K. (2003). Harvesting hope: The story of Cesar Chavez. Illus. Y. Morales. New York: Scholastic.

Krull, K. (2003). M is for music. Illus. S. Innerst. Orlando, FL: Harcourt.

Krull, K., & Santoro, C. (2003). What really happened in Roswell?: Just the facts (plus the rumors) about UFOs and aliens. New York: HarperCollins.

Rector, A. E., with additional text by Krull, K. (2004). Anne Elizabeth’s Diary: A young artist’s true story. Boston: Little, Brown & Company.