Lancaster Sunday News, March 11, 2001
By Jo-Ann Greene
Sunday News Book Editor
Dennis Denenberg remembers when classrooms displayed portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln – and not just during February. Today images of Snoopy and Mickey Mouse have taken their place as “personalities” children can identify with and admire.
‘That’s the message the Millersville University professor, of elementary and early childhood education has been spreading for the last decade, to MU education majors as well as teachers in 25 states.
Now he and co-author Lorraine Roscoe are offering 50 alternatives to the fantasy figures, athletes with police records and scantily clad celebrities who crowd children’s consciousness. Their “collective biography,” geared to 10- to 15-year-olds, is titled “50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet!” (Millbrook Press). It’s loaded with real people worthy of respect and emulation.
The list includes the legendary (Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglas), the living (Jimmy Carter Yo~Yo Ma), and even a local boy (Milton Hershey).
Each hero commands two facing pages, with the hero’s time frame and a brief summary of his life’s work, photos, sketches, a quote from the hero (“Power Words”), recommended reading about the hero (“Dive In!’), and a challenge to the reader (“Explore!”) to do something more in the same vein as the hero whether it’s to volunteer with the American Red Cross (Clara Barton) or write a poem (Langston Hughes).
Attractive graphic design, blue highlighting, and many photo captions make this 128-page hardcover easy to tap into. A “Hero Hunt” at the back of the book encourages children to report their success at finding additional heroes to the authors.
“We approached this anecdotally,” said Roscoe, a free-lance writer from Manheim. The goal was to avoid a boring recitation of facts and capture the events or exchanges that personify the hero. “As soon as you say, ‘So-and-so was born in 1851,’ they’re gone,” she said about potential readers. She should know. Her 11- and 15-year-old daughters offered feedback as she and Denenberg were writing.
The book debuted informally March 2 at the annual Heroes Fair that Denenberg coordinates in MU’s Pucillo Gym. His junior-year education majors design booths, prepare biographies and even dress up as assorted heroes. Then hundreds of schoolchildren file in to meet them and hear their stories.
The co-authors, who met two decades ago when both worked for Manheirn Central School District, also published “Hooray for Heroes” in 1994, describing how to make historic personalities come alive for children. Roscoe said “50 World Heroes” could be their next project.
The formal launch of their current book occurred Thursday, at the Core Knowledge National Conference in Boston, where Denenberg was a speaker.
Early reviews are raves. “The verve of Denenberg’s hero stories is contagious and will be a boon to teachers and parents not to mention charmed children, who will be inspired by these exemplary stories for the rest of their lives,” wrote E.D. Hirsch Jr., author of “The Schools We Need.”
“Children (and parents) will love it because it’s full of great stories, great deeds, great men and women who set examples worth striving toward,” agreed former Secretary of Education Dr. William I Bennett.