February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Chelsea House Biographies Online | Digital Resources Review

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Image of home page of Chelsea House Bio Online

Chelsea House biographies online


A leader in biographies for youth, Chelsea House now offers an online platform that provides in-depth life accounts of influential people from across the world. This easy-to-use, attractive database is a go-to resource for students working on reports and projects.

Grade Level 6 and Up

Cost Pricing is determined by full-time enrollment for schools and by the number of cardholders for public libraries. All prices are for unlimited usage within the institution and include remote-access privileges. Fees start at $410 for schools of up to 500 students, and at $650 for public libraries with up to 15,000 cardholders.

Overview Each biography provided here is the equivalent of a 100-page book. The aesthetic of the website is simplicity. Ample white space, plain fonts, and judiciously used graphics make finding and using content a breeze.

Numbering into the hundreds, the biographies are divided into a couple of dozen thematic collections that reflect a diversity of backgrounds, interests, and achievements. Some collections offer the standard biographical fare: “Leaders of the American Revolution,” “Trailblazers in Science and Technology,” “Explorers of New Worlds,” and “Great Military Leaders.” Other collections explore themes that receive little or no coverage in biography collections for youth: Famous Fashion Designers, Asian-Americans of Achievement, Legends of Animation, and Spiritual Leaders. Some offerings, such as the Wild West, Race Car Legends, Popular Icons, and Sports Heroes, have high appeal for reluctant readers as well.

Each month, five biographies that relate to a seasonal theme are featured on the main page. For instance, November’s featured biographies relate to Veterans Day and include Douglas MacArthur, George S. Patton, John J. Pershing, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Colin Powell. Featured biographies are viewable up to a year in advance, providing teachers with a springboard for planning lessons ahead of time.

How It Works Students who know how to perform a basic Google search will find this database intuitive. In addition to performing a search using natural language, students can use Boolean, wildcard, exact-phrase, and proximity searching. In addition, an advanced-search feature allows students to challenge the database with more-complex queries.

The biographies are also searchable by occupation, time period, gender, and using an alphabetical listing. Each one comes with an image gallery of around a dozen photographs, drawings, and/or paintings. These well-curated images depict close-ups of the subjects, and scenes of action and drama that help tell the life story. For instance, one photograph in Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s gallery shows him stranded with crewmembers on an ice floe while in the background their ship sinks. Another photograph shows him dapper and knighted, but looking more than a little uncomfortable in urbane trappings. Each biography is enhanced by a simple time line highlighting main events in a subject’s life.

For students who want a little more information than what is found in the chapter content, the sidebars featured in most of the biographies are a boon. These are made up of persistent links, full-text articles, and other electronic resources that provide revealing quotes, excerpts from letters and newspapers, and other tangential information. For instance, a link in the Tiki Barber biography contains a brief history of the New York Giants. Similarly, material on Calamity Jane’s includes a eulogy for her written by Buffalo Bill Cody.

The well-written material is current, with regular updates promised as part of the package. The writing is engaging and accessible to young readers. One notable exception is the biography of Freddie Prinze, Jr., which describes some events that took place years ago in the present tense.

Special features make the database a one-stop shop for students working on projects. Users can send links to other subscribers, bookmark sections, and save to personal electronic folders. Google Translate allows users to translate content into any one of 53 languages. Each chapter concludes with precise notation templates, and students have the option of viewing MLA or Chicago Manual of Style citations.

Other homework help includes a highly visible link at the top of each page. This link is “Resources for Writing a Report.” Here students find easy-to-understand guidance on how to write a biography report; improve their writing; and use a time line, a dictionary, and a thesaurus.

Verdict This biography database is loaded with curriculum-worthy content, all of which is easy to find thanks to effective, user-friendly navigation.

Jennifer Prince (jennifer.prince@buncombe county.org) is a librarian at the Fairview branch of Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC, and an SLJ reviewer.

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