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The Children's Bookshelf: I Am Oprah Winfrey - November 15, 2021

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I Am Oprah Winfrey written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos is the newest addition to the successful biographical series Ordinary People Change the World. It is a story in which the reader will discover the difficult early life of Oprah as well as the meaningful contributions she has made to people and causes world-wide.

She grew up on her grandparents’ farm where she first found her voice by giving speeches to the cows! When she was just three years of age, she continued to develop her vocal talents by reciting passages from the Bible to an enthusiastic congregation every Sunday. They called her gifted and talented. Oprah didn’t know what that meant. “I figured it meant I was special. I started to believe it.”

Her grandmother taught her to read and her father and step-mother insisted that she read at least one book every week. Oprah felt that reading books was good training for understanding herself and for a successful high school career. She even became vice president of her senior class.

Oprah’s rise through the world of television, her reputation for being a good listener and her devotion to helping people all over the world such as building 55 schools in 12 countries are well put forth. The final illustration of ten newswomen gathered together including Gwen Ifill, Robin Roberts, Barbara Walters, Michele Norris, Yamiche Alcindor and Oprah herself is spectacular.

I Am Oprah Winfrey well researched and written by Brad Meltzer and delightfully illustrated by cartoonist Christopher Eliopoulos is a perfect picture book biography for readers 5-9 years of age (Dial Books for Young Readers/ an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2021).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for I am Oprah Winfrey

Oprah says the only person you have to be is yourself. What does she mean by this statement? Throughout this book Oprah encourages the readers to be true to themselves. Are you true to yourself? Think about it. Then draw a picture of your true self. Be sure to include your facial expressions, your posture, your eyes and your smile. Be proud!

In this book Oprah says everyone has a story to tell. What are some of your stories? Have you made a good friend lately? Have you read a very interesting book lately? Has something surprising happened to you? Have you made someone a special gift? Do you have a funny story to tell? Write your story down in a journal for safe keeping. Then, when you have some free time try to tell your story out loud to yourself before sharing it with your parents---perhaps around the dinner table.

Go back over the details of this book and answer the following questions: Who taught Oprah to read? Who did Oprah see win an Academy Award? Who came to Oprah’s school and told the students that they needed to strive for excellence? In what city did Oprah become the first Black news anchor? In what country did Oprah build a Leadership Academy for Girls?

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.