February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Timely Titles: Biographies | Series Nonfiction

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SMS1504-BiographyOlder and younger students alike will find much to enjoy among these varied and fascinating sets on mostly up-to-the-minute topics and individuals. Epitomizing creativity, talent, perseverance and hard work, and visionary, innovative ideas, many of the figures profiled here make excellent role models, while the titles about brands and products bring familiar icons to illuminating life. All provide stimulating reading and excellent classroom and assignment support.

Preschool to Grade 4

Doak, Robin S. Malala Yousafzai. ISBN 9780531211915; ISBN 9780531212059.

Gregory, Josh. Cesar Chavez. ISBN 9780531211724; ISBN 9780531212103.

––––. Martin Luther King Jr. ISBN 9780531211946; ISBN 9780531212080.

Orr, Tamra B. Amelia Earhart. ISBN 9780531211939; ISBN 9780531212073.

Taylor-Butler, Christine. Michelle Obama. ISBN 9780531211922; ISBN 9780531212066.

––––. Rosa Parks. ISBN 9780531211953; ISBN 9780531212097.

ea vol: 48p. (A True Book: Biographies). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Children’s Pr. Feb. 2015. lib. ed. $29. pap. $6.95.

Gr 3-5 –Each of theses titles is packed with useful information presented in short, readable sentences. Crisp, high-quality photos, many in full color and with bright captions, add to the design and striking layouts. An interesting fact on the front cover, two “Find the Truth” true-false statements at the beginning of each book, and an intriguing question and answer on the back cover will draw students in with teasers of what’s to come. Answers to the opening statements are provided on a final “True Statistics” page, though the information merely rehashes what’s been previously mentioned. Appearing in the middle of each volume, a spread titled “The Big Truth!” adds context but interrupts the narrative flow. VERDICT A fine option for browsing and assignments.

Hansen, Grace. Jackie Robinson: Baseball Legend. ISBN 9781629707013; ISBN 9781629707525. LC 2014943713.

––––. Jane Goodall: Chimpanzee Expert & Activist. ISBN 9781629707020; ISBN 9781629707532. LC 2014943705.

––––. Malala Yousafzai: Education Activist. ISBN 9781629707037; ISBN 9781629707549. LC 2014943708.

––––. Martin Luther King Jr.: Civil Rights Leader. ISBN 9781629707044; ISBN 9781629707556. LC 2014943711.

––––. Pope Francis: Religious Leader. ISBN 9781629707051; ISBN 9781629707563. LC 2014943710.

––––. Walt Disney: Animator & Founder. ISBN 9781629707068; ISBN 9781629707570. LC 2014943716.

ea vol: 24p. (History Maker Biographies). glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. 2015. lib. ed. $28.50. ebk. $28.50.

K-Gr 2 –Very basic facts are presented in simply, clearly written volumes appropriate for those just starting out on introductory biographies. Two to four sentences per page face a generally good quality color or black-and-white photo; unfortunately, the images aren’t captioned. The large, bold black typeface is surrounded by ample white space, making for comfortable reading; words defined in glossaries are set off in gray type. These information-packed titles will help readers understand why these individuals are important and appreciate their contributions to society. VERDICT These will successfully fit the bill for those in need of easy-to-read biographies.

Grades 5 & Up

Anderson, Zachary. Hernán Cortés. ISBN 9781502601292.

––––. John Cabot. ISBN 9781502601735.

––––. Samuel de Champlain. ISBN 9781502601384.

Connelly, Jack. Christopher Columbus. ISBN 9781502601711.

––––. Ferdinand Magellan. ISBN 9781 502601322.

––––. Henry Hudson. ISBN 9781502601278.

ea vol: 64p. (Incredible Explorers). further reading. glossary. maps. Cavendish Square. 2015. lib. ed. $34.21.

Gr 8 Up –These slim volumes are packed with details, sometimes ploddingly so, but will provide plenty of assignment support. The small font makes some pages look text heavy, but the narratives are usually relieved by colorful, often contemporary maps, drawings, and other artwork. Acknowledging modern scholarship, the authors mention recent research that sheds new light on the explorers’ lives and discoveries and wisely rely on primary sources, frequently inserting quotations from the explorers and their contemporaries. The writing is clunky and redundant at times; occasionally, writers employ colloquial language to make the volumes more student friendly. Some minor factual, spelling, grammatical errors crop up. VERDICT Despite some flaws, these are generally well done. Recommended for supplemental use in public and school libraries.

Bella, Laura La. Hulu and Jason Kilar. ISBN 9781477779217.

Culp, Jennifer. Call of Duty. ISBN 9781477779231.

Holl, Kristi. Shazam and Its Creators. ISBN 9781477779255.

Porterfield, Jason. Angry Birds and Rovio Entertainment. ISBN 9781477779194.

Rajczak, Kristen. Instagram. ISBN 9781477779170.

Wolff, Ariana. Khan Academy and Salman Khan. ISBN 9781477779279.

ea vol: 112p. (Internet Biographies). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. websites. Rosen Young Adult. 2015. lib. ed. $35.60.

Gr 7 Up –Tech-savvy kids and gamers will welcome these hip, well-written titles that respect the intelligence of the intended audience. Students will be inspired by the talented and (mostly) young entrepreneurs and their revolutionary ideas. The history and development of these visionary ideas are covered, as are ongoing improvements. Those not yet in the know will learn more and will definitely want to try out the sites and products profiled. Though these may seem like book-length commercials for the services and products described, the authors also candidly discuss negatives and corporate problems. High-quality color photos and informative sidebars enhance the texts. Occasional editorial and proofreading errors pop up from time to time. VERDICT Middle schoolers will find this set appealing; the focus on up-to-the-minute enterprises make these volumes useful in computer and economics classes.

Doeden, Matt. GoPro Inventor Nick Woodman. ISBN 9781467757928.

––––. SpaceX and Tesla Motors Engineer Elon Musk. ISBN 9781467757911.

––––. Theoretical Physicist Brian Greene. ISBN 9781467757904.

Waxman, Laura Hamilton. Aerospace Engineer Aprille Ericsson. ISBN 9781467757935.

––––. Computer Engineer Ruchi Sanghvi. ISBN 9781467757942.

––––. Genetics Expert Joanna Lynne Kelley. ISBN 9781467757959.

ea vol: 32p. (STEM Trailblazer Bios). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Lerner. 2015. lib. ed. $26.60.

Gr 4-7 –Featuring brilliant and fascinating visionaries, this informative and inspiring series makes high intelligence and an exceptional aptitude for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects seem relevant. In addition, the authors render complicated topics clear and comprehensible. Enhanced by high-quality color photos, these well-written, up-to-date titles introduce individuals with whom many students won’t be familiar. Readers with an interest in STEM will certainly want to emulate these accomplished figures, though. Students and educators will also appreciate the diverse representation. Thoughtful personal quotes about the subjects’ lives and careers are included in “Tech Talk” boxes. VERDICT Highly recommended, especially where current biographies, particularly of those involved in STEM careers, are needed and requested; strong supplemental reading for science classes, too.

Furstinger, Nancy. Today’s 12 Hottest Movie Superstars. ISBN 9781632350190.

Robinson, Tom. Today’s 12 Hottest NBA Superstars. ISBN 9781632350213.

––––. Today’s 12 Hottest NFL Superstars. ISBN 9781632350220.

Tometich, Annabelle. Today’s 12 Hottest Music Superstars. ISBN 9781632350206.

––––. Today’s 12 Hottest TV Superstars. ISBN 9781632350237.

ea vol: 32p. (Today’s Superstars). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Amicus/12 Story. 2015. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 4-6 –Browsers will appreciate reading about celebrities, though not all of the figures covered—especially in the entertainment-themed volumes—are the “hottest” among the target audience. Brief biographies include sidebars containing quick facts and statistics, while high-quality cover and interior photos enhance the books’ appealing layouts, which are filled with color, varying fonts, and, particularly in the athletes’ volumes, action shots. Overall, there’s a solid mix of stars, though some are questionable choices for this audience, such as Stephen Colbert, Kerry Washington, and Jimmy Fallon. There are some omissions in Music: there’s no mention of any hip-hop artists or of Lady Gaga. Also, a few editorial and factual mistakes intrude. VERDICT An attractive additional purchase.

Green, Sara. Disney. ISBN 9781626172050.

––––. Hershey’s. ISBN 9781626172067.

––––. Kellogg’s. ISBN 9781626172074.

––––. Lego. ISBN 9781626172081.

––––. McDonald’s. ISBN 9781626172098.

––––. Nike. ISBN 9781626172104.

ea vol: 24p. (Brands We Know). bibliog. glossary. index. Bellwether. 2015. lib. ed. $22.95.

Gr 4-6 –Packed with solid information for browsers and report writers about the history and development of different brands and companies, these fascinating volumes have surefire audience appeal. Fast paced and simply and clearly written, each title features bright, eye-catching covers and interior art; crisp color and black-and-white archival photos; attractive layouts; and fascinating tidbits of trivia, including a “By the Numbers” page, which includes statistics such as the company’s net worth. Students will be excited to discover how much they don’t know about these topics. They’ll also appreciate learning that these companies make philanthropic efforts in education, conservation, and wildlife and environmental preservation. VERDICT These books will be as popular as the products they describe. Recommended for units on economics and the media.

Grinapol, Corinne. Harvey Milk. ISBN 9781477778999.

Henneberg, Susan. James Baldwin. ISBN 9781477778975.

Hollander, Barbara Gottfried. Ellen DeGeneres. ISBN 9781477778951.

Houts, Amy. Rachel Maddow. ISBN 9781477778913.

Landau, Jennifer. Jane Lynch. ISBN 9781477779019.

Vescia, Monique. Zachary Quinto. ISBN 9781477778937.

ea vol: 112p. (Remarkable LGBTQ Lives). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. websites. Rosen Young Adult. 2015. lib. ed. $35.60.

Gr 7 Up –These titles are well written, interesting, and nonjudgmental. Attractive design elements include sidebars on relevant, themed topics and mostly color photos that generally depict the subjects in their professional guises. The respectful tone makes each title a standout. Though subjects are portrayed as admirable and successful, their flaws are addressed, as well as their disappointments and setbacks. Moreover, the hardships depicted aren’t always connected to these figures’ LGBTQ status. VERDICT These eye-opening volumes are recommended for all libraries.

Harmon, Daniel. Cassandra Clare. ISBN 9781477779125.

Niver, Heather Moore. Veronica Roth. ISBN 9781477779064.

Poolos, Christine. John Green. ISBN 9781477779040.

Vescia, Monique. Markus Zusak. ISBN 9781477779088.

Willett, Edward. Kiera Cass. ISBN 9781477779149.

Wolny, Philip. Stephen Chbosky. ISBN 9781477779101.

ea vol: 112p. (All About the Author). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. websites. Rosen Young Adult. 2015. lib. ed. $35.60.

Gr 7 Up –Written in a conversational tone, this series delivers encouragement to aspiring writers. Readers learn about the authors’ lives and career beginnings and will glean numerous helpful writing tips. There’s lots of information about the authors’ popular works and characters, as well as what’s forthcoming. Enthusiasts will appreciate the excellent color photos, many of them fan-friendly head shots, and supplemental information provided by many sidebars. Special features include fact sheets on the subjects and their works, as well as critical reviews. VERDICT Useful for literature and creative writing classes and for biography assignments.

Hetrick, Hans. The Rolling Stones: Pushing Rock’s Boundaries. ISBN 9781491418178.

Huston, Jennifer L. U2: Changing the World Through Rock ‘n’ Roll. ISBN 9781491418185.

Stark, William N. Aerosmith: Living the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dream. ISBN 9781491418154.

Tougas, Joe. The Beatles: Defining Rock ‘n’ Roll. ISBN 9781491418161.

ea vol: 32p. (Legends of Rock). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Capstone. 2015. lib. ed. $27.32.

Gr 6 Up –Adults may appreciate these titles for their nostalgia value, but there’s not enough here to get kids interested in bands that got their start in their parents’ or, in the case of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, their grandparents’ day—even if they’ve heard of these guys. So-so writing, sometimes murky photos, and the generally dark design mar this set. A few misspellings, omissions, and factual errors add to the flaws. Included in each book are “Backstage Passes,” or ticket-shaped sidebars with biographies and contributions of band members; a list of top 10 hits; and a brief bibliography. There’s also a glossary with pronunciation guides; however, the words are already defined on the pages where they appear, and some terms aren’t always defined consistently from book to book. VERDICT Supplemental for music appreciation classes or units on later 20th-century history; otherwise, rock on by.

Kjelle, Marylou Morano. Bill Gates: Microsoft Founder and Philanthropist. ISBN 9781624036415; ISBN 9781629692678. LC 2014944225.

––––. Steve Jobs: Visionary Founder of Apple. ISBN 9781624036422; ISBN 9781629692685. LC 2014944215.

Sylvan, Lu. Vladimir Putin: Russian Leader. ISBN 9781624036453; ISBN 9781629692715. LC 2014944237.

Wang, Andrea. Malala Yousafzai: Pakistani Education Activist. ISBN 9781624036460; ISBN 9781629692722. LC 2014944252.

Weil, Jamie. Jeff Bezos: Founder of Amazon.com. ISBN 9781624036408; ISBN 9781629692661. LC 2014944235.

––––. Mark Zuckerberg: Creator of Facebook. ISBN 9781624036477; ISBN 9781629692739. LC 2014944238.

Woll, Kris. Nelson Mandela: South African President and Civil Rights Activist. ISBN 9781624036439; ISBN 9781629692692. LC 2014944216.

––––. Pope Francis: Catholic Spiritual Leader. ISBN 9781624036446; ISBN 9781629692708. LC 2014944217.

ea vol: 48p. (Newsmakers). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. 2015. lib. ed. $32.79. ebk. $32.79.

Gr 4-7 –These enlightening and clearly written volumes cover the lives and careers of newsworthy individuals, flaws and all. Each slim title is textbooklike yet engaging, impressively meeting Common Core standards with comprehensible graphs and charts. Some especially notable student-centered features include “Straight to the Source,” a section that highlights spoken or written quotes by the subject and presents follow-up questions, and “Explore Online” (also referred to as “Further Evidence”), which provides students with opportunities to compare and contrast material in the texts with a publisher-provided Common Core site). Another excellent resource is the “Stop and Think” spread, which contains activities that challenge students to write or think creatively. Solid, mostly color photos enhance the books. VERDICT Highly useful for current events units.

Wood, Alix. Anthony van Dyck. ISBN 9781615339211.

––––. Camille Pissarro. ISBN 9781615339174.

––––. Edgar Degas. ISBN 9781477754092.

––––. J.M.W. Turner. ISBN 9781477754016.

––––. Paul Gauguin. ISBN 9781477754054.

––––. Rembrandt van Rijn. ISBN 9781 615339136.

ea vol: 32p. (Artists Through the Ages). glossary. index. photos. websites. Windmill. 2015. lib. ed. $26.25.

Gr 3-6 –Simply and clearly written, these colorful, informative volumes bring their subjects to life. Readers will appreciate the large font, very short chapters, and touches of humor. Brief paragraphs are broken up by numerous excellent color reproductions, illustrations, and photos. The artists’ themes and techniques are explored, and the books often pose questions, requiring that readers examine some works closely. Pastel-hued sidebars, resembling sketchbook pages, provide additional facts and trivia. Caution: definitions aren’t always clear, and pronunciations are sometimes off the mark or unnecessary. VERDICT A solid resource for use in art classes.

While the purely entertainment-themed series have questionable appeal, there’s plenty of other titles loaded with value. Though most of the series are targeted to middle graders and teens, ABDO’s “History Maker Bios” will give the very youngest their first taste of books about those who have made significant contributions. Most titles are attractive, with easy-on-the-eyes fonts and lots of appealing design elements to break up texts. Bellwether’s “Brands We Know” will quickly capture readers’ attention, and Lerner’s “STEM Trailblazer Bios” and Rosen Young Adult’s “Internet Biographies” are surefire draws for students interested in cutting-edge science and technology careers and innovation.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.