11 Biography Series To Hook Students on Politics, World Events, and More

Up-to-minute coverage of political leaders is just one reason why this season’s series are noteworthy.

The importance of role models in the lives of young people cannot be overstated. Children look to adults not only for career inspiration but also for daily decision-making and to help determine appropriate behaviors. They also imitate what they see and hear in ever-present media. Therefore, it is crucial to their development and future success to be provided with many examples of positivity and perseverance. This spring’s biography series offer just that.


Acton, Vanessa. Momcilo Gavric’s World War I Story. illus. by Ann Kronheimer. ISBN 9781512456790.

Marsico, Katie. Calvin Graham’s World War II Story. illus. by David Hill. ISBN 9781512456813.

––––. John Cook’s Civil War Story. illus. by David Belmonte. ISBN 9781512456806.

––––. Johnny Clem’s Civil War Story. illus. by Ann Kronheimer. ISBN 9781512456783.

––––. Sybil Ludington’s Revolutionary War Story. illus. by Thomas Girard. ISBN 9781512456769.

––––. Tillie Pierce’s Civil War Story. illus. by Thomas Girard. ISBN 9781512456776.

ea vol: 32p. (Narrative Nonfiction: Kids in War). chron. further reading. photos. websites. Lerner. Apr. 2018. lib. ed. $27.99.

Gr 3-5 –A narrative take on the real stories of children who faced war. Students will learn a brief synopsis of each conflict—the dates, location, and countries involved—but the main focus of each title is on the child’s bravery in the face of danger and bloodshed. Using dialogue and descriptive details, the accounts are engaging but simple—the concept of a lost childhood is not really touched on in any depth. The volumes’ texts and illustrations skew younger, though the protagonists are ages 11 and up. The unsettling nature of young people firing cannons and pulling triggers is given a puzzlingly light treatment with picture book–style artwork and happy endings. ­VERDICT An additional purchase wherever narrative nonfiction circulates well.

Borth, Teddy. A.J. Styles: The Phenomenal One. ISBN 9781532121067.

––––. Charlotte Flair: Bow to Your Queen. ISBN 9781532121074.

––––. Dean Ambrose: The Lunatic Fringe. ISBN 9781532121081.

––––. John Cena: Hustle. Loyalty. Respect. ISBN 9781532121098.

––––. The New Day: The Power of Positivity. ISBN 9781532121104.

––––. Roman Reigns: The Big Dog. ISBN 9781532121111.

ea vol: 24p. (Wrestling Biographies). glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Dec. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 1-4 –A series sure to satisfy even the youngest of wrestling fans. Borth traces each champion’s journey from their small beginnings to their eventual success, capturing all of the sweat, disappointment, and determination in between. Simple facts about each wrestler’s birthplace, early sports influences, and tournament wins are the extent of what is covered in each title, all of which could probably fit on the back of a collector’s card. Only one woman wrestler and one tag team are included in the lineup. Unfamiliar readers will appreciate the definitions of terms and acronyms specific to the sport, while devotees will scramble to see the outrageous behavior of their heroes and foes well captured in the dynamic images. VERDICT Consider for early reader collections that serve superfans only.

Cham, Stephanie. Ellison Onizuka. ISBN 9781515799566.

––––. Michelle Kwan. ISBN 9781515799580.

––––. Patsy Mink. ISBN 9781515799542.

––––. Tammy Duckworth. ISBN 9781 515799559.

––––. Yo-Yo Ma. ISBN 9781515799573.

ea vol: 24p. (Great Asian Americans). chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $26.65.

K-Gr 2 –Emergent readers can learn about the accomplishments of several Asian American leaders from a variety of fields. The full-page photos and the short sentences in large print are perfect for the intended audience. In addition to the biographical content, students will also be introduced to important nonfiction text features, such as chapter headings, time lines, and more. However, throughout the series, the photos are not consistently captioned. Cham discusses difficult topics directly but with little detail. (In Tammy Duckworth: “She lost both her legs. Her right arm was hurt.” And in Ellison Onizuka: “He got on the Challenger. It took off. Then it broke apart. Everyone inside died.”) One example of discrimination is cited when Patsy Mink went to college and “had to live in separate housing.” VERDICT Fans of the Children’s Press’s “Rookie Readers” series will appreciate this fresh if slight option.

Cipriano, Jeri. Harriet Tubman: Union Spy. illus. by Scott R. Brooks. ISBN 9781634402842.

––––. Moe Berg: Spy Catcher. illus. by Scott R. Brooks. ISBN 9781634402804.

Derr, Aaron. Benedict Arnold: Hero or Enemy Spy? illus. by Scott R. Brooks. ISBN 9781634402798.

––––. Nathan Hale: America’s First Spy. illus. by Tami Wicinas. ISBN 9781634402828.

Mattern, Joanne. Rose Greenhow: Confederate Spy. illus. by Scott R. Brooks. ISBN 9781634402811.

ea vol: 32p. (Hidden History: Spies). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Red Chair. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 3-7 –For reluctant readers of history, this set is a thrilling exposé on the secret spy history behind many famous people. Comic-style illustrations and an animated narrative tone make for a lively reading experience; photographs, maps, infographics, and vocabulary words add interest and clarity. Kids will enjoy uncovering Benedict Arnold’s hidden heroism prior to his turncoat ways, as well as how secret codes, songs, and disguises were used to save lives and gain information. The range of figures and time periods covered and the accessible descriptions of complex and dangerous missions combine to produce an engaging and informative introduction to the world of espionage. The covers may not initially catch readers’ eyes, but the stories within deserve a second look. VERDICT Purchase where nonfiction graphic novels are popular.

Felix, Rebecca. Angie Bastian: BOOMCHICKAPOP Boss. ISBN 9781532112645.

––––. Debbi Fields: Mrs. Fields Founder. ISBN 9781532112683.

––––. Marie Callender: Homemade Pie Maven. ISBN 9781532112652.

––––. Peggy Cherng: Panda Express Empress. ISBN 9781532112669.

––––. Rose Totino: Pizza Entrepreneur. ISBN 9781532112690.

––––. Ruth Fertel: Ruth’s Chris Steak House Creator. ISBN 9781532112676.

ea vol: 32p. (Female Foodies). chron. glossary. index. photos. ABDO. Dec. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 3-6 –A tasty look at a number of food franchises founded by women. The use of familiar logos and color schemes (Mrs. Fields’s cookies, Totino’s pizza, etc.) will likely lure students. Felix frames each subject’s life in a similar format: each entrepreneur made a food product that brought happiness to others, and, with some trial and error and hard work, was able to achieve a balanced life and make big profits. The story of Ruth Fertel highlights her life as a single parent whose restaurant survived a hurricane, a kitchen fire, and a robbery at gunpoint, during which she was shot in the arm. Throughout each title, Felix repeats and defines business- and industry-related terms and spotlights the charitable contributions made by each company. VERDICT Commendable for its use of inspirational stories to inspire young, savvy makers and consumers, this set is a fine addition to biography collections

Ford, Jeanne Marie. Hillary Clinton: Ground-Breaking Politician. ISBN 9781503823983.

Gulati, Annette. Jacqueline Kennedy: Cultural Icon. ISBN 9781503823990.

Hutchison, Patricia. Barbara Bush: Literacy Champion. ISBN 9781503823938.

Krekelberg, Alyssa. Betty Ford: Women’s Rights and Health Advocate. ISBN 9781503823945.

MacCarald, Clara. Eleanor Roosevelt: Progressive Reformer. ISBN 9781503823976.

––––. Michelle Obama: Health Advocate. ISBN 9781503824027.

Oachs, Emily Rose. Dolley Madison: Hostess and Patriot. ISBN 9781503823969.

––––. Melania Trump: Champion for Youth. ISBN 9781503824010.

Omoth, Tyler. Abigail Adams: Champion for Women. ISBN 9781503823921.

––––. Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson: Environmental Protector. ISBN 9781503823952.

––––. Martha Washington: Loyal Public Servant. ISBN 9781503824003.

Zee, Amy Van. Nancy Reagan: Drug Crusader. ISBN 9781503824034.

ea vol: 24p. (Influential First Ladies). further reading. glossary. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. The Child’s World. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 3-6 –This series explores the passion and personality of the first ladies. The authors succeed at including vibrant details that paint a multifaceted picture of each woman’s interaction with the president, the public, and the political climate of the time period. Throughout the series, the transitions from one subject to the next are abrupt to the point where readers may wonder if a page was left out (e.g., a smiling photo of Jackie Kennedy in India with a description of her as a patron of the arts is immediately followed by one of her in mourning after John F. Kennedy’s assassination). In general, controversies and scandals are given vague mentions, and memorable quotes are highlighted in the margins. The use of black-and-white and color photos, etchings, and portraits adds visual appeal. VERDICT Recommended more for its timely content than as a research resource.

Gigliotti, Jim. J.J. Watt. ISBN 9781 684024537.

––––. Odell Beckham Jr. ISBN 9781 684024513.

Kelley, K.C. Rob Gronkowski. ISBN 9781 684024544.

––––. Tom Brady. ISBN 9781684024520.

ea vol: 24p. (Amazing Americans: Football Stars). chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Bearport. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $25.64.

K-Gr 3 –A repackaged version of the publisher’s “Football Stars Up Close” series for a younger audience. With the exception of some minor injuries described, these volumes offer little memorable information about the players. Each figure’s background is written about in such a style that they all could be interchangeable: each showed athletic promise in high school, went on to excel in sports in college, and acquired a list of sacks, receiving yards, and/or touchdowns in the NFL. The included personal quotes are generic (“Nothing worth having comes easy!”), and the narratives are quite vague (“He made it look easy even though it wasn’t. To become a great player, he trained every day”). In addition, the red, white, and blue theme of the series seems extraneous. VERDICT Consider only where sports biography series are in high demand. Otherwise spring for the publisher’s more detailed “Football Stars Up Close” for an older audience.

Kawa, Katie. Before John F. Kennedy Was President. ISBN 9781538210741.

Morlock, Theresa. Before Abraham Lincoln Was President. ISBN 9781538210581.

Nagelhout, Ryan. Before Donald Trump Was President. ISBN 9781538210666.

Rajczak, Michael. Before Andrew Jackson Was President. ISBN 9781538210628.

Seeley, M.H. Before John Adams Was President. ISBN 9781538210703.

Shea, Therese M. Before Teddy Roosevelt Was President. ISBN 9781538210789.

ea vol: 24p. (Before They Were President). chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $22.60.

Gr 3-6 –This approach to the lives of a handful of U.S. presidents pairs a clear, conversational tone with vibrant full-page photographs. Focusing almost exclusively on each president’s youth and life before their term, the authors are able to paint their subjects in a relatable and sympathetic light. Andrew Jackson’s propensity for skipping class and playing practical jokes is highlighted in the main text, while his ownership of enslaved people is briefly mentioned in a sidebar. The text in Donald Trump is occasionally vague and euphemistic: he won the 2016 election by “stirring national pride.” Nevertheless, students will learn how each man’s skill set, family background, and private obstacles shaped him as a person. Each book ends with its subject’s election to the presidency. VERDICT An interesting premise but flawed in execution. Select as needed.

Middle to High School

Aswell, Sarah. Kendrick Lamar: Rap Titan. ISBN 9781532113291.

Bailey, Diane. Chance the Rapper: Independent Innovator. ISBN 9781532113253.

Burling, Alexis. Drake: Hip-Hop Superstar. ISBN 9781532113277.

Higgins, Melissa. Future: Rap Rising Star. ISBN 9781532113284.

Klepeis, Alicia Z. J. Cole: Chart-Topping Rapper. ISBN 9781532113260.

––––. Kanye West: Music Industry Influencer. ISBN 9781532113307.

ea vol: 112p. (Hip-Hop Artists). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Dec. 2017. lib. ed. $37.07.

Gr 7 Up –Up-to-date, detailed accounts of hip-hop music’s most famous artists offer insight into their lives and music before and after they rose to superstardom. The books are lengthy and sometimes provide so many career details that none of their subjects’ accomplishments stand out as significant. However, true fans will savor the minutiae along with the time lines, sidebars, and photos. The text also manages to provide facts without moralizing. (The only mention of parental objection comes from Kanye West’s parents, who were “not always thrilled with rap and hip hop music” because some lyrics “were insulting to women and African Americans.”) The authors dedicate much of their attention to the charitable contributions made by these industry titans. VERDICT Informative and balanced coverage of popular figures for middle and high school students.

Borgert-Spaniol, Megan. Grace Hopper: Advancing Computer Science. ISBN 9781532112805.

––––. Hedy Lamarr: Reimagining Radio. ISBN 9781532112829.

––––. Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Discovering Pulsars. ISBN 9781532112782.

––––. Katherine Johnson: Guiding Spacecraft. ISBN 9781532112812.

––––. Rosalind Franklin: Unlocking DNA. ISBN 9781532112799.

Doudna, Kelly. Ada Lovelace: Pioneering Computer Programming. ISBN 9781532112836.

ea vol: 32p. (STEM Superstar Women). chron. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. Dec. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 4-8 –While the topic is an evergreen favorite, outdated visuals limit this set’s appeal. Black-and-white photos superimposed on colored backgrounds are reminiscent of decades-old volumes already in circulation. However, the content covered is fascinating and could spark fiery discussion on sexism and inequality. All of the featured scientists had to overcome gender biases, and for many women, that also included breaking color and age barriers. Readers will be surprised to learn that computing in the early 1880s, the invention of a remote control submarine torpedo during World War II, and the 1969 Apollo 11 space mission were successful because of the contributions of women. In addition, the nonfiction text features will also aid in classroom/research report use. VERDICT Despite excellent content, these volumes will not catch the eye of even the most eager readers.

Regan, Michael. Vladimir Putin. ISBN 9781635175516.

Roberts, Russell. Kim Jong Un. ISBN 9781635175479.

Rowell, Rebecca. Emmanuel Macron. ISBN 9781635175486.

––––. Xi Jinping. ISBN 9781635175547.

Stewart, J.J. Justin Trudeau. ISBN 9781635175523.

Willett, Edward. Angela Merkel. ISBN 9781635175509.

ea vol: 48p. (World Leaders). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Focus Readers. Jan. 2018. lib. ed. $31.35.

Gr 6 Up –Designed for students seeking substantial information in an understandable format, this series focuses on prominent world leaders and gives a complete but condensed overview of their respective countries’ recent politics and history. Each volume highlights key events that led to the titular figure’s rise to leadership and the most current newsworthy information involving them. Captioned color photographs and maps appear on each spread. Readers will gain a sense of these dignitaries’ lives before they entered the public eye through a few surprising anecdotes. However, the bulk of the content is dedicated to describing the complexities of various governments and global relationships. Unfortunately, the included critical thinking questions in each volume fail to dig deeply enough into many of the issues raised. VERDICT Recommended high-interest reading for light research and budding ­political scientists.

The most inspiring selection this spring includes Focus Readers’s “World Leaders” for its up-to-the minute coverage of current political figures and explanation of how various countries connect on the world stage. On the heels of the entertainment industry’s awards season, ABDO’s “Hip-Hop Artists” provides a level of detail that will appease fans and inform the masses. Though flawed, Gareth Stevens’s “Before They Were President” will entice even the most reluctant of biography readers to give ­history books a chance.

Jane Miller, Nashville Public Library

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