Brilliant Minds, Brilliant Lives: Biography Series Nonfiction

Popular contemporary figures and classic report topics represent the latest in biographical series. Some books are introductions for youngsters while others contain report information for older readers; a few provide interesting reads.

Popular contemporary figures and classic report topics represent the latest in biographical series. Hip-hop stars, the royal family, and prominent living women such as Katherine Johnson and Megan Smith are featured, as are many people who survived fantastic and dangerous encounters with nature, animals, and war. Classic report figures such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, George Washington, Elizabeth Blackwell, Benjamin Franklin, Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Edison, and Frederick Douglass have new renditions. Those in primary grades will get to know American folk heroes and the founding fathers. Some books are introductions for youngsters while others contain report information for older readers; a few provide interesting reads.

 

ELEMENTARY

Adams, Julia. The Queen. ISBN 9781725304031; ISBN 9781725304017.
Howell, Izzy. Harry and Meghan. ISBN 9781725303959; ISBN 9781725303935.
––––. Prince Charles. ISBN 9781725303997; ISBN 9781725303973.
Savery, Annabel. William and Kate. ISBN 9781725304079; ISBN 9781725304055.
ea vol: 32p. (Royal Family). photos. Rosen/PowerKids. Aug. 2019. Tr. $26.95. pap. $10.
Gr 3-6 –Royal fans will enjoy the pictures and up-to-date facts about Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, William and Kate, and Harry and Meghan. Each book provides an overview of the subjects’ duties, life stories, and connections to other royal family members. Readers learn of their childhoods, including the non-royal upbringings of Kate and Meghan. Insets with royal trivia are included. Given the couples’ current popularity, the volumes on William and Kate and Harry and Meghan should attract young royal enthusiasts. The narratives are more commendatory than engaging. However, the pictures and information will entice royal watchers. VERDICT Sufficient, current biographies for libraries that have a demand for books on the British monarchy.

Adil, Janeen R. Johnny Appleseed. ISBN 9781489695581; ISBN 9781489695598.
Becker, Sandra. Pocahontas. ISBN 9781489695628; ISBN 9781489695635.
Cotton, Jacqueline S. Betsy Ross. ISBN 9781489695543; ISBN 9781489695550.
Erlic, Lily. Paul Revere. ISBN 9781489695505; ISBN 9781489695512.
Foran, Jill. Annie Oakley. ISBN 9781489695680; ISBN 9781489695697.
Furstinger, Nancy. Davy Crockett. ISBN 9781489695475; ISBN 9781489695482.
ea vol: 24p. (Folk Heroes). chron. glossary. index. maps. Weigl/AV2 by Weigl. Aug. 2019. Tr. $28.55. pap. $12.95.
Gr 3-6 –These volumes introduce American folk heroes to young readers, who learn what they did and the facts of their lives. The authors ensure that readers know the difference between truth and legend. For instance, the volume on Betsy Ross points out that many historians doubt her grandson’s story that she sewed the first flag. The myth that Pocahontas saved John Smith’s life is gently discounted. All are nicely illustrated; Annie Oakley’s book features photographs. Quizzes at the end help reinforce the text. Narratives provide just enough information to entice the reader to learn more. VERDICT These fine introductory volumes for young readers will be welcome additions to school and public libraries.

Daly, Ruth. John Adams. ISBN 9781510546141.
––––. Thomas Jefferson. ISBN 9781510546172.
Goldsworthy, Steve. Benjamin Franklin. ISBN 9781510546059.
McDowell, Pamela. George Washington. ISBN 9781510546080.
––––. James Madison. ISBN 9781510546110.
ea vol: 24p. (Founding Fathers). photos. Smartbook Media/Lightbox. Aug. 2019. Tr. $40.
K-Gr 2 –These volumes feature age-appropriate introductions to five of the founding fathers. Each explains what the subject is famous for: George Washington was the first president, Benjamin Franklin helped the United States become a country, James Madison is the father of the Constitution. How they are honored today is also included. Paintings of the subjects and photos of their homes and statues are well-reproduced and complement the text nicely. VERDICT Perennial favorite topics are well-presented, and young readers will appreciate these nice overviews.

Diehn, Andi. Computer Decoder: Dorothy Vaughn, Computer Scientist. ISBN 9781619305564; ISBN 9781619307650.
––––. Fossil Huntress: Mary Leakey, Paleontologist. ISBN 9781619307704; ISBN 9781619307735.
––––. Human Computer: Mary Jackson, Engineer. ISBN 9781619307742; ISBN 9781619307773.
––––. Space Adventurer: Bonnie Dunbar, Astronaut. ISBN 9781619307667; ISBN 9781619307698.
ea vol: illus. by Katie Mazeika. 32p. (Picture Book Biography). chron. glossary. illus. photos. Nomad. Sept. 2019. Tr. $16.95. pap. $9.95.
Gr 1-3 –Four introductory volumes to the lives of prominent women of math and science. The reader learns about how they entered their fields, their work, and the challenges they faced. The biographies of Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson also reveal their struggles with segregation at NASA. The text is straightforward and focuses strictly on their careers. Time lines in the back fill in gaps for the reader whose curiosity is piqued. Colorful illustrations nicely complement the narrative. VERDICT Interesting takes on important women should appeal to both browsers and report writers.

Duncan, Terri Kaye. Cardi B: Rapper and Online Star. ISBN 9781978509559; ISBN 9781978509979.
Gottfried, Barbara. Drake: Rapper and Actor. ISBN 9781978509573; ISBN 9781978510098.
Head, Tom & Deirdre Head. Chance the Rapper: Musician and Activist. ISBN 9781978509566; ISBN 9781978510036.
––––. Kanye West: Rap Superstar and Fashion Designer. ISBN 9781978509627; ISBN 9781978510227.
Idzikowski, Lisa. Nicki Minaj: Musician and Fashion Superstar. ISBN 9781978509610; ISBN 9781978510401.
Lucas, Eileen. Jay-Z: Hitmaker and Business Leader. ISBN 9781978509580; ISBN 9781978510166.
Mikoley, Kate. Lil Buck: Dancer and Activist. ISBN 9781978509603; ISBN 9781978510340.
Shea, Therese M. Kendrick Lamar: Storyteller of Compton. ISBN 9781978509597; ISBN 9781978510289.
ea vol: 32p. (Stars of Hip-Hop). chron. glossary. index. notes. photos. websites. Enslow. Aug. 2019. Tr. $25.27. pap. $10.53.
Gr 3-6 –These volumes contain simple, straightforward information on today’s popular hip-hop artists. Each title recounts the basic facts of the subject’s life and their rise to stardom. Generally positive in nature, the books do not shy away from the more negative aspects of their lives: Jay-Z sold drugs and Kanye West was a poor student. The narratives are not that exciting, but the pictures are nicely reproduced, and the information is good. VERDICT Young fans hungry for information about their favorite hip-hop artists will appreciate the information and photos, making these good selections for libraries where there is a demand.

Eboch, M.M. Annie Easley. ISBN 9781731614315; ISBN 9781731612267.
––––. Katherine Johnson. ISBN 9781731614278; ISBN 9781731612229.
Fields, Jan. Grace Hopper. ISBN 9781731614308; ISBN 9781731612250.
Koontz, Robin. Megan Smith. ISBN 9781731614292; ISBN 9781731612243.
Kule, Elaine A. Elizabeth Blackwell. ISBN 9781731614322; ISBN 9781731612274.
Pincus, Meeg. Mae C. Jemison. ISBN 9781731614285; ISBN 9781731612236.
ea vol: illus. by Elena Bia. 24p. (Women in Science and Technology). glossary. illus. index. Rourke/Discovery Library. Aug. 2019. Tr. $29.93. pap. $8.95.
Gr 1-4 –These titles introduce young readers to important women in the fields of technology and science. Each contains an overview of the early life and how her math and science interests influenced the subject’s future career. All had to overcome sexim and in some cases, such as Katherine Johnson’s, the added burden of racism, as they made their way through college and careers in traditionally male fields. The scope is limited, but pertinent points are presented, and the text and illustrations appropriately introduce young readers to these influential women. VERDICT These well-done introductions to important female scientists should appeal to young readers.

Sarantou, Katlin. Ayah Bdeir. ISBN 9781534146983; ISBN 9781534149847.
––––. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. ISBN 9781534146976; ISBN 9781534149830.
––––. George H.W. Bush. ISBN 9781534147065; ISBN 9781534149922.
––––. Gwen Frostic. ISBN 9781534147010; ISBN 9781534149878.
––––. James Bowie. ISBN 9781534147058; ISBN 9781534149915.
––––. Madeleine Albright. ISBN 9781534147003; ISBN 9781534149861.
––––. Reshma Saujani. ISBN 9781534146990; ISBN 9781534149854.
––––. Stephen Hawking. ISBN 9781534147034; ISBN 9781534149892.
––––. Stevie Wonder. ISBN 9781534147027; ISBN 9781534149885.
––––. Tammy Duckworth. ISBN 9781534147041; ISBN 9781534149908.
ea vol: illus. by Jeff Bane. 24p. (My Early Library: My Itty-Bitty Bio). chron. illus. index. Cherry Lake. Aug. 2019. Tr. $28.50. pap. $12.79.
K-Gr 2 –Written in first-person, these narratives provide very basic information about their respective subjects. Each tells where and when they were born, where they went to school, and their accomplishments. Madeleine Albright was an ambassador, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an author, and Tammy Duckworth is a veteran and senator. Adequate photographs complement the text. While the volumes are geared toward young children, the subjects are not. It is doubtful most children would have even heard of Adichie, Ayah Bdeir, Gwen Frostic, or Reshma Saujani. These, and the other topics, may be a little too mature for youngsters. The information is extremely scant; there is no mention of Adichie’s titles or Stevie Wonder’s songs. Despite the cartoonish drawings on the covers, these titles are unlikely to attract browsers. Older students will find more information elsewhere when composing reports. VERDICT Little information and lack of relevance in young readers’ lives make these titles of little value.

 

MIDDLE TO HIGH SCHOOL

Bodden, Valerie. Martin Luther King Jr. ISBN 9781640261655; ISBN 9781628327281.
––––. Nelson Mandela. ISBN 9781640261679; ISBN 9781628327304.
Gish, Melissa. Dalai Lama. ISBN 9781640261624; ISBN 9781628327250.
––––. Gautama Buddha. ISBN 9781640261631; ISBN 9781628327267.
Murray, Laura K. Mahatma Gandhi. ISBN 9781640261648; ISBN 9781628327274.
––––. Mother Teresa. ISBN 9781640261662; ISBN 9781628327298.
ea vol: 80p. (Odysseys in Peace). chron. glossary. index. photos. websites. Creative Education. Aug. 2019. Tr. $44.20. pap. $14.99.
Gr 9 Up –Famous advocates of peace and nonviolence are presented in these titles. Preliminary information on their early lives is provided, but the primary focus is on their attempts to make things better for others. Nelson Mandela fought to end apartheid and the Dalai Lama attempted to compromise with China over Tibet. Views of critics are also included—for instance, Christopher Hitchens’s negative opinion of Mother Teresa. The narratives are moderately engaging, depending on the reader’s interest, and they are fairly comprehensive. VERDICT While not overly exciting reads, these volumes are educational and will be very useful for reports. Titles should be selected as needed.

Boehme, Gerry. Henry Ford: Assembly Line and Automobile Pioneer. ISBN 9781502645340; ISBN 9781502645333.
Duling, Kaitlyn. Benjamin Franklin: Inventor and Founding Father. ISBN 9781502645371; ISBN 9781502645364.
Graham, P.J. Madam C.J. Walker: Entrepreneur and Self-Made Millionaire. ISBN 9781502645432; ISBN 9781502645425.
Schumacher, Cassandra. Cornelius Vanderbilt: Railroad Tycoon. ISBN 9781502645401; ISBN 9781502645395.
Scirri, Kaitlin. Andrew Carnegie: Industrialist and Philanthropist. ISBN 9781502648907; ISBN 9781502648891.
––––. Thomas Edison: Inventor and Innovator. ISBN 9781502645319; ISBN 9781502645302.
ea vol: 128p. (Great American Entrepreneurs). bibliog. chron. glossary. index. photos. Cavendish Square. Aug. 2019. Tr. $45.64. pap. $21.16.
Gr 8 Up –In these six volumes, readers are presented with famous inventors and industrialists. Each title includes an introduction to the subject, an overview of the time they lived in, a chapter on rivals, friends, and influencers, and legacies as well as biographical information and achievements. Andrew Carnegie foresaw a future with steel and became a wealthy but philanthropic magnate, Henry Ford revolutionized the assembly line, Cornelius Vanderbilt enriched himself through railroads, Madame C.J. Walker sold hair care and cosmetics specifically for black women. Unfortunately, the narratives read like recitations of facts and opinions. Given the format, much information overlaps. For example, the death of Benjamin Franklin’s four-year-old son is referenced four times. Though critics of the entrepreneurs are featured, the books tend to be adulatory. VERDICT Uninspiring narratives mean few readers will move past the first chapters, and report writers will find better information elsewhere.

Braun, Eric. Fighting to Survive Being in the Wilderness: Terrifying True Stories. ISBN 9780756561871; ISBN 9780756562342.
Dickmann, Nancy. Fighting to Survive Animal Attacks: Terrifying True Stories. ISBN 9780756561840; ISBN 9780756562311.
––––. Fighting to Survive World War II: Terrifying True Stories. ISBN 9780756561888; ISBN 9780756562359.
McCollum, Sean. Fighting to Survive Airplane Crashes: Terrifying True Stories. ISBN 9780756561833; ISBN 9780756562304.
Raum, Elizabeth. Fighting to Survive Being Lost at Sea: Terrifying True Stories. ISBN 9780756561857; ISBN 9780756562328.
––––. Fighting to Survive Space Disasters: Terrifying True Stories. ISBN 9780756561864; ISBN 9780756562335.
ea vol: 64p. (Fighting to Survive). bibliog. index. maps. photos. Capstone/Compass Point. Aug. 2019. Tr. $35.32. pap. $8.95.
Gr 4-9 –A lone survivor of a plane crash off the African coast clings to life on a piece of wreckage. A man whose arm is pinned by a boulder is forced to make a drastic decision. These are among a few of the fascinating stories in the “Fighting to Survive” series. Each volume contains a brief introduction to the topic before delving into the survival accounts of real people who beat the odds. They defied animals, the environment, shipwrecks, airplane disasters, space accidents, and more. The narratives offer both information and much suspense. Insets provide relevant information, such as a definition of hypothermia, and help to reinforce the tales. Readers attracted by the tempting titles will not be disappointed by the content inside, which also includes accompanying facts. Pictures and photographs are appropriately placed. VERDICT Information and suspenseful narratives make these volumes both interesting and good for reports. Excellent choices for school and public libraries.

Byers, Ann. Clarence Thomas: Conservative Supreme Court Justice. ISBN 9781502645555; ISBN 9781502645548.
Hurt, Avery Elizabeth. Booker T. Washington: Civil Rights Leader and Education Advocate. ISBN 9781502645586; ISBN 9781502645579.
––––. Frederick Douglass: Abolitionist and Writer. ISBN 9781502645463; ISBN 9781502645456.
––––. Jackie Robinson: Barrier-Breaking Baseball Legend. ISBN 9781502645524; ISBN 9781502645517.
Jones, Naomi E. Ida B. Wells-Barnett: Suffragette and Social Activist. ISBN 9781502645616; ISBN 9781502645609.
Morretta, Alison. John Lewis: Civil Rights Champion and Congressman. ISBN 9781502645494; ISBN 9781502645487.
ea vol: 128p. (African American Trailblazers). chron. glossary. index. photos. Cavendish Square. Aug. 2019. Tr. $45.64. pap. $21.16.
Gr 8 Up –The lives of prominent African American activists are explored in depth. Their lives are presented along with their struggles for equal rights. Each volume features historical background in order to provide context for the subject’s achievements. The volume on Clarence Thomas is especially enlightening given his reputation for silence when hearing cases. Generally positive in nature, the books do not refrain from pointing out unfavorable characteristics or criticisms by others. For example, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was considered overly blunt, and Booker T. Washington was seen as too accommodating to white prejudices. All of the volumes discuss the United States Constitution, especially the Civil War Amendments, which aids the reader in better understanding motivations. The writing is quite good; report writers may find themselves engrossed in the narratives. Photographs complement the texts. VERDICT Readers who select these books for reports may find them interesting, and history buffs may find them quite enjoyable.


Young readers will appreciate the biographies of hip-hop stars and the younger British royals. They will also glean good information in “Folk Heroes” (Weigl/AV2 by Weigl), “Founding Fathers” (Smartbook Media/Lightbox), and “Picture Book Biography” (Nomad). Valuable report information for older readers will be found in “African American Trailblazers” (Cavendish Square) and “Odysseys in Peace” (Creative Education). Finally, “Fighting to Survive” (Capstone/Compass Point) will greatly interest middle schoolers who will find the information presented in an exciting and suspenseful format.

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