Classic and Trending: Biography | Series Nonfiction

A bevy of inspirational figures populate this spring’s offerings, from Simone Biles to Alexander Hamilton.

1704SMS-Biography-CVsThe subjects of this season’s biographies run the gamut from musicians and athletes to scientists and artists. In addition, it appears that the 2016 Olympics and the Broadway musical Hamilton are still trending. Books relating the stories of still-living figures are likely to become outdated sooner, indeed some already are; however, they will be welcomed by admiring fans nonetheless. With introductory works for little ones and more sophisticated profiles for older students, there is material here for all readers—and some are even top picks.


Braun, Eric. Lindsey Vonn. ISBN 9781 512425802.

––––. Stephen Curry. ISBN 9781512425833.

––––. Tom Brady. ISBN 9781512425796.

Doeden, Matt. Cristiano Ronaldo. ISBN 9781512425826.

––––. Luke Kuechly. ISBN 9781512425840.

––––. Russell Westbrook. ISBN 9781 512425819.

Fishman, Jon M. Michael Phelps. ISBN 9781512453966.

––––. Simone Biles. ISBN 9781512448979.

ea vol: 32p. (Sports All-Stars). charts. diags. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Lerner. Apr. 2017. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 2-5 –Contemporary athletes representing the sports of soccer, skiing, football, swimming, basketball, and gymnastics are featured in this attractive series. In addition to career highlights, the texts also include information on the athletes’ personal lives such as their hobbies and charitable interests. Upbeat and positive, if not overly inspiring, these volumes are more comprehensive than the usual fare for this age group. However, the texts, in some places, are already outdated; for example, Simone Biles references a planned 2016 tour for the U.S. Gymnastics team. VERDICT Solid additions to sports biography collections.

Campbell, Dave. Stephen Curry. ISBN 9781 680785432.

Gitlin, Marty. LeBron James. ISBN 9781 680785470.

Glave, Tom. Anthony Davis. ISBN 9781 680785449.

Hall, Brian. Russell Westbrook. ISBN 9781 680785487.

Trusdell, Brian. James Harden. ISBN 9781 680785456.

Tustison, Matt. Kyrie Irving. ISBN 9781680785463.

ea vol: 32p. (Basketball’s Greatest Stars). chron. ebook available. glossary. photos. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 3-6 –Young basketball fans will find much to appreciate here. Pages feature appealing shots of the players in action accompanied by a paragraph or two of text and a “Fast Fact” sidebar. The focus is on each figure’s accomplishments, from their amateur days to their standings on NBA teams. For instance, LeBron James opens with a quick recount of Game Seven of the 2016 NBA finals before segueing into a brief sketch of James’s childhood and rise to fame, with the majority of the work detailing his time in the professional sphere. Though the texts are hardly stimulating and occasionally offer generalizations (Harden grew up in “crime-ridden Compton”), they accurately reflect the trajectory of each athlete’s career. VERDICT For the most ardent of basketball fans.

Cooke, Tim. Amelia Earhart. ISBN 9781 482459463.

––––. Florence Nightingale. ISBN 9781 482459500.

––––. Martin Luther King Jr. ISBN 9781 482459548.

––––. Mozart. ISBN 9781482459586.

––––. Sacagawea. ISBN 9781482459623.

––––. William Shakespeare. ISBN 9781482459661.

ea vol: illus. by Supriya Sahai. 48p. (Meet the Greats). chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $31.95.

Gr 3-5 –Biographical fodder on report favorites. The information is clear and well presented. Quick anecdotes, such as Earhart’s stint truck-driving to raise money for her first plane, enhance the narrative. The amount of detail is sufficient for readers to grasp key characteristics of those featured. Each volume also provides a history of the respective professions, which reinforces the importance of each innovator. Unfortunately, Sahai’s child-friendly cartoon illustrations are a tad incongruent with the slightly advanced skill level of the text. VERDICT An adequate selection for assignments, but students are unlikely to self-select.

Flores, Chris. Pharrell Williams: Singer and Songwriter. ISBN 9780766081949.

Isbell, Hannah. Misty Copeland: Ballerina. ISBN 9780766081796.

Nelson, Kristen Rajczak. China Anne McClain: Actress, Singer, and Songwriter. ISBN 9780766081864.

––––. Serena Williams: Tennis Star. ISBN 9780766081826.

Shea, Therese. Sharon Draper: Author. ISBN 9780766081901.

––––. Stephen Curry: Basketball’s MVP. ISBN 9780766081758.

ea vol: 24p. (Junior Biographies). chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Enslow. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $22.60.

Gr 3-5 –Famous African Americans representing the arts, literature, and sports. Each volume begins with a list of words to know and then segues into a chronological exploration of the subject’s life. While personal lives are covered, the focus is primarily on careers. Bright, colorful photos accompany the texts along with “Fun Fact” and “...Says” sidebars. However, the quotes featured in “...Says” are not sourced. The narrative is lively and the volume on Misty Copeland is especially inspiring, though generalizations do occur: there was “some racism in ballet’s history.” VERDICT The popularity of the subjects along with the eye-catching layouts makes this series a top contender for pleasure reading and report writing.

Gitlin, Marty. Bryce Harper. ISBN 9781 635170412; ISBN 9781635170979.

––––. Cam Newton. ISBN 9781635170443; ISBN 9781635171006.

––––. Jordan Spieth. ISBN 9781635170450; ISBN 9781635171013.

––––. Kevin Durant. ISBN 9781635170405; ISBN 9781635170962.

––––. Kris Bryant. ISBN 9781635170399; ISBN 9781635170955.

––––. Odell Beckham Jr. ISBN 9781635170382; ISBN 9781635170948.

––––. Patrick Kane. ISBN 9781635170429; ISBN 9781635170986.

––––. Von Miller. ISBN 9781635170436; ISBN 9781635170993.

ea vol: 32p. (Biggest Names in Sports). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. North Star. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $28.50. pap. $9.95.

Gr 2-5 –Sports fans will rejoice at these short but informative biographies. By featuring players such as Kris Bryant and Cam Newton, who have only come into prominence over the last couple of years, this series is truly welcome. Each volume opens with a dramatic reenactment of a key on-field moment, followed by a chronological overview of the athletes’ careers. Emphasis is placed on their achievements and charitable qualities or giving (e.g., Cam Newton’s generosity toward young fans), though not much is provided about their personal lives. Readers will appreciate the clean layouts and lively images, a few of which are childhood photos. VERDICT Sure to be a hit with elementary schoolers.

Kelley, K.C. Alexander Hamilton: American Hero. ISBN 9780531222904; ISBN 9780531227718.

Mattern, Joanne. Ludwig van Beethoven: A Revolutionary Composer. ISBN 9780531222898; ISBN 9780531227701.

––––. Muhammad Ali: The Greatest. ISBN 9780531221174; ISBN 9780531224472.

Morreale, Marie. Taylor Swift: Born to Sing. ISBN 9780531222928; ISBN 9780531227732.

Shepherd, Jodie. Maurice Sendak: King of the Wild Things. ISBN 9780531222911; ISBN 9780531227725.

ea vol: 32p. (Rookie Biographies). photos. Children’s Pr. Feb. 2017. lib. ed. $23. pap. $5.95.

PreS-Gr 3 –In simple, straightforward language, the authors present basic facts on an eclectic mix of famous people. Readers learn the details of each figure’s childhoods, their relationships with their respective occupations including their accomplishments, and the circumstances of their deaths (when appropriate). “Fun Facts” are featured in small inserts and are mostly made up of tidbits; for instance, Swift’s two-time Grammy win. Titles on Hamilton, Beethoven, Sendak, and Ali will attract report writers, whereas Swift will attract fans. While not extraordinary, the series is well-done and the narratives are age-appropriate. VERDICT Youngsters will gravitate toward the prominent names—and report writers will find useful material here.

Labrecque, Ellen. Ada Lovelace and Computer Algorithms. ISBN 9781634721776; ISBN 9781634723091.

––––. Gertrude B. Elion and Pharmacology. ­ ISBN 9781634721820; ISBN 9781634723145.

––––. Maria Beasley and Life Rafts. ISBN 9781634721790; ISBN 9781634723114.

––––. Mary Anderson and Windshield ­Wipers. ISBN 9781634721783; ISBN 9781634723107.

––––. Patricia Bath and Laser Surgery. ISBN 9781634721806; ISBN 9781634723121.

––––. Sarah Mather and Underwater Telescopes. ISBN 9781634721813; ISBN 9781634723138.

––––. Stephanie Kwolek and Bulletproof Material. ISBN 9781634721837; ISBN 9781634723152.

––––. Yvonne Brill and Satellite Propulsion. ISBN 9781634721844; ISBN 9781634723169.

ea vol: 24p. (Women Innovators). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Cherry Lake. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07. pap. $8.95.

K-Gr 3 –Labrecque provides slim biographies on familiar (Lovelace; Anderson) and less familiar (Mather; Brill) women inventors. Following a brief introduction to the topic science field, basic facts of the subject’s life and work are presented. Readers learn that Elion “made medicines that cured some types of cancer,” and Bath was “the first African American female doctor granted a patent for a medical invention.” The narratives conclude with information on the legacy of the invention and its contemporary relevance. At the end of each volume readers are invited to “think,” “create,” and “ask” so as to better understand the material. The narrative sufficiently relates facts while employing language appropriate to the intended audience. Photographs of the subjects and pictures of their inventions complement the texts, and while the narratives don’t delve deeply into the subjects’ lives, readers will find enough information to pique interest. VERDICT Better than average, this series is suitable for those looking to bolster STEM-related collections.

Lajiness, Katie. Ibtihaj Muhammad. ISBN 9781680785548.

––––. Katie Ledecky. ISBN 9781680785531.

––––. Laurie Hernandez. ISBN 9781680785524.

––––. Michael Phelps. ISBN 9781680785555.

––––. Simone Biles. ISBN 9781680785500.

––––. Usain Bolt. ISBN 9781680785517.

ea vol: 32p. (Big Buddy Olympic Biographies). ebook available. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 1-3 –Standard fare for young readers: unadorned text paired with colorful photographs. The emphasis is on the athletes’ careers with little about their personal lives outside of basic information regarding birth and family. Life achievements are presented chronologically and “Did You Know?” inserts offer notable tidbits. The narratives are simple, if somewhat mundane. The colorful photographs are pleasing but not outstanding—and many of them are similar to those featured elsewhere. One notable aspect is the inclusion of fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad in the lineup. Librarians will be hard-pressed to find materials on Muhammad for this audience and should consider this title. Pronunciation is provided for more difficult words. VERDICT Excepting Muhammad, the other Olympians are better covered in other titles.

Leavitt, Amie Jane. Cézanne. ISBN 9781 624693212.

––––. Rembrandt. ISBN 9781624693236.

––––. Renoir. ISBN 9781624693250.

Orr, Nicole K. Gainsborough. ISBN 9781 624693298.

––––. Vermeer. ISBN 9781624693274.

ea vol: 32p. (Brush with Greatness). chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. reprods. websites. Purple Toad. Mar. 2017. lib. ed. $26.50.

K-Gr 4 –Artist biographies are always in demand, and these should pair nicely with art-related curricula. Each volume features a fictional child who engages the topic artist as a student, friend, or local vendor. The imaginary conversations between the character and the particular artist are employed to impart biographical information about the subject. As a device to relay facts, this method falls a little flat. However, the reproductions of the masterworks steal the show and are the heart of the series. Small insets provide information about various paintings and the artists. For instance, “Cézanne used real people as models” (Cézanne) and “The city of Delft was a maze” (Vermeer). VERDICT Though the fictional dialogue is uninspiring, the series would make for a useful addition to introductory art units.

Scheff, Matt. Aly Raisman. ISBN 9781680785623.

––––. Katie Ledecky. ISBN 9781680785593.

––––. Michael Phelps. ISBN 9781680785616.

––––. Simone Biles. ISBN 9781680785579.

––––. Simone Manuel. ISBN 9781680785609.

––––. Usain Bolt. ISBN 9781680785586.

ea vol: 32p. (Olympic Stars). chron. ebook available. glossary. index. photos. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 2-5 –Modern Olympians are brought to life in these visually attractive biographies. An introduction provides a suspenseful account of an important moment in the subject’s life—readers learn the details of Simone Biles’s attainment of her all-around gold in gymnastics or how Katie Ledecky broke her world record in the 800-meter freestyle. The rest of the text relates each individual’s climb to Olympic status, with an overview of athletic accomplishments (but little on personal lives). For the most part, the text is secondary to the images; the photos generate most of the appeal. While current, they will soon be dated due to the relative youth of the figures featured. However, for most that will not matter. VERDICT Fine additions where sports and the Olympics are in demand.

Strand, Jennifer. Beyoncé. ISBN 9781 680799170.

––––. Bruno Mars. ISBN 9781680799187.

––––. Justin Timberlake. ISBN 9781 680799217.

––––. Katy Perry. ISBN 9781680799194.

––––. Pharrell Williams. ISBN 9781 680799224.

––––. Taylor Swift. ISBN 9781680799200.

ea vol: 24p. (Stars of Music). chron. ebook available. glossary. index. photos. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

PreS-Gr 2 –Slight profiles of contemporary music superstars. The books emphasize the subjects’ careers with little information on their personal lives. Young readers may find some unfamiliar facts; for instance, Beyoncé was a part of a group called Destiny’s Child and Justin Timberlake “won an award for his work on a funny TV show.” Quick stats and key dates are included at the end. There is little substance to be found in this series and the books wouldn’t be of much use for reports. However, the photographs alone will appeal to fans. VERDICT Though the information is scant, the pictures will attract browsers; a supplemental purchase.

Middle to High School

Davies, Monika. The Schuyler Sisters. ISBN 9781425863524.

Dugan, Christine. Marquis de Lafayette and the French. ISBN 9781425863531.

Kraus, Stephanie. George Washington and His Right-Hand Man. ISBN 9781425863562.

McGrath, Brian S. Aaron Burr. ISBN 9781425863555.

Rice, Dona Herweck. Alexander Hamilton’s New York City. ISBN 9781425863517.

Slepian, Curtis. Hamilton vs. Jefferson. ISBN 9781425863548.

ea vol: 32p. (Alexander Hamilton). ebook available. maps. photos. reprods. Teacher Created. Jan. 2017. pap. $8.99.

Gr 4-8 –Alexander Hamilton has seen a sharp rise in popularity among students due the eponymous Broadway musical. These volumes are dedicated to exploring the people with whom Hamilton had his most prominent relationships, as well as the home city he loved. Factual and replete with colorful illustrations and maps, the books provide informative accounts of the subjects and their relationship to Hamilton. Sidebars with additional information provide further insight. While the writing focuses more on substance than style, these informative and timely tomes will interest readers who can’t get enough Hamilton. VERDICT Sure to be popular with early U.S. history enthusiasts and report writers alike.

Ethridge, Maggie. Marie Curie: Radioactivity Pioneer and the First Woman to Win a Nobel Prize. ISBN 9781502623096.

McCombs, Kevin. Caroline Herschel: Astronomer and Cataloger of the Sky. ISBN 9781502623171.

Mitchell, Megan. Jane Goodall: Primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace. ISBN 9781502623157.

Rock, Meghan. Rachel Carson: Marine Biologist and Winner of the National Book Award. ISBN 9781502623195.

Small, Cathleen. Barbara McClintock: Cytogeneticist and Discoverer of Mobile Genetic Elements. ISBN 9781502623119.

Thiel, Kristin. Dorothy Hodgkin: Biochemist and Developer of Protein Crystallography. ISBN 9781502623133.

ea vol: 128p. (Women in Science). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Cavendish Square. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $45.64.

Gr 9 Up –A lineup of well-known women scientists for high schoolers. Biographical information is only a slice of the text; the history of their individual fields, including other prominent scientists, are thoroughly discussed. While the information presented is comprehensive, the text is often poorly organized, as facts are frequently repeated (Pierre Curie’s death is referenced several times in Marie Curie) and early events are often featured after later-in-life occurrences. Some descriptions are tedious for all but the most avid admirer of these individuals and their respective fields. The not-so-subtle theme about the obstacles these women faced compared to their male counterparts, though relevant, tends to be distracting, as it breaks up narrative flow (the phrase “because she was a women” appears across volumes). VERDICT Suitable for reports but not likely to attract much readership otherwise.

Kortemeier, Todd. Unsung Heroes of Science. ISBN 9781632353092; ISBN 9781632353597.

––––. Unsung Heroes of Social Justice. ISBN 9781632353108; ISBN 9781632353603.

––––. Unsung Heroes of Technology. ISBN 9781632353115; ISBN 9781632353610.

––––. Unsung Heroes of US History. ISBN 9781632353122; ISBN 9781632353627.

ea vol: 32p. (Unsung Heroes). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Amicus. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $31.35. pap. $9.95.

Gr 4-7 –What do Chien-Shiung Wu, Lupe Anguiano, Jagadish Chandra Bose, and Robert Smalls have in common? They are all lesser-known heroes in their respective fields of science, social justice, technology, and U.S. history. Readers are introduced to these figures and others in brief spreads that tell of their specific accomplishments. The writing is direct and to the point; however, overall, the brevity is a detriment to the series. Only the basics are presented, leaving more questions than answers. VERDICT Though students are introduced to lesser-known significant figures, the dearth of information makes these volumes of limited use.

Younger readers will appreciate biographies on their favorite celebrities and athletes, especially those featured in Enslow’s “Junior Biographies,” North Star’s “Biggest Names in Sports,” ABDO’s “Olympic Stars,” Children’s Press’s “Rookie Biographies,” and Lerner’s “Sports All-Stars.” Art lovers will enjoy Purple Toad’s “Brush with Greatness” for the paintings. U.S. history enthusiasts will clamor over the newer topics presented in Teacher Created’s “Alexander Hamilton,” such as The Schuyler Sisters. Otherwise, select for report needs as necessary.

Margaret Nunes, Gwinnett County Public Library, GA

For the latest nonfiction series reviews, check out the Spring 2017 Series Made Simple

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