Inspiration and Resilience | Biography Series Nonfiction

This season’s biography selections offer windows into worlds old and new, famous and not.

 

Biographies offer an opportunity to explore a new world, walk in someone else’s footsteps, and/or find inspiration to take a closer look at one’s own life. This season’s series selections do just that with windows into worlds old and new, famous and not. Students love to keep up with their favorite stars and athletes, and there are several titles that will allow readers to learn more than what is available through social media. Politics are front of mind for many young people; some of the books highlight new faces that are making waves in all sorts of ways. Historical figures and giants of science are always solid choices, and there are plenty of those included. Updating aging collections has never been easier with such a wide range of books at your disposal.

 

 

EARLY ELEMENTARY

Cipriano, Jeri. Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Fighter for Women’s Rights. ISBN 9781634409872.
––––. Ruby Bridges: A Brave Child Who Made History. ISBN 9781634409636.
––––. Sojourner Truth: Fighting for Freedom. ISBN 9781634409933.
––––. Wilma Rudolph: Fastest Woman on Earth. ISBN 9781634409759.
ea vol: illus. by Scott R. Brooks. 24p. (LOOK! Books: Beginner Biography). Red Chair. Jan. 2020. Tr. $25.32.
K-Gr 2 –Readers are given basic introductions to four familiar women who were involved in civil and equal rights movements. Each title provides brief biographical information and then takes a deeper look at the individual’s work and the impact it had on society. Organized chronologically, the simple narrative structure uses short sentences and limited vocabulary, making these titles accessible to very young readers. The digitally drawn ­artwork appears on every page and adds some visual interest to the story. VERDICT Helpful back matter, solid introductions, and a story-like structure to the writing make this series a solid choice for many elementary libraries.

Sarantou, Katlin. J.J. Watt. ISBN 9781534158788.
––––. Michelle Obama. ISBN 9781534158740.
––––. Misty Copeland. ISBN 9781534158757.
––––. Oprah Winfrey. ISBN 9781534158764.
––––. Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. ISBN 9781534158733.
––––. Serena Williams. ISBN 9781534158795.
––––. Simone Biles. ISBN 9781534158771.
––––. Stephen Curry. ISBN 9781534158801.
ea vol: illus. by Jeff Bane. 32p. (My Itty-Bitty Bio). Cherry Lake. Jan. 2020. Tr. $28.50.
K-Gr 2 –These short, simple biographies are written in the first person and include brief facts about the individual and their work. With only a few sentences on each page, the text is highly accessible to the youngest of readers, though there are, on occasion, challenging words or concepts that may need further explanation. For example, the biography about Michelle Obama begins, "My name is Michelle Obama. I was born in Chicago, Illinois. It was 1964. This was the middle of the civil rights movement." Boldface words and phrases are included in a glossary at the end of the book. The artwork is a combination of candy-colored illustrations and photographs that spotlight the individual. VERDICT Colorful and with an appealing layout, these biographies are fine choices for many libraries.
 

ELEMENTARY

Bankston, John. Brie Larson. ISBN 9781624695148.
––––. Bryce Harper. ISBN 9781624695193.
––––. Megan Rapinoe. ISBN 9781624695254.
––––. Scarlett Johansson. ISBN 9781624695131.
DeMocker, Michael. Keanu Reeves. ISBN 9781624695278.
Wolny, Philip. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. ISBN 9781624695230.
ea vol: 32p. (Beacon Biographies). Purple Toad. Mar. 2020. Tr. $26.50.
Gr 3-6 –These additions to an ongoing series that focuses on individuals from entertainment, politics, and sports are filled with facts that cover both personal and professional details. Organized chronologically, the crisp, efficient writing includes anecdotes about the subject’s inspiration and early starts in their career right up to current information and what is on the horizon. Occasionally the pacing can lag with too much information, but the layout will keep readers engaged with captions, insets, and plenty of full-color photographs. VERDICT Extensive back matter (time lines, source notes, and further reading) helps to make these strong biographies good choices for many libraries.


Crayton, Lisa A. Wangari Maathai: Get to Know the Woman Who Planted Trees to Bring Change. ISBN 9781543591132.
Gonzales, Leticia. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Get to Know the Rising Politician. ISBN 9781543590890.
Greenspan, Judy. Steven Spielberg: Get to Know the Extraordinary Filmmaker. ISBN 9781543591088.
Oxtra, Cristina. Stan Lee: Get to Know the Comics Creator. ISBN 9781543591101.
Wilkins, Ebony Joy. Malcolm X: Get to Know the Civil Rights Activist. ISBN 9781543590913.
Wilson, Lakita. Michelle Obama: Get to Know the Influential First Lady and Education Advocate. ISBN 9781543591064.
ea vol: 32p. (People You Should Know). Capstone. Jan. 2020. Tr. $27.99.
Gr 3-6 –Although short in length (only 32 pages each), these text-heavy biographies are full of information with plenty of details for report writers and casual readers alike. The series title aptly brings some interesting people under one umbrella, including contemporary political figures, entertainment moguls, and historical individuals. Difficult or controversial aspects of the subject’s life are addressed (as in the bios for Malcolm X and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), ensuring that the text is balanced and not purely complimentary. VERDICT The appealing layouts, insets, sidebars with extra details, and color photographs on nearly every page will keep readers interested and engaged.


DeVore, Brianna L. 12 Women in Business. ISBN 9781632357748.
––––. 12 Women in Equality and Social Justice. ISBN 9781632357779.
––––. 12 Women in Media. ISBN 9781632357786.
––––. 12 Women in Science and Technology. ISBN 9781632357823.
––––. 12 Women in the Arts. ISBN 9781632357731.
Ventura, Marne. 12 Women in Education. ISBN 9781632357755.
––––. 12 Women in Entertainment. ISBN 9781632357762.
––––. 12 Women in Medicine. ISBN 9781632357793.
––––. 12 Women in Politics. ISBN 9781632357816.
––––. 12 Women in Sports. ISBN 9781632357847.
––––. 12 Women in the Military. ISBN 9781632357809.
––––. 12 Women in the Space Industry. ISBN 9781632357830.
ea vol: 32p. (Women Who Changed the World). Bookstaves/12 Story Library. Jan. 2020. Tr. $32.80.
Gr 3-5 –With a mix of contemporary and historical figures, these collective biographies offer snapshots of many different women in a wide variety of fields. While the entries are predominantly American, there are women from around the world included in each collection and from diverse backgrounds. Each spread includes photographs, brief narrative bios, and some interesting or related facts. With only 12 entries per book, these are far from comprehensive, but the combination of well-known leaders in their fields with less familiar names provides a good starting point for many. The addition of fields such as the military, education, and business sets these titles apart from other collective biographies about women. ­VERDICT Snippets of information make these good choices for readers looking for a little inspiration.


Dickmann, Nancy. Benjamin Franklin: The Man Behind the Lightning Rod. ISBN 9781977114105.
––––. Lewis Latimer: The Man Behind a Better Light Bulb. ISBN 9781977114112.
Raatma, Lucia. Jerome Lemelson: The Man Behind Industrial Robots. ISBN 9781977114129.
––––. Lonnie Johnson: NASA Scientist and Inventor of the Super Soaker. ISBN 9781977114136.
ea vol: 32p. (Little Inventor). Capstone/Pebble. Jan. 2020. Tr. $28.65.
Gr 1-3 –Of the four inventors featured in this series, Benjamin Franklin is the only household name. The other three invented familiar or commonly used things (the Super Soaker from Lonnie Johnson being a highlight for children), but their names are less well known. All the books provide some context for the invention, describe how it came into being, share a brief biography of the individual, and explain the impact of his creation. The straightforward writing uses short, concise sentences and is organized in a primarily chronological format. Large photographs are included on all spreads with brief, informative captions. Back matter includes a glossary, further reading, and critical thinking questions. VERDICT These will be a strong addition to biography collections for the youngest readers.


Klein, J.M. Sylvia Mendez: Education Equality Activist. ISBN 9781502649744.
Mattern, Joanne. Cesar Chavez: Labor Rights Activist. ISBN 9781502649546.
Scirri, Kaitlin. Misty Copeland: Ballet Dancer. ISBN 9781502649621.
––––. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Supreme Court Justice. ISBN 9781502649669.
Small, Cathleen. Claudette Colvin: Civil Rights Activist. ISBN 9781502649584.
Sullivan, Laura L. Yo-Yo Ma: Cellist. ISBN 9781502649706.
ea vol: 32p. (Barrier-Breaker Bios). Rosen/Cavendish Square. Jan. 2020. Tr. $28.50.
Gr 1-4 –A mix of familiar and less familiar names rounds out this series profiling individuals who are chosen for being leaders in their fields and breaking ­boundaries along the way. Cesar Chavez, Sylvia Mendez, and even Misty Copeland to some extent, have all been written about over the years. More recently, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Claudette Colvin have become more widely recognized; these titles are welcome additions to the canon. Visually appealing layouts are coupled with engaging text that is broken up into accessible chunks of information covering career highlights and explanations for their inclusion in the "Barrier-Breaker" series. VERDICT These are good choices for elementary collections looking to ­update their offerings of introductory biographies.


Mattern, Joanne. 12 Athletes with Disabilities. ISBN 9781632357526.
Perry, Susan. 12 Adventurers with Disabilities. ISBN 9781632357502.
––––. 12 Artists with Disabilities. ISBN 9781632357519.
––––. 12 Scientists with Disabilities. ISBN 9781632357571.
Ventura, Marne. 12 Business Leaders with Disabilities. ISBN 9781632357533.
––––. 12 Entertainers with Disabilities. ISBN 9781632357540.
––––. 12 Journalists and Media Personalities with Disabilities. ISBN 9781632357557.
––––. 12 Political Leaders with Disabilities. ISBN 9781632357564.
ea vol: 32p. (No Barriers). Bookstaves/12 Story Library. Jan. 2020. Tr. $31.35.
Gr 3-5 –Organized thematically, each book highlights 12 individuals with disabilities who are leaders in their fields. Going beyond athletes and entertainers, this series includes a diverse array of adventurers, scientists, and journalists from around the globe. Many of the spotlighted individuals are contemporary figures and are still working in their fields of choice. The ­disabilities mentioned include both physical and learning disabilities. Each title concludes with a helpful bit of information about living with disabilities, touching topics such as assistive technology, service animals, and accessibility. The books’ layout and design are visually appealing and complement the text nicely.  VERDICT Inclusion and building empathy seem to be at the top of most schools’ agendas, so these will be welcome additions to many libraries.


Waxman, Laura Hamilton. Cool Kid Actors. ISBN 9781541577039.
––––. Cool Kid Businesses. ISBN 9781541577008.
––––. Cool Kid Inventions. ISBN 9781541576995.
––––. Cool Kid Musicians. ISBN 9781541577046.
––––. Cool Kid Online Stars. ISBN 9781541577022.
––––. Cool Kids Changing the World. ISBN 9781541577015.
ea vol: 24p. (Lightning Bolt Books - Kids in Charge!). Lerner. Jan. 2020. Tr. $26.65.
Gr 1-3 –These titles contain all the hallmarks of the familiar Lerner series: bright colors, bold layouts, large fonts, and photographs featuring a diverse cast of children. These books focus on kid entrepreneurs in many fields including entertainment, business, inventing, and high tech. Light on details and heavy on the superlatives, each book begins with an introduction to the field and what it takes for young creatives to break into it, and then highlights a few individuals who have gained prestige. Some descriptions are slightly more in-depth, describing a product or the inspiration behind the work. VERDICT These visually appealing books are for casual browsers who are fine with surface-level information.

 

MIDDLE TO HIGH SCHOOL

Bayarri, Jordi. Albert Einstein and the Theory of Relativity. ISBN 9781541578234; ISBN 9781541586963.
––––. Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution. ISBN 9781541578227; ISBN 9781541586970.
––––. Isaac Newton and the Laws of Motion. ISBN 9781541578241; ISBN 9781541586987.
––––. Marie Curie and Radioactivity. ISBN 9781541578210; ISBN 9781541586994.
ea vol: illus. by author. 40p. (Graphic Science Biographies). Lerner/Graphic Universe. Jan. 2020. Tr. $29.32. pap. $8.99.
Gr 5-8 –Familiar names in science are the focus of these graphic biographies, but what differentiates these from other series is the level of detail that is included about the scientific discoveries and work of the subject. Each title not only provides information about their lives, but then takes a deep dive into concepts such as the theory of relativity or the discovery of radiation. Colorful artwork with varying panel size keeps the narrative moving at a pretty good pace and balances the heavy science information with a story arc. Sophisticated vocabulary and advanced concepts make these a better choice for upper elementary and middle school students. VERDICT The graphic format will make these instantly appealing to a large swath of readers and are worthy additions to most collections.


Cummings, Judy Dodge. A$AP Rocky: Master Collaborator. ISBN 9781532190179.
DeAngelis, Audrey. Cardi B: Groundbreaking Rap Powerhouse. ISBN 9781532190186.
Jaskulka, Marie. Tyler, the Creator: Alternative Hip-Hop Producer. ISBN 9781532190223.
Lusted, Marcia Amidon. Post Malone: Rapper, Singer, and Songwriter. ISBN 9781532190209.
Murray, Laura K. Childish Gambino: Multifaceted Artist. ISBN 9781532190193.
Wheeler, Jill C. Travis Scott: Lo-Fi Hip-Hop Creator. ISBN 9781532190216.
ea vol: 112p. (Hip-Hop Artists Set 2). ABDO/Essential Library. Dec. 2019. Tr. $37.03.
Gr 8 Up –These lengthy biographies of contemporary hip-hop artists are full of color photographs, in-depth analysis of their work in the music industry, and deep dives into their private and public lives. While primarily complimentary, the books also address some of the more controversial aspects of the artists’ careers and personal lives, including topics such as drug use and violence. The writing is accessible and engaging. Young hip-hop fans will find plenty to feed their interests. The ever-changing world of music means that biographies such as these are likely to become dated very quickly. VERDICT Solid choices for libraries with teen patrons looking for more contemporary biographical figures.


Ford, Jeanne Marie. Ilhan Omar. ISBN 9781644930908.
Jopp, Kelsey. Kamala Harris. ISBN 9781644930885.
––––. Tammy Duckworth. ISBN 9781644930878.
Kaiser, Emma. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. ISBN 9781644930892.
ea vol: 48p. (Groundbreaking Women in Politics). North Star Editions/Focus Readers. Jan. 2020. Tr. $31.35.
Gr 5-8 –By highlighting four women whose names are on the rise in national politics, this series offers a window into the subjects’ lives that the headlines ignore. Each title begins with an introduction to the woman highlighted and then backtracks to provide in-depth coverage of their early lives, influences, and experiences that led them to their current positions. The writing is crisp and engaging. Color photographs are included throughout the narrative. Helpful sidebars and questions that inspire critical thinking are interspersed throughout the text. VERDICT These will be welcome additions to most libraries as they offer some currency to the "women in politics" genre of biography.


Any series that highlights people who don’t already fill the biography section is always worth exploring more deeply. Keep an eye out for series that offer up some popular contemporary individuals such as "Hip-Hop Artists Set 2" (ABDO/Essential Library) and "Groundbreaking Women in Politics" (North Star Editions/Focus Readers). Students will be drawn to anything with a graphic format, and the "Graphic Science Biographies" (Lerner/Graphic Universe) are a great way to inform as well as entertain. "Little Inventor" (Capstone/Pebble) has a few new names in this year’s collection; the books are great for younger readers. Finally, "People You Should Know" (Capstone) will give readers plenty to explore.

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