Their Lives Are an Open Book: Biography | Series Nonfiction

Covering everything from trailblazing pilots to exceptional artists to infamous bandits, these titles are sure to inspire students and get them thinking about some of their favorite figures of the past and present.


In this presidential election year, it’s no surprise that several publishers have issued titles about our past chief executives. Other notables take center stage in these sets, too—some literally, as in the case of a few popular performers and a renowned entertainment-empire builder—and personalities from various periods in history, from ancient times to the present, representing myriad fields of endeavor. Women are well represented. Some subjects aren’t admirable at all, though what they lack in role-model worthiness, they make up for in fascinating reading that reveals much about the times and societies in which they lived. Most titles provide excellent classroom support and are also good sources of pleasure reading. Younger and older students are fascinated by their own and others’ lives. These series will open their eyes to the wonders of lives that were (mostly) very well spent.


Alexander, Carol. Bessie Coleman: Trailblazing Pilot. ISBN 9780531225455; ISBN 9780531226346.

Ribke, Simone T. William and Kate: The Prince and Princess. ISBN 9780531225486; ISBN 9780531226377.

Roome, Anne & Joanne Mattern. Cesar Chavez: Champion for Civil Rights. ISBN 9780531225462; ISBN 9780531226353.

Shepherd, Jodie. Malala Yousafzai: Champion for Education. ISBN 9780531225479; ISBN 9780531226360.

ea vol: 32p. (Rookie Biographies). chron. glossary. maps. websites. Children’s Pr. 2016. lib. ed. $23. pap. $5.95.

Gr 1-3 –These brief overviews are an effective introduction to biographies for newcomers. Information is basic and simplified; sentences are terse and comprehensible. Large fonts ease reading, while full-page photos break up text. The end of each title contains a poem about the subject that is largely unsuccessful. The series covers international figures, making this useful for classrooms looking to expand their horizons. The titles about the contemporary figures are current, but the time line in Malala incorrectly lists the year 2015 for her receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, when she received it in 2014. VERDICT Recommended where very easy biographies are needed and requested.

Aronin, Miriam. Dwight D. Eisenhower. ISBN 9781943553310; ISBN 9781943553655.

––––. Woodrow Wilson. ISBN 9781943553303; ISBN 9781943553648.

Blake, Kevin. Harry S. Truman. ISBN 9781943553297; ISBN 9781943553631.

––––. Lyndon B. Johnson. ISBN 9781943553327; ISBN 9781943553662.

ea vol: 24p. (A First Look at America’s Presidents). biblio. chron. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Bearport. 2016. lib. ed. $17.95. ebk. $27.95.

Gr 1-3 –Notable for their respectful, fair-minded tone, this series emphasizes four 20th century presidents’ virtues and how each impacted the United States. Texts provide broad overviews of the presidents’ childhoods, early years, and terms in office—helping students discover these leaders’ very human sides. The books have strong visual appeal: high-quality photos depict subjects’ lives, careers, and concurrent historical events; type is set against colored backgrounds; and sidebars resemble campaign buttons. Standard nonfiction features—table of contents, brief index, glossary with pronunciation guides, bibliography with a link to the publisher’s site—acquaint youngest students with the tools they need to locate information. Also in each volume: a “Facts and Quotes” page highlighted by a statue or bust of the president. VERDICT A well-done introduction to presidents for early graders; highly recommended.

Barton, Jen. What’s Your Story, Amelia Earhart? ISBN 9781467787833.

Goddu, Krystyna Poray. What’s Your Story, Paul Revere? ISBN 9781467787819.

––––. What’s Your Story, Susan B. Anthony? ISBN 9781467787857.

––––. What’s Your Story, Wilma Rudolph? ISBN 9781467787826.

Shaffer, Jody Jensen. What’s Your Story, Sequoyah? ISBN 9781467787864.

––––. What’s Your Story, Frederick Douglass? ISBN 9781467787840.

ea vol: 32p. (Cub Reporter Meets Famous Americans). chron. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. Lerner. 2016. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 2-4 –A whimsical approach to biographies sure to appeal to young readers. While promoting inquiry-inspired learning, the question-and-answer format also invites confusion by juxtaposing a cartoon with a real person’s story that might leave children wondering what’s real. Then there’s the “time-difference factor”: Cub asks questions in the present tense, and “respondents,” all dead, answer thus—and compare their lives to today. Finally, a disclaimer in each title concedes the “interviews” aren’t each subject’s actual spoken words but comprise accurate, researched facts about his/her life. Younger students won’t get the distinction. Other missteps: Earhart’s disappearance is mentioned only in her time line; Douglass includes the question “What did you think about being a slave?”. Still, these overviews give a sense of who these people were and are filled with color and high-quality contemporary photos and other visuals. VERDICT Despite hiccups, a good introduction to biographies, with Sequoyah, Paul Revere, and Wilma Rudolph the best of the series.

Hanson-Harding, Alexandra. Albert Einstein: Ingenious Physicist and Father of Relativity. ISBN 9781680482553; ISBN 9781508100607; ISBN 9781508100201.

Kampff, Joseph. Walt Disney: Legendary Animator and Entertainment Entrepreneur. ISBN 9781680482546; ISBN 9781508100591; ISBN 9781508100195.

Killcoyne, Hope. Anne Frank: Heroic Diarist of the Holocaust. ISBN 9781680482560; ISBN 9781508100614; ISBN 9781 508100218.

Landau, Jennifer. Dr. Seuss: Imaginative Children’s Book Writer and Illustrator. ISBN 9781680482584; ISBN 9781508100638; ISBN 9781508100232.

Mapua, Jeff. Sitting Bull: Lakota Tribal Chief and Leader of Native American Resistance. ISBN 9781680482577; ISBN 9781508100621; ISBN 9781508100225.

Niver, Heather Moore. Malala Yousafzai: Nobel Peace Prize-Winning Champion of Female Education. ISBN 9781680482539; ISBN 9781508100584; ISBN 9781508100188.

ea vol: 32p. (Britannica Beginner Bios). chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Britannica. 2016. lib. ed. $23.45. pap. $12.90. ebk. $23.45.

Gr 3-5 –This is a fine set for confident early to middle grade readers servicing both recreational reading and assignment purposes. Each subject comes alive with simple, clear sentences covering childhood and life accomplishments. The overall design is eye-catching with large fonts, numerous excellent photos, and colorful sidebars. Vocabulary words are bolded and defined on the same spread in a “Vocabulary Box.” Despite the serious content of some of these subjects, the tone remains light and focused on conveying the information in an accessible way. In Anne Frank, the description of an Anne Frank House tour includes an observation on the purpose of asking visitors questions at the end of every tour—“This process allows the heart to rest while the brain takes over,” a valuable concept and tool for children who might have trouble ingesting heavy historical stories. VERDICT Strong additions, particularly Anne Frank, Dr. Seuss, and Walt Disney.

Kampff, Joseph. Beyoncé: Singer, Songwriter, and Actress. ISBN 9780766071704; ISBN 9780766071780; ISBN 9780766071711.

––––. Jay Z: Rapper and Businessman. ISBN 9780766072541; ISBN 9780766072527; ISBN 9780766072558.

––––. Kobe Bryant: All-Star Shooting Guard. ISBN 9780766072589; ISBN 9780766072565; ISBN 9780766072596.

Taylor, Charlotte. Crispus Attucks: A Hero of the American Revolution. ISBN 9780766071872; ISBN 9780766071858; ISBN 9780766071889.

––––. Phillis Wheatley: Colonial African-American Poet. ISBN 9780766073265; ISBN 9780766073241; ISBN 9780766073272.

––––. Sojourner Truth: Abolitionist and Activist. ISBN 9780766073722; ISBN 9780766073708; ISBN 9780766073739.

ea vol: 24p. (Exceptional African Americans). chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Enslow. 2016. lib. ed. $22.60. pap. $9.35. ebk. $22.60.

Gr 2-4 –An unusual assortment of subjects comprises this set, with mixed results. The titles about historical figures fare far better than those covering contemporary personalities. The former, though simply written, have substance. Packed with interesting, clearly presented details, they’re great for report writers. The titles about superstars feel superficial and will appeal mostly to die-hard fans and reluctant readers who appreciate quick reads; facts about the celebrities are simplified, glossed over, or omitted. All titles are attractive, with large fonts, generous colors, striking photos, archival prints, eye-catching typefaces, and captions. Interspersed quotes from the subject or a biographer help readers understand each subject better. The time lines in Kobe, Beyoncé, and Jay Z unfortunately do not continue into the present (stopping around 2014), making these titles more likely to become outdated. VERDICT Recommended for the historical biographies, particularly Phillis Wheatley and Crispus Attucks.

Slater, Lee. Barbie Developer: Ruth Handler. ISBN 9781624039744; ISBN 9781680771329.

––––. Board Game Builder: Milton Bradley. ISBN 9781624039751; ISBN 9781680771336.

––––. Crayola Creators: Edward Binney and C. Harold Smith. ISBN 9781624039768; ISBN 9781680771343.

––––. Lego Manufacturers: The Kristiansen Family. ISBN 9781624039775; ISBN 9781680771350.

––––. Play-Doh Pioneer: Joseph McVicker. ISBN 9781624039782; ISBN 9781680771367.

––––. Slinky Innovators: The James Family. ISBN 9781624039799; ISBN 9781680771374.

ea vol: 32p. (Toy Trailblazers). chron. diag. glossary. index. maps. photos. ABDO. 2016. lib. ed. $18.95. ebk. $31.95.

Gr 4-6 –Students will savor these informative and fast-paced titles on the fascinating, sometimes quirky histories behind the visionary inventors of popular toys. Surprisingly, Crayola and LEGO’s wordy descriptions of product production include only one small stock color photo each, whereas the other titles explain their methods creatively, with plenty of explanatory colored graphics. Brief chapters keep reading pace brisk. “Fun Facts” sidebars offer entertaining, educational bits of trivia and striking covers, colored banners, and numerous high-quality black-and-white and color photos of the products appropriately enliven the playful appearance. VERDICT These slim volumes should prove as popular as their namesakes in public and school libraries. Use in units on business/economics, inventors, and popular culture.

Taylor, Charlotte. Get To Know Edward Hopper. ISBN 9780766072220; ISBN 9780766072206.

––––. Get To Know John Singer Sargent. ISBN 9780766072305; ISBN 9780766072275; .

––––. Get To Know Mary Cassatt. ISBN 9780766072343; ISBN 9780766072329.

––––. Get To Know Norman Rockwell. ISBN 9780766072381; ISBN 9780766072367.

ea vol: 48p. (Famous Artists). chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Enslow. 2016. lib. ed. $27.93. pap. $11.70.

Gr 3-4 –Breezy writing and brief chapters promote brisk reading. While not in-depth studies, readers are introduced to these painting masters personally and stylistically, with enough information for reports. Excellent reproductions are accompanied by informative captions; dates and the museums/collections and cities where they works are located are included. Photos relating to artists’ lives and careers enhance visual and informational strengths. “Art Smarts” sidebars invite readers to examine works closely or explain the artist’s media or techniques. Occasionally, a painting is shown at a distance from where it’s discussed. For example, Edward Hopper mentions a renowned work on page 24 but displays it on page 40; worse, Hopper’s best-known painting, Nighthawks, is noted but omitted entirely. VERDICT Additional; use as supplements.

Middle to High School

Allen, John. Marie Curie. ISBN 9781601529541; ISBN 9781601529558.

Blohm, Craig E. Hillary Clinton. ISBN 9781601529503; ISBN 9781601529510.

Kallen, Stuart A. Malala Yousafzai. ISBN 9781601529527; ISBN 9781601529534.

Nardo, Don. Cleopatra. ISBN 9781 601529480; ISBN 9781601529497.

Parks, Peggy J. Anne Frank. ISBN 9781601529466; ISBN 9781601529473.

ea vol: 80p. (Influential Women). bibliog. index. notes. photos. ReferencePoint. 2016. lib. ed. $28.95. ebk. $39.95.

Gr 8 Up –This fascinating series for confident older readers is a boon for report writers with its fact-filled, even-handed analyses of these history-making women’s lives and accomplishments. Subjects are treated respectfully and fairly; where applicable, failings and scandalous behaviors are noted discreetly. Cleopatra’s complex romantic life and out-of-wedlock childbearing, Curie’s love affair in widowhood, and the Clintons’ marital woes are discussed, but the respective portrayals offer much more—no small feat in Cleopatra’s case, given the dearth of contemporary sources about her. Fortunately, her book draws on modern scholarship while acknowledging ancient writings, casting a more favorable light on the queen’s character, achievements, and legacy. Each title features pale-green sidebars that add information and historical context, in addition to quotes about/from the subjects and contemporaries. Numerous excellent graphics enhance attractiveness. Detailed time lines are included, but not glossaries, which would have helped with the sophisticated vocabularies. VERDICT Highly recommended for middle school collections. Clinton is very timely; overall, Curie works for the non-scientifically inclined.

Brennan, Linda Crotta. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency. ISBN 9781467779289.

Goddu, Krystyna Poray. George Washington’s Presidency. ISBN 9781467779241.

Rowell, Rebecca. John F. Kennedy’s Presidency. ISBN 9781467779272.

Wittekind, Erika. James Madison’s Presidency. ISBN 9781467779296.

ea vol: 104p. (Presidential Powerhouses). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. Lerner. 2016. lib. ed. $35.99.

Gr 8 Up –These fact-filled, well-written examinations of four presidents are perfectly timed for conversations about this year’s most important election. Though the target audience can’t vote, reading the set will prepare them to be informed future electors. Students will learn about innovative chief executives who led the nation through critical periods—and whose influence, personalities, and will shaped the presidency and America ever after. Balanced portrayals handle personal flaws and scandals, helping readers understand that even presidents, beleaguered by domestic and international troubles and political squabbling, succumb to human frailty. The series handles weighty matters with an appropriately serious tone, while using accessible language that doesn’t patronize. The attractive design includes full-page portraits and signature replicas; pages festooned with stars; colorful, informative sidebars; and numerous contemporary photos, illustrations, and documents. VERDICT A worthy addition to student collections.

Brooks, Susie. Claude Monet. ISBN 9781508170631; ISBN 9781508170655.

––––. Paul Cezanne. ISBN 9781508170624; ISBN 9781508170648.

Rockett, Paul. Francisco Goya. ISBN 9781508170587; ISBN 9781508170594.

––––. Leonardo da Vinci. ISBN 9781508170549; ISBN 9781508170556.

––––. Pieter Bruegel the Elder. ISBN 9781508170600; ISBN 9781508170617.

Thomson, Ruth. Vincent van Gogh. ISBN 9781508170563; ISBN 9781508170570.

ea vol: 48p. (Inspiring Artists). chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Rosen YA. 2016. lib. ed. $30.25. ebk. $30.25.

Gr 7 Up –Fact-laden volumes include excellent reproductions; works by contemporaries and modern-day artists inspired by these masters are displayed for comparison, and explanations of how these artists impacted future generations and were themselves influenced are clear. “Art” sidebars invite readers to examine works closely. Each title sets artists and works in a historical, social, and artistic context. Owing to the books’ apparent British authorship, Cezanne refers to a sale price in dollars on one page, pounds, elsewhere. VERDICT Buy Bruegel if needed; the others are supplemental.

Burling, Alexis. Kennedys. ISBN 9781624039096; ISBN 9781680770865.

Grayson, Robert. Roosevelts. ISBN 9781624039102; ISBN 9781680770872.

Mooney, Carla. Bushes. ISBN 9781624039072; ISBN 9781680770841.

Perdew, Laura. Clintons. ISBN 9781624039089; ISBN 9781680770858.

ea vol: 112p. (America’s Great Political Families). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. ABDO. 2016. lib. ed. $24.95. ebk. $37.95.

Gr 6-8 –This series explains how forebears influenced recent presidents and their families who assumed the same or similar government positions, shaping politics thereafter. A conversational, encouraging tone and large font promote fast reading, but the language is occasionally melodramatic. Interest is heightened with anecdotes and quotes. Personal flaws, scandals, and gaffes committed in office are included but sometimes given short shrift, as are some of FDR’s major policies. While always respecting the chief executives and their legacies, the authors’ consistent use of given names helps readers relate personally. Volumes are visually striking, with dramatic dark red, black, and white design elements; excellent photos; colored captions; and many informative sidebars and spreads. VERDICT A clear, straightforward examination of some 20th-century leaders. Recommended for government, politics, and contemporary American history units.

Cooke, Tim. Billy the Kid: A Notorious Gunfighter of the Wild West. ISBN 9781482442458; ISBN 9781482442434; ISBN 9781482442465.

––––. Blackbeard: A Notorious Pirate in the Caribbean. ISBN 9781482442496; ISBN 9781482442472; ISBN 9781482442502.

––––. Bonnie and Clyde: Notorious Outlaws of the Great Depression. ISBN 9781482442533; ISBN 9781482442519; ISBN 9781482442540.

––––. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Notorious Outlaws of the West. ISBN 9781482442571; ISBN 9781482442557; ISBN 9781482442588.

––––. Jesse James: A Notorious Bank Robber of the Wild West. ISBN 9781482442618; ISBN 9781482442595; ISBN 9781482442656.

––––. Ned Kelly: A Notorious Bandit of the Australian Outback. ISBN 9781482442625; ISBN 9781482442663; ISBN 9781482442632.

ea vol: 48p. (Wanted! Famous Outlaws). further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. 2016. lib. ed. $31.95. pap. $14.05. ebk. $31.95.

Gr 5-8 –These exciting, well-written examinations of some bad guys (and one woman) offer compelling reading. Clipped sentences sustain a breathless atmosphere. A bounty of excellent black-and-white and color visuals, including period photos, drawings, and documents, evoke the flavor of the Old West (in Ned Kelly’s case, Old Aussie), as do hokey design elements—“fingerprints” and “bullet holes” that seem “shot through” the pages. Topping off the old-timey feel is the parchment look of the paper and generous use of “Old West-typewriter” fonts. A “Rogues’ Gallery” in each title contains pictures and descriptions of other criminals of the era; occasional “Focus” spreads provide additional historical context about the legacy of each outlaw. The author’s tone is non-judgmental: Making no excuses for these thieves and murderers, he nonetheless provides a balanced view of them, regarding them in the context of their times and suggesting that, sometimes, they were motivated by extenuating circumstances. VERDICT An impressive series that able and reluctant readers will appreciate; use in lessons on criminal justice and the “Wild West.”

As Election Day approaches, young students will benefit from Bearport’s “A First Look at America’s Presidents,” which successfully conveys the gravitas of presidency, while also helping readers recognize the humanity of these men. Lerner’s “Presidential Powerhouses” for middle to high schoolers does a compelling job explaining how four presidents indelibly shaped the office and the nation for generations to come. Reference Point’s “Influential Women” captures the essence of five famous women. On the nonpolitical front, commendable series for middle graders include ABDO’s nostalgic “Toy Trailblazers” and Britannica’s “Britannica Beginner Bios.” Equally excellent are the well-written, information-packed biographies of the historical figures included in Enslow’s “Exceptional African Americans” set, particularly Phillis Wheatley and Crispus Attucks. Older readers will enjoy Gareth Stevens’s “Wanted! Famous Outlaws,” about a few anti-heros of history.

Carol Goldman, Queens Library, NY

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Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

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