History Makers Past and Present | Biography series nonfiction

Famous people of the past and present are introduced in a diverse collection of biographies. Current celebrities such as athletes Serena Williams and Tom Brady, actors Zendaya and Will Smith, and reality television stars The Kardashians are included. Perennial report favorites such as Harriet Tubman, and Ida B. Wells are also represented. Those tracking current events will find introductions to Amanda Gorman and Anthony Fauci useful.



Andrews, Elizabeth. Jill Biden: Educator & First Lady of the United States. ISBN 9781098208905.
Hansen, Grace. Amanda Gorman: Poet & Activist. ISBN 9781098208882.
––––. Anthony Fauci: Immunologist & COVID-19 Leader. ISBN 9781098208899.
––––. John Lewis: Congressman & Civil Rights Activist. ISBN 9781098208912.
––––. Kamala Harris: First Female Vice President of the United States. ISBN 9781098208929.
––––. Tom Brady: NFL Great and Super Bowl MVP. ISBN 9781098208936.
ea vol: 24p. (History Maker Biographies Set 5). Abdo/Abdo Kids Jumbo. Aug. 2021. Tr. $29.93.
K-Gr 2 –Famous contemporary people are presented in these brief, introductory volumes. Amanda Gorman is a Harvard graduate and poet who read at President Biden’s inauguration, Anthony Fauci is a doctor who leads the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Jill Biden is a working first lady, John Lewis was a congressman for 30 years, Kamala Harris is the first female vice president, and Tom Brady is a star NFL quarterback. Little information is disseminated; the primary focus is on what these individuals are famous for. Nice color photographs of the subjects accompany the simple text. Given that all these people are currently in the news, these titles are very timely. VERDICT Because of the currency of the subjects, very young people will have their basic curiosity satisfied, and perhaps even piqued, with these up-to-date volumes on people frequently in the news. Selectors should consider.

Corso, Phil. Patrick Mahomes. ISBN 9781725326194.
Hicks, Dwayne. Tessa Thompson. ISBN 9781725326156.
McKay, C. R. Lizzo. ISBN 9781725326118.
Shea, Therese M. Chadwick Boseman. ISBN 9781725326033.
––––. Donald Glover. ISBN 9781725326071.
––––. Zendaya. ISBN 9781725326231.
ea vol: 24p. (African American Superstars). Rosen. Aug. 2021. Tr. $23.60.
Gr 1-3 –Young fans will appreciate these titles featuring five popular Black ­entertainers and one Black athlete. Basic information for each is provided: when they were born, where they attended school, honors and accolades they achieved. Chadwick Boseman was an actor who portrayed Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall in films, Lizzo plays the flute in addition to her singing, Tessa Thompson attended Santa Monica College, Donald Glover won four Grammy awards in 2019, Zendaya appeared on Dancing with the Stars, and Patrick Mahomes led Kansas City to their first Super Bowl championship in 50 years. Except for mention of various philanthropic interests, little information is provided on the stars’ personal lives. However, the targeted audience will not care as the many color photographs will be the prime attraction. The narratives themselves are upbeat and positive in nature. VERDICT Due to the popularity of the subjects among young people, these books should circulate well in school and public libraries and should be considered.

Harts, Shannon H. Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla. ISBN 9781538265031.
––––. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. ISBN 9781538265079.
Kawa, Katie. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. ISBN 9781538264911.
Keppeler, Jill. Helen Keller and Alexander Graham Bell. ISBN 9781538264959.
––––. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. ISBN 9781538264997.
Shea, Therese M. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. ISBN 9781538264874.
ea vol: 32p. (History’s Famous Friendships). Gareth Stevens. Aug. 2021. Tr. $26.60.
Gr 2-5 –These titles explore friendships between famous people. Context of each relationship is presented in terms of the Civil War, American Revolution, 19th-century invention, women’s rights, etc. A brief sketch of each person’s life is recounted followed by an account of the friendship of each pair. A common thread is that all these subjects met in a professional capacity: George Washington and Alexander Hamilton in the army, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in Congress, Helen Keller sought assistance with her disabilities from Alexander Graham Bell. Facts supporting each pair’s closeness as well as their ups and downs are used to relate their friendship, such as Mark Twain’s fundraiser for Nikola Tesla after the latter lost all in a fire. The premise for these volumes is intriguing, especially to those with an interest in these people, unfortunately the narratives are not. Biographical information on each is extremely scant and the accompanying photographs and illustrations are adequate, but not ­enhancing. ­VERDICT Researchers will find better resources among the multiple biographies that already feature these people while browsers will be disappointed. Selectors should pass.

Labrecque, Ellen. Philo T. Farnsworth. ISBN 9781977132093.
Murray, Laura K. Ida B. Wells. ISBN 9781977132079.
––––. Marian Anderson. ISBN 9781977132086.
––––. Susan La Flesche Picotte. ISBN 9781977132109.
ea vol: 32p. (Biographies). Capstone/Pebble. Aug. 2021. Tr. $29.32.
Gr 1-3 –These volumes introduce readers to a variety of Americans from the past. Philo T. Farnsworth was an inventor forced to prove in court that he invented the television. Ida B. Wells was a reformer and the first Black American woman to own a newspaper. Marian Anderson was a singer who achieved fame despite the obstacles she faced due to racial prejudice. Susan La Flesche Picotte is considered the first Native American doctor and committed her skills to helping other Native Americans. Basic data is provided such as when and place of birth, schooling, and career paths. Photographs of the subjects accompany the texts. Intended as introductions for young readers, these narratives are far from comprehensive, yet they provide enough information to pique further interest. The volume on Picotte will be of value as there are few works on her while the others are frequently found in children’s biographies. VERDICT Serviceable introductions to Americans of note, these volumes should be purchased based on need.

Miller, J.P. Charlotta Bass. ISBN 9781731648907.
––––. Jackie Ormes. ISBN 9781731649300.
––––. Leland Melvin. ISBN 9781731649294.
––––. Wendell Scott. ISBN 9781731649287.
ea vol: illus. by Amanda Quartey. 24p. (Leaders Like Us). Rourke/Discovery Library. Aug. 2021. Tr. $29.93.
Gr 1-4 –Readers are introduced to four notable Black Americans in these engaging narratives. Charlotta Bass owned a newspaper and was the first Black woman to be nominated for Vice President of the United States (Progressive Party, 1952). Jackie Ormes created comic strips featuring Black characters who defied stereotypes. Leland Melvin successfully transitioned from NFL player to astronaut and Wendell Scott became the first Black man to win a NASCAR race. Emphasis is on the challenges each person faced: Bass was harassed by the KKK, Scott had to fight for acknowledgement of his win in a race, and Melvin was injured in football and astronaut training. Though these biographies are short and most statistical information is included in time lines in the back, they provide excellent primers on people who are less well-known (but certainly should be more recognized). They will encourage readers to seek out more information. Bright and colorful illustrations enhance the texts. VERDICT These volumes on inspiring lives should do well with report writers and browsers alike.


Upper Elementary to Middle School

Ahrens, Niki. Harriet Tubman. ISBN 9781728404578.
––––. Serena Williams. ISBN 9781728404547.
––––. Sonia Sotomayor. ISBN 9781728404554.
Schwartz, Heather E. Mae Jemison. ISBN 9781728404561.
––––. P!nk. ISBN 9781728404530.
ea vol: 32p. (Boss Lady Bios—Alternator Books). Lerner. Aug. 2021. Tr. $29.32.
Gr 3-7 –An eclectic mix of five women and their respective professions are related in these volumes. Harriet Tubman was a former enslaved person who not only escaped captivity but also brought others to free states, Serena Williams is a respected tennis player, Sonia Sotomayor is a justice of the United States Supreme Court, Mae Jemison is an astronaut, and Pink is a pop superstar. Each book begins with a description of a significant event in the subject’s life. Information pertaining to their personal and professional lives is presented in chronological order. Each biography shows the women in a positive light although Pink’s problems with drugs and William’s issues with depression are included. The narratives, unfortunately, read like school textbooks; the information is good, but readability is lacking. The accompanying photographs are fine but not enticing—browsers are unlikely to choose. VERDICT There are many suitable biographies of most of these women elsewhere and these titles have little new to offer; at best they are optional purchases where there is very high demand.

Braun, Eric. J. R. R. Tolkien. ISBN 9781728404479.
Doeden, Matt. Elizabeth Blackwell. ISBN 9781728404486.
––––. Sergey Brin. ISBN 9781541596740.
Goldstein, Margaret J. Elon Musk. ISBN 9781728404462.
Schwartz, Heather E. Amy Coney Barrett. ISBN 9781728438368.
––––. Lupita Nyong’o. ISBN 9781541596757.
ea vol: 48p. (Gateway Biographies). Lerner. Aug. 2021. Tr. $31.99.
Gr 4-8 –In these volumes, each title chronologically traces the subject’s life from birth until the present (or death as in the case of J.R.R. Tolkien and Elizabeth Blackwell). Emphasis is placed on their respective fields: Tolkien and his creation of The Hobbit, Blackwell and her struggles as a doctor, Sergey Brin and the development of Google, Elon Musk and his technological ventures, Lupita Nyong’o and her acting career, and Amy Coney Barrett and her rise to the United States Supreme Court. Personal lives and relationships are only briefly explored. The volumes tend to be mostly adulatory although the one on Blackwell states she was a racist and the title on Musk features allegations of his difficult management style. Photographs are included and although they complement the texts, they do not necessarily enhance them. The narratives themselves are readable if not exciting. VERDICT These biographies provide suitable, if not comprehensive, introductions but these subjects (excepting perhaps Barrett and Nyong’o) are covered in numerous other biographies and selectors should weigh demand and currency when considering.

Russo, Kristin J. The Currys. ISBN 9781629208466.
––––. The Jonas Brothers. ISBN 9781629208473.
––––. The Kardashians. ISBN 9781629208442.
––––. The Smiths. ISBN 9781629208459.
ea vol: 32p. (Families of Fame & Fortune). Full Tilt. Sept. 2021. Tr. $27.99.
Gr 5-8 –Young fans of these subjects will appreciate the information and photographs on their favorite celebrity families. The Currys features NBA players Stephen and Seth, sons of former basketball player Dell and his athletic wife Sonya. The Jonas Brothers relates the brothers’ rise to fame as a singing trio. The Kardashians details the lives of the reality television show family and their relationships. The Smiths explores the careers of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and their children. Upbeat and positive in tone, these volumes focus on the good and gloss over struggles. While the reason for the break-up of the Jonas Brothers is attributed to the youngest sibling, negative effect on the others is only briefly referenced. Marital struggles between the Smiths are omitted. However, there are many colorful photographs of the subjects, and the lack of comprehensive information will not be missed by those anxious to see more of their favorites. Data is current: the number of Kylie Jenner’s Instagram followers is provided as of June 2021. VERDICT While report writers will do better elsewhere, these books will be popular among those craving more on the famous people they follow.


Upper Middle School to High School

Burling, Alexis. Queen. ISBN 9781532192029.
Dodge Cummings, Judy. The Beatles. ISBN 9781532191992.
Edwards, Sue Bradford. The Who. ISBN 9781532192043.
Kortemeier, Todd. Pink Floyd. ISBN 9781532192012.
Murray, Laura K. Led Zeppelin. ISBN 9781532192005.
Wheeler, Jill C. The Rolling Stones. ISBN 9781532192036.
ea vol: 112p. (Classic Rock Bands). Essential Library. Aug. 2021. Tr. $37.07.
Gr 6 Up –The musical history of famous British rock bands from the 1960s and 1970s are explored in these informative volumes. Each book traces the beginning of each band—how the members met and achieved their early successes, with a chronological account of albums recorded, concert tours executed, the eventual breakups, and post-band careers. Interesting facts presented include the Beatles’ appearances on Ed Sullivan and that Queen’s Brian May achieved a PhD in astrophysics. The volume on The Who references the Cincinnati concert, which led to 11 deaths, while the book on The Rolling Stones is candid about the drug abuse of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. However, the primary emphasis for each subject is their musical careers. Some photographs accompany the text but neither pictures nor narratives are enticing. Given the success of the film Bohemian Rhapsody, the volume on Queen may attract interested readers. Otherwise, only those with a strong interest in the music of their grandparents’ generation will pick these up. VERDICT Suitable enough for reports, but these titles will not attract recreational readers and should only be considered where there is a curriculum need.

Gunderman, Richard. Marie Curie: The Pioneer, the Nobel Laureate, the Discoverer of Radioactivity. ISBN 9781499471137.
––––. Nikola Tesla: The Man, the Inventor, and the Age of Electricity. ISBN 9781499471168.
Isaacson, Walter. Albert Einstein: The Man, the Genius, and the Theory of Relativity. ISBN 9781499471076.
Levy, Joel. Stephen Hawking: The Man, the Genius, and the Theory of Everything. ISBN 9781499471229.
Sheppard, Ruth. Sigmund Freud: The Man, the Scientist, and the Birth of Psychoanalysis. ISBN 9781499471199.
Van Wyhe, John. Charles Darwin: The Man, His Great Voyage, and His Theory of Evolution. ISBN 9781499471106.
ea vol: 160p. (Pioneers of Science). Rosen. Aug. 2021. Tr. $44.60.
Gr 9 Up –In-depth analyses of the works of the respective subjects are the primary focus of the 19th- and 20th-century scientists featured in these volumes. Readers are provided detail concerning Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution and natural selection, Marie Curie’s discovery of radium, Nikola Tesla’s success in electrical transmissions, Sigmund Freud’s contributions to psychoanalysis, and Stephen Hawking’s views on cosmology and black holes. To varying degrees, personal lives are explored: parents, marriages, and children. While generally positive information is presented on each scientist, the authors balance that with less savory aspects of their lives; Einstein is portrayed as an unkind husband to his first wife and Curie’s affair with a married man are included. There is an overwhelming amount of scientific information provided—theories and experiments are explored in great detail. Photographs, drawings, and maps complement the narratives, but the text is dense and none of these volumes can be considered introductory. VERDICT Browsers will look more to other, more basic, titles about these famous scientists and researchers will only use for bibliographical purposes. Unless there is a strong demand, selectors will do well to pass.

Young readers who have heard much about these figures in the news will appreciate the information found in “History Maker Biographies” (Abdo/Abdo Kids Jumbo). They should also enjoy “African American Superstars” (Rosen) as many noted celebrities popular among the young are featured along with colorful photographs. “Leaders Like Us” (Rourke/Discovery Library) and “Biographies” (Capstone/Pebble) contain useful information for interested readers and report writers alike on fascinating figures of note. Older readers will enjoy “Families of Fame and Fortune” for the volumes’ upbeat narratives and photos.

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