Notable and Newsworthy | Biographies Series Nonfiction

This season’s selection of biographical series features people in the news and classic report favorites.


This season’s selection of biographical series features people in the news and classic report favorites. From hip-hop artists to scientists to activists, selectors can choose from a wide variety of subjects. While most titles offer standard fare for report writers, others will be read for their attractive topics. Many titles will suffice for updating ­collections in need of perennial report topics.


Conley, Kate. Amelia Earhart. ISBN 9781532196836.
––––. Frida Kahlo. ISBN 9781532196850.
Hudak, Heather C. Anne Frank. ISBN 9781532196843.
––––. Jackie Robinson. ISBN 9781532196867.
Klepeis, Alicia Z. Jane Goodall. ISBN 9781532196874.
––––. Walt Disney. ISBN 9781532196881.
ea vol: 32p. (Groundbreaker Bios). Abdo/Kids Core. Jan. 2022. Tr $32.79.
Gr 3-5 – In these introductions for young readers, the lives of six popular 20th century figures are related. Readers learn that Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Anne Frank kept a diary when hiding from the Nazis, Jane Goodall provided groundbreaking information on chimpanzees, Frida Kahlo was a renowned artist, and Walt Disney was an innovator in animation. Difficulties endured by the subjects, such as racism encountered by Robinson and health issues suffered by Kahlo, are included. The narratives are simple and straightforward, but no new information is conveyed. Photographs are appropriately placed. Overall, these titles offer sufficient introductions to these notable people; however, there are numerous other books for targeted readers on the same subjects. VERDICT These volumes offer average biographical fare on perennial report topics; they will best be purchased by those seeking to refresh their collections, and selectors should purchase titles accordingly.

Dalal, Anita. Improving Health. ISBN 9781338800340.
––––. Investigating Nature. ISBN 9781338800470.
Dickmann, Nancy. Exploring Space. ISBN 9781338800319.
––––. Understanding Earth. ISBN 9781338800500.
Newberger Speregen, Debora. Advancing Technology. ISBN 9781338800388.
Sahai, Supriya. Making Inventions. ISBN 9781338800289.
ea vol: 48p. (Super SHEroes of Science). Scholastic/Children’s Pr. Apr. 2022. Tr $29.
Gr 3-5 –These six engaging volumes explore the professional lives and work of female scientists. Each title focuses on four women, with brief synopses of other women noted in the respective fields. Readers learn of Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole, botanist Janaki Ammal, mathematician Katherine Johnson, volcanologist Katia Krafft, dishwasher inventor Josephine Cochrane, and the first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. Little about their personal lives is shared—the emphasis is primarily on their work, such as Marie Curie’s tireless hours spent obtaining radioactive materials from the radium containing mineral pitchblende and Ada Lovelace’s development of a computer program. Women of color are represented in these titles: for instance, Marie Van Brittan Brown, inventor of the first home security system, and Alice Ball, who developed an early cure for leprosy, are featured. The books present lesser-known female scientists and inventors, such as Annie Easley and Andrea Ghez, alongside famous women like Marie Curie and Hedy Lamarr. Also included are more contemporary figures, such as Sarah Gilbert, a member of the team that developed the first COVID-19 vaccine. Photographs and illustrations of the subjects’ works are interspersed with the text. Though far from comprehensive, these narratives nonetheless provide interesting and informative introductions to scientific women of note. Readers will be encouraged to learn more. VERDICT Suitable introductions to important women of science. These volumes should be considered by selectors.

Miller, J.P. Cathy Hughes. ISBN 9781731651822.
––––. Frederick O’Neal. ISBN 9781731651792.
––––. Georgia Gilmore. ISBN 9781731651808.
––––. O.W. Gurley. ISBN 9781731651815.
ea vol: illus. by Amanda Quartey. 24p. (Leaders Like Us). Rourke/Discovery Library. Jan. 2022. Tr $29.93.
Gr 1-4 –Four attractively illustrated ­volumes explore the careers of extraordinary, but little-known, Black leaders. Cathy Hughes founded a chain of radio ­stations aimed at Black audiences, Frederick O’Neal was instrumental in theater during the Harlem Renaissance, Georgia Gilmore provided food and money for the Montgomery Boycott, and Ottawa Gurley was responsible for a thriving Black community in Tulsa, OK. The primary focus of each book is the accomplishment of each subject in their respective fields; those seeking statistical information will need to consult the timelines in the back. Nonetheless, the colorful drawings and straightforward texts do an excellent job introducing young readers to these admirable leaders who are ­omitted from the textbooks. Readers will be encouraged to learn more about these extraordinary people. VERDICT These nicely illustrated titles about lesser-known people who are important leaders in different fields should attract browsers and report-writers alike. Recommended.

Murray, Julie. Charles Schulz. ISBN 9781098207205.
––––. Dr. Seuss. ISBN 9781098207212.
––––. Jacqueline Woodson. ISBN 9781098207229.
––––. Judy Blume. ISBN 9781098207236.
––––. Mo Willems. ISBN 9781098207243.
––––. R.L. Stine. ISBN 9781098207250.
ea vol: 24p. (Children’s Authors). Abdo/Kids Jumbo. Jan. 2022. Tr $31.36.
PreS-Gr 2 –These six titles present brief introductions to the lives and works of famous children’s authors. Readers learn that Charles Schulz created the comic strip “Peanuts,” Dr. Seuss began drawing zoo animals at an early age, the themes of Jacqueline Woodson’s books include race and class, Judy Blume’s books introduced topics not explored at the time, Mo Willems has won six Emmy awards for Sesame Street, and R.L. Stine’s first book was How to be Funny. Birth statistics are included, but the primary focus is on the famous works for which these authors are known. Because of the targeted age group, controversies are omitted; there is no reference to racism in Seuss’s books or the censorship challenges to Blume’s works. The narratives feature simple and direct sentences that neatly trace the writers’ careers and creative output, and photographs of the subjects and their books are on every other page. Targeted readers will most appreciate the titles on Seuss, Willems, and Schulz. However, as they mostly likely have not been introduced to the works of Woodson, Blume, and Stine, readers are less likely to select those titles in browsing; Woodson’s, Blume’s and Stine’s fans will prefer more comprehensive biographies. VERDICT The titles about authors who write and illustrate for young children will be appreciated, but selectors should choose more informative biographies on the others for older readers.

Neuenfeldt, Elizabeth. Greta Thunberg: Climate Activist. ISBN 9781644875933.
––––. Jill Biden: Educator. ISBN 9781644875940.
––––. Kamala Harris: Vice President. ISBN 9781644875957.
––––. Selena Gomez: Mental Health Advocate. ISBN 9781644875964.
ea vol: 24p. (Women Leading the Way). Bellweather/Blastoff! Readers. Jan. 2022. Tr $26.95.
Gr 1-3 –Four women currently in the news are introduced in these simple but colorful biographies. Readers learn that Greta Thunberg is a climate activist who has advocated for governance of climate issues, Jill Biden is presented as an ardent educator who also happens to be First Lady, Kamala Harris is the first woman Vice President of the United States, and Selena Gomez is an entertainer who uses her celebrity to advocate for mental health and lupus research. Photographs accompanying the direct text are well-presented—something fans of Gomez will appreciate. However, the information is extremely scant, even for the targeted reading group. Also, except for Biden, who will most likely feature in a series about First Ladies, these subjects are featured in numerous other biographies. They will only be suitable in collections where multiple books on these women are needed. ­VERDICT Though full of colorful photographs, the dearth of information and the fact that much has been published about these subjects make these volumes of marginal use to most collections.

Olson, Gillia M. The Life of Clara Barton. ISBN 9781681519470.
––––. The Life of Dolores Huerta. ISBN 9781681519487.
––––. The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. ISBN 9781681519494.
––––. The Life of Rosa Parks. ISBN 9781681519500.
––––. The Life of Sacagawea. ISBN 9781681519517.
––––. The Life of Sojourner Truth. ISBN 9781681519524.
ea vol: 32p. (Sequence Change Maker Biographies). Amicus/Sequence. Jan. 2022. Tr $34.25.
Gr 3-5 –Young readers are introduced to dynamic women whose efforts instigated much-needed change in many areas. Clara Barton was instrumental in creating the American Red Cross, and Sacagawea was critical to the survival of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The others were ardent campaigners for human rights: Sojourner Truth fought for abolition and Rosa Parks worked for Civil Rights, while Elizabeth Cady Stanton was active in women’s suffrage and Dolores Huerta advocated for farm workers. Simple, direct language is employed to relate the facts of the individuals’ lives and their efforts to assist others. Featured highlights include Parks’s courageous stance on a Montgomery bus, Truth’s successful lawsuit to retrieve her son from slavery, and Stanton’s presidency of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The information provided in each volume is good, but the narratives, along with the accompanying illustrations and photographs, are uninspiring. ­VERDICT Numerous other titles on these popular report subjects exist; ­selectors should only consider this series if their collections need refreshing for young researchers.


Upper Elementary to Middle School

Petrie, Kristin. Hernando de Soto. ISBN 9781532197307.
––––. Jacques Cartier. ISBN 9781532197260.
––––. Jacques Cousteau. ISBN 9781532197277.
––––. John Cabot. ISBN 9781532197253.
––––. Sir Francis Drake. ISBN 9781532197284.
––––. Vasco Núñez de Balboa. ISBN 9781532197291.
ea vol: 32p. (World Explorers). Abdo/Checkerboard Library. Jan. 2022. Tr $29.93.
Gr 4-6 –These six volumes relate the lives and accomplishments of various explorers. Readers learn of Cabot’s and Cartier’s explorations of Canada, Balboa’s and de Soto’s adventures in Latin America, Drake’s voyages, and Cousteau’s pursuit of sea exploration. Information provided is factual without resorting to hagiography; some considered Drake a pirate, and Balboa conquered the Incan people. Cousteau’s biography is the most positive, with an emphasis on his inventions and concern for the environment. Apart from the volume on Cousteau, which features photographs, the texts are accompanied by unremarkable illustrations. These standard biographies are hardly extraordinary, but, as the individuals are usually included in curriculums, they will suffice. VERDICT Average biographical fare for this age group. These volumes should be considered where ­newer materials are needed.

Schwartz, Heather E. LeBron James. ISBN 9781728441856.
Tyner, Dr. Artika R. Amanda Gorman. ISBN 9781728441863.
––––. Stacey Abrams. ISBN 9781728441849.
ea vol: 48p. (Gateway Biographies). Lerner. Jan. 2022. Tr $31.99.
Gr 4-8 –The lives of activists currently in the news are explored in these three volumes. Readers learn of LeBron James’s challenging childhood and his path to success in the NBA. The life of first Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, is detailed here, including her poetry reading at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. Stacey Abrams’s life and political career, especially her efforts to increase voter participation, are related. All three biographies are incredibly positive; unfortunately that positivity inclines toward hagiography. Excluded are James’s controversial tweets about COVID-19 and the important fact that Abrams’s gubernatorial opponent was executing Georgia law when he deleted voters from the registry. No mention is made of white translators removed from their jobs translating Gorman’s poems. Another issue: since the subjects are all dynamic, living individuals, the information provided is already dated—no mention is made of Abrams’s entry into the 2022 Georgia governor’s race. VERDICT Targeted readers deserve more balanced reads on these admirable but complex figures; selectors should pass.


Upper Middle School to High School

Edwards, Doris. H.E.R.: Singer, Songwriter, and Guitarist. ISBN 9781532196157.
Henzel, Cynthia Kennedy. Lil Uzi Vert: Emo Rap Pioneer. ISBN 9781532196171.
Mooney, Carla. Eminem: Rap Legend. ISBN 9781532196140.
Murray, Laura K. Nicki Minaj: Pop Rap Icon. ISBN 9781532196188.
Nicks, Erin. The Weekend: R&B Megastar. ISBN 9781532196195.
Wheeler, Jill C. Kid Cudi: Rapper and Record Executive. ISBN 9781532196164.
ea vol: 112p. (Hip-Hop Artists Set 3). Abdo/Essential Library. Jan. 2022. Tr $38.50.
Gr 7-10 –The lives and careers of several popular hip-hop artists are chronicled in these detailed accounts. Readers learn how the subjects’ interests in rap and hip-hop developed at an early age and how each was able to launch careers through digital media and connections in the music industry. The texts do not shy from the difficult aspects of the artists’ lives, such as the poverty that Eminem and The Weeknd endured, the child abuse suffered by Nicki Minaj, and the drug problems all four male rappers encountered. However, the narratives are positive and highlight the music and subsequent awards and achievements of these talented stars; for example, eight Billboard hits in a single year by a female is a record held by Minaj. Criticisms and reviews of the artists’ works are included, such as how Kid Cudi can express his emotions with his music. Fans will find the personal aspects related to be of interest: H.E.R. heads a foundation to make musical instruments available to young women, and Lil Uzi Vert had a diamond imbedded in his forehead. Colorful photographs of these stars in action are interspersed throughout each volume, and these will be a draw for hip-hop enthusiasts. However, the very detailed narratives make for tedious reads and will only appeal to the most ardent information-seeking fan. ­VERDICT Where there is a demand for biographies on hip-hop artists, these volumes will suffice. Selectors should consider the need.

Laney, C.L. Elon Musk: American Entrepreneur. ISBN 9781638890003.
––––. Martin Luther King Jr.: Civil Rights Leader. ISBN 9781638890010.
––––. Misty Copeland: Prima Ballerina. ISBN 9781638890027.
––––. Temple Grandin: Autism and Animal Welfare Activist. ISBN 9781638890034.
––––. Tyler Perry: Media Mogul. ISBN 9781638890041.
––––. Wilma Mankiller: Chief of the Cherokee Nation. ISBN 9781638890058.
ea vol: 48p. (Blue Delta Books). Saddleback. Apr. 2022. Tr $11.95.
Gr 6-9 –The lives of famous figures from the 20th and 21st centuries are related in these average biographies. Each title provides background on what makes the subject famous: Elon Musk is the CEO of SpaceX, Misty Copeland was the first Black dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, and Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Background on childhoods and early careers are also explored: Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism at an early age and received therapy, Tyler Perry overcame an abusive childhood, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended Morehouse College where he was inspired by Thoreau’s ideas on civil disobedience. A common thread for each title is the determination of each subject to succeed—thus, the texts are positive and upbeat. Included photographs complement the text. These titles are informative, but much of what they share is included in the numerous other biographies on most of these subjects. One exception is Temple Grandin: Autism and Animal Welfare Activist, as there are few biographies on this fascinating woman available to the targeted readers. ­VERDICT Accurate information makes these titles serviceable, but not outstanding. Apart from the title on Grandin, these volumes should be considered only where there is a need to update currently held biographies.

“Super SHEroes of Science” (Scholastic/Children’s Press) and “Leaders Like Us” (Rourke/Discovery Library) will make fine additions to most collections. Among other series, some titles stand out more than others, mostly for exploring the lives of little-known people like Fannie Lou Hamer and Temple Grandin. Hip-hop artists will be selected by enthusiastic fans, especially those who will appreciate the accompanying photos.

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