People to Know: Today and Yesterday | Biography Series Nonfiction

Celebrities, educators, scientists, athletes and explorers are among the people featured in this season’s biographies. 

Celebrities, educators, scientists, athletes, and explorers are all featured in this ­season’s biographies. Actors who play favorite superheroes in the movies, inventors, and people in the news are among those whose stories are related. Many of these books will be used for reports, while others will feed the demand for information on ­readers’ favorite music and movie stars. Some of these biographies will also be found entertaining.



Parkin, Michelle. Ellen Ochoa. ISBN 9781684507450.
––––. George Washington Carver. ISBN 9781684507443.
––––. Michio Kaku. ISBN 9781684507436.
––––. Stephen Hawking. ISBN 9781684507429.
ea vol: 24p. (STEM Superstars). Norwood House. Jan. 2023. Tr. $25.27.
K-Gr 2 –Pertinent information about famous scientists is presented in these four introductory volumes. Employing simple, straightforward prose, Parkin succinctly provides basic personal and professional facts about the subjects. Ellen Ochoa studied physics and became an astronaut. George Washington Carver was the son of enslaved people who studied botany. Michio Kaku is famous for string theory. Stephen Hawking studied black holes. Photographs are included. Though far from comprehensive, these titles appropriately introduce young readers to scientists of whom they will learn more in their future s­tudies. ­VERDICT Young readers will find these ­volumes helpful in learning about noted scientists, and libraries should consider.

Rodríguez, Janel. Charles Richard Drew: The Innovator of the Blood Bank. ISBN 9781338865349.
––––. George Washington Carver: More Than “The Peanut Man”. ISBN 9781338864205.
––––. Lewis Latimer: A Brilliant Inventor. ISBN 9781338864175.
––––. Madam C. J. Walker: The Beauty Boss. ISBN 9781338865318.
ea vol: illus. by Subi Bosa. 40p. (Bright Minds). Scholastic. Apr. 2023. Tr. $29.
Gr 3-4 –In these four biographies, readers learn about important 19th- and 20th-century inventors. Charles Drew successfully devised ways to separate and store blood, George Washington Carver created hundreds of products but only applied for three patents, Lewis Latimer was the only Black man to work with “Edison’s Pioneers,” and Madame C.J. Walker created beauty products for Black women. Statistical data is included, but the emphasis is on the subjects’ respective careers and achievements. All four inventors are presented in a positive light with cartoon drawings emphasizing the upbeat narratives. Though their struggles with racism are mentioned, they are not explored in any detail; Latimer was treated badly by other employees in London and Charles Drew was not initially allowed to treat patients at Columbia. Still, the prose and illustrations (including photographs) make for entertaining, informative, and especially inspiring reads. VERDICT Though there are many other biographies on these inventors, especially Carver and Walker, these tend to be more interesting reads and selectors should certainly consider.

Upper Elementary to Middle School

Andral, Dolores. What You Never Knew About Harry Styles. ISBN 9781669003038.
––––. What You Never Knew About Selena Gomez. ISBN 9781669003151.
Kerry, Isaac. What You Never Knew About Lionel Messi. ISBN 9781669003090.
Schuh, Mari. What You Never Knew About Ariana Grande. ISBN 9781669002857.
––––. What You Never Knew About Beyoncé. ISBN 9781669002918.
––––. What You Never Knew About Dwayne Johnson. ISBN 9781669002970.
ea vol: 32p. (Behind the Scenes Biographies). Capstone/Capstone Press Bks. Jan. 2023. Tr. $29.32.
Gr 4-6 –Interesting facts about popular celebrities are presented in these volumes. In the simple narratives readers learn that Ariana Grande’s favorite holiday is Halloween, Beyoncé owns two beehives, Dwayne Johnson plays the ukulele, Harry Styles was the first man to appear alone on the cover of Vogue, Lionel Messi’s favorite color is red, and Selena Gomez eats Oreos with a fork. Little about their respective careers are explored outside the number of albums the singers have produced and Messi holds the record for all-time scores in his soccer league. Brief mentions of families are included: Beyoncé is married to Jay Z and Johnson loves his wife and three daughters. Colorful photographs of the subjects appear throughout. Enthusiasts of these famous people will appreciate the information provided and the pictures. VERDICT Fans will be eager to read more about their idols and selectors should consider where there is a demand.

Banting, Erinn. Christopher Paul Curtis. ISBN 9781791148362.
––––. Pam Muñoz Ryan. ISBN 9781791148393.
Gregory, Joy. Katherine Applegate. ISBN 9781791145330.
Hurtig, Jennifer. Beatrix Potter. ISBN 9781791145279.
Kissock, Heather. Robert Munsch. ISBN 9781791145309.
ea vol: 32p. (Great Storytellers). Lightbox Learning./AV2. Jan. 2023. Tr. $34.27.
Gr 3-6 –The lives of five prominent children’s authors are featured in these informative volumes. Readers learn about the writers’ early lives; Pam Muñoz Ryan heard stories from her grandmothers, Beatrix Potter spent her childhood surrounded by animals, Robert Munsch studied to be a Jesuit priest. Then follows a review of their works; Katherine Applegate gained early fame with the “Animorphs” series and Christopher Paul Curtis authored the well-received The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. The factual narratives are accompanied by photographs of the authors and pictures of their works. The reads are very interesting, but with the exception of Potter and Munsch, the books these authors write are for readers older than those targeted by these biographies; something selectors will need to strongly consider. ­VERDICT Because of the mismatch in targeted readers between these biographies and the subjects’ works, libraries will probably only benefit from the titles on Potter and Munsch.

Leed, Percy. Abby Wambach. ISBN 9781728476483.
Starr, Abbe L. Annika Sörenstam. ISBN 9781728476490.
––––. Derek Jeter. ISBN 9781728476513.
––––. Roberto Clemente. ISBN 9781728476537.
––––. Willie Mays. ISBN 9781728476551.
Walker, Tracy Sue. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ISBN 9781728476506.
––––. Jesse Owens. ISBN 9781728476520.
––––. Wayne Gretzky. ISBN 9781728476544.
ea vol: 32p. (Epic Sports Bios). Lerner. Jan. 2023. Tr. $29.32.
Gr 2 Up –Outstanding athletes from a variety of sports are the subjects of these eight volumes. Included are two Olympic Gold medalists (Wambach, Owens), three baseball superstars (Jeter, Clemente, Mays), a golfer, Nascar driver and a hockey player. The careers of the subjects are chronicled with emphasis placed on their career highlights and records. Sörenstam is the only woman to shoot a 59 in an LPGA tournament, Clemente won 12 Gold Glove Awards, Earnhardt, Jr. had 26 career wins, and Gretzky holds the NHL record for most goals and assists. Photographs accompany the texts. All titles are informative and will be appreciated by the subjects’ respective fans. Readers will need some background knowledge on the sports in order to fully appreciate the accomplishments of the athletes. Fans seeking in-depth information on their personal lives will be disappointed, otherwise these biographies do a fine job of presenting outstanding athletes past and present. VERDICT There are several biographies already available on these now retired athletes, however these are more current and selectors should consider where there is a demand.

Rajczak Nelson, Kristen. Anthony Mackie Is Captain America®. ISBN 9781538283738.
––––. Brec Bassinger Is Stargirl®. ISBN 9781538283776.
––––. Elizabeth Olsen Is Scarlet Witch®. ISBN 9781538283813.
––––. Jason Momoa Is Aquaman®. ISBN 9781538283851.
––––. Simu Liu Is Shang-Chi®. ISBN 9781538283899.
––––. Tatiana Maslany Is She-Hulk®. ISBN 9781538283936.
ea vol: 32p. (Human Behind the Hero). Gareth Stevens. Dec. 2022. Tr. 28.27.
Gr 3-6 –Young fans of superhero movies will learn some facts about their favorite actors in the various heroic roles. Anthony Mackie is a Julliard graduate who originally portrayed “The Falcon” in other movies, Brec Bassinger was in beauty pageants, and Elizabeth Olsen was a good student as well as the younger sister of the Olsen twins. Jason Momoa’s first job was on Baywatch, Simu Liu was a failed accountant who turned to acting, and Tatiana Maslany won an Emmy award for Orphan Black. Eventually all the actors achieve and embrace their current roles. The texts are simple and direct but appropriately informative for the targeted readers. The photographs alone will entice the subjects’ loyal following. VERDICT Fans anxious for information about the actors portraying their favorite fictional characters will greatly appreciate these titles and selectors should consider where there is demand.


Upper Middle School to High School

Bolte, Mari. King Charles III. ISBN 9798765607770
Doeden, Matt. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. ISBN 9781728476575.
Holleran, Leslie. Adele. ISBN 9781728476582.
Nnachi, Ngeri. Madam C.J. Walker. ISBN 9781728458472.
Schwartz, Heather E. Ketanji Brown Jackson. ISBN 9781728476599.
––––. The Sunrise Movement. ISBN 9781728476568.
ea vol: 48p. (Gateway Biographies). Lerner. Jan. 2023. Tr. $31.99.
Gr 4-8 –The lives of an eclectic mix of famous people and one environmental movement are chronicled in these six titles. Readers learn about King Charles’s life including his difficult childhood, Dwayne Johnson’s success as a wrestler and actor, Adele’s astronomical rise to stardom as a singer, Ketanji Brown Jackson’s road to the Supreme Court and The Sunrise Movement’s formation and accomplishments. Also, readers will become acquainted with the inspirational life of the late entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker. Employing direct prose, the authors neatly convey relevant facts in each of the subjects’ lives from birth until the current day. There are no discernible errors except in the volume on Jackson where a former Speaker of the House of Representatives is referred to as a Senator. Charles’s coronation is anticipated: “...his coronation at Westminster Abbey that happened the following year.” While the volumes on Charles, Adele, Johnson, Jackson, and The Sunrise Movement are timely, the narratives tend to be dull recitations of facts. There are already many serviceable volumes on Walker; the books on the others will be quickly dated. Also, the titles already lack some currency: there is no mention of the ongoing family conflict in Charles’s life or of recent Supreme Court opinions authored by Jackson. Little is detailed about the personal lives of the Sunshine Movement’s members; just the works and progress of that organization. Fans of Johnson and Adele will probably appreciate the photographs. VERDICT Though these volumes neatly relate the lives of noteworthy people, there is nothing outstanding about them and most are already or soon will be dated. Selectors can find better titles.

Krensky, Stephen. Daniel Boone. ISBN 9781039800113.
––––. Henry Hudson. ISBN 9781039800144.
––––. John Wesley Powell. ISBN 9781039800151.
––––. Kit Carson. ISBN 9781039800137.
––––. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. ISBN 9781039800106.
––––. Zebulon Pike. ISBN 9781039800120.
ea vol: 32p. (Great Explorers). Crabtree/Crabtree Crown. Jan. 2023. Tr. $30.60.
Gr 5 Up –Introductions to various explorers of the North American continent are provided in these six volumes. Daniel Boone explored the area west of the Cumberland Gap, Hudson went up the Hudson River, Powell measured the Grand Canyon, Kit Carson was a scout for John Fremont, Lewis and Clark and Zebulon Pike trekked through different areas of the Louisiana Purchase. The information is presented in a straightforward manner with easy-to-read prose. However, those looking for comprehensive biographies will need to look elsewhere. For example, the title on Hudson does not mention the mutiny on ship nor his abandonment. There are no details of Lewis and Clark’s return to St. Louis. Pictures and maps are uninspiring. Also, the book on Hudson labels a picture of New York City as “present day Hudson Bay.” Report writers will find more information in databases while recreational readers will probably find one of the many other books on these subjects more interesting. VERDICT The lack of details make these volumes of limited use; selectors should pass.

Turner, Myra Faye. Malala Yousafzai: Education Activist. ISBN 9781638890096.
––––. Sal Khan: Education Innovator. ISBN 9781638891253.
ea vol: 48p. (Blue Delta Biographies). Saddleback. Mar. 2023. Tr. $11.95.
Gr 6 Up –The lives of two famous contemporary proponents of education are presented in these volumes. In Malala Yousafzai, readers learns about her struggles to achieve an education in her Taliban-influenced homeland of Pakistan. She was the victim of an assassination attempt and is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Today she runs the Malala Fund in order to raise money for ­female education. Sal Khan is an MIT graduate who was inspired to create math instructional videos to help his cousin. Eventually, with financial assistance from Google and Bill Gates, he created the Khan Academy, which currently has more than 100 million users. Both volumes neatly trace the lives of the subjects from date and place of birth to present-day activities. The primary focus is on their respective vocations: Yousafzai promotes female education while Khan endeavors to teach better mathematical skills through his nonprofit academy. Both books are fact-filled and the direct prose, accompanied by photographs, make them easy reads. Thus, they are suitable biographies for the targeted readers. However, selectors will need to keep in mind that as the subjects are living people with much of their professional lives still ahead of them (Yousafzai is only 25) these volumes will quickly date. Also, there are already many volumes on Yousafzai, several of which already populate library shelves. Of the two, the one on Khan may be the more useful, as there is little out there and his contribution to education is significant. VERDICT These informative biographies are quite serviceable and selection should be based on the need of the collection.


Fans of singers and actors will appreciate the facts and photographs provided in Behind the Scenes: Biographies (Capstone) andThe Human Behind the Hero (Gareth Stevens). Bright Minds (Scholastic) and STEM Superstars (Norwood House) provide important facts combined with interesting narratives. From Great ­Storytellers (Lightbox Learning), young readers will benefit from the books about Robert Munsch and Beatrix Potter.

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