Mighty Trailblazers and Leading Luminaries | Biography Series Nonfiction

New series this season examine a variety of famous people. Subjects include scientists, artists, leaders, athletes, and pop culture stars.


New series this season examine a variety of famous people. Subjects include scientists, artists, leaders, athletes, and pop culture stars. Perennial report favorites such as Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton are included. Some series chronicle the lives of public figures who have youth appeal, such as Kylie Jenner, Simone Biles, Shaquem Griffin, and Ariana Grande. The photos in those volumes will entice young fans. Older readers will benefit from other titles that provide good information for reports; some are even interesting reads.


Abdo, Kenny. Alex Morgan. ISBN 9781098221362.
––––. Coco Gauff. ISBN 9781098221379.
––––. Kobe Bryant. ISBN 9781098221386.
––––. Mookie Betts. ISBN 9781098221393.
––––. Patrick Mahomes. ISBN 9781098221409.
––––. Simone Biles. ISBN 9781098221416.
ea vol: 24p. (Sports Biographies Set 2). ABDO/Fly!. Aug. 2020. Tr. $28.50.
Gr 2-8 –Six prominent athletes are profiled in these colorful volumes. Alex Morgan was cocaptain of Team USA at the 2019 World Cup; Coco Gauff beat Venus Williams in a straight-sets victory at Wimbledon in 2019; Kobe Bryant led the LA Lakers to seven NBA championships; Mookie Betts helped the Boston Red Sox win the World Series; Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV; and Simone Biles was the first African American female gymnast to win gold in the all-around at the World Championships. Rather than examine their personal lives, the titles list their accomplishments. Additional information features birth dates (and death date of Bryant) and charitable causes. The real attraction is the vivid action photographs, which enhance the straightforward prose. VERDICT Despite the sparse information, the photos are sure to attract young readers. Consider for purchase where there is a demand.

Amin, Anita Nahta. Elon Musk. ISBN 9781684508372.
––––. Katherine Johnson. ISBN 9781684508365.
Castro, Rachel. Margaret Hamilton. ISBN 9781684508358.
––––. Neil deGrasse Tyson. ISBN 9781684508341.
ea vol: 24p. (STEM Superstars). Norwood House. Jul. 2020. Tr. $22.60.
K-Gr 2 –Youngsters are introduced to four famous scientists and mathematicians. The titles successfully take into consideration the grade levels of the readers. The texts provide interesting facts about the subjects, taking care not to overwhelm with too much information. Most readers will have heard of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Elon Musk, who are often in the news, and Katherine Johnson was featured in the popular 2016 film Hidden ­Figures. ­Appealing photos complement the prose and humanize these STEM giants. VERDICT These pleasant, engaging introductions to well-known scientists should appeal to young readers. Purchase where there is demand.

Cipriano, Jeri. Cesar Chavez, Friend to Farm Workers. illus. by Nigel Dobbyn. ISBN 9781634409698.
––––. Sequoyah, Man of Many Words. illus. by Scott R. Brooks. ISBN 9781634409810.
Walters, Jennifer Marino. Daniel Inouye, World War II Hero and Senator. illus. by Scott R. Brooks. ISBN 9781634407298.
––––. Maria Tallchief, Native America’s Prima Ballerina. illus. by Nigel Dobbyn & Daniela Germia. ISBN 9781634409995.
ea vol: 24p. (LOOK! Books: Beginner Biography). Red Chair. Aug. 2020. Tr. $25.32.
K-Gr 2 –These titles provide basic biographical information. Cesar Chavez helped form the United Farm Workers labor union and advocated for better working conditions. Sequoyah created an alphabet for the Cherokee people. Daniel Inouye, an American World War II hero of Japanese ancestry, became a successful United States senator. Maria Tallchief, whose father was a member of the Osage Nation, became prima ballerina of the New City Ballet. The texts stick to the basics: when and where the subjects were born, their background, and what made them famous. There is no in-depth exploration of their lives, and the sentences are simple. The illustrations are colorful, but there are only a few small photos among the drawings. VERDICT Though this series highlights fascinating subjects, the narratives are not very engaging. Browsers are unlikely to check out; report writers will look elsewhere.

Gagne, Tammy. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: First Latina Elected to U.S. Congress. ISBN 9781680206692.
––––. Juan Felipe Herrera: From Migrant to Poet Laureate. ISBN 9781680206715.
––––. Maria Elena Salinas: Legendary ­Journalist. ISBN 9781680206739.
––––. Mario Molina: Nobel Prize-Winning Chemist. ISBN 9781680206753.
––––. Nydia Velazquez: First Puerto Rican Congresswoman. ISBN 9781680206777.
––––. Sylvia Mendez: A Pioneer for Equality in Education. ISBN 9781680206791.
ea vol: 48p. (Unsung Heroes: Hispanic Heritage). Mitchell Lane. Aug. 2020. Tr. $32.79.
Gr 4-6 –Notable Hispanic Americans are profiled in these six volumes. Each book begins with a fictional exchange among youngsters, who discuss how they plan to emulate the subject. This is followed by information about the individual’s life from childhood to the present. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Nydia Velazquez were the first Cuban American and Puerto Rican American elected to Congress, where they fought for the rights of their constituents. Mario Molina’s interest in chemistry made him a pioneer in protecting the ozone. Sylvia Mendez continued to fight for educational rights long after her parents won a court decision to allow her to attend white schools. The struggle of each is related. For example, Molina faced opposition with his theory on chlorofluorocarbons and their effect on the atmosphere. The narratives are informative but not exciting. Readers might question why these people are considered “Unsung Heroes” given the numerous awards and accolades they have received. VERDICT Informative but dull, this series will be used for reports but browsers will pass. Purchase where there is a demand or to support the curriculum.

Harts, Shannon H. Shaquem Griffin: Don’t Tell Me What I Can’t Do. ISBN 9781725311121.
Idzikowski, Lisa. Frida Kahlo: My Own Reality. ISBN 9781725311329.
McAneney, Caitie. Helen Keller: An Impulse to Soar. ISBN 9781725311169.
Morlock, Jeremy. Michael J. Fox: Live in the Moment. ISBN 9781725311206.
Shea, Therese M. Franklin D. Roosevelt: More Important than Fear. ISBN 9781725311282.
Susienka, Kristen. Stephen Hawking: Look to the Stars. ISBN 9781725311244.
ea vol: 32p. (Disabilities Can’t Stop Us!). Rosen/PowerKids. Aug. 2020. Tr. $26.25.
Gr 4-6 –These titles amplify the voices of famous people with disabilities and examine the obstacles they overcame. Each book provides basic biographical information about the subjects, and emphasis is placed on how they achieved success in their fields. Shaquem Griffin’s story is especially amazing. Griffin, who is currently an NFL linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, was born with amniotic band syndrome. Many of the profiled individuals created foundations or publicly advocated for others with similar conditions. The narratives should be interesting enough to young readers who are writing reports. Photographs feature close-ups of the subjects, and the action shots of Griffin are appealing. VERDICT Inspiring and informational, particularly the titles on Griffin and Helen Keller. These books will be nice additions to school and public libraries; purchase based on need.

Hayes, Vicki C. 12 Architects Who Changed the World. ISBN 9781632357120.
––––. 12 Educators Who Changed the World. ISBN 9781632357168.
Kallio, Jamie. 12 Chefs Who Changed the World. ISBN 9781632357151.
––––. 12 Musicians Who Changed the World. ISBN 9781632357182.
McCabe, Matthew. 12 Military Leaders Who Changed the World. ISBN 9781632357175.
Morey, Allan. 12 Artists Who Changed the World. ISBN 9781632357137.
––––. 12 Poets Who Changed the World. ISBN 9781632357199.
Solien, Paula. 12 Athletes Who Changed the World. ISBN 9781632357144.
ea vol: 32p. (Change Makers). Bookstaves/12 Story Library. Aug. 2020. Tr. $32.80.
Gr 3-5 –This series features brief sketches of famous and lesser-known figures. Readers are introduced to luminaries such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Maria Montessori, Elvis Presley, Napoleon Bonaparte, Pablo Picasso, and Walt Whitman. Well-known historical figures are not the only people featured; poet Dennis Brutus, Afghan brigadier general Khatol Mohammadzai, educator Phalla Neang, and architect Moshe Safdie are spotlighted. Readers learn when each person lived and the major contributions they made to their fields. The subjects come from diverse backgrounds, but the information is sparse. The texts don’t focus on their personal lives, and there is only rudimentary information about their accomplishments. The simple writing is to the point but isn’t that exciting. VERDICT Scant information makes these volumes of limited use. Libraries would do well to consider other sources.

Huddleston, Emma. Ed Sheeran. ISBN 9781644936382.
––––. Harry Styles. ISBN 9781644936399.
––––. Shawn Mendes. ISBN 9781644936375.
––––. Taylor Swift. ISBN 9781644936405.
London, Martha. Ariana Grande. ISBN 9781644936344.
––––. Billie Eilish. ISBN 9781644936337.
––––. Bruno Mars. ISBN 9781644936368.
––––. Lizzo. ISBN 9781644936351.
ea vol: 32p. (Biggest Names in Music). North Star Editions/Focus Readers. Aug. 2020. Tr. $28.50.
Gr 3-5 –Young fans will enjoy this series, which profiles their favorite music stars. These books provide inspiring accounts of the subjects’ professional lives. Harry Styles once hosted Saturday Night Live; Ariana Grande was on Broadway at age 13; Billie Eilish was a member of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus; Bruno Mars starred in the 2014 Super Bowl halftime show. A common theme is how the singers write songs portraying their inner struggles. Shawn Mendes’s music reflects his anxieties, and Lizzo sings about body image. Except for their philanthropic contributions to various causes, the texts don’t dive too deeply into their personal lives. This won’t matter to young fans who will appreciate the colorful photographs and the current information about the subjects’ careers. VERDICT Nice introductions to modern musicians that should entice elementary school children and should be well circulated in libraries where there is a demand.

Miller, J.P. Bayard Rustin. ISBN 9781731638014.
––––. Henry Louis Gates Jr. ISBN 9781731638007.
––––. Major Taylor. ISBN 9781731638021.
––––. Rebecca Lee Crumpler. ISBN 9781731638052.
––––. Shirley Chisholm. ISBN 9781731638038.
––––. Sister Rosetta Tharpe. ISBN 9781731638045.
ea vol: illus. by Markia Jenai. 24p. (Leaders Like Us). Rourke/Discovery Library. Aug. 2020. Tr. $29.93.
Gr 1-4 –Readers are introduced to six African Americans who were pioneers in their fields. Brief overviews of their lives are provided, which include their experiences with discrimination and prejudice. For example, “Some people treated Bayard Rustin unfairly because he was gay, but this did not stop him.” However, most of the narratives are upbeat. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s success in genealogy is highlighted; Shirley Chisholm’s efforts in Congress to improve lives are examined; Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s career as a gospel and popular musician is chronicled. The vivid illustrations feature close-ups of the subjects as well as action scenes; the illustrations of Major Taylor riding his bike are especially compelling. The information tends to be scarce; most of the facts are shared in the time lines. VERDICT Though the lack of in-depth content means this series won’t be useful for report writers, the bright illustrations will attract browsers who will enjoy learning about these inspiring individuals.

Murray, Laura K. Benjamin Franklin. ISBN 9781977123305.
––––. James Madison. ISBN 9781977123312.
––––. Sacagawea. ISBN 9781977123336.
––––. Susan B. Anthony. ISBN 9781977123350.
Reynolds, A.M. Matthew Henson. ISBN 9781977123329.
––––. Sojourner Truth. ISBN 9781977123343.
––––. Theodore Roosevelt. ISBN 9781977123367.
Shores, Erika. Amelia Earhart. ISBN 9781977123299.
ea vol: 32p. (Biographies). Capstone/Pebble. Aug. 2020. Tr. $29.32.
Gr 1-3 –This series uses simple language to provide brief, chronological biographies. Each book begins with an introductory chapter. The subject’s birth date, facts about their early childhood, and details about their adult life are presented. The information is accurate, but there are some instances that could misinform readers. According to the text in Benjamin Franklin, “Benjamin spoke to British leaders. They ended the Stamp Act in 1766.” The text in Theodore Roosevelt states, “He passed laws to make food and medicine safe.” Readers may think that Franklin and Roosevelt were solely responsible for such actions. Photos and reproductions of paintings are included. Overall, these are suitable biographies for young readers who are meeting these remarkable American historical figures for the first time. VERDICT Young readers will find most of these volumes very useful. With the exceptions of Benjamin Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, these titles should be purchased based on demand.

Schwartz, Heather E. Ariana Grande. ISBN 9781541597068.
––––. JoJo Siwa. ISBN 9781541597105.
––––. Kylie Jenner. ISBN 9781541597099.
––––. Malala Yousafzai. ISBN 9781541597112.
––––. Michelle Obama. ISBN 9781541597075.
––––. Misty Copeland. ISBN 9781541597082.
ea vol: 32p. (Boss Lady Bios (Alternator Books)). Lerner. Aug. 2020. Tr. $29.32.
Gr 3-6 –This series spotlights women who took charge of their lives and careers. Ariana Grande began singing and raising money for charity at a young age; JoJo Siwa worked hard to become a dancer; and Kylie Jenner used social media to promote her products and become a millionaire. Additionally, Malala Yousafzai overcame an attempted assassination to advocate for women’s education; Michelle Obama’s motivation to succeed helped her to graduate from Princeton and Harvard; Misty Copeland broke barriers for Black women in ballet. Readers are encouraged to be their own boss. The texts feature inspirational quotes from the subjects, and the simple narratives are direct. Each woman is presented in a positive light, although the volume on Copeland references the custody battle between her mother and ballet teachers. Color photos accompany the text. Ariana Grande and Kylie Jenner will certainly appeal to young pop culture fans. VERDICT Though not very comprehensive, these are suitable introductory biographies of modern women. Purchase should be considered based on need for the subject.

Vallepur, Shalini. I Can Be Adventurous: Daring Explorers Who Traveled the Globe. ISBN 9781978519534.
––––. I Can Be Bold: Strong Kings and Queens Who Were Great Leaders. ISBN 9781978519572.
––––. I Can Be Brainy: Clever Scientists Who Changed the World. ISBN 9781978519619.
––––. I Can Be Creative: Talented Artists Who Inspired the World. ISBN 9781978519657.
––––. I Can Be Heard: Brave Activists Who Stood Up for Their Beliefs. ISBN 9781978519695.
––––. I Can Be Sporty: Amazing Athletes Who Pushed the Boundaries. ISBN 9781978519732.
ea vol: 32p. (I Can Be...). Enslow. Aug. 2020. Tr. $25.27.
Gr 4-6 –These titles introduce young readers to great achievers in the fields of exploration, leadership, science, art, advocacy, and athletics. Famous and lesser-known figures are examined in brief sketches accompanied by quotations. The subjects represent diverse backgrounds and time periods, from the Egyptian ruler Hatshepsut to contemporary female wrestler Geeta Phogat. Some of these individuals will be new to readers, such as artist Yayoi Kusama, marine biologist Sylvia Earle, and chemist Tu Youyou. The narratives are not comprehensive, but they provide interesting introductions. Unfortunately, the colorful, simple drawings, which only vaguely resemble the subjects, will attract younger readers rather than the targeted audience. Clever Scientists Who Changed the World does not include the death date of Katherine Johnson. VERDICT While these are pleasant biographical introductions, the reading level of the text does not necessarily match the illustrations. The target demographic will pass, while younger browsers may be frustrated; librarians should pass as well.



Croy, Anita. Albert Einstein. ISBN 9780778782094.
––––. Charles Darwin. ISBN 9780778782186.
––––. Galileo Galilei. ISBN 9780778782193.
––––. Rachel Carson. ISBN 9780778782209.
––––. Sir Isaac Newton. ISBN 9780778782216.
––––. Stephen Hawking. ISBN 9780778782223.
ea vol: 64p. (Scientists Who Changed the World). Crabtree. Jul. 2020. Tr. $33.27.
Gr 5-9 –This series explores the lives and discoveries of some of the world’s most renowned scientists. Each title offers comprehensive details about their discoveries and facts about their personal lives and interests. Albert Einstein was a skilled violinist; Charles Darwin was happily married to a religious woman; and Sir Isaac Newton experimented with alchemy. Unfortunately, the in-depth explanations of their works combined with dense prose make for rather tedious reads. Photos, drawings, and diagrams match the narratives but do little to enhance them. VERDICT Though unlikely to be enjoyed by browsers, the information in these texts will do very well for reports. Purchase based on demand.

“Disabilities Can’t Stop Us!” (Rosen/PowerKids) provides inspirational ­narratives; the book on Shaquem ­Griffin features lively action photos. “Biggest Names in Music” (North Star Editions/Focus Readers) offers colorful photographs of its subjects and will be a big hit with young music fans. The engaging titles in “STEM Superstars” (Norwood House) are suitable for reports. “Leaders Like Us” (Rourke/Discovery Library) will introduce young readers to notable African American trailblazers.

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