From Politics to Pop Culture | Biography Series Nonfiction

Important people both famous and less well known appear in this season’s biographies. Figures in recent news such as Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are featured, as are pop culture figures and perennial favorites from the past.


Important people both famous and less well known appear in this season’s biographies. Figures in recent news such as Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are featured. Readers will learn more about women of note; likewise they will be introduced to the accomplishments of Black Americans and immigrants. Pop culture figures as well as perennial favorites from the past are also presented.


Box, Stephanie Anne. Ayanna Howard. ISBN 9781731643285.
Eboch. M.M. Maryam Mirzakhani. ISBN 9781731643278.
––––. Rachel Carson. ISBN 9781731643261.
––––. Tu Youyou. ISBN 9781731643292.
ea vol: illus. by Elena Bia. 24p. (Women in Science and Technology). Rourke/Discovery Library. Jan. 2021. Tr. $29.93.
Gr 2-5 –The topic of women in science and technology enjoys popularity with many young readers, and these well-written volumes do a solid job of introducing them to four female scientists of note. The daughter of engineers, Ayanna Howard pursued her interest in robotics and created robots for Mars exploration and assisted disabled children. Maryam Mirzakhani loved mathematics and won the International Mathematical Olympiad two years in a row. ­Rachel Carson wrote about the dangerous effects of ­pesticides on the environment, and Tu Youyou led a team that discovered a cure for malaria. Colorful illustrations and attention to detail (robot earrings on Howard’s ears; Mirzakhani’s formulas on paper) greatly enhance the text. Though brief in scope, the books nonetheless provide the most interesting aspects of the subjects’ careers and should inspire young readers in the sciences. ­VERDICT These engaging reads, especially about lesser-known scientists, will nicely enhance ­children’s science and ­biography collections.

Gaertner, Meg. Chien-Shiung Wu: Physicist. ISBN 9781644936931.
––––. Ellen Ochoa: Astronaut. ISBN 9781644936917.
––––. Michelle Obama: First Lady. ISBN 9781644936900.
––––. Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Supreme Court Justice. ISBN 9781644936870.
Stratton, Connor. Barbara Jordan: Civil Rights Leader. ISBN 9781644936894.
––––. Dolores Huerta: Labor Organizer. ISBN 9781644936887.
––––. Greta Thunberg: Climate Activist. ISBN 9781644936924.
––––. Malala Yousafzai: Education Activist. ISBN 9781644936948.
ea vol: 32p. (Important Women). North Star Editions/Focus Readers. Jan. 2021. Tr. $28.50.
Gr 2-5 –The lives of eight notable women are presented in these straightforward and informative biographies. Each begins with a description of a significant moment in the subject’s life, e.g., Malala Yousafzai’s 2013 United Nations speech and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The authors then present the women’s life stories with emphasis on accomplishments: Dolores Huerta was instrumental in forming the United Farm Workers, Greta Thunberg protested climate change with school strikes, physicist Chien-Shiung Wu discovered what happens when atoms break apart, Michelle Obama began the “Reach Higher’’ initiative to encourage students to further their education. The subjects are presented in a positive light, and the information is current; included is Ginsburg’s recent death and the curtailing effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Thunberg’s activities. ­ VERDICT Though the information is up to date and sufficient to fulfill the needs of the targeted audience, selectors should consider individual titles for purchase based on demand.

Labrecque, Ellen. Crispus Attucks. ISBN 9781977132048.
Murray, Laura K. Chief Joseph. ISBN 9781977132031.
––––. Daniel Boone. ISBN 9781977132055.
––––. Deborah Sampson. ISBN 9781977132062.
ea vol: 32p. (Biographies). Capstone/Pebble. Jan. 2021. Tr. $29.32.
K-Gr 3 –Young readers are introduced to notable Americans from the past. Chief Joseph was a Nez Percé leader who fought when the United States government refused to honor treaties, Crispus Attucks was the first patriot to die in the American War of Independence, Daniel Boone led the way west, and Deborah Sampson was one of the first women to serve in the U.S. military. The volumes are interesting, informative, and ably relate facts about the subjects and their lives. The legend of Boone wearing coonskin hats is discounted (he preferred beaver), and he enslaved people. The author of Crispus Attucks admits that little is known about Attucks’s life after he escaped slavery. Colorful illustrations complement the texts. These well-written volumes introduce notable Americans, and respect readers enough to provide facts instead of myths. VERDICT Browsers and report writers alike will find these books attractive. Selectors should definitely consider.

Pincus, Meeg. Dalai Lama. ISBN 9781534179943.
––––. Fred Rogers. ISBN 9781534179912.
––––. Jackie Kennedy. ISBN 9781534179974.
––––. John Lewis. ISBN 9781534186361.
––––. Lady Bird Johnson. ISBN 9781534179950.
––––. Laura Bush. ISBN 9781534179981.
––––. Mahatma Gandhi. ISBN 9781534179929.
––––. Nelson Mandela. ISBN 9781534179936.
––––. Princess Diana. ISBN 9781534179967.
ea vol: illus. by Jeff Bane. 24p. (My Itty-Bitty Bio). Cherry Lake. Jan. 2021. Tr. $28.50.
PreS-Gr 2 –Employing the first-person voice and simple prose, these biographies convey the lives of a mix of personalities. Interesting facts are provided for readers: the Dalai Lama was chosen as a leader at age two, Fred Rogers enjoyed playing with puppets, Jackie Kennedy loved to ride horses, and John Lewis helped plan the March on Washington. Each title includes a laudatory statement that clarifies the individual’s significance, for example, Nelson Mandela’s “I changed my country” and Laura Bush’s “I helped pass education laws.” Well-rendered drawings of the subjects are included, as are photographs. The volumes provide an appropriate amount of information for the grade levels, and young readers should find them engaging. VERDICT Interesting and informative, these titles will complement a primary grades’ curriculum. Purchases should be considered based on need.

Rose, Rachel. America Ferrera: Actor and Activist. ISBN 9781647477158.
––––. Christina Koch: Astronaut and Engineer. ISBN 9781647477165.
––––. Jimmy Carter: President and Humanitarian. ISBN 9781647477172.
––––. John Lewis: Congressman and Civil Rights Hero. ISBN 9781647477202.
––––. Michael Jordan: Basketball Superstar. ISBN 9781647477189.
––––. Michelle Obama: Advocate and Role Model. ISBN 9781647477196.
ea vol: 24p. (Bearport Biographies). Bearport. Jan. 2021. Tr. $26.99.
Gr 2-5 –These six volumes provide an eclectic mix of notable personages. Each book begins with a description of a significant moment in the subject’s life: Michael Jordan winning the 1991 NBA championship, Jimmy Carter’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, John Lewis’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington, etc. Then readers learn about when and where each person was born and where they attended college. Careers are traced with an emphasis on big moments: Christina Koch was a part of the first all-female spacewalk team, America Ferrera achieved success as an actress, and Michelle Obama promoted projects as first lady, including her “Let’s Move!” initiative. Nice, colorful photographs complement the texts. None of these biographies particularly stand outs, however, and most of these luminaries are the subjects of numerous other books for kids. Still, the information is current, and those needing up-to-date biographies on these individuals will find them useful. VERDICT Standard biographical fare, these volumes will be of value to libraries that maintain current information on the subjects and should be considered based on demand.


Upper Elementary to Middle School

Braun, Eric. Immigrants Who Served the ­Nation. ISBN 9781496695963.
Burgan, Michael. Immigrants Who Took a Stand. ISBN 9781496695437.
Gunderson, Jessica. Immigrants Who Built an Empire. ISBN 9781496695956.
Smith-Llera, Danielle. Immigrants Who Led the Way. ISBN 9781496695949.
ea vol: 64p. (Immigrants Who Dared). Capstone. Jan. 2021. Tr. $35.32.
Gr 4-8 –These four volumes introduce readers to the feats and achievements of many immigrants to the United States. Included are athletes, artists, politicians, entrepreneurs, inventors, activists, and philanthropists. For example, Immigrants Who Took a Stand includes Mother Jones, who led the fight for workers’ rights; Immigrants Who Led the Way features Levi Strauss and his creation of blue jeans; Immigrants Who Built an Empire features Indra Nooyi, who brought great change to PepsiCo as its CEO; and Immigrants Who Served the Nation includes Farouk El-Baz, who played a key role in the Apollo 15 rover mission. Each entry is very brief and focuses mostly on the immigrant’s contribution with little mention of their personal life. Also, there is overlap: Elon Musk, Joseph Pulitzer, and Mazie ­Hirono appear in more than one volume. VERDICT While these are sufficient introductions, selectors would do well to consider more comprehensive biographies.

Doeden, Matt. The COVID-19 ­Pandemic: A Coronavirus Timeline. ISBN 9781728427706.
Roland, James. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2nd Edition: Iconic Supreme Court Justice. ISBN 9781541596764.
Schwartz, Heather E. Billie Eilish: The Rise of a Superstar. ISBN 9781728404493.
––––. Joe Biden: From Scranton to the White House. ISBN 9781728420592.
––––. Kamala Harris: Madam Vice President. ISBN 9781728427829.
ea vol: 48p. (Gateway Biographies). Lerner. Jan. 2021. Tr. $31.99.
Gr 4-9 –The lives of four people and one virus are traced in these comprehensive biographies. The evolution and current state of the coronavirus is presented, including an overview of COVID-19 treatments and preventative measures. The people biographies include the professional and personal lives of the subjects, with emphasis on their careers. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a lifelong proponent of equal rights between the sexes; Billie Eilish is a talented singer who makes her own statement with her clothes; as a politician Joe Biden has spent his life trying to help others; and Kamala Harris is the first Black, Asian, female vice president and employs her personal moral compass in her decision-making. All titles relate the facts of these individuals’ lives, providing students foundations for reports. However, they tend to be adulatory (excepting the book on COVID-19), thus presenting these complex individuals as somewhat one-dimensional. Readers would benefit from more balanced biographies. VERDICT Though timely, except for the title on ­Ginsburg these volumes are already dated. Selectors should consider based on need.

Gutiérrez, Jolene. J Balvín. ISBN 9781731643377.
––––. Ozuna. ISBN 9781731643360.
––––. Shakira. ISBN 9781731643353.
––––. Sofía Reyes. ISBN 9781731643346.
ea vol: tr. by Alma Patricia Ramirez. 32p. (Stars of Latin Pop). Rourke/High Tide. Jan. 2021. Tr. $27.50.
Gr 3-6 –Young fans of Latin pop will rejoice in these brief biographies of popular musicians. Written in both English and Spanish, each book relates where the subject was born, their career journeys, and their charitable endeavors. Years of birth are not provided, but other dates are: for example, Ozuna first posted a video on YouTube in 2014, and J Balvín and Shakira performed at the 2020 Super Bowl. Other interesting facts include information on collaborative acts and mentors and music awards won. Personal relationships are excluded, as is most information about their nonprofessional lives. However, readers will not be concerned, as the real draw of these books is the numerous color photographs of their favorite stars. ­ VERDICT Consider for purchase based on demand.

Miller, J.P. & Chellie Carroll. Amazing Artists. ISBN 9781427128072.
––––. Brave Leaders and Activists. ISBN 9781427128089.
––––. Groundbreaking Scientists. ISBN 9781427128096.
––––. Sports Heroes. ISBN 9781427128102.
ea vol: 48p. (Black Stories Matter). Crabtree. Jan. 2021. Tr. $31.32.
Gr 4-8 –These titles provide brief introductions to Black people of note in the fields of art, activism, science, and sport. Represented are the famous (Beyoncé, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.) and lesser-known (Umra Omar, Mary Seacole, etc.). Two to three pages focus primarily on accomplishments in their respective fields. Emphasis is placed on their individual experiences with racism: for example, Nina Simon was refused admittance into a prestigious music school due to her race. Unfortunately, the brief bios incline toward hagiography; little attention is paid to the personal lives and struggles of these complex people. Still, there is merit in that some of these individuals are seldom the subjects of other biographies, and included are the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, lending the works currency. VERDICT The volumes provide sufficient introductions to lesser-known Black achievers and may induce readers to more in-depth research. Purchasers should consider based on need.

Young readers will benefit from the straightforward, age-appropriate “My Itty-Bitty Bio” (Cherry Lake) as the subjects are introduced in an engaging manner. The Capstone/Pebble “Biographies” provide good information and appealing pictures for slightly older readers. Titles in “Women in Science and Technology” (Rourke/Discovery Library) are both interesting and suitable for reports. Finally, fans of various Latinx performers will enjoy the tributes to their favorite “Stars of Latin Pop” (Rourke/High Tide).

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