Brisk and appealing historical vignettes, as readable as they are revealing.




From the Got a Minute? series

Biographical highlights and sidelights from a dozen, mostly veteran, nonfiction authors.

Originally posted on the Nonfiction Minute blog, these short essays focus less on biographical details than on why their subjects are worth knowing. Cheryl Harness, for instance, looks at George Washington Carver’s intrepid early efforts to make a go of it as a Kansas chicken farmer; elsewhere she suggests some of Mary Shelley’s likely sources of inspiration for Frankenstein and pays tribute to the warm friendship between the Marquis de Lafayette and the enslaved African-American James Armistead. Readers in search of role models will find plenty of lesser known possibilities among the usual suspects, such as ancient Egyptian Renaissance Man Imhotep (profiled by Jim Whiting), Sarah Keys Evans (by Amy Nathan), an African-American woman who preceded Rosa Parks in refusing to move to the back of a bus, Cal Rodgers (by Roxie Munro), a white pilot who was the first to fly across the U.S., or even George Frederic Handel (by Andrea Warren), the German composer who donated proceeds from his Messiah (and much more) to the London Foundling Hospital. Hellegouarch fills gaps in the array of period photos, documents, and art with mildly dramatic watercolor scenes, and each entry ends with a few leads to further information (often one of the writer’s own works).

Brisk and appealing historical vignettes, as readable as they are revealing. (writers’ profiles, index) (Collective biography. 10-13)

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63322-377-6

Page Count: 147

Publisher: Seagrass/Quarto

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats.


From the They Did What? series

Why should grown-ups get all the historical, scientific, athletic, cinematic, and artistic glory?

Choosing exemplars from both past and present, Mitchell includes but goes well beyond Alexander the Great, Anne Frank, and like usual suspects to introduce a host of lesser-known luminaries. These include Shapur II, who was formally crowned king of Persia before he was born, Indian dancer/professional architect Sheila Sri Prakash, transgender spokesperson Jazz Jennings, inventor Param Jaggi, and an international host of other teen or preteen activists and prodigies. The individual portraits range from one paragraph to several pages in length, and they are interspersed with group tributes to, for instance, the Nazi-resisting “Swingkinder,” the striking New York City newsboys, and the marchers of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Mitchell even offers would-be villains a role model in Elagabalus, “boy emperor of Rome,” though she notes that he, at least, came to an awful end: “Then, then! They dumped his remains in the Tiber River, to be nommed by fish for all eternity.” The entries are arranged in no evident order, and though the backmatter includes multiple booklists, a personality quiz, a glossary, and even a quick Braille primer (with Braille jokes to decode), there is no index. Still, for readers whose fires need lighting, there’s motivational kindling on nearly every page.

A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats. (finished illustrations not seen) (Collective biography. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-14-751813-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Puffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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The car gets shortchanged, but comparing the divergent career paths of its (putative) two riders may give readers food for...



A custom-built, bulletproof limo links two historical figures who were pre-eminent in more or less different spheres.

Garland admits that a claim that FDR was driven to Congress to deliver his “Day of Infamy” speech in a car that once belonged to Capone rests on shaky evidence. He nonetheless uses the anecdote as a launchpad for twin portraits of contemporaries who occupy unique niches in this country’s history but had little in common. Both were smart, ambitious New Yorkers and were young when their fathers died, but they definitely “headed in opposite directions.” As he fills his biographical sketches with standard-issue facts and has disappointingly little to say about the car itself (which was commissioned by Capone in 1928 and still survives), this outing seems largely intended to be a vehicle for the dark, heavy illustrations. These are done in muted hues with densely scratched surfaces and angled so that the two men, the period backgrounds against which they are posed, and the car have monumental looks. It’s a reach to bill this, as the author does, a “story about America,” but it does at least offer a study in contrasts featuring two of America’s most renowned citizens. Most of the human figures are white in the art, but some group scenes include a few with darker skin.

The car gets shortchanged, but comparing the divergent career paths of its (putative) two riders may give readers food for thought. (timeline, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-88448-620-6

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Tilbury House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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