From the They Did What? series

Primarily entertaining rather than informative, these slick, superficial biographies are more fluff than substance.

A collection of biographies of 50 famous and not-so-famous females, both living and very long dead, who share a common thread of being strong—although not always admirable—women.

Those (not all meritorious) sharing the limelight are a disparate group. They range from about 15 women from long ago, such as the Trung sisters, leaders in first-century Vietnam, and Countess Erzsébet Báthory, a prolific mass murderer in 17th-century Hungary, to contemporary women, including performers Ellen DeGeneres, Joan Baez, and Tina Fey. Business leaders (Anna Maria Chávez, Sheryl Sandberg, Suze Orman, and Estée Lauder), such scientists as Marie Curie and Ellen Ochoa, political activists, artists, and world leaders round out the group. A majority of the subjects are women of color—a very nice touch. Although the factual information seems accurate, these highly condensed biographies (some just one to two pages long) lack room for the nuances that characterize lives. Suppositions, especially regarding women who lived centuries ago, are presented as facts. Unnecessary sentence fragments and abundant exclamation points create an unfortunate flavor of Ripley’s Believe It or Not–style ephemera. The exclamation points sometimes seem to diminish accomplishments: “Now, [Ellen] DeGeneres has the life she always wanted. She’s famous, she’s special—and people like her!” Only four attractive, caricaturelike illustrations were available for review.

Primarily entertaining rather than informative, these slick, superficial biographies are more fluff than substance. (bibliography, personality-type quiz, vocabulary guide) (Collective biography. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-14-751812-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Puffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015


From the They Did What? series

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

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. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015


From the Giants of Science series

Hot on the heels of the well-received Leonardo da Vinci (2005) comes another agreeably chatty entry in the Giants of Science series. Here the pioneering physicist is revealed as undeniably brilliant, but also cantankerous, mean-spirited, paranoid and possibly depressive. Newton’s youth and annus mirabilis receive respectful treatment, the solitude enforced by family estrangement and then the plague seen as critical to the development of his thoughtful, methodical approach. His subsequent squabbles with the rest of the scientific community—he refrained from publishing one treatise until his rival was dead—further support the image of Newton as a scientific lone wolf. Krull’s colloquial treatment sketches Newton’s advances in clearly understandable terms without bogging the text down with detailed explanations. A final chapter on “His Impact” places him squarely in the pantheon of great thinkers, arguing that both his insistence on the scientific method and his theories of physics have informed all subsequent scientific thought. A bibliography, web site and index round out the volume; the lack of detail on the use of sources is regrettable in an otherwise solid offering for middle-grade students. (Biography. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-670-05921-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2006

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