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



From the They Did What? series

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. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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Despite its not insignificant flaws, this book provides insights into the lives of important women, many of whom have...



Caldecott Medalist McCully delves into the lives of extraordinary American women.

Beginning with the subject of her earlier biography Ida M. Tarbell (2014), McCully uses a chronological (by birth year) structure to organize her diverse array of subjects, each of whom is allotted approximately 10 pages. Lovely design enhances the text with a full-color portrait of each woman and small additional illustrations in the author/illustrator’s traditional style, plenty of white space, and spare use of dynamic colors. This survey provides greater depth than most, but even so, some topics go troublingly uncontextualized to the point of reinforcing stereotype: “In slavery, Black women had been punished for trying to improve their appearance. Now that they were free, many cared a great deal about grooming”; “President Roosevelt ordered all Japanese Americans on the West Coast to report to internment camps to keep them from providing aid to the enemy Japanese forces.” Of the 21 surveyed, one Japanese-American woman (Patsy Mink) is highlighted, as are one Latinx woman (Dolores Huerta), one Mohegan woman (Gladys Tantaquidgeon), three black women (Madam C.J. Walker, Ella Baker, and Shirley Chisholm), four out queer white women (Billie Jean King, Barbara Gittings, Jane Addams, and Isadora Duncan; the latter two’s sexualities are not discussed), two Jewish women (Gertrude Berg and Vera Rubin), and three women with known disabilities (Addams, Dorothea Lange, and Temple Grandin).

Despite its not insignificant flaws, this book provides insights into the lives of important women, many of whom have otherwise yet to be featured in nonfiction for young readers. (sources) (Collective biography. 10-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-01991-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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An important glimpse into the early civil rights movement.



Kanefield tells the story of Barbara Rose Johns, whose fight for equality in the schools of Farmville, Va., went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

In 1950, 15-year-old Barbara Johns was a junior at the all-black Robert R. Moton High School in rural Virginia, a crowded school using temporary classrooms that were little more than tar paper shacks, more like chicken coops than classrooms, with leaky roofs and potbellied stoves that provided little heat. Farmville High School, the white school, was a modern building with up-to-date facilities. Sick of the disparity, Barbara led a strike, demanding equal facilities in the schools of her town. Her actions drew the usual response from the white community: cross-burnings, white stores denying credit to black customers and criticism for their “ill-advised” actions. Although threats caused Barbara’s parents to send her to live with family in Alabama, where she graduated from high school, the Moton students’ case was eventually bundled with others, including Brown v. Board of Education. In an attractive volume full of archival photographs, informative sidebars and a clearly written text, Kanefield shares an important though little-known story of the movement. A one-page summary of “The Birth of the Civil Rights Movement” and a civil rights timeline connect Barbara’s story to the larger struggle; sadly, the bibliography offers no mention of the many fine volumes available for young readers who will want to know more.

An important glimpse into the early civil rights movement. (author’s note, sources, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0796-4

Page Count: 56

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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