Elem. – Finish Strong: Seven Marathons, Seven Continents, Seven Days

McGillivray, Dave. Finish Strong: Seven Marathons, Seven Continents, Seven Days.  Nomad Press, 2021. 978-1-647-41039-1. $16.95. 288 p. Grades K-5.

This story about Dave McGillivray, the Race Director for the Boston Marathon, tells the true tale of his World Marathon Challenge: the challenge to complete seven marathons on seven continents in just seven days! Traveling around the world, children will read how he overcame many obstacles to complete this challenge. Includes McGillivray’s “Dream Big Marathon” for kids, which challenges kids to run, read, and perform acts of kindness.   

THOUGHTS: This is an inspiring story and would be enjoyed by students who love track and cross country racing. The Dream Big “Marathon” is a nice way to show students that fitness, reading, and kindness all contribute to making a whole person.

Biography         Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School
Picture Book

Elem. – A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla

Westergaard, Azadeh. A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla. Viking, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-593-11460-5.  Grades 1-4. $17.99.

In this picture book biography, the author tells readers how much more Nikola Tesla contributed to science than his hair-raising Tesla coil. Born during a thunderstorm in modern day Croatia, the future scientist was interested in animals, books, and electricity as a young boy. He even designed his own inventions, like a “rotating motor powered by the fast, flapping wings of sixteen June bugs.” Tesla was a good student, excelling in many subjects, but electrical engineering was his passion. Soon he came up with an innovative way to transmit electricity over long distances by sending electric currents back and forth on a wire. Tesla traveled to the United States to share his discovery. There he met businessman George Westinghouse and they worked together to develop the electric motor. This invention was presented at the 1893 Chicago World Fair to much acclaim. Sadly, the Wizard of Electricity did not profit much from his creation due to unfortunate business decisions. Although Nikola died alone and poor in New York in 1943, over two thousand prominent scientists, businessmen, and artists attended his funeral. As one friend observed, “So far reaching is his work… should Tesla’s work be suddenly withdrawn-darkness would prevail.”  The back matter provides more biographical details, vintage photographs, and suggested readings.  Sarda’s illustrations are rendered digitally and have a folk art quality.

THOUGHTS: This is an intriguing life story of this important, but underappreciated, inventor, whose electrical discoveries are so crucial to the modern world. By revealing Tesla’s non-technical interests such as poetry and caring for hungry or injured pigeons, the author has presented a unique portrait of the man. This text works as a good introduction to electricity units and is a worthwhile purchase for elementary collections.

Biography  92, 921          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
621.3092 Electrical Engineering

YA – They Better Call Me Sugar: My Journey from the Hood to the Hardwood

Rodgers, Sugar. They Better Call Me Sugar: My Journey from the Hood to the Hardwood. Black Sheep, 2021. 978-1-617-75929-1. 176 p. $14.95. Grades 7-10.

Sugar Rodgers’ journey to the WNBA was not an easy road, to say the least. Rodgers starts her tale with a desire to motivate others and share her story of the struggle to succeed by discussing her childhood in Virginia. Growing up in an over-policed neighborhood, Rodgers’ mother supported her involvement in golf and eventually basketball. The loss of her mother, brother, and father, not to mention siblings in jail, and a lot of moving from home to home, didn’t cultivate an environment for Rodgers to thrive, but through support and determination and a lot of natural skill, she found her way to the court. Although the writing style is not cohesive, it is easy to read, and many readers will find the vernacular relatable. Despite some confusing timelines, Rodgers’ story doesn’t start with a basketball in her hand at age two or a family member who helped her break into the sport, and it ends with advice that provides hope to readers who might not see a clear path to their dream. Her childhood and conflicts are ones many readers will be able to identify with and find hope in her motivation. Sugar Rodgers’ motivation model is based on being able to take constructive criticism, “someone thinks you are good enough to correct.”

THOUGHTS: This book does contain some swearing, including derogatory terms, and potentially triggering life events such as death, jail, and physical abuse. Although this book would best suit middle school readers, some caution should be taken for sensitive readers.

796.323 Basketball          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Dr. Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor

Messner, Kate. Dr. Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor. Illustrated by Alexandra Bye. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-665-90243-4. 48 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the name Dr. Fauci is a name that we have heard so many times over the last two years. Dr. Fauci is best known as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a face and voice we have heard in our homes and in the news as we navigated the current health crisis. However, Dr. Fauci has worked with seven U.S presidents to tackle the largest public health challenges within the last 50 years! Kate Messner, author of Dr. Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor, examines the doctor’s life as a young boy, his time in medical school, and the challenges he faced in his personal and medical career. Dr. Fauci learned early in his life to ask questions, consider all aspects and research, and strive for perseverance and communication to tackle the most difficult challenges. This picture book also contains a timeline, accurate information about vaccines, and recommended further readings to better understand how vaccines work. Through the author, Dr. Fauci offers his own tips for future scientists! There is a little bit of everything in this well-written (and beautifully illustrated by Alexandra Bye) picture book about the life and career of Dr. Anthony Fauci and the impact he has made on our country. 

THOUGHTS: It is obvious that author Kate Messner did her research! Messner completed an extensive interview with Dr. Fauci to write this book, and the product is a thoughtful narrative with important information. Not only is this picture book presented as a biography, but it also serves as a science read as well! Timely, important, informational. Bravo! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – She Persisted: Florence Griffith Joyner

Williams-Garcia, Rita. She Persisted: Florence Griffith Joyner. Philomel. 978-0-593-11596-1. 59 p. $5.99. Grades 2-4. 

This chapter book biography shares the life story of Florence Griffith Joyner who is considered one of the fastest women of all time. In 1988, Flo Jo set two world records that still stand today. Her journey to becoming a five-time Olympic medalist was not an easy one, though. This biography chronicles her childhood growing up as one of eleven children in the low-income neighborhood of Watts, California, racing at UCLA, and training hard in pursuit of her Olympic goals. It also includes details about her unique personal style on and off the track, including nontraditional racing suits and long, colorful fingernails. Through short, fast-paced chapters, readers will get a sense of Flo Jo’s dedication, competitive spirit, and commitment to self-expression. Backmatter includes references as well as a section titled “How You Can Persist” which lists ideas such as making healthy choices, engaging in physical activity, expressing your thoughts through journaling or drawing, setting goals, and trying new things. This series was inspired by “She Persisted,” written by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger. More than a dozen additional chapter book biographies in this series include the stories of women like Harriet Tubman, Claudette Colvin, Maria Tallchief, Oprah Winfrey, Nellie Bly, and others. 

THOUGHTS: This biography will hook young readers and inspire them to work hard in pursuit of their own dreams. The narrative nonfiction writing style also makes this a good choice for classroom read-alouds. Share this title with fans of the “Who Was?” biography series. 

Biography          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG – Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness series)

Bah, Adama. Accused: My Story of Injustice (I, Witness series). Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01663-2. 112 p. $16.95. Grades 5-8.

Adama Bah immigrated to the United States when she was two years old. Her father had come to work in the United States two years prior from Guinea. As a student she attended public school, until seventh grade when she went to an Islamic boarding school to learn more about her religion. Then, September 11, 2001, happened. Upon her return to New York City for Ramadan break, Adama experienced cruelty and hate from strangers because of her dress which identified her as Muslim; she was 13. On March 24, 2005, Adama’s nightmare of hatred and cruelty reached a horrific level. She was ripped from her home and taken into custody, but she did not know why. She was identified as a terrorist and suicide bomber, but no one could share any evidence to these acts except that she was a practicing Muslim. She was stripped of her rights, her family, her pride, and her religion. At the age of 17, she was released back to New York City under the watch of a federal ankle bracelet. Her father, through all of this, was deported. She, as the eldest child, was now responsible for the well-being of her family in New York City and Guinea. She quit school to work but still faced daily hatred, cruelty, and bigotry.  Adama was granted asylum in 2007, but she still fights hatred and bigotry to this day. 

THOUGHTS: This is a fantastic addition to middle school biography collections. The cover is not the most appealing (it appears juvenile), but the book itself is eye-opening. I’m glad I gave it a chance. The print is large with lots of white space (again somewhat juvenile in appearance), but the content is engaging and a very quick read. This is a great text to teach perspective and current U.S. history. It is one of several titles currently available in the I, Witness series.

Biography          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Ordinary People Change the World (Series NF)

Meltzer, Brad. Ordinary People Change the World. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. $14.27 ea. $385.29 set of 27. Unpaged. K-3.

I am Frida Kahlo. 978-0-525-55598-8.
I am I. M. Pei. 978-0-525-55601-5.
I am Oprah Winfrey. 978-0-593-40582-6.

In this remarkable biography series, Brad Meltzer presents American icons in an extremely conversational, unintimidating manner. Beginning with their childhood, he tells each person’s story from his/her own point of view, focusing on personality traits that made each of them unique. Cartoon-like drawings and speech bubbles are interspersed with realistic images (like actual works of art) to make each story more intriguing. A timeline and photographs are included at the end of each book. I personally reviewed I am Frida Kahlo, and I absolutely loved the message being sent to the intended audience. Despite all of Frida’s difficulties in life – a bout with polio, a terrible bus accident, being ostracized because of her dress and actions – she remained true to herself and became a legend because of it. Not only does this encourage children to overcome curveballs in life, but it also sends them the message that they should be unafraid of being different. The format of these biographies definitely is unique and deserves to be considered for inclusion in all elementary biography collections.

THOUGHTS: This series would be extremely useful for biographical research as well as for character building activities. I also would recommend it to fans of Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum on PBS Kids, as the television series was actually inspired by this book series. In addition, it is worth noting that there are 24 other books in the series with publication years before and after 2021.

921 Biography          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

MG – Scientists Who Changed the World (Series NF)

Croy, Anita. Scientists Who Changed the World (series of 6). Crabtree, 2021. 64 p. $25.00 each. $150.00 Set of 6. Grades 5-8.

Albert Einstein. 978-0-778-78209-4.
Charles Darwin. 978-0-778-78218-6.
Galileo Galilei. 978-0-778-78219-3.
Sir Isaac Newton. 978-0-778-78221-6.
Rachel Carson. 978-0-778-78220-9.
Stephen Hawking. 978-0-778-78222-3.

Each of these books is divided into six chapters, covering 1. Biography, 2. Background (of the time period), 3. Breakthrough (scientific discoveries), 4. Key Ideas, 5. Reputation, and 6. Legacy. Croy interweaves the biography and ideas of the scientist well with the time period, making the person’s accomplishments more understandable for their enormity and effect. The design is full of charts, illustrations/photographs and frequent related text boxes, and also frequent white text on black background. Each chapter is set alongside a page printed with a quote or idea from the scientist.  Examples include: “Newton said that gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it does not explain who or what set the planets in motion” (Sir Isaac Newton 33) and “Galileo said that modern discoveries proved that ancient writers did not have superior knowledge. However, if ancient writers could see what modern scientists could see, they would draw the same conclusions” (Galileo Galilei 33).

THOUGHTS: Useful for reports, but thanks to the inviting pages broken into readable segments, this series could also be enjoyed by the casual reader.  It would be nice to see the series expanded in the same fashion.

Titles reviewed: Galileo Galilei and Sir Isaac Newton.

Biography          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
500s Scientists

Elem. – Wait! What? Muhammad Ali Was a Chicken?

Gutman, Dan. Wait! What? Muhammad Ali Was a Chicken? Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01706-6. 112 p. $6.99 (paperback). Grades 3-5.

In a fun, new nonfiction series from Dan Gutman, two kids (Paige and Turner) take turns trying to top themselves with the lesser known (yet still fascinating) facts of famous people. In fact, Muhammad Ali was a chicken when it came to flying, but they also discuss his bravery in the ring and standing up against the Vietnam War and social justice issues. With quotes and stats and illustrations along with the two narrators, the text is broken into curious and quick digestible bits of information. After some basic background, readers learn about the boxer Cassius Clay who changed his name to Ali for religious reasons. The stories about childhood are relatable for students, and the decisions from his fighting to his adulthood are explained in understandable terms without too much sugar coating. Ali was the Greatest for his showmanship and personality as much as his muscle and willpower, and Gutman gets into all those skills with interesting detail. Even teachers and adults will stop as they read to say, “Wait! What?” and want to learn more!

THOUGHTS: More titles are coming in this new series, including Amelia Earhart and Albert Einstein. Fans of the Weird School Fact books and the Who Was? biographies naturally will gravitate towards this nonfiction book.

Biography          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – She Heard the Birds: The Story of Florence Merriam Bailey Pioneering Nature Activist

D’Aquino, Andrea. She Heard the Birds: The Story of Florence Merriam Bailey Pioneering Nature Activist. Princeton, Architectural Press, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-648-96050-5. $18.95. Grades 1-3.

This picture book biography is the story of a woman who made a difference. Florence Merriam Bailey grew up in the late 19th century with her family who loved nature. Her mother was an astronomer and her father took the family on a summer long camping trip where she loved to observe the forest animals. Florence’s favorite creatures were birds and she studied their behavior and songs. She strongly disliked the latest fashion in hats, which were adorned with feathers and even the actual carcasses of birds. Bailey and her classmates at Smith College initiated a successful boycott of these hats. Florence became an avid ornithologist and promoted watching birds in a natural setting with binoculars in contrast to scientists who studied them in laboratories. She was the author of a field guide and other books on birds and their methods of communication. The author’s full bleed illustrations are done using hand-painted collage, oil pastel and pencil. Readers will enjoy examining the many colorful birds that are depicted.

THOUGHTS: This book is a great choice for elementary collections. It could be used during Women’s History Month, Earth Day or in science units. Children will learn about the wonder and beauty of our feathered friends and may be inspired to do some birdwatching on their own.

921 Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
598.2 Birds