An earnest if jumbled effort to point out character-building values.


Fifty-two portraits of real-world heroes, from that “troublemaker” Abe Lincoln to Miep Gies, the “lawbreaker” who hid Anne Frank and her family.

Originally issued in 2010 and reprinted with only minor changes, Meltzer’s gallery pairs black-and-white portraits—photos, except for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—with pithy proofs of, in his view, each figure’s admirable character. Washington, for instance, he touts not for winning a war but for voluntarily stepping down from the presidency when he could easily have remained in power. Some of his choices, such as Charlie Chaplin and George H.W. Bush, may not look so heroic upon fuller examination. Still, it’s hard not to agree when he lauds the courage of Special Olympics swimmer Andy Miyares, the Wright Brothers (“Crash and rebuild. Crash and rebuild. But never ever, ever give up”), and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. He also praises Frank Shankwitz, founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and other philanthropists; Fred Rogers for teaching kindness; John Lennon for peace activism; and Lucille Ball for, well, being funny. He arranges his entries in no particular order, seldom adds much biographical detail, and occasionally lets rhetoric trump clarity, telling readers that Einstein “questioned the status quo. His idea? Everything is full of energy. His conclusion? E=mc2.” Most of his choices are white, male, and Euro-American, but he does include 15 women, a dozen African-Americans, and a handful of world citizens. He also leaves blank pages for readers to write in heroes of their own.

An earnest if jumbled effort to point out character-building values. (Nonfiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-243931-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

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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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A rich and deeply felt slice of life.


Crafting fantasy worlds offers a budding middle school author relief and distraction from the real one in this graphic memoir debut.

Everyone in Tori’s life shows realistic mixes of vulnerability and self-knowledge while, equally realistically, seeming to be making it up as they go. At least, as she shuttles between angrily divorced parents—dad becoming steadily harder to reach, overstressed mom spectacularly incapable of reading her offspring—or drifts through one wearingly dull class after another, she has both vivacious bestie Taylor Lee and, promisingly, new classmate Nick as well as the (all-girl) heroic fantasy, complete with portals, crystal amulets, and evil enchantments, taking shape in her mind and on paper. The flow of school projects, sleepovers, heart-to-heart conversations with Taylor, and like incidents (including a scene involving Tori’s older brother, who is having a rough adolescence, that could be seen as domestic violence) turns to a tide of change as eighth grade winds down and brings unwelcome revelations about friends. At least the story remains as solace and, at the close, a sense that there are still chapters to come in both worlds. Working in a simple, expressive cartoon style reminiscent of Raina Telgemeier’s, Sharp captures facial and body language with easy naturalism. Most people in the spacious, tidily arranged panels are White; Taylor appears East Asian, and there is diversity in background characters.

A rich and deeply felt slice of life. (afterword, design notes) (Graphic memoir. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-53889-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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