Book Review: Little Guides to Great Lives  

Nelson Mandela, Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, Leonardo da Vinci, Amelia Earhart

By Isabel Thomas

Published by Laurence King Publishing

It is never easy to get young readers interested in biography (although I read quite a lot of it but perhaps I was an unusual child). A warm welcome then for this new series Little Guides to Great Lives which – with various illustrators across the different titles – look attractive and undaunting. They’re hard backed with matching cover designs, each one in a different colour so they appeal as a set too.

The prose is clear and sometimes quite witty too although personally I would have edited out all exclamation marks in the main text. The style includes short blocks of text, bullet points, speech bubbles, diagrams, charts and more. There’s a family tree for Marie Curie’s birth family for example and some neat maps of Africa in the Nelson Mandela book and of Italy in the Leonardo da Vinci one. There is a problem in that illustrations of Frida Kahlo and Leonardo da Vinci paintings don’t look remotely like the real thing, but I suppose teachers and parents can encourage young readers to look at reproductions online once the interest is caught.

I learned quite a lot from these books especially about Amelia Earhart and Frida Kahlo, of whom my pre-existing knowledge was pretty sketchy – as would any child. I’d put these books into the hands of children aged 8-13 or in Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 school libraries.

This series has begun with five carefully chosen subjects – three female, two non-white and so on. I presume there are plans to do more if these first titles are successful. I hope so. Children need well written non-fiction.

Review by Susan Elkin