40 Inspiring Icons: Bitesize Biographies of Famous Figures

Reading Time: 6 minutes
40 Inspiring Icons Covers, Image: Wide Eyed Editions
40 Inspiring Icons, Image: Wide Eyed Editions

The 40 Inspiring Icons series from Quarto’s Wide Eyed Editions is a collection of books that introduce 40 people or groups who are famous in their field through short biographies. The current range includes Music Legends, Soccer Stars, People of Peace, and Greek Gods & Heroes.

Each of the four books in the 40 Inspiring Icons series so far begins with a short introduction before launching into the bios which are presented in roughly chronological order. Every bio is spread over two pages and includes a stylized cartoon of the person or group, a one-paragraph introduction to them and what they’ve done to earn a place in the book, and a handful of extra interesting facts, figures, dates, or other relevant information. Each one is very much an introduction to the person or group and is designed with kids in mind so the books work hard to keep it simple, don’t expect to read a detailed history here and fans won’t learn anything new.

Pink Floyd in 40 Inspiring Icons Music Legends, Image: Wide Eyed Editions
Pink Floyd in 40 Inspiring Icons Music Legends, Image: Wide Eyed Editions

Music Legends

My favorite of the four 40 Inspiring Icons books so far was Music Legends which introduced 40 groups and singers from the 1950s to today. The book contains many of the artists you would expect to find in its pages, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, but there are many who were perhaps more unexpected such as New Order and The Velvet Underground. By far the strangest inclusion was Arcade Fire who, at least in my opinion, haven’t earned the title of “legend” yet – certainly not when the likes of Metallica and Guns N Roses have been excluded. Opinion is a really key word here because this book is bound to provoke outrage over the artists it has included over those it has not. There’s a definite lean toward British indie bands here too, perfect for me, but likely to upset fans of pop, hip-hop, and other genres.

I also found it odd that in several group illustrations, band members were left out with no explanation. Queen’s illustration only includes two of the four members, as does the image of Depeche Mode, while Radiohead’s illustration depicts three of their total five – yet other bands are depicted in their entirety with eight people are squeezed into the image of the Wu-Tang Clan so this clearly isn’t an issue of space. A band line-up is rarely included in the facts which means that these missing group members are never even referred to by name, they are simply ignored. If you can let this slide, however, this is a fun introduction to many classic music artists that will prompt discussion and, hopefully, inspire you to listen to new music with your kids.

Eleanor Roosevelt in 40 Inspiring Icons People of Peace, Image: Wide Eyed Editions
Eleanor Roosevelt in 40 Inspiring Icons People of Peace, Image: Wide Eyed Editions

People of Peace

The next 40 Inspiring Icons title – People of Peace – introduces protestors, artists, philosophers, scientists, politicians, and more who have worked to make our world a more peaceful place. Of the four books, this is easily the one most likely to inspire deep, thought-provoking conversations and is a great reference to have around for homework or further reading after watching the news. Again, the line-up contains many faces you would expect to see such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, but there were also many names I didn’t know and many more who I did know but for other reasons, not their commitment to peace – such as Pablo Picasso and Victor Hugo.

One of my criticisms of this book comes from the assumptions it makes regarding prior knowledge. This is very much a primer for kids, yet things like the House Un-American Activities Committee are referenced with no explanation of what they were/are. You could take this as an opportunity to dig deeper and continue learning elsewhere, but in a kids primer, I believe it would be best to keep it simple and include clear explanations of anything mentioned in passing like this.

I found this book the most educational of the bunch and it made me want to go away and learn more about the people it introduced which is all you can really hope for from a book like this.

David Beckham in 40 Inspiring Icons Soccer Stars, Image: Wide Eyed Editions
David Beckham in 40 Inspiring Icons Soccer Stars, Image: Wide Eyed Editions

Soccer Stars

The first 40 Inspiring Icons book I actually read was Soccer Stars (titled Fantastic Footballers outside the US). I am not a football fan beyond supporting my country, but England had been performing well in the 2018 World Cup and I was riding a high which inspired me to pick it up. The book features players from every continent as well as a handful of female players which I was really pleased to see considering how easy it would have been for the authors to ignore the women’s game entirely.

Anyone familiar with the beautiful game, even in passing, will know many of the players here – Beckham, Ronaldo, Messi, and Pele are household names the world over. However, I asked my husband, a far bigger soccer fan than me, to look over the contents page which lists all the bios included in the book and he believes that Soccer Stars is likely to be even more controversial than Music Legends for who it excludes and some of the lesser players who have taken their place. He pointed out the inclusion of Paul Pogba over Thierry Henry from France or Marco Veratti over Roberto Baggio from Italy as particularly odd choices. This has possibly been done partly to balance the names out so someone is included from every continent, despite the vast majority of internationally renowned players hailing from Europe and South America.

Again, this book is designed as an introductory primer so the bios are short and cannot possibly include everything there is to know about a player – especially those with long careers or those who have done other things of note away from the pitch. Yet it does a good job of giving you a flavor of who these people are and why they have become as well-known as they are.

Persephone in 40 Inspiring Icons Greek Gods & Heroes, Image: Wide Eyed Editions
Persephone in 40 Inspiring Icons Greek Gods & Heroes, Image: Wide Eyed Editions

Greek Gods and Heroes

The final title so far – Greek Gods and Heroes – is possibly the oddest inclusion to the 40 Inspiring Icons series because it is the only one of the four to focus on fictional people over real ones. The bizarre nature of Greek mythology also means it’s the hardest to wrap your head around thanks to the endless inbreeding and confused relationships, with Zeus alone responsible for a large proportion of the mess. The book does attempt to present itself in chronological order moving down the Olympian family tree, but when people are frequently having children with their own parents, the issue does become slightly confused!

Most adults will have heard of the majority of the figures in this book – Zeus, Apollo, Medusa, and Achilles for example, but there are several lesser-known figures included here as well such as Asclepius, Tantalus, and Iphigenia. And while most of us are probably aware of these figures and have a vague recollection of what they did (Jason with his Argonauts, Achilles and his heel), we’re perhaps not as familiar with the details of their stories. I found myself shocked at just how twisted many of the tales were, despite having a general familiarity with Greek mythology. This is one book I would recommend reading along with or before your kids because some of the contents could be upsetting to those with a more sensitive disposition.

As with People of Peace, I also found that this book would introduce something without explaining it in enough detail, or would hint at things and never explain them in full. A specific example can be found in the Dionysus bio. It tells us how Hera (Dionysus’s step-mother of a sort) spent years attempting to kill Dionysus and to drive him mad, yet a note in his family tree shows that he and Hera had a child together. How on Earth did that happen? No explanation is included…

40 Inspiring Icons Series

I really loved the 40 Inspiring Icons book series and am excited to see more of them in the future as the scope for potential topics is enormous. While all four could use a little editorial clean-up and there are issues over who is included and who isn’t, they work great as introductions or quick reminders in their subject areas and I would highly recommend all four.

GeekMom received these books for review purposes.