Biographies should be compelling stories that hook the reader immediately. This list of nonfiction picture book biographies do exactly that — they tell a story that makes it seem like you’re reading a fiction book. Which kids generally prefer over a book of facts, dates, and dry informative text. Quite frankly I prefer it, too.
Picture Book Nonfiction Biographies
The Impossible True Story of Tricky Vic, the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
In a word: fascinating. It’s always so mind-boggling for those of us who aren’t criminal masterminds to attempt to relate to con artist with such zeal and passion for swindling people. It’s down right impossible yet fascinating at the same time. And I love how Greg Pizzoli incorporates mixed media and graphic illustrations to tell the narrative (yet nonfiction) story of one of the world’s most successful con men. Did I mention it was fascinating?!
Dear Mr. Washington by Lynn Cullen, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
The pictures alone will get you giggling, but the letters of apology from the two older of three children of portraitist Gilbert Stuart to George Washington are absolutely charming. We read about their attempts to be seen and not heard and to be good. “We were quite Good, don’t you think? Until Baby John wanted to see what was in the Bowl an dumped strawberry Punch all over himself. This is what comes of being Curious about the Business of Others.” This is based on the true story of Washington posing for his portrait.
A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by John Hendrix HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
I was completely entranced with this story of young Dickens who worked long days at the blacking factory. At the end of the week he visits his family in the debtors’ prison. It’s a piece of Dickens’ his life history that is often overlooked. Luckily there’s a happy ending — he leaves the factory and returns to school. Throughout this book, we’re given the sights and sounds that make Dickens’ writing so unique to this time period. I love how the author writes so this history reads like a story, even though it’s a biography. Highly recommended.
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
Melissa Sweet’s collage and watercolor illustrations will draw your eye immediately. Then, you’ll be intrigued with the story of Roget, his quiet life starting as a doctor and his fascination with lists. Peter Roget decided the world needed his lists of words and he published the first thesaurus. A fascinating biography!
The Noisy Paint Box; The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
Vasya Kandinsky was a proper but bored Russian boy until his aunt gifted him with a paint box. The paint whispered to him, he painted the sound of colors. For a time, he ignored his paints since being an artist wasn’t considered proper. Luckily for us all, he returned to his calling, painting abstract art. Wonderfully told as a narrative story, this nonfiction picture book biography is a must-read. It will make you think about not just Kandinsky but the sounds of colors and the world. Joyful!
I am Abraham Lincoln by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
Like all of the books in this dynamite series of biographies for early readers, this focuses on one of Lincoln’s character traits – his passion for fairness even as a child. I love how the illustrator shows young and older Abe with a big head in a tall hat, too. These books read like stories (narrative) not nonfiction and never sacrifice sharing quality information about the historical character. Also read: I am Amelia Earhart, I am Albert Einstein, and I am Rosa Parks.
Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
I use this book to inspire my art journaling. I love the way the illustrator has created swirls of color embedded with words. It perfectly matches the life story of the poet Neftalí, or Pablo Neruda. The story tells how Pablo became a poet who used his poems to speak his truth passionately for his native country of Chile. It’s one of those books that is very under-recognized, I think it deserves attention for the story and for the illustrations.
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, illustrated by Tim O’Meara
This could qualify as a beginning reader book with it’s stark language first in English and then Spanish. The art is so unique with a mixture of dolls, painting, and digital additions. Kids will learn very little about Frida Kahlo but it’s still a lovely introductory biography book.
Do you have any other nonfiction picture book biographies that read like narratives to add to this list?
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