When kids read a biography written like a narrative story, it’s so appealing — even if the kids aren’t nonfiction fans. I love that these picture book biographies inspire and educate children on important, interesting people. All of the books on this list have been added to my big list of all the best picture book biographies for elementary age kids.
Start 2018 Out With Incredible Nonfiction Biographies
The Boo-Boos That Changed the World A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really) by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Chris Hsu
Clever writing will keep readers entertained in this fascinating true story. Plus, readers will be inspired by this invention from necessity as well as the persistent way the company marketed the invention even after initial failure. Earle’s wife, Josephine, is accident prone. REALLY accident prone. Worried about her cuts and infections, Earle invents an adhesive tape “bandage” which helps! He pitches the idea to his bosses at Johnson & Johnson, they love it, and call the product Band-Aids. Unfortunately, the Band-Aids don’t sell. The company decides not to sell them but to give them away to other accident prone groups — the Boy Scouts and soldiers. Soon the world sees the need for this practical invention — and aren’t you glad?
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington
Beautifully illustrated and inspirationally written! Little Mae dreamed of becoming an astronaut. Her parents told her she could do it if she worked hard, taking Mae to the library to find information and encouraging her astronaut pretend play after dinner. Despite her teacher’s discouragement (“Nursing would be a good profession for someone like you”), Mae listened to her mom and stuck to her dream. Mae kept dreaming, believing, and working hard. She (Dr. Mae Jemison) succeeded; she became the first African American female astronaut in space.
Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Quin Leng
Delicate pen and ink watercolor illustrations accompany this simple story about Jane Austen, an ordinary girl who loved books. She loved to read the books in her fathers library. Soon, she began writing her own books. After rewriting and working hard, she even had her books published, although they didn’t say her name as was common at the time. I found this to be a delightful introduction to the author. I predict readers will be curious to learn and read from Jane Austen.
Let The Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, illustrated by Frank Morrison
You’d be hard pressed to find a more perfect historical picture book. I love the way the author uses the right amount of text to share the events leading up to a Birmingham, Alabama march made up only of children and teens. The illustrations are dynamic, too, showing expressive children and passionate adults — each two page spread evokes an emotion. I LOVE this book so much.
American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood by Susan Wood, illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Grant Wood, the artist known for American Gothic, searched all over Europe for a style that resonated with him. But nothing did. When he returned home to the midwest of the U.S., he found his muse and style in his own backyard. He painted what he knew and people loved it.
The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
While I’m not a fan of rhyming books usually, I liked how the author simplifies Dr. Grandin’s life story in a meaningful way. We see how Dr. Grandin didn’t fit at school since her brain was different. When kicked out, Dr. Grandin went to stay at her aunt’s farm where she connected with the animals who were easier to relate to than people. Her story continued with a new school and an understanding teacher, inventions, and a life after college that included speaking about autism. “Each person is special– so UNIQUE are our minds. This world needs YOUR ideas. It takes brains of ALL kinds.” Engaging, beautiful illustrations throughout the story.
Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Read this picture book and you’ll learn about the life of a famous folk artist who didn’t really start playing music until over the age of 60. She always loved music though. And when she was a maid or worked in a department store, she kept that music in her heart. Later, when she worked for the Seeger family, she surprised them all with her self-taught musical talent. Listen to her most famous song, “Freight Train,” here. (Here’s another video clip of Elizabeth Cotton playing the banjo.)
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