75 Best Picture Book Biographies for Kids, 2024

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I love introducing kids to ordinary people who did amazing things by reading picture book biographies for kids. Don’t you? These biographies for kids are inspirational narrative nonfiction texts that are written like a story, appealing to children with beautiful illustrations.

I chose these books after reading thousands of picture books and understanding what children like because my background isn’t only in book reviews but in education. Plus, I’m a parent of two. I update this book list with the best newly published books, with the most recent update in November 2023.

A reading strategy I like to use with children reading nonfiction is connecting to background knowledge. As you read these biographies, both picture books for preschool and elementary ages, as well as biographical story collections for upper elementary and middle school, help your kids connect to what they’re reading. 

picture book biographies for kids

Start with prompts like:

How are you like or not like this person?

Do you know someone who is like this person?

What other biographies or famous people does this person remind you of?

Reading biographies is informative and instructive. We learn more about people which helps us learn more about ourselves– who we are and who we want to be.

The Best Picture Book Biographies for Kids

Table of Contents:

  1. STEM
  2. Activists
  3. Writers
  4. Artists and Musicians
  5. Famous Americans
  6. Athletes
  7. More Picture Books & Biography Collections



biggest, best list of picture book biographies for elementary

STEM (Scientists, coders, engineers, and mathematicians)

Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist
by Linda Skeers, illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens
Perfect in every way, this appealing biography recounts Mary Anning’s beach discoveries of the first dinosaur bones –fossilized ancient creatures that no one had ever seen before. Even though women weren’t invited into the scientific community at the time, she continued her exploring and learning. Pretty illustrations and fantastic writing with impressive sentence variety. (Writing teachers, use this book as a mentor text to teach varying sentence length!)

Picture Book Biographies About Inventors and Scientists
The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds & the Life of H. Tracy Hall
by Hannah Holt, illustrated by Jay Fleck
Brilliantly conceived and exceptionally written using parallel storytelling. The structure shows the similarities between the rocks of the earth and a boy’s life using the descriptions of HEAT, PRESSURE, CHANGE, and WAITING. As we read, we learn about the graphite in the earth as well as the curious boy who finds solace in the library. We see the diamonds waiting to be discovered while the boy grows up to work in a lab where he patiently builds an invention — a machine that makes diamonds. (This is a real thing!) I love the unique presentation and beautiful wordsmithing in this 2018 book.

Evelyn The Adventurous Entomologist: The True Story of a World-Traveling Bug Hunter
by Christine Evans, illustrated by Yasmin Imamura
But Evelyn went anyway” repeats throughout this story to show the pioneering courage of Evelyn Cheesman, a woman who didn’t let conventions of what girls could or couldn’t do stop her from living her passion. In the late 1800s, this daring English girl pursued her love for animals with a job running the London Zoo’s insect house. Not only that, she developed a singular focus on entomology, soon traveling the globe to discover new insects. And when she was told not to go places, you guessed it, …she went anyway. Not only is this about an adventurous, tenacious woman we all can admire but also the writing is superb and the lovely illustrations perfectly complement the narrative.

The House That Cleaned Itself: The True Story of Frances Gabe’s (Mostly) Marvelous Invention
by Laura Deashewitz and Susan Romberg, illustrated by Meghann Rader
An awe-inspiring inventor biography with excellent writing! Frances’s jaw-dropping inventions for cleaning her house are quite inventive. She’s a really smart problem-solver and a person you’d want to meet. When she gets fed up with her “job” doing all the housework, she creates a house with rooms that clean themselves. Imagine an automatic carwash INSIDE with air jets and a slanted floor. Although her ideas didn’t catch on, maybe one day another inventor will build on Frances’s ideas. Lovely pastel illustrations!

Counting the Stars: The Story of Katherine Johnson NASA Mathematician
by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by Raul Colon
You can’t help but be inspired by Katherine’s life story. Katherine zipped through her schooling early because she was so smart, finding a job as a teacher. But she’s most well-known for her next job as a human calculator for NASA’s space program, helping the first American travel to space.


Picture Book Biographies About Inventors and Scientists
The Boo-Boos That Changed the World A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really)
by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Chris Hsu
Read about an invention from necessity. Earle’s wife, Josephine, is accident-prone. REALLY accident-prone. Worried about her cuts and infections, Earle invents an adhesive tape “bandage” which helps his wife! 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 so the company decides not to sell them but to give them away to other accident-prone groups — the Boy Scouts and soldiers. Before long, the world sees the need for this practical invention –and aren’t you glad?


Picture Book Biographies About Inventors and Scientists
Ada’s Ideas The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer
by Fiona Robinson
Ada lived in an era of burgeoning factories with a strict mathematician mother. As an adult, she used her brilliant mind to help her friend Charles Babbage improve his calculation machine so it would to be more like what we know today as a computer. Although it wasn’t mass-produced, Ada is credited with being the first computer programmer. GORGEOUS mixed-media illustrations! You might also like: Ada Bryon Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.


Picture Book Biographies About Inventors and Scientists
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.


biographies about inventors
The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons
by Natascha Biebow, illustrated by Steven Salerno
This might be a new favorite biography picture book because it’s skillfully written, perfect for young readers, about a topic that we all love — crayons. Edwin Binney is a curious inventor who always listened to what people needed in their lives. First, he created a slate pencil for children in the classroom then next, a better, non-crumble chalk for teachers. When many people, including his own wife, asked for better, cheaper colored crayons, Edwin and his team experimented with rocks, minerals, pigments, and clays and found the perfect mixtures for a longer-lasting crayon. People loved them!


Picture Book Biographies About Inventors and Scientists
Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford
by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Read this picture book for perseverance and grit in action! Two boys grow up with two different passions — Henry for cars and Thomas for electricity. Henry practices and fails while watching Thomas succeed in many inventions. What was Thomas’ secret? Henry moved next door to find out. He found out that he knew the secret all along — keep at it. Which he did! After many trials and errors, (Models A, B, C, F, K, and N) he succeeded with the Model T.

big list of picture book biographies
Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark
by Heather Lang, illustrated by Jordi Solano
Genie loved all fish, especially sharks, and wanted to be a fish scientist. Even though she lived in the 1930s when that wasn’t a regular job for a woman, Genie found work — first as an assistant, then as a researcher for the US Navy, and finally, she opened up her own marine laboratory. She focused her research on sharks, discovering more about sharks than anyone knew before. Reading this picture book biography inspired me and sparked my interest in learning more about sharks.

Picture Book Biographies About Inventors and Scientists
Miss Todd and Her Wonderful Flying Machine
by Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee
I love the unique, beautiful artwork in this story based on a short film about the life of the real Lily Todd. She was the first woman to build and design an airplane — despite that in the early 1900s no one believed a woman could or should do such a thing. Despite the many NOs she was told, Miss Todd built and flew anyway. Perseverance! Watch the award-winning film

. Picture Book Biographies About Inventors and Scientists
Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille
by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Fascinating and important history meet gifted storytelling in this new picture book biography about Louis Braille. We follow the life of precocious, sightless Louis who desperately wants to read and write but is disappointed with his limited options. Despite being chronically ill, a child, and lots of failed attempts, Louis invents a system for the blind to read and write that is still in use today. (This book is on my BEST CHILDREN’S NONFICTION BOOKS OF 2016 list.)

picture book biographies about scientists
The Doctor With an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath
by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Oh, my goodness I love the illustrations in this picture book so so so much! And the story, in rhyme, it’s inspiring. Read how Patricia, despite being a girl and African American, stood firm in her goal to become a doctor. She did and later invented the laser probe to heal eyes.


Picture Book Biographies About Inventors and Scientists
Out of School and Into Nature the Anna Comstock Story
by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Jessica Lanan
Anna didn’t follow the typical female path of her time — getting married. Instead, she studied insects, drew then in detailed pictures, studied them under a microscope, and wrote books about them. When she realized that schools weren’t teaching children about the natural world, she wrote lessons about nature for children. Not only that, she encouraged teachers to take their students outside to experience the beauty of nature. Simple and lovely.
 Picture Book Biographies About Inventors and Scientists
Charles Darwin: Around-the-World Adventure
by Jennifer Thermes
From the time he was a boy, Charles Darwin loved nature and collecting. As an adult, he observed and studied the natural world of South America. This richly illustrated and interesting picture book biography follows Darwin’s life and explorations.

Wood, Wire, Wings Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane
by Kirsten W. Larson, illustrated by Tracy Subisak
A well-written narrative biography about a female airplane inventor and engineer named Lilian Todd. Lilian followed her passion and curiosity with persistence to figure out how to make an aircraft. She persisted and failed but eventually designed a successful airplane.

The Stuff Between the Stars How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe
by Sandra Nickel, illustrated by Amee Sicuro
Vera Rubin was an inspiring female pioneer in astronomy who persevered to make huge discoveries that she wasn’t credited for but she didn’t love science because of the accolades. She continued to pursue her questions about the universe and to mentor others.

Going Places: Victor Hugo Green and His Glorious Book
by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Victor Hugo Green, a mail carrier, wrote The Green Book to help Black people like him find safe places to stay when they were traveling. Because in the years of Jim Crow (segregation), many places were unsafe or closed to Black families. Green died before The Civil Rights Act became a law prohibiting the unjust treatment of Black people who were going places, but he hoped that The Green Book wouldn’t be needed anymore.


All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything
 by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali
Jennifer uses a wheelchair because of her cerebral palsy. Using a wheelchair means that she can’t get into the neighborhood school with stairs or eat lunch in the cafeteria with the other kids. So even though she’s a kid, Jennifer joins other activists to speak up for access to all places — asking Congress to pass a law called the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. When the law doesn’t look like it’s going to pass, Jennifer leaves her wheelchair to crawl up the steps (no ramps) of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Eventually, Congress finally passes the ADA! Reading Jennifer’s true story will make you CHEER! Because Jennifer is amazing and you’ll want to be a force for change like her. What a role model!

Picture Book Biographies About Activists
Lilian’s Right To Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Blueish-tinted illustrations capture the somber mood of Lilian’s memories in this historical nonfiction picture book. Lilian’s memories begin with her great-great-grandparents who were slaves, sold and separated from each other. As Lilian remembers all people who struggled to gain equal rights, all gone before her, she walks slowly up a steep hill to cast her vote. Gaining the right to vote was a journey, somewhat like a steep climb up a hill.

Picture Book Biographies About Activists 
Malala’s Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai
When she was younger, Malala dreamed of the things she’d do if she had a magic pencil. She’d erase war, poverty, and hunger. Then she would draw girls and boys together as equals. She stopped dreaming of the pencil and worked hard at school. Soon she began writing about her beliefs. Even after bad men tried to stop her, Malala wrote, using her words as the magic to spread a message of hope. Beautifully illustrated and inspiring, this story shares Malala’s ideals with the youngest of readers. Hers is an important example of a growth mindset and social justice in action.

picture book biographies 
Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins
by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, illustrated by Jade Johnson
There’s so much to love about this picture book — the captivating folk-art style illustrations with an earthy color palette, the repetitive text of “separate and unequal” and “someday was now,” plus the well-written, compelling true story!! It’s about an amazing woman named Clara who advocated for justice and equality during a time when black people weren’t permitted the same rights as white people. As a teacher, she inspired her students to believe that change was possible. Clara and her students went to the Katz drugstore and asked to be served — even though the store didn’t serve black people. She and her students returned day after day despite people yelling and throwing food. Eventually, the Katz store relented. They started to serve people of all races. Clara and her students finally could enjoy a Coke and burger without trouble. (And then prepare for the next segregated store demonstration.)

Stand as Tall as the Trees: How an Amazonian Community Protected the Rain Forest written by Patricia Gualinga and Laura Resau, illustrated by Vanessa Jaramillo
Beautifully crafted with emotional resonance, get inspired by this true story of Patricia Gualinga’s life. Paty is a Kichwa girl who lives deep in the rain forest of Ecuador; a place alive with “trees towering, vines winding, and frogs singing” and the mystical beings who rule the forest — the Amazanga. Paty moves to the noisy city for her education. But when Paty’s forest home is destroyed by a greedy company, she helps her people gather, unite, and protest, making the destructive company leave the forest! Heartfelt writing and luminous illustrations make this a memorable biography (autobiography) that shows how one person can make a difference in the world!

Annette Feels Free by Katie Mazeika
Annette changed the world for herself and all women! She became a swimmer after her struggles to walk after an illness. But, Annette hated the bulky, heavy bathing costumes she was forced to wear for races and exhibitions, so she made her own suit. Even though it was scandalous and she faced troubles because of it, her new design gave women more options to wear what they liked. And nowadays, they do.

The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins and Her New Deal for America
by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexandra Bye
An excellent biography of a woman and activist to admire that will make a worthy addition to your American history studies. Frances witnessed injustice and decided to do something about it. Even when women weren’t always taken seriously, she fought for big changes to make life better for workers. Her hard work was rewarded when Franklin D. Rosevelt asked Frances to be the secretary of labor in his cabinet of advisors.

uilding an Orchestra of Hope: How Favio Chavez Taught Children to Make Music from Trash
by Carmen Oliver, illustrated by Luisa Uribe
A kind and innovative man named Favio offers the children that live on the landfill in Paraguay the chance to learn music — and when they don’t have enough instruments, he figures out how to make instruments out of recycled materials. It’s an inspiring story.


O Captain, My Captain: Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War
by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Sterling Hundley
Fascinating and important! I learned so much history that I didn’t know about both Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman. Whitman observed Lincoln as a candidate and later as the President. The Civil War affected Whitman deeply, he hated the suffering and visited wounded soldiers regularly. It’s not a typical picture book because it is dense with information but would be great for the upper grades.

Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey
by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Chloe Bristol
What a perfect picture book biography with engaging, atmospheric prose and dramatic, Gorey-looking pen-and-ink illustrations! Mortensen gives readers just enough information to captivate us starting with Gorey’s childhood, moving and skipping grades, then into his adulthood where he was uniquely himself and after illustrating for other people, wrote and illustrated dark, weird and quirky stories of his own.

Picture Book Biographies About Writers
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein 
by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Julia Sarda
Most young readers have heard of Frankenstein — but they probably don’t know it was a book written by a woman named Mary. This picture book biography shares about the life of Mary who wrote Frankenstein as a ghost story competition among her friends. Atmospheric, dark and gloomy illustrations.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
by Suzanne Blade, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Talk about a growth mindset! Gwendolyn loved words and poetry and from a young age, wrote poetry of her own. She never had monetary success but with persistence and dedication, she eventually found success as an adult with publications and winning the Pulitzer Prize.

A Story Is to Share: How Ruth Krauss Found Another Way to Tell a Tale
by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault 
Carter Higgins’ brilliant writing both references Ruth Krauss’s (no parade when she was born) and pays homage to it with distinct syntax. Higgins’ memoir captures the quirky, passionate Ruth Krauss who wore her clothes backward and preferred dancing to athletics. Krauss scribbles and scratches and scrambles — to find the stories that she wants to tell in her own way. Whimsical and playful, this biography will inspire you to reread your favorite Ruth Krauss picture books.

the best picture book biographies about writers
The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown
by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jocoby
I love the conversational and interactive narrator who speaks directly to us in this book that takes its title from Margaret Wise Brown’s very well-known The Important Book. What are the important things about Brown? For one, she wrote books…more than 100! Whimsical watercolor illustrations plus an infectiously likable narrator make this a memorable biography for both its content (the important things about the talented Margaret Wise Brown) and playful writing.

picture book biographies writers
Ode to an Onion Pablo Neruda & His Muse
by Alexandria Giardino, illustrated by Felicita Sala
This picture book biography shares a snippet of Pablo Neruda’s life, giving readers an important life lesson while introducing this incredible poet. As he is struggling with sadness while writing about the situation of poor minors, Neruda’s friend Matilde shows him a truth about life using an onion. The truth is that sad and happy can coexist. “The onion’s papery skin crinkled in Palo’s hand… The scent burned Pablo’s eyes. Tears streamed down his checks… But then he noticed how the sunlight shone through the onion’s layers… “Aren’t onions beautiful? Matilde smiled. “Wait ’til you taste it.” The book ends with Neruda’s “Ode to the Onion” which shows his ability to craft meaning through the complexity of simple language.

Picture Book Biographies About Writers
Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings
 by Matthew Burgess, illustrations by Kris Di Giacomo
I adore e.e. cummings’ poetry and found this to be an interesting glimpse into his life as well as how his use of lower-case letters and word-painting was received. This is long for a picture book– double the usual length. I thought perhaps a bit too long. However, the illustrations are marvelous and if you enjoy the poet, it’s worth it.

Digging for Words Jose Alberto Gutierez and the Library He Built
by Angela Burke Kunkel, illustrated by Paola Escobar
Readers will be inspired by garbage collector, Jose Alberto Gutierrez, who collected discarded books and opened his own library for the community. The story features another Jose, a little boy who loves Saturday because that’s when the library opens and he can get new books.

Picture Book Biographies About Writers
Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Charlotte Voake
Young Beatrix lived in London with her many animals, bunnies, hedgehogs, news, snakes, dick, salamanders, a frog, and more. She constantly recorded all their adventures, usually misadventures. Most of all, she painted her animals. One day she borrowed her neighbor’s guinea pig so that she could paint her. But when she left her unattended, the little creature got into some glue and paper which killed her. She sadly confessed the mishap to her neighbor and gave her the painting as an apology. (The door was slammed in her face.) But when Beatrix became famous, her neighbor sold the painting for lots of money. Quirky and fun.

Just Like Beverly A Biography of Beverly Cleary
by Vicki Conrad, illustrated by David Hohn
Beverly Cleary wrote some of the most beloved children’s stories like the Ramona books. But before, how did she get there? Read how she had trouble at school and disliked the many boring books. She gets a teacher who sparks her love of learning and eventually becomes a librarian before deciding to write the books that she wanted to read about real kids like her and the kids she knew from the library.

Picture Book Biographies About Writers
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton
 by Don Tate
George loved words and even though he was a slave, he taught himself to read and began composing verses. When students at Chapel Hill began to pay George for his poetry, a professor helped him learn to write and helped his poems protesting slavery were published in the newspaper. But his owner would never sell George, no matter how what George’s fans and friends offered. It took until George was 66 years old to be freed from slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation. I liked this book a lot both the narrative and the illustrations but I would have LOVED for it to include George’s poetry.

The Poem Forest: Poet W.S. Merwin and the Palm Tree Forest He Grew from Scratch
by Carrie Fountain, illustrated by Chris Turnham
This biography focuses on Merwin’s love of nature — and commitment to planting new trees, particularly palm trees, in his Hawaiian home. The author shares how Merwin loved to write and became the Poet Laurette. The back matter includes a poem about a palm tree. (Which is amazing.)

Picture Book Biographies About Writers
 Noah Webster’s Fighting Words by Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrated by Mircea Catusanu
I love this book so much! The biography is an important piece of American history that kids should know. Did you know Webster tried to get 6 new letters to be added to the alphabet? The narrative includes “edits” from Noah Webster himself which make this lively story even more interesting. The illustrations are absolutely perfect — in style and in color. Bravo!

Picture Book Biographies About Writers
Noah Webster and His Words
by Jeri Chase Ferris, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
Get your kids jazzed about words by learning about Noah Webster. After America gained independence from England, Webster wrote spelling books to norm every word and avoid many spellings of the same word. It was a best seller! Webster advocated for a national language and eventually wrote The American Dictionary of the English Language, all the English words with alphabetical order. I found it very interesting and loved the illustrations.

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice
by Jasmine A. Stirling, illustrated by Vesper Stamper
Lovely pink and green illustrations and an incredible narrative biography capture the life of the talented Jane Austen. Jane grew up in a supportive family that encouraged reading and writing. She wrote prolifically while she was young but stopped writing after significant life challenges including loss, death, worry, and loneliness. After years passed, she realized that all her troubles gave her a new wisdom. Passion renewed Jane rewrote old stories and crafted new ones with lifelike characters. Her writing voice was authentic and unique, leading to her success and longevity.


Picture Book Biographies About Writers
A Boy Called Dickens
by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by John Hendrix
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’ 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.
Picture Book Biographies About Writers
The Right Word: Roget and His 
 by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
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 true story of Mary Garber is quite interesting — how she pioneered a career in sports writing when it was men only. The illustrations are fantastic, too.
Picture Book Biographies About Writers
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.
One of the best picture book biographies of 2017! Jinnee creates wonderful drawings and stories for her two young sons. You’ll probably want to reread her books before and after this biography. You’ll learn how books like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Katy and the Big Snow, Maybelle, The Cable Car, and The Little House came to life. Reading this story gives insight into an artist’s creative process, the process behind writing and illustrating a children’s story.
Picture Book Biographies About Writers
John Ronald’s Dragons The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien
by Caroline McAlister, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
Warm, beautiful illustrations accompany the story of a boy who grew up to become the author of the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books. John Ronald is a boy who dreamed of dragons, made up his own language, was orphaned, grew up, got married, and then remembered his story of dragons . . . which readers (and movie viewers) still enjoy today!
Picture Book Biographies About Writers
Balderdash: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books
by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
John Newbery believed children should have good, entertaining books just like adults. (Not only the preachy stories and rulebooks they had to read in the early 1700s.) Newbery, a publisher and bookstore owner, started making books just for kids, some accompanied by a toy. And it worked. The books sold like crazy including the popular story, Little Goody Two-Shoes. This delightful book gives us perspective about a relevant part of history, kids’ books. It skillfully makes me love John Newbery’s vision, appreciating that much more the children’s literature we have today.

Famous Americans

Anna Strong: A Spy During the American Revolution
by Sarah Glenn Marsh, illustrated by Sarah Green
It’s wonderful to see how every person can make a difference. During the Revolutionary War, a lady named Anna Strong helped the Patriots by spying on the Loyalists and the British army. America needed her and she delivered. This is history worth knowing wrapped up in a wonderful picture book story.

My Name Is Helen Keller
by Myron Uhlberg, illustrated by Jenn Kocsmiersky
This skillfully written biography alternates between a first-person narration from Helen and the occasional third-person narrator who explains the context of what’s going on. It’s very well-written and interesting to read and shares the most important information of Helen’s life.

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Americans
I am Abraham Lincoln
by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
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.

You Are My Friend
by Aimee Reid, illustrated by Matt Phelan
A gentle tone captures the personality of a boy who wanted to help kids express their feelings and find helpers in the world with a television program called Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

Our Flag Was Still There: The True Story of Mary Pickersgill and the Star-Spangled Banner
by Jessie Hartland
Well-crafted, simple, and informative writing with lovely illustrations narrate the important historical story of a flag maker named Mary who made an enormous flag that would send a message to the British. Mary’s role in American history during the Revolutionary War inspired the song written by Francis Scott Key that became our national anthem.

Mister Rogers Gift of Music
by Donna Cangelosi, illustrated by Amanda Calatzis
For Fred Rogers, music gave him joy and a way to express his feelings. He shared his love for music with songs for kids on his Mr. Rogers television show. The lyrics were a gift for kids then and now with messages of friendship, acceptance, and love. A warm-hearted tribute to Mr. Rogers.

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Americans
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker
by Robbie Robertson, illustrated by David Shannon
The Peacemaker was a real person who choose a man named Hiawatha to help him communicate his message of peace and unity to the five nations of Iroquois. The message wasn’t well-received at first but the Peacemaker helped the tribal leaders understand forgiveness and unity. United, the Iroquois nation became a model for democracy which was said to have influenced Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Americans
Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (And the Country)
illustrated by Stacy Innerst
Invest in this nonfiction picture book for your classrooms and libraries — it’s a wealth of information presented in a very interesting way. You’ll be as astounded as me that you’ve lived so long without knowing much of this information about President Lincoln’s sense of humor — and learn examples of his very pithy words of humor and wisdom. And the illustrations are just lovely.


Picture Book Biographies About Famous Americans
Dear Mr. Washington
by Lynn Cullen, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
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 and 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.
Picture Book Biographies About Famous Americans 
Ride On, Will Cody! A Legend of the Pony Express
by Caroline Starr Rose, illustrated by Joe Lillington
Short, punchy phrases epitomize the hurry of the Pony Express rider as he races across the West, changes horses, and never sleeps until he reaches all the mail stations. Teachers will welcome this historical picture book in their school libraries and classrooms.

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Americans
Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History
by Don Brown Good grief — can you imagine this happening?! That’s what I thought when I read the history of these two men. I think the author does a great job of sharing each man’s background, what led up to the duel, and the duel itself. It’s a fascinating part of American history.

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Americans
Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass
by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko You’ll find this to be a fascinating glimpse of two activists who are both fighting for their rights — one for women and one for African Americans. Very interesting!

picture book biographies
Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History
by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Floyd Cooper Myers expertly captures Frederick Douglass’ life from his desire to learn even though he was a slave child to his brutal beatings, the influence of free black sailors, his escape to the North, and his passionate fight against slavery and for social reform.

 picture book biographies famous Americans
The Eye That Never Sleeps How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln
by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
I adore this book. First of all, the artwork is a STUNNING period style. It looks like a woodcut and is primarily orange, purple and brown plus speech bubbles with an old-fashioned typeface. Second of all, the story itself is enthralling. Allan Pinkerton stumbles into detective work accidentally– and he’s really good at it. He knows human behavior and uses deduction and observation. He founds the Pinkerton Agency which is credited with solving more than 300 murders and recovering millions in stolen money. But he’s most famous for hiring Kate Warne to protect the soon-to-be President of the United States, Mr. Lincoln, from a dangerous train assassination plot. Later, when Mr. Lincoln becomes president, he creates the Secret Service agency to spy on the Confederacy. Guess who he hires to lead it? Allan Pinkerton, of course. This is top-notch narrative nonfiction.

 Picture Book Biographies About Famous Americans
Chasing Freedom
by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Michele Wood
This lovely nonfiction picture book is about Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Tubman — two women who changed the world!

picture book biographies about famous americans
Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a  Mystery that Baffled All of France
by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
A little-known piece of Ben Franklin’s history, we see him use the scientific method to figure out what Dr. Mesmer was really doing. Was it magic, science, or was Dr. Mesmer a fraud? Excellent images, design, and compelling plot!

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter How Elizabeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars
by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Brooke Smart
I loved this book even though it was a bit too long for me, it could have had the same impact with fewer examples. However, it’s an inspiring and interesting history of a brilliant cryptologist who helped her country in war and peace. She cracked codes for the Coast Guard to stop bootleggers and for the military to break NAzi spy rings. She created the CIA’s first cryptology unit, training others in the art of cryptology.

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Americans 
Little Leaders Bold Women in Black History
by Vashti Harrison
Beautifully designed and illustrated, Little Ladies shares 40 one-page biographies of inspiring African-American women. I can’t believe how many new women I learned about from this book! Women like Marcelite Harris, Mamie Phipps Clark, and Phillis Wheatley. It’s a superb, inspiring must-read book.

Artists and Musicians

Sing with Me The Story of Selena Quintanilla
by Diana López, illustrated by Teresa Martinez
A concise, entertaining biography of Selena’s early years as she worked hard until she saw success as a singer — winning awards and learning Spanish and getting married. (You’ll appreciate that this biography does not talk about her death.)

Ruby’s Hope: A Story of How the Famous “Migrant Mother” Photograph Became the Face of the Great Depression
by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Sarah Dvojack
A powerful picture book that shows how art, in this instance photography, can be used to spread a message. Dusty-colored illustrations help narrate the story of a famous photograph beginning with a young girl and her family who leave the drought in Oklahoma for wetter California. There, the family’s migrant work dries up, too. Hungry and desperate, a photographer hired by the government named Dorothea Lange takes a photograph of the mother with her kids. When the photograph was published in the newspaper, it showed the country the harsh realities of migrant workers’ lives and prompted an outpouring of food. Back matter shares more about Dorothea Lange and how the famous photograph came to be.

Dazzlin’ Dolly
by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham 
Exceptionally skilled writing with strong narrative voice! Dolly Parton grows up a singer with determination to achieve her dreams. She overcome stage fright, performed on the weekends despite her Daddy’s disapproval, and moved to Nashville after high school. Essential information about the queen of country! “Perched on her front-porch stage with a tin can microphone, Dolly performed for anyone she could corral– a bunch of baby siblings (’til they crawled away), a flock of ducks (’til they waddled away), and a pen of pigs (fortunately, they couldn’t get away).

Tonatiuh shares the story of a dedicated ballet dancer who discovers the beauty of folkloric dances from the different regions of Mexico. She learns them all, sharing them with the world in performances by her dance company, El Ballet Folklórico. Gorgeous folkloric illustrations enhance each page’s details; I want to frame them all, they’re so exquisite This is a wonderful tribute to one of my favorite dance companies and the dancer visionary who made it all happen.

A Voice Named Aretha
by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Laura Freeman
This picture book shares the life story of how Aretha used her pain and passion to become a world famous soul singer. After reading about this iconic, groundbreaking singer, listen to some of her greatest hits.


Only the Best
by Kate Messner and Margaret E. Powell, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson
Beautiful writing shares the story of a girl named Ann who grew up to become the first nationally known Black fashion designer — including creating gowns for John F. Kennedy’s wedding. She worked hard and dreamed big — even with the racism and challenges she faced as a Black woman — and her talent and creativity impressed her classmates and her clients.

Sparky & Spike: Charles Schultz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever
by Barbara Lowell, illustrated by Dan Andreasen
You’ll enjoy this inspirational picture book biography about artist/cartoonist Charles Schultz. Little Charles, nicknamed Sparky, adores his super-smart dog named Spike who drinks from the bathroom sink and knows more than 50 words and will be featured in all Sparky’s drawing as a dog named Snoopy. Sparky also loves comics and drawing. Despite worries that he is not good enough, he gets his first published drawing is in the Sunday comics when he’s still a child. Charming, lovely illustrations from Dan Anderson make this book framable.

Monument Maker Daniel Chester French and the Lincoln Memorial
by Linda Booth Sweeney, illustrated by Shawn Fields
More interesting than I ever expected, this is the journey of an artist from farm boy to successful sculptor during a pivotal time in our country. Black and white sketches plus a well-told story give us the context and history of the work that Daniel Chester French is most known for, the famous Lincoln Memorial.

Growing an Artist: The Story of a Landscaper and His Son
by John Parra
In a first-person personal narrative, a boy accompanies his Papi to his job as a landscaper. He sees a classmate looking through the window at him and feels awkward but focuses on helping his dad at the nursery and visiting a new site ready for development. The boy asks if he can draw a design for the space and his father agrees and uses his design for the land. He realizes that he wants to use his art to tell stories of hardworking people like his father and his friend Javier.

Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreno Played the Piano for President Lincoln
by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
As a little girl, Teresa started playing the piano in her home country of Venezuela. She moves with her family to the United States during the Civil War. There she uses music to bring hope to people, even President Abraham Lincoln, earning the nickname “Piano Girl”. Evocative imagery in the writing paired with Lopez’s gorgeous, colorful illustrations make this a lovely experience.

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Artists, Musicians, and Dancers
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.
picture book biographies about musicians
Birth of Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound
by Kathleen Cornell Berman, illustrated by Keith Henry Brown
Rhythmic free verse captures the big moments in Miles Davis’ life growing up in New Orleans, getting his first trumpet at age 13, embracing the energy of bebop, attending music school at Julliard, performing with failure and successes, following in Dizzy’s footsteps, then finding his own style, and leading his own group. The Birth of Cool shows a full life journey of this iconic jazz musician. “The band plays cool– relaxed, with a lighter, lyrical feel. Miles’s playing punctuates the new music with poetic, melancholy solos, enchanting audiences, and giving his voice a chance to grow.
Swan The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova
by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Anna sees her first ballet on a snowy winter’s day. She longs to join ballet school, waiting years until she finally is accepted. And she works hard starting from poverty and becomes a celebrated, lovely swan ballerina. She travels the world to show everyone the beauty of the music and dance. Her story is beautifully told with exquisite illustrations in muted colors. *You might also like Firebird.

We Are the Supremes
by Zoe Tucker, illustrated by Salini Perera
Three friends from Detroit started a girl singing group while they were in high school. They worked hard, practiced, and after high school, got signed to a record label. Interesting.

Cezanne’s Parrot
by Amy Guglielmo, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Cezanne works slowly and is different than the other artists of his day. Yet he persists doing art in his own way. Throughout his struggles, he tries to get his parrot to say, “Cezanne is a great painter.” And eventually, people see his artwork and say, “Cezanne is a great painter.” The color palette and technique of the illustrations set a Cezanne-ish mood as if they were his actual paintings.


Picture Book Biographies About Famous Artists, Musicians, and Dancers
The Noisy Paint Box; The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art
by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre
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!

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Artists, Musicians, and Dancers
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Don Lupe published short funny poems about skeletons and drew lithographs and skeleton etchings or engravings. His calaveras (skeleton pictures) showed all people types of people and usually had a message, political or social, and which are now iconic images for el Dia de Los Muertos. The artwork and graphic layouts perfectly complement this informative history.

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Artists, Musicians, and Dancers
Viva Frida
by Yuyi Morales, illustrated by Tim O’Meara
This could qualify as a beginning reader book with its 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.

Mary Blair’s Unique Flair: The Girl Who Became One of the Disney Legends
by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Brittney Lee
Mary Blair’s life as an artist took her to Disney where her paintings captured magic on paper. In fact, she created the concept art for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan as well as designed the “It’s a Small World” attraction at Disneyland. She used her endless imagination to creatively pair unique colors, an emerald world, a fuchsia sea, or a turquoise moon, and create happily ever afters. Her story sparkles just like the luminous mixed-media illustrations which include colorful cut-paper artwork.

Yayoi Kusama: Covered Everything in Dots and Wasn’t Sorry by Fausto Gilberti
Written in the first person and illustrated with bold black and white illustrations, you’ll learn about one of the most famous living artists, a creative Japanese woman who loves dots and pumpkins and social justice.


Degas Painter of Ballerinas
by Susan Goldman Rubin
What a lovely narrative story about Degas’s life and artistic process. Each page of the story includes another full-color Degas artwork which almost always takes up more than one page, stretching onto the opposite page in a mesmerizing presentation. Beautiful writing which is clearly well-researched makes this the quintessential Degas biography for children. I highly recommend it.

A Thousand Glass Flowers
Marietta Barovier and the Invention of the Rosetta Bead by Evan Turk
Exquisite illustrations help narrate the inspirational story of a Venician girl whose family was glassblowers and let her become a glassblower and creator in a time period when girls weren’t generally allowed to work. As a result, Marietta developed a unique glass bead that became treasured worldwide

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Artists, Musicians, and Dancers
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.)

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Artists, Musicians, and Dancers
Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Ada lives in a South American slum next to a landfill of garbage. When Ada’s grandmother learns about free music lessons, she signs Ada up but there aren’t enough instruments to go around for all the kids. Fortunately, the adults are creative and invent instruments from everyday things — water pipes into flutes, packing crates into guitars, and so on. Ada chooses to play a paint can and wooden crate violin. She practices and gets good, becoming one of the star musicians of the Recycled Orchestra. This is an inspiring true story of hope and the power of the arts with evocative illustrations. For more information visit recycledorchestracateura.com.

Picture Book Biographies About Famous Artists, Musicians, and Dancers
Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist
by Susan Wood, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
You may be like me and not know of Esquivel but after looking him up, his music probably will seem familiar. This vibrantly illustrated picture book tells the story of a young Mexican boy with no formal musical training but because of his musical talents became famous for his innovative sounds. (Listen to Esquivel! on Youtube.)


Picture Book Biographies About Famous Artists, Musicians, and Dancers
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
A warmly illustrated biography follows Gordon Parks who became a well-known photographer who showed racism through his camera lens.
Picture Book Biographies About Famous Artists, Musicians, and Dancers
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood
 by F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Mira brightens up her world with her colorful paintings. She inspires everyone to paint the city walls with colorful murals.

Hold On to Your Music: The Inspiring True Story of the Children of Willesden Lane
by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen, illustrated by Sonia Possentini
I like how the authors make this historical story easily understandable to readers in accessible-kid language. The story begins in Austria with Lisa being denied piano lessons due to new anti-Jewish laws. Before long, Lisa’s parents send her on a train to London for her safety. There, she lives with other refugee children and continues her piano studies just like her mama asked her to do.

Lotte’s Magical Paper Puppets: The Women Behind the First Animated Feature Film
by Brooke Hartman, illustrated by Kathryn Carr
Beautiful illustrations depict the impressive paper-cut puppet art and films made by a creative pioneer woman named Lotte Reiniger.


Picture Book Biographies About Athletes 
The Girl Who Ran Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon
by Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee, illustrated by Susanna Chapman
It’s now hard to imagine a time (not so long ago) when women were prohibited from doing things like running in a long-distance race simply because of their gender. In this story, we learn how Bobbi, a girl who loved to run, wanted to run the Boston Marathon race. But her application for the race was denied because she was a girl. So she disguised herself as a boy and entered the race. When her long hair became uncovered, the racers and spectators cheered her on. She finished the race, paving the way for girls and making history. You’ll love the gorgeous illustrations as well as this exciting, inspiring true story.
picture book biographies
Muhammad Ali: A Champion Is Born
by Gene Barretta, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Kids should all learn the story of Muhammad Ali because his determination and grit are so inspiring. And to think, it all started with a stolen bicycle! Read how a police officer got Ali into boxing as well as about his never-waning confidence and the grueling workouts. Superbly done.

Above the Rim How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball
by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Elgin grew up during segregation which dictated where he was allowed to play basketball and attend college. Despite this, he was the top recruit for the NBA when he graduated from college. But even traveling with his basketball team, he was often turned away from places because of the color of his skin. Eglin decided to protest the discrimination by sitting out of future basketball games. His activist actions made a difference. The NBA put out a statement that they would not give their business to hotels and restaurants that discriminated against Black people. Rich, evocative illustrations and lyrical writing perfectly capture the importance of Eglin’s life and impact.

Boy in Number Four
The Boy in Number Four
by Kara Kootstra, illustrated by Reagan Thomson
I enjoyed this picture book about Bobby Orr’s life as a young boy playing hockey — how hard he worked and how much he loved playing.


Picture Book Biographies About Athletes
Nadia The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still
by Karlin Gray, illustrated by Christine Davenier
This lovely biographical picture book introduces a new generation to the hard-working Nadia Comaneci of Romania . . . how she loved to move, discovered gymnastics, failed, practiced, and then won seven perfect 10s at the Olympics in 1956. The illustrations make me want to move, they’re absolutely spot-on for this sweet, true story.

Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Arigon Starr
Learn about two Native baseball players who loved the game but endured huge racism from everywhere — name calling, derogatory chants, and more. Charles Bender and John Meyers were groundbreaking athletes. You’ll read their history and how they got to the 1911 World Series. Interesting and important.


Picture Book Biographies About Athletes
Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure: A Woman and a Dog Walk to the North Pole by Sally Issacs, illustrated by Iva Sasheva
At age 50, Helen will walk to the magnetic north pole —  a harrowing journey with ice storms, polar bears, and a lack of food. She and her dog, Charlie, take it day by day and make it. This is a well-written, exciting true story adventure of courage and determination.

Picture Book Biographies About Athletes
The Kid From Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton
by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steven Salerno
In a time when girls didn’t get to play sports, Edith excelled so much that she was playing on the only woman’s baseball team at ten years old — and got to play in Japan! Fantastic illustrations by Steven Salerno.


Picture Book Biographies About Athletes
Even at a young age, Cyprien-Noe of Canada earned the reputation of Samson. When he learned that weight lifting (actually lifting stones and other heavy objects) was actually a sport, he started doing that, eventually joining a circus. His record, which still exists today, is lifting 4,337 pounds. (WHOA!) This is an interesting story about a lesser-known person.
Picture Book Biographies About Athletes
Martina & Chrissie The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports
by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Brett Helquist
The author’s conversational style makes this story come alive. Readers will be fascinated by the two star tennis players who each work hard to win the championship matches. And for all but a few years, these two women stay close friends. Well-written, informative, and engaging — all the qualities you want in a picture book biography!
Sisters Venus and Serena Williams
by Jeanette Winters 
Winters beautifully captures the essence of the Williams sisters’ lives and friendship, giving children an inspiring narrative story that shows, not tells, paired with beautiful, captivating art. See the girls share a bed in their Compton, CA house then get up in the mornings to learn tennis from their dad, even cleaning up the trash on the courts every morning. Practicing, focusing, practicing,…training together, playing together. They win trophies and try new ways of dressing and wear signature hairstyles. As adults, the athletes persevere through health challenges yet continue to play and win.

Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon
by Kim Chaffee, illustrated by Ellen Rooney
Katherine loved to run, it felt like magic to her. But in her day and age, girls didn’t run. But she kept at it, running with the men’s teams at college. When she couldn’t keep up, she ran with their manager. Despite doubts from others, she trained for the Boston Marathon — 26.2 miles! She finished the race and told reporters, “I like to run. Women deserve to run, too.” Onomonopeia repetition of “pat, pat, pat, pat” gives this story a rhythmic balance of running footfalls. Large emotion-filled illustrations show the story of a woman who broke convention, showing the world that girls could run, too.

More Picture Book Biographies & Collections

Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat
by Mara Rockliff, illustrated. byGiselle Potter
Frieda Caplan introduces new fruits and vegetables at a produce market in Los Angeles starting in the 1950s with mushrooms. She continues sharing unusual foods at the market, foods that you probably haven’t even heard of, let alone tried such as the nopale and dragonfruit. Learn about this daring food pioneer and as you read, taste-test the unique foods shared in the book.

How Do You Spell Unfair? MacNaolia Cox and the National Spelling Bee by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison
MacNolia spelled her way to the National Spelling Bee finals despite the challenges she faced, including discrimination at the host hotel and an unfair word given to her that wasn’t on the list and lost her the winning spot. Repetition of the phrase “How do you spell” grounds us in the spelling theme, and Frank Morrison’s beautiful, expressive illustrations add emotional resonance.

More Biographies for Elementary Age Students
Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust
by Jennifer Roy, illustrated by Meg Swenson
This inspiring narrative nonfiction picture book on World War II honors Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker who helps smuggle babies and children out of the ghetto before they’re sent to the camps. Irene kept lists of the children’s original names and their new names which she buried in jars, hoping that maybe after the war she could reunite families. She risks her life and saved over 2,500 children. I love stories like this, true courage in the risk of great danger.

More Biographies for Elementary Age Students
Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond between a Soldier and his Service Dog by Former Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan, USA with Bret Witter, photographs by Dan Dion
This book made me tear up right away – it’s powerful to witness the bond between a service dog, Tuesday and his person, Luis who experiences post-traumatic stress disorder and other disabilities like how Tuesday helps Luis’ nightmares and helps him balance as he walks down the subway stairs. This picture book follows a typical day in the life of Luis and Tuesday from breakfast to bedtime. The photographs are gorgeous! The text is totally perfect — not too much, just right. I highly recommend this amazing nonfiction book — it will tug at your heartstrings.  And, if you want to read about Luis and Tuesday, get his full-length memoir, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him.


. More Biographies for Elementary Age Students
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah
 by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls
Emmanuel’s mom helped Emmanuel be strong and believe in himself even though he only had one leg. He hopped 2 miles to school. He learned to ride a bike. He worked to support his family. As an adult, Emmanuel rode 400 miles across his country of Ghana to spread the message that disability is not inability. This is an inspiring true story that is a film called Emmanuel’s Gift.

Make Way: The Story of Robert McCloskey, Nancy Schon, and Some Very Famous Ducklings by Angela Burke Kunkel, illustrated by Claire Keene
This picture book shares the biographies of the author of Make Way for Ducklings, Robert McCloskey, and the duck sculptor, Nancy Schon, who was inspired by the story.

More Biographies for Elementary Age Students
Marvelous Cornelius Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans
by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra
This is a lovely new American folk tale with evocative, colorful illustrations about a bright spirit in the city of New Orleans. Cornelius takes care of New Orleans’ trash. His positive attitude, infectious spirit, and dancing moves brighten everyone’s day. And after the great flooding of Hurricane Katrina, he and the whole town pitch in to clean up and rebuild. (Teacher’s Guide here.)

More Biographies for Elementary Age Students
I Am Lucille Ball
by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
Fascinating. Meltzer captures the most fascinating elements of Ball’s life with his narrative and comic-style illustrations and hooked me from page one. I loved this — it makes a great addition to an already stellar series. *See more of this fantastic biography series here.

More Biographies for Elementary Age Students
Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Women’s Land Army of America
by Erin Hagar, illustrated by Jen Hill
U.S. farmers needed help when the war took working men either to war or to factories. This is a fictionalized story about that help — the Woman’s Land Army. This program trained women, farmerettes, to work on a farm. It’s a well-written, fascinating story that makes me want to know even more.

More Biographies for Elementary Age Students
Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service
by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Rich Lo
This book shares the little-known story of one man’s impact on the world. Tie Sing, a Chinese American, was a cook for campers and mapmakers. He was hired by Stephen Mather to feed a group of influencers who Mather was hoping to convince that a national park service should be made. With Sings help, the trip was a success and a year later the National Park Service was created. While the story doesn’t sound compelling, it is written and illustrated so well that it IS compelling. And inspiring.


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 downright 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?!
More Biographies for Elementary Age Students
How Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln
by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, illustrated by Valentina Belloni
You’ll love this picture book story about the first female to work for the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency. Her name was Kate Warne. When she discovered a plot to assassinate President Lincoln on the train ride to his inauguration, this smart-thinking detective figures out how to trick the would-be murders and get the President safely to his destination. Well done, Ms. Warne!
More Biographies for Elementary Age Students
Seagoing Cowboy
by Peggy Reiff Miller, illustrated by Claire Ewart
Little-known history is always fun to learn about — like this! The Church of the Brethren and United Nations United Relief and Rehabilitation Administration sent 200,000 mules, horses, and heifers to a devastated Europe after the war, a program that is now known as The Heifer Project. Along with the animals were the cowboys who took care of them. This tells the story of a cowboy who rode the waves to Poland. It’s a very well-written story by the real granddaughter of one of the cowboys.

Cubs in the Tub
by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Julie Downing
Engaging illustrations throughout capture the sweetness of a woman who became the first zookeeper at the Brox Zoo. This caring woman named Helen Martini’s husband works at the zoo. When he brings home a lion cub, she becomes a foster mother. After her baby lion grows too big, she mothers tiger cubs. All of her mothering baby animals leads her to builds her babies a nursery at the zoo and become the first woman zookeeper.
The Tree Lady Exceptional Nonfiction Books for Kids
Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever 
by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry Kate
Sessions helped plant San Diego with a variety of trees that would grow in the city’s climate. She worked hard to make sure that by the World’s Fair, there were enough trees for shade that the attendees wouldn’t be too hot. Beautifully written and illustrated!


Little Heroes of Color
by David Heredia
This board book is filled with cartoon-style illustrations, bold colors, and 50 trailblazing heroes from many different cultures and ethnicities. With one sentence per person, you’ll learn the most important thing about them. For example, Henry “Box” Brown mailed himself to freedom and Silvia Carrerra is the voice for indigenous women of Panama. Wonderful!

We Are Artists: Women who Made Their Mark on the World
by Kari Herbert
I’m loving this book so much — it shares with well-written biographies (about 3- 5 pages for each woman) about so many female artists from different countries, each with their own unique style and life experience. From Yayoi Kusama of Japan to Alma Thomas of the U.S. to Amrita Sher-Gil of India and Hungary, discover incredible, passionate artists with long-lasting influence.

Noise Makers: 25 Women Who Raised Their Voices & Changed the World
by Kazoo Magazine
Graphic novel fans will love this accessible, interesting biographical collection that celebrates females who’ve made a difference in the world. There’s so much to love besides that the biographies are written in comics…Before each biography is a main idea page (time period and what they’re famous for) as well as a page asking you to look at the list of descriptive phrases and see what YOU have in common with the woman. For Fossil Hunter, Mary Annino (1799 – 1847) see what you have in common with her: “I like to hike, I’m patient, I like to draw pictures,…” Reading these will not only inform you but also inspire you as you discover more about Bessie Coleman, Julia Child, Hedy Lamarr, Mary Shelley, Josephine Baker, and others. 

Rise Up: Ordinary Kids With Extraordinary Stories
by Amanda Li, illustrated by Amy Blackwell
A must-own book and favorite from this list! Kids will love the colorful layouts, exceptional writing, and wealth of information about SO many amazing role model kids. Learn about Poorna Malavath from India who climbed Mt. Everest, Desmond Doss, a WWII hero from the U.S., and Molly Kelly from Australia who escaped from forced resettlement for Aboriginal children. The writing grabs you from the first sentence — and makes these children’s true stories exciting and dramatic as if you were reading an adventure story.

Young, Gifted, and Black, Too by Jamia Wilson, illustrated by Andrea Pippins
Read about 52 black icons from the past and the present. Each biography includes a bold, graphic illustration. Well written, these short biographies will inspire and educate readers.

Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes
by Wab Kinew, illustrated by Joe Morse
This is a beautifully illustrated picture book that introduces readers to indigenous individuals who made an impact in the world like Jim Thorpe, Sue LaFlesche Picotte, and Pegahmagabox. It continues on to give readers encouragement with more stories and advice. The back pages share short biographies for each of the people listed.

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Little People, Big Dreams American Dreams A Treasury of 40 Inspiring Americans

From the 1800s to the 2000s, read short biographies about famous people including activists, athletes, entertainers, and artists. I like the one-page biographies, the simple illustrations, the famous quotes, and the timelines of important dates with illustrations and photos.


picture book biographies

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  1. Wow, just wow. Thank you. I was googling and googling for a specific kind of pb bio, and nothing was coming up. Found 3 of what I was looking for in your list