The Latest Nonfiction Picture and Chapter Book Biographies (2019)

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We can learn so much from reading biographies. Walking in the shoes of another makes us more empathetic, self-reflective, and knowledgeable. Which is why it’s important for kids (and us bigger kids) to find good biographies like these new titles that open a window into the life of another person.

Find more books on my larger, on-going lists of biographical books for kids:

The Latest Nonfiction Picture and Chapter Book Biographies

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.

The Escape of Robert Smalls A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery
by Jehan Jones-Radgowski, illustrated by Poppy Kang
Don’t miss this heart-stopping, inspiring story of a daring escape from slavery on a Confederate ship. It’s the amazing true story of a heroic man!

Meet the Artists: The Pre-Raphaelites: An Art Activity Book
by Helena Perez Garcia
Not only is the art history fascinating but also includes fun, interactive prompts for children such as drawing flowers to match themes or draw a portrait of someone you know. The book features artists and writers such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Christina Rossetti. It’s readable, informative, and engaging.

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.

Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: An Enslaved Woman Fights for Freedom
by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Simone Agoussoye
I found the recent middle-grade biography Never Caught to be so compelling that I was excited to see Ona Judge’s life captured in a picture book biography as well. It introduces younger readers to Ona, the personal slave to Martha Washington, who eventually escaped to freedom. Not only will it give readers a sense of life as a slave, but it will also show that George Washington owned slaves who were treated like property and not paid. The illustrations are very unique which I really liked– a sort of folk-artsy style.

The Story of… Banker of the People Muhammad Yunus
by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I absolutely love this series because the books are both very well-written for younger readers AND they are about interesting, diverse individuals who’ve made a difference in the world. Muhammad Yunus, as you might know, is a Nobel Prize winner for created Grameen Bank for microfinancing/microloans for poor people who wanted to start their own businesses. He became known as banker to the people, helping lift people out of poverty. Can you imagine how much you can learn and discuss when reading this biography?

The Story of…All-Star Athlete Jim Thorpe
by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson
My first biography of Jim Thorpe was the recent YA book Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin — it was profound and excellent, I highly recommend it. This book for younger readers simplifies the major life events of Jim Thorpe how he attended Indian boarding schools, getting an education, playing football, and going to the Olympics. (Interspersed through the narrative are informational insets about topics like Black Hawk and Football.) Strangely, this book doesn’t go into too much of Thorpe’s success at the Olympics but it does include how he was stripped of his medals because he had played semi-pro baseball.

The Story of… Trailblazing Actor Ira Aldridge
by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Read the true story of an African American boy who wanted to be an actor in a time when most African Americans were still enslaved. He realized his dream, moving to England where he performed Shakespeare plays and spoke against slavery. The book also includes informational sidebars, highlighted vocabulary words, a timeline, glossary, bibliography, and recommended reading.

Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children
by Kath Shackleton, illustrated by Zane Whittingham
GRAPHIC NOVEL (ages 9 +)
Holocaust survivor stories like these MUST be told. Because these six children started just like any of the kids reading their stories, they were ordinary kids who experienced the hardest things a child could face…being torn from their homes, separated from family, captured as a prisoner, and/or forced to hide. Graphic storytelling with unique artwork supports the clear, compelling narratives that will stay with you. It’s pretty sad to witness the tragedies in these children’s lives. Powerful, emotional, deeply disturbing that leaves us with a sense of loss, even with these children’s survival. We need more books like this. We must never forget. Buy this book for your classrooms and libraries!
Added to: Important Children’s Books about the Holocaust

Awesome Achievers in Technology
by Alan Katz, illustrated by Chris Judge
Kids will zip through this excellent middle-grade biography because the author makes the information relevant and relatable.   The writing is conversational, the author is totally hilarious (especially when he talks about his own ridiculous inventions or the questions he asks Siri) and there are illustrations, quizzes, fast facts, and activities plus a wealth of fascinating information about each inventor’s life. You’ll read about the inventors of video games, the television remote control, the cell phone, windshield wipers, the first web browser, and the microwave oven. I appreciate that the book includes both men and women inventors! Also of note is that Katz takes us through the process of how each inventor got their idea as well as the final product.

Girl Activist: Winning Strategies from Women Who’ve Made a Difference
by Louisa Kamps, Susanna Daniel &  Michelle Wildgen, illustrated by Georgia Rucker
MIDDLE GRADE (ages 8 – 12)
Harry Potter fans know Emma Watson as Hermione but do they know that she’s a leader for women’s rights? This book by the same publishers as the inspiring Girl CEO book, shares short biographies about women who have taken a stand for an injustice of some kind; injustices like the conditions of migrant farmworkers (Dolores Huerta) or forced marriages of young girls (Sonita Alizadeh) or polluted, toxic tap water (LeeAnne Walters).
I think kids are natural activists — they feel strongly about things that are unfair. But what can they do about their beliefs? These 40 inspirational women demonstrate how one individual can change things for the better because they care. Readers will learn how each woman used different strategies whether social media, art, protest, petitions, or something else. Read how someone can work passionately to make the world a better place.

Harry Houdini (First Names)
by Kjartan Poskitt, illustrated by Geraint Ford
As much as we don’t need another book about a dead white guy in the world who already has plenty of books in the library, I have to admit that this biography is an engaging, informative, and well-written life history filled with cartoon illustrations and magic trick information with great pacing and a light-hearted tone.

Amelia Earhart (First Names)
by Andrew Prentice, illustrated by Mike Smith
Like the Houdini book, this well-written narrative biography is filled with cartoon illustrations from which you’ll learn a LOT! I recommend this series because kids will get a full picture of Millie’s life as well as the context of the world around her including how women were treated. The book is organized in a clear sequence of events starting when Millie was a child and ending with the time of her infamous disappearance. In addition, the back matter includes a timeline and glossary.

Yves Klein Painted Everything Blue and Wasn’t Sorry
by Fausto Gilberti
This creative, innovative French artist loves blue and trying new ways of creating art. This book will be a great addition to artist biography studies and art room libraries.

Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist
by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sask
Because he was never given credit for his work, this story feels redemptive in the telling. It’s an interesting life story about a man who first immigrated illegally from China as a child. He worked hard, becoming an artist who worked for Walt Disney Studios. His vision of the backgrounds for Bambi inspired the entire movie’s design. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given credit.

Soldier for Equality Jose de la Luz Saenz and the Great War
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Luz faced discrimination all his life– as a child then as a teacher and soldier. When he returned to teach Mexican American children after the war, he was still dismayed to see so much unfairness in the schools. He helped start LULAC to end segregation. It’s interesting but not especially compelling.

Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou
by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Tonya Engel
The best thing about this book is the illustrations. Otherwise, I found it a disappointing, confusing tribute that includes too many details that don’t capture the essence of Ms. Angelou’s life.

The Latest Nonfiction Picture and Chapter Book Biographies (2019)


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