I’ve been saving up the newest picture book biographies (from 2019) to share with you today. Because there are some AMAZING new books with inspirational stories, gorgeous artwork, and incredible writing that you can use in your home, libraries, or classrooms.
Impressive Picture Book Biographies, 2019
Sisters Venus and Serena Williams by Jeanette Winter
Winters beautifully captures the essence of the Williams sisters’ lives and friendship, giving children an inspiring narrative story that shows, not tells, 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.
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, a curious inventor, 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!
Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Tonya Engel
I haven’t previewed this entire book, only the snippet online but I must say I loved the lyrical verse that I read so far, the vibrant illustrations, and the subject of Maya Angelou. Angelou’s life of hardship did not defeat her — she grew from her challenges in childhood and adulthood and used it to become one of the most beloved poets and authors of my lifetime. (And I must add that it’s about time we had a biography on this amazing woman!) You might want to read Angelou’s moving middle-grade autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It is a powerful, life-changing memoir.
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.
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–
with a lighter,
Miles’s playing punctuates
the new music with
and giving his voice
a chance to grow.”
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. This dog, of course, will be featured in all Sparky’s drawing only named Snoopy. In addition, we learn that Sparky loves comics and drawing from an early age. Despite worries that he is not good enough, he gets a first published drawing is in the Sunday comics when he’s still young. Charming, lovely illustrations from Dan Anderson make this book absolutely framable.
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 pure 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. (My favorite!)
Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler by Elizabeth Brown, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro
Helen didn’t like following the rules in art. She experimented with mediums and colors on her own but still followed the rules in her classes. After college, she met Jackson Pollock who broke the rules with success. This reminded her that she could do the same thing. So she did!
When Sue Found Sue by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Diana Sudyka
Get a glimpse of the amazing discovery of a shy girl who loved learning and finding things. This biography shows how Sue’s curiosity and persistence helped her find a huge T. rex fossil. She and her team worked long days to safely and patiently remove the fossils from the sandstone and hard soil. These same bones now stand grandly in The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
Priscilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne Broyles, illustrated by Anna Alter
I have two big takeaways from this book. First, find anything to cling to that will bring you joy, no matter how small. And second, one person can make a difference to someone else. Priscilla is born into slavery and when she’s sold, she’s sold to a Cherokee family who soon thereafter is relocated on the Trail of Tears. During her life, Priscilla clings to the beauty of the hollyhock flowers and her memories of her mother. Eventually, a kind man buys her freedom and adopts her into his family.
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.
Finding the Speed of Light: The 1676 Discovery that Dazzled the World by Mark Weston, illustrated by Rebecca Evans
Story boxes and cartoon panels with often funny dialogue sit on deep purple background illustrations of starry skies. These combine to tell the history of Ole Romer, a Danish astronomer who discovered Jupiter’s four moons as well as his biggest discovery of all– the speed of light. There’s a lot of text but the cartoon panels break it up a little. Add this to your science classrooms and units on space.
Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer’s Historic Boston Marathon by Kim Chaffee, illustrated by Ellen Rooney
Katherine loved to run, it feels like magic to her. But in her day and age, girls aren’t supposed to run, let alone sweat. But she keeps at it, running with the men’s teams at college. When she can’t keep up, she runs with their manager. Despite doubts from others, she trains for the Boston Marathon — 26.2 miles! She finishes this difficult race and tells reporters, “I like to run. Women deserve to run, too.” Onomonopeia repetition of “pat, pat, pat, pat” give this story a rhythmic balance that sounds like running footfalls. Large emotion-filled illustrations show the story of a woman who broke convention, proving to the world that girls can run, too.
She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World by Kathy MacMillan and Manuela Bernardi, illustrated by Kathrin Honesta
The best part of this picture book is that you can hear the actual voices of these 14 women. Press the button on the side and listen. I particularly love Maya Angelou’s deep, rich voice. Each two-page spread features a short biographical paragraph as well as a quote from that person, whether Dolores Huerta or Dr. Temple Grandin or Hillary Rodham Clinton. The pages also include an illustration, quick facts, and a call to action. For example, Leymah Gbowee is a peace activist from Liberia. On her page, the “Your Turn to Speak Up” section asks you how YOU can use anger for good, just like she did.
Everyday Superheroes Women in STEM by Erin Twamley and Joshua Sneideman
WOMEN IN STEM
Consider this a motivational STEM career guide for young women. I found it informative and fascinating with a nice design, inclusive and diverse selection of women as well as featured careers. It’s important to teach kids about the career possibilities so they can think outside the commonly known jobs to find a career that fits their talents and interests. From A for Astronomer superhero, Dr. Wanda Diaz Merced to Z for Zoologist superhero Cissy Kou, you’ll discover 26 women who are making a difference in the world; women you’ve never heard of; women whose jobs you might one day want to do. Maybe a virtual-world creator or a cartographer or a robotics engineer or an environmental activist. Some biographies also include actions for you to take as well as think-and-discuss questions. Dive deep into these inspiring biographies and imagine the possibilities for your own future.
Pencils, Pens and Brushes: A Great Girls’ Guide to Disney Animation by Mindy Johnson, illustrated by Lorelay Bovi
Learn about some of the incredible women who worked at Disney’s animation from writers to artists to animators to researchers. My daughter read this and thinks that artsy girls especially (like my daughter) will love these biographies. Each one skillfully captures the woman’s story, where she started, her passions, her education, and how she came to work for Disney as well as what she worked on while at Disney. We enjoyed learning about these women as well as all the jobs someone could have in animation. As you might expect, the illustrations and design of this book are both eye-catching and exquisite.
Hooray for Women! by Marcia Williams
NOTEWORTHY WOMAN IN HISTORY
Because this is written like a graphic novel with comic panels, it already is an engaging format for kids from the start. The biographies are a bit too European-centric for me but there is still some diversity, just not as much as I’d like. However, the book as a whole is a well-written, inviting introduction to the lives of some amazing women like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, Florence Nightengale, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frida Kahlo, and Anne Frank.
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