When I review biographies, I always factor in the who cares criteria. If the author makes me care about their subject, and I like the writing, then I recommend and share it with you. But with the market over-saturated with biographies, I am only sharing picture book biographies about people who are inspirational and with good writing that makes me CARE.
Here are the books that I’m loving and recommending.
The Latest Biographies, February 2023
Sisters in Science: Marie Curie, Bronia Dluska, and the Atomic Power of Sisterhood by Linda Elovitz Marshall, Anna and Elena Balbusso
Engaging writing shows Marie and her sister dreaming of studying science and taking turns studying at university. They both become serious scientists. Appealing illustrations.
The Indestructible Tom Crean by Jennifer Thermes
Kudos to author/illustrator Jennifer Thermes! She’s made Tom Crean’s biography into a mesmerizing heart-pounding adventure of a story — which it was. Tom’s a sailor who takes three trips to Antarctica, the most perilous being the famous Endurance voyage with Captain Shakelford. Their ship freezes and sinks. Survival seems unlikely. But somehow, the crew makes it to land, where they climb through a glacier range to get help. Incredible writing with stunning illustrations.
FlipFlopi by Linda Ravin Lodding and Dipesh Pabari, illustrated by Michael Machira Mwangi
In Kenya, Juma and Babu Ali set out for fishing but before they do, they notice flip-flips and other plastic trash covering the beach, washed in by the waves. Babu thinks they should use the trash to make their own boat. With the help of their neighbor and friends, they collect trash, melt it down, carved it, and created a boat! Based on a true story, kids will be inspired to not throw away plastic but also to reuse items in clever ways.
Railroad Engineer Olive Dennis by Kaye Baillie, illustrated by Tanja Stephani
Olive loved to build and design. She wanted to be an engineer so she studied hard and became an engineer for a railroad--the first female! Olive innovated significant changes and improvements for the trains, too. Simple, engaging, and inspiring.
Wonderful Hair The Beauty of Annie Malone by Eve Nadel Catarevas, illustrated by Felicia Marshall
Annie noticed her friends were missing patches of hair or had blisters from hair straightening products. So she created her own hair treatments, which she sold in different cities in the U.S. Eventually, Annie opened a beauty school called Poro Beauty College, providing opportunities and independence for many women. Her entrepreneurship began by seeing a need and ended with helping her community!
You Gotta Meet Mr. Pierce: The Storied Life of Folk Artist Elijah Pierce by Chiquita Mullins Lee and Carmella Ven Vlett, illustrated by Jennifer Mack-Watkins
I love this clever biographical format where the subject of the biography tells a boy about his life. When a boy’s dad takes him to a barber named Mr. Pierce, who is also a wood carver, Mr. Pierce tells the boy about how he learned to carve wood and how he tells stories with each carving. Notice how the illustrations look like wood carving folk art!
A Take-Charge Girl Blazes a Trail to Congress: The Story of Jeannette Rankin by Gretchen Woelfle, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
I love the author’s writing — she isn’t telling, she’s showing using exciting action, short punchy text, questions, and longer sentences of exposition. It adds up to a brilliant book about a woman who wanted to help others — she became a social worker — then a suffragist — and then the first female congresswoman!
Josephine and Her Dishwashing Machine: Josephine Cochrane’s Bright Invention Makes a Splash by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Sarah Green
The repetition of “There must be a better way” pushes the plot along as Josephine Cochrane seeks a solution to save her from washing dishes. When she eventually invents a machine that works like she wants, she then seeks a solution for running her own company, and takes her invention to the World’s Fair. She patens her invention (and all her later inventions) and opens a factory! What an exciting and inspirational story of a determined inventor.
The Brilliant Calculator: How Mathematician Edith Clarke Helped Electrify America by Jan Lower, illustrate by Susan Reagan
Engaging writing and illustrations, we’re mesmerized by Edith Clarke’s life and love for learning and math. After a life-threatening illness when she was a math teacher, she decides to try to become an engineer. Even though she isn’t hired, she works on her own to solve a tricky problem with electrical wires–and does. Her solution gets her a job as the first female electrical engineer. Her grit and determination are inspiring.
Rosalind Looked Closer: An Unsung Hero of Molecular Science by Lisa Gerin, illustrated by Chiara Fedele
Even as a child, Rosalind wanted to be a scientist. She studied at Cambridge and became an expert in the x-ray machine, taking the first clear photograph of a DNA strand. Unfortunately, her groundbreaking discovery was stolen by male scientists, and she was never credited. She didn’t give up. She turned her attention to plant viruses and continued working to help the world advance in science.
Marvelous Mabel by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Alleanna Harris
Mabel’s early life was difficult, and sometimes she was homeless. She dreamed of ice skating despite the restrictions on where she could skate as a Black girl. Mabel skated and practiced and because of other shows’ racism, created her own touring show. Inspirational.
Forest Keeper: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Rina Singh, illustrated by Ishita Jain
This is the inspiring true story about a man who saw a problem and did something about it. Jadav planted a variety of trees to create stability for the river and food and shelter for the animals. Year after year, Jadav Payeng planted and his efforts became a vibrant forest filled with creatures.
Lift Every Voice and Change: A Celebration of Black Leaders and the Words that Inspire Generation by Charnaie Gordon, illustrated by Aeron Cargill
One page of biographical text plus an illustration features important Black leaders like Booker T. Washington, Jay-Z, James Baldwin, Katherine Johnson, and Ayo Tometi. Press the buttons in the back to hear the Black leader’s actual voice speaking — which is really cool. This book will educate and inspire you!
I Am Coco: The Life of Coco Chanel by Isabel Pin
Short illustrated chapters add up to an informative 90-page biography. It’s almost like a chapter book biography, although the vocabulary seems too advanced. Readers who love fashion will want to learn the details about this famous fashion designer’s life — like a time in an orphanage, her first store in Paris, and some of her famous designs.