Picture Book Nonfiction Biographies that Read Like Narrative Stories

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Affiliate Links Biographies should be compelling stories that hook the reader immediately. This list of nonfiction picture book biographies do exactly that — they tell a story that makes it seem like you’re reading a fiction book. Which kids generally prefer over a book of facts, dates, and dry informative text. Quite frankly I prefer it, too.

Picture Book Nonfiction Biographies

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?!
Picture Book Nonfiction Biographies
Dear Mr. Washington
by Lynn Cullen, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
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 Nonfiction Biographies
A Boy Called Dickens
by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by John Hendrix HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
I was completely entranced with this story of young Dickens who worked long days at the blacking factory. At the end of the we,ek he visits his family in the debtors’ prison. It’s a piece of Dickens’ his 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 Nonfiction Biographies
The Right Word: Roget and His 
Thesaurus
 by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
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!
Picture Book Nonfiction Biographies
The Noisy Paint Box; The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art
by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
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 Nonfiction Biographies
I am Abraham Lincoln
by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos HISTORY / BIOGRAPHY
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.
Picture Book Nonfiction Biographies
Picture Book Nonfiction Biographies
Picture Book Nonfiction Biographies
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.
Picture Book Nonfiction Biographies
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.
Do you have any other nonfiction picture book biographies that read like narratives to add to this list?
Visit this Google Community to find more suggestions of nonfiction picture books. #nf10for10
Go here to see MORE picture book biographies.
nonfiction picture book biographies

11 Responses

  1. Karen Terlecky says:

    I love your list of books – most I have read, but not all. I love narrative-reading biographies; I need to figure out how to get students more interested in them as well. Thanks so much for sharing these titles! I am now looking forward to reading Tricky Vic, a new title for me.

  2. I thought the Dickens book was outstanding. I am particularly fond of anything John Hendrix illustrates. I have Tricky Vic on order.

  3. Mandy Robek says:

    I too shared biographies today and we only had one the same. I love the new Brad Meltzer books. Thank you for joining us today.

  4. Cathy Mere says:

    Biographies open so many doors for readers. More and more I am finding interesting biographies that work for younger readers. Pablo Neruda, Poet of the People is on my list to check out. I’m not familiar with that title.

  5. Stacey Shubitz says:

    I know almost all of these (since I’ve been hooked on picture book biographies for the last few years), but The Impossible True Story of Tricky Vic, the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower is new to me. I can’t wait to check it out since I’m a Francophile!

    1. you’ll love it — I received an advanced copy but I think it’ll be published very soon. March?

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