Many people think picture books should be left behind in the preschool years. Megan and I heartily disagree with that sentiment, and we invite you to check out one of these picture book biographies at your local library to read through with your family of all ages. They are great jumping off points for more research should you choose to do so, but they are also succinct encapsulations of the high points of a given subject’s life and accomplishments. In addition, the books listed below offer a mini course in art appreciation! The Lord has gifted so many people in our world’s history–and many of them had humble beginnings. We would do well to encourage our children to pursue their God-given interests and abilities, to persevere, and to be exactly who the Lord made them to be! Picture book bios may explore famous individuals, or those who you might never have wondered, “Who came up with that idea?”
A note about what to look for in a picture book biography: increasingly, picture book biographies are demonstrating the same qualities we look for in other nonfiction works: source citations, bibliographies, reading lists for further research, and the like. Be sure to check the “back matter” or “end matter” in a picture book biography to learn more about the subject(s) at hand as well as to verify that the author and illustrator have done their homework. You can find some picture book biographies in the picture book section, but most will be with the other juvenile biographies; look for the subject’s name if you’re merely browsing.
Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Disney-Hyperion, 2012. A lovely treatment of Helen Keller’s childhood and adulthood with Braille on the cover and the finger alphabet in the back end papers plus additional information and reading lists. WV rating: 4; Lit. rating: 4.
Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Macy’s Day Puppeteer by Melissa Sweet. Houghton Mifflin, 2011. Orbis Pictus Award, Sibert Award. A marvelous look at how those giant trademark puppets flying over the parade got their start. Sweet’s collage artwork is a perfect match. WV rating: 4.5; Lit. rating 5.
Monsieur Marceau: Actor Without Words by Leda Shubert and illustrated by Gerard DuBois. Flash Point, 2012. Orbis Pictus Award. Succintly, elegantly and beautifully chronicles the life and accomplishments of the famous mime, Monsieur Marceau. Back matter includes more information on his life plus a mime practice activity for future mimes! WV rating: 4.5; Lit. rating: 5.
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Brian Collier. Little, Brown 2010. Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor for Illustrator. Another simple but powerful story told in succinct language and accompanied by perfect illustrations. Based on a real slave, the back matter includes more information on the process of researching and creating this book as well as a bibliography of websites and books for further study. WV rating: 4, Lit. rating: 5.
Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully. FSG, 2006. Store clerks used to ask, “Paper or plastic?” Usually, we now either bring our own or accept flimsy plastic. But who came up with the flat-bottomed paper bag? A woman named Mattie Knight, who loved inventing from childhood! A fascinating story about the challenges that were overcome, both in the historical period and the inventing process. Nice watercolor illustrations and black-and-white sketches. WV rating: 4, Lit. rating: 4.
The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani. Charlesbridge, 2009. Where in the world do those unnatural fluorescent highlighter colors come from?! Beginning in 1930, two creative brothers explored their interests and discovered the use of ultraviolet light on chemicals and how to make money on their idea, from hobbies to World War II. Full of natural inventing trial and error (and Christians can point out the effects of Providence guiding their plans), with humor along the way. The stylized illustrations gradually transition from black and white to bright fluorescent. Fun and fascinating! WV rating: 4, Lit. rating: 4.5.
Memories of Survival by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and Bernice Steinhardt. Hyperion, 2005. This is the firsthand account of a holocaust survivor, told entirely in embroidery. Esther Krinitz uses the art medium she knows best, thread and fabric, to portray her story in images, and also inscribed the words on the quilts she made. From her childhood, through the Nazi invasion, her escape, efforts to survive, and finding freedom, all are shown and told in sobering detail. For older readers, this is definitely worth looking at! WV rating: 4.5, Lit. rating: 5.
Starry Messenger, created and illustrated by Peter Sis. FSG, 1996. Once upon a time, it was believed (and heretical to disagree) that the earth is the center of the universe. Copernicus had another theory, but it was not until a mathematician named Galileo Galilei used a telescope to argue for his observations that any such theory could be proven. This is his story, told with a mixture of narrative, quotations and delightful illustrations. It is difficult to hurry through a page spread, because there is so much to be discovered by readers of varying ages, whether by studying the pictures or turning the book sideways (or in a circular fashion) to ponder the quotes, in addition to the regular text. Although there is no bibliographic information at the end, there are plenty of biographies of Galileo for further study. Great introduction to a brilliant man who changed the way we think about the order of the universe. WV rating: 4, Lit. rating: 4.5
Picture book biographies are nothing new on Redeemed Reader! If you’re feeling more patriotic, check out Janie’s Tuesday post about some famous Americans, Janie’s lineup of George Washington material or Emily’s lineup of President’s Day Resources. Megan recently reviewed a missionary picture book biography and a biography of the lady behind the Memorial Day poppy tradition, and Emily has reviewed other Christian picture book biographies.