Picture Book Biographies = Fantastic, Diverse Resources
Picture book biographies are one of the best ways to introduce a person from history. Why? They bring interesting people to life in a short, succinct, satisfying manner.
Illustrations can add tremendously to the information, enabling readers to get a “feel” for the subject.
Additionally, the subjects chosen for picture book biographies are so broad! Presidents and other famous historical figures such as Helen Keller or the Wright Brothers are obvious choices. But picture book biographies also tackle Noah Webster, the inventors of neon paint, the woman who first mapped the ocean, and the man behind the Macy’s Day Parade puppets! No matter what person, topic, or time period, there is sure to be a relevant picture book biography out there.
Picture Book Biographies are Not Just For Kids!
Even teens and grown ups can learn from picture book biographies. For instance, read one of the Shakespeare biographies listed below before tackling Hamlet. Marvel at the man who photographed snowflakes before a series on weather, the seasons, or microscopy. Supplement a history class with a look at a minority figure or a Christian hero that the history textbook might have glossed over; Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library and Simonetta Carr’s biographies are good examples that are certainly robust enough for middle and high school students. Or take a look at River of Words before diving into William Carlos Williams’s poetry. The possibilities are endless.
Related Resources on Redeemed Reader
- Picture Book Biographies (by Betsy; includes tips on evaluating picture book biographies)
- The Real George Washington (by Janie; includes a great description of features to look for in biographies of any sort along with a nice list of George Washington biographies)
Picture Book Biographies Booklist!
The sub-headings below reflect those listed in our 2018 Reading Challenge–picture books count! As usual, titles are linked to Redeemed Reader reviews.
Political and Famous Historical Figures
- Diane Stanley’s biographies are excellent for older kids (ages 8 and up): Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Peter the Great, Good Queen Bess….
- Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by John O’Brien. A focused look at Jefferson’s bibliophile tendencies. Ages 6-10
- To Dare Mighty Things: the Life of Theodore Roosevelt by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by C. F. Payne. The larger-than-life president comes alive in this vigorous biography. Ages 6-10.
- Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd. Intricate drawings and a lengthy text make this a good one for older readers. Ages 8-12 (and up!)
- George Washington by Cheryl Harness. A bit longer than some, but very nicely done. Ages 8 and up. See also her many other picture book biographies–some are quite lengthy with timelines across the bottom while others are more traditional “picture book” style.
- Columbus by the D’Aulaires. See also Abraham Lincoln and others. The D’Aulaires wrote large format, lushly illustrated, substantial biographies for children; notably, they often include details about the childhood of these famous people, so children tremendously enjoy them. Highly recommended. Ages 6 and up.
Artists, Writers, and Musicians
- Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet. Sweet’s illustrations incorporate much of this African American folk artist’s work. Ages 6-12.
- The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet. About the man who created the famous thesaurus. Ages 8-12 (and up!)
- River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet. The famous poet! Ages 8-12 (and up!)
- William Shakespeare and His Globe by Aliki. A great introduction to Shakespeare and his theater for all ages.
- Will’s Words by Jane Sutcliffe and illustrated by John Shelley. The Bard’s contribution to our language coupled with marvelous illustrations. Ages 6-12.
- Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Macy’s Day Puppeteer by Melissa Sweet. Sweet includes photographs and uses a collage style in the illustrations to great effect. All ages.
- Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Brian Collier. Simple, but powerful story that is beautifully illustrated. Ages 6 and up.
- Monsieur Marceau: Actor Without Words by Leda Shubert and illustrated by Gerard DuBois. Succinctly, 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!
- The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano by Elizabeth Rusch and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Lively and colorful with plenty of back matter. Ages 6-12.
- Listen! How Pete Seeger Got America Singing by Leda Schubert. America’s folk singer brought to life. Older students might discuss Seeger’s politics and activism. Ages 6-12.
- Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuth. Energetic biography about a Mexican musician who ended up in New York. Ages 6-10.
- Louisa May’s Battle by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Carlyn Beccia. Full-color acrylics, plenty of back matter, and a great story make this a wonderful read. Ages 6-10
- Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Chase Feris and illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. Webster was a character! Ages 6-10.
- Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou. Delightful introduction to this famous author. Ages 6-10.
- One Fun Day with Lewis Carroll: A Celebration of Wordplay and a Girl Named Alice by Kathleen Krull. Exuberant treatment of this equally exuberant author. Ages 8 and up.
Scientists and Inventors
- Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully. The lady who invented the flat-bottomed paper grocery bag!
- The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani. The invention of fluorescent colors! Ages 8-12.
- Starry Messenger by Peter Sis. Galileo’s story comes to life in this large picture book. Ages 6-12.
- John Deere, That’s Who! Tracy Nelson Maurer and illustrated by Tim Zeltner. The man behind the “John Deere” tractor logo. Ages 6-10.
- Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. An imaginative look at what Braille’s childhood was like. Ages 4-10.
- On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. Bringing Einstein down to a level for children. Ages 4-10
- Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay. Fascinating reminder that someone, somewhere had to invent the infographics we take for granted. Ages 8 and up.
- Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raul Colon. The daughter of a map maker goes on to map the ocean floor. Ages 6-10.
- Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian. About the man who painstakingly photographed snowflakes. Ages 6-12.
- Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming. A fictionalized account of an eccentric inventor. Ages 6-10.
- To Fly: The Story of the Wright Brothers by Wendie Old and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Each page is a “chapter” coupled with a full page illustration in this well written biography of the famous flying duo. Ages 8 and up (younger as a read aloud)
Church History and Famous Christians
- Pilipinto’s Happiness: The Jungle Childhood of Valerie Elliot by Valerie Shepard. The daughter of Jim and Elisabeth Elliott retells her jungle memories.
- Heroes of the Faith Series by Sinclair Ferguson. Titles on Polycarp, Ignatius, and Iraneus.
- Christian Biographies for Young Readers Series by Simonetta Carr. Meaty, information-packed biographies on many figures: Augustine, Anselm, Ireneus, Marie Durand, Athanasius, Jonathan Edwards, Lady Jane Grey, Martin Luther, John Knox, John Calvin, John Owen, … and more!
- Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport. Helen Keller’s story broken down for younger readers. Ages 6-10
- Memories of Survival by Esther Ninenthal Krinitz and Bernice Steinhardt. A Holocaust survivor’s memoir told entirely in embroidery.
- Queen of the Diamond: The Lizzie Murphy Story by Emily Arnold McCully. A picture book biography for young baseball fans! Ages 4-8
- The Great Satchel Paige v. Rookie Joe DiMaggio by Robert Skead and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Was Joe DiMaggio up to the test of world famous pitcher, Satchel Paige? Ages 4 and up.
- Satchel Paige Don’t Look Back by David Adler. A focus just on this one baseball hero (as opposed to the famous meet-up in the book before this). Ages 6-10.
- Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno. Fantastic book about baseball and family. Ages 4 and up.
- Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez. The determination of a young Puerto Rican boy resulted in the largest collection of African American literature ever! Ages 8-15 (a good title for older kids)
This list is by no means exhaustive! What are YOUR favorite picture book biographies?