You know I love picture books. But, you might not know that I have been slowly building my collection of picture book biographies over the past few years. I love this format for kids because they are accessible to so many readers, packed with interesting information, and often filled with colorful illustrations. Here are some of our favorite picture book biographies.
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Picture Book Biographies
Here are some of our favorite picture book biographies (in no particular order). I hope these stories inspire your kids to dream big, work hard, and never give up!
Just Like Beverly
This story follows the life of Beverly Cleary from her early years in Oregon to her career as a beloved children’s book author. As a young girl, Beverly Cleary struggled to learn to read and found most children’s books dull and uninteresting. She often wondered if there were any books about kids just like her. With hard work, and the encouragement of her parents and a special teacher, she learned to read and at a young age discovered she had a knack for writing.
Beverly Cleary’s story comes to life in this beautiful picture book as she grows to follow her dreams of writing the books she longed for as a child, becoming an award-winning writer and one of the most famous children’s authors of all time.
Ron’s Big Mission
Nine-year-old Ron loves going to the Lake City Public Library to look through all the books on airplanes and flight. Today, Ron is ready to take out books by himself. But in the segregated world of South Carolina in the 1950s, Ron’s obtaining his own library card is not just a small rite of passage—it is a young man’s first courageous mission. Here is an inspiring story, based on Ron McNair’s life, of how a little boy, future scientist, and Challenger astronaut desegregated his library through peaceful resistance.
Carter Reads the Newspaper
“Carter G. Woodson didn’t just read history. He changed it.” As the father of Black History Month, he spent his life introducing others to the history of his people.
Carter G. Woodson was born to two formerly enslaved people ten years after the end of the Civil War. Though his father could not read, he believed in being an informed citizen, so Carter read the newspaper to him every day. As a teenager, Carter went to work in the coal mines, and there he met Oliver Jones, who did something important: he asked Carter not only to read to him and the other miners, but also research and find more information on the subjects that interested them.
“My interest in penetrating the past of my people was deepened,” Carter wrote. His journey would take him many more years, traveling around the world and transforming the way people thought about history.
Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary―and they didn’t think women should be scientists.
Determined to prove them wrong, Eugenie devoted her life to learning about sharks. After earning several college degrees and making countless discoveries, Eugenie wrote herself into the history of science, earning the nickname “Shark Lady.” Through her accomplishments, she taught the world that sharks were to be admired rather than feared and that women can do anything they set their minds to.
The Crayon Man
What child doesn’t love to hold a crayon in their hands? But children didn’t always have such magical boxes of crayons. Before Edwin Binney set out to change things, children couldn’t really even draw in color.
Here’s the true story of an inventor who so loved nature’s vibrant colors that he found a way to bring the outside world to children – in a bright green box for only a nickel! With experimentation, and a special knack for listening, Edwin Binney and his dynamic team at Crayola created one of the world’s most enduring, best-loved childhood toys – empowering children to dream in COLOR!
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures
When young Temple was diagnosed with autism, no one expected her to talk, let alone become one of the most powerful voices in modern science. Yet, the determined visual thinker did just that. Her unique mind allowed her to connect with animals in a special way, helping her invent groundbreaking improvements for farms around the globe!
Follow Jane from her childhood in London watching a robin on her windowsill, to her years in the African forests of Gombe, Tanzania, invited by brilliant scientist Louis Leakey to observe chimps, to her worldwide crusade to save these primates who are now in danger of extinction, and their habitat. Young animal lovers and Winter’s many fans will welcome this fascinating and moving portrait of an extraordinary person and the animals to whom she has dedicated her life.
Balloons Over Broadway
Everyone’s a New Yorker on Thanksgiving Day, when young and old rise early to see what giant new balloons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who first invented these “upside-down puppets”? Meet Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire! In brilliant collage illustrations, the award-winning artist Melissa Sweet tells the story of the puppeteer Tony Sarg, capturing his genius, his dedication, his zest for play, and his long-lasting gift to America—the inspired helium balloons that would become the trademark of Macy’s Parade.
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An inspiring picture book biography of storyteller, puppeteer, and New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian, who championed bilingual literature.
When she came to America in 1921, Pura Belpré carried the cuentos folklóricos of her Puerto Rican homeland. Finding a new home at the New York Public Library as a bilingual assistant, she turned her popular retellings into libros and spread story seeds across the land. Today, these seeds have grown into a lush landscape as generations of children and storytellers continue to share her tales and celebrate Pura’s legacy.
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent a lifetime disagreeing: disagreeing with inequality, arguing against unfair treatment, and standing up for what’s right for people everywhere. This biographical picture book about the Notorious RBG, tells the justice’s story through the lens of her many famous dissents, or disagreements.
Fauja Singh Keeps Going
Every step forward is a victory.
Fauja Singh was born determined. He was also born with legs that wouldn’t allow him to play cricket with his friends or carry him to school miles from his village in Punjab. But that didn’t stop him. Working on his family’s farm, Fauja grew stronger to meet his own full potential.
He never stopped striving. At the age of 81, after a lifetime of making his body, mind, and heart stronger, Fauja decided to run his first marathon. He went on to break records all around the world and became the first person over 100 to complete the grueling long-distance race.
Mary Anning loved scouring the beach near her home in England for shells and fossils. She fearlessly climbed over crumbling cliffs and rocky peaks, searching for new specimens. One day, something caught Mary’s eye.
Bones. Dinosaur Bones.
Mary’s discoveries rocked the world of science and helped create a brand-new field of study: paleontology. But many people believed women couldn’t be scientists, so Mary wasn’t given the credit she deserved. Nevertheless, Mary kept looking and learning more, making discoveries that reshaped scientific beliefs about the natural world.
Mae Among the Stars
When Little Mae was a child, she dreamed of dancing in space. She imagined herself surrounded by billions of stars, floating, gliding, and discovering.
She wanted to be an astronaut.
Her mom told her, “If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible.”
Little Mae’s curiosity, intelligence, and determination, matched with her parents’ encouraging words, paved the way for her incredible success at NASA as the first African American woman to travel in space.
This book will inspire other young girls to reach for the stars, to aspire for the impossible, and to persist with childlike imagination.
Henry’s Freedom Box
Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday — his first day of freedom.
As a little girl, Teresa Carreño loved to let her hands dance across the beautiful keys of the piano. If she felt sad, music cheered her up, and when she was happy, the piano helped her share that joy. Soon she was writing her own songs and performing in grand cathedrals. Then a revolution in Venezuela forced her family to flee to the United States. Teresa felt lonely in this unfamiliar place, where few of the people she met spoke Spanish. Worst of all, there was fighting in her new home, too—the Civil War.
Still, Teresa kept playing, and soon she grew famous as the talented Piano Girl who could play anything from a folk song to a sonata. So famous, in fact, that President Abraham Lincoln wanted her to play at the White House! Yet with the country torn apart by war, could Teresa’s music bring comfort to those who needed it most?
The Oldest Student
In 1848, Mary Walker was born into slavery. At age 15, she was freed, and by age 20, she was married and had her first child. By age 68, she had worked numerous jobs, including cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and selling sandwiches to raise money for her church. At 114, she was the last remaining member of her family. And at 116, she learned to read. From Rita Lorraine Hubbard and rising star Oge More comes the inspirational story of Mary Walker, a woman whose long life spanned from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, and who–with perseverance and dedication–proved that you’re never too old to learn.
In difficult times, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood provided a refuge for children and their families alike; a way to understand and talk about what was happening, and find hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Groundbreaking in a quiet, generous way, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood introduced a generation of children to the wonders of the world in the comfort of their own living rooms. Fred Rogers took young viewers to art museums, introduced them to different professions, and talked through difficult subjects like losing a loved one, or experiencing parents’ divorce, with compassion and reassurance.
In the 1930s most girls were happy playing with dolls. But one girl, Betty Skelton, liked playing with airplanes, watching them fly around outside, and even flying airplanes herself! She lived for an adventure—in the air, the water, and on land—and nothing could stop her, especially not being a girl.
When Betty Skelton was young there weren’t many women flying airplanes or racing cars, but she wouldn’t let that stop her. She was always ready to take on a challenge, and she loved to have fun. Beetty rode motorcycles, raced cars, jumped out of planes, and flew jets, helicoptors, gliders, and blimps. And by the time she was an adult, Betty was known in the press as the “First Lady of Firsts!”
Born in Ghana, West Africa, with one deformed leg, he was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.
Ready to Fly
Although there aren’t many ballet schools that will accept a girl like Sylvia in the 1950s, her local bookmobile provides another possibility. A librarian helps Sylvia find a book about ballet and the determined seven-year-old, with the help of her new books, starts teaching herself the basics of classical ballet.
Soon Sylvia learns how to fly—how to dance—and how to dare to dream.
The Power of Her Pen
Ethel Payne always had an ear for stories. Seeking truth, justice, and equality, Ethel followed stories from her school newspaper in Chicago to Japan during World War II. It even led her to the White House briefing room, where she broke barriers as the only black female journalist. Ethel wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions of presidents, elected officials, or anyone else in charge, earning her the title, “First Lady of the Black Press.”
Fearless and determined, Ethel Payne shined a light on the darkest moments in history, and her ear for stories sought answers to the questions that mattered most in the fight for Civil Rights.
The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes
As a girl coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement, Patricia Bath made it her mission to become a doctor. When obstacles like racism, poverty, and sexism threatened this goal, she persevered―brightening the world with a game-changing treatment for blindness!
Evelyn the Adventurous Entomologist
Back in 1881, when Evelyn Cheesman was born, English girls were expected to be clean and dressed in frilly dresses. But Evelyn crawled in dirt and collected glow worms in jars. When girls grew up they were expected to marry and look after children. But Evelyn took charge of the London Zoo insect house, filling it with crawling and fluttering specimens and breathing life back into the dusty exhibits. In the early 1920s, women were expected to stay home, but Evelyn embarked on eight solo expeditions to distant islands. She collected over 70,000 insect specimens, discovered new species, had tangles with sticky spider webs, and tumbled from a cliff. Inspire children to believe in their dreams and blaze their own trail with the story of Evelyn’s amazing life!
All the Way to the Top
Jennifer Keelan was determined to make a change―even if she was just a kid. She never thought her wheelchair could slow her down, but the way the world around her was built made it hard to do even simple things. Like going to school, or eating lunch in the cafeteria.
Jennifer knew that everyone deserves a voice! Then the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that would make public spaces much more accessible to people with disabilities, was proposed to Congress. And to make sure it passed, Jennifer went to the steps of the Capitol building in Washington DC to convince them.
And, without her wheelchair, she climbed.
ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP!
The Girl with a Mind for Math
After touring a German submarine in the early 1940s, young Raye set her sights on becoming an engineer. Little did she know sexism and racial inequality would challenge that dream every step of the way, even keeping her greatest career accomplishment a secret for decades. Through it all, the gifted mathematician persisted―finally gaining her well-deserved title in history: a pioneer who changed the course of ship design forever.
Lillian’s Right to Vote
As Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, makes a “long haul up a steep hill” to her polling place, she sees more than trees and sky—she sees her family’s history. She sees the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and her great-grandfather voting for the first time. She sees her parents trying to register to vote. And she sees herself marching in a protest from Selma to Montgomery. Veteran bestselling picture-book author Jonah Winter and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Shane W. Evans vividly recall America’s battle for civil rights in this lyrical, poignant account of one woman’s fierce determination to make it up the hill and make her voice heard.
Before Jacques Cousteau became an internationally known oceanographer and champion of the seas, he was a curious little boy. In this lovely biography, poetic text and gorgeous paintings combine to create a portrait of Jacques Cousteau that is as magical as it is inspiring.
Katherine Olivia Sessions never thought she’d live in a place without trees. After all, Kate grew up among the towering pines and redwoods of Northern California. But after becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, she took a job as a teacher far south in the dry desert town of San Diego. Where there were almost no trees.
Kate decided that San Diego needed trees more than anything else. So this trailblazing young woman singlehandedly started a massive movement that transformed the town into the green, garden-filled oasis it is today. Now, more than 100 years after Kate first arrived in San Diego, her gorgeous gardens and parks can be found all over the city.
Noah Webster and His Words
Webster’s American Dictionary is the second most popular book ever printed in English. But who was that Webster? Noah Webster was a bookish Connecticut farm boy who became obsessed with uniting America through language. He spent twenty years writing two thousand pages to accomplish that, and the first 100 percent American dictionary was published in 1828 when he was seventy years old. This clever, hilariously illustrated account shines a light on early American history and the life of a man who could not rest until he’d achieved his dream.
The World is Not a Rectangle
Zaha Hadid grew up in Baghdad, Iraq, and dreamed of designing her own cities. After studying architecture in London, she opened her own studio and started designing buildings. But as a Muslim woman, Hadid faced many obstacles. Determined to succeed, she worked hard for many years, and achieved her goals—and now you can see the buildings Hadid has designed all over the world.
Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos
The fascinating Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is remembered for her self-portraits, her dramatic works featuring bold and vibrant colors. Her work brought attention to Mexican and indigenous culture. She is also renowned for her works celebrating the female form.
Brown’s story recounts Frida’s beloved pets: two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and a fawn. It playfully considers how Frida embodied many wonderful characteristics of each animal.
She Was the First
Even as a young child growing up in the 1920s, Shirley Chisholm was a leader. At the age of three, older children were already following her lead in their Brooklyn neighborhood.
As a student at Brooklyn College, Shirley could outtalk anyone who opposed her on the debate team. After graduating, she used her voice and leadership to fight for educational change. In community groups, she stood up for the rights of women and minorities. Her small stature and fiery determination often took people by surprise. But they listened.
In 1964, Shirley took her voice and leadership to politics, becoming the first Black woman elected to the New York State Assembly, and in 1968, the first Black woman elected to Congress. Then in 1972, she became the first Black woman to seek the presidency of the United States. She pushed for laws that helped women, children, students, poor people, farm workers, Native people, and others who were often ignored. She fought for healthcare, spoke up for military veterans, and she spoke out against war
Shirley Chisholm, a woman of many firsts, was an unforgettable political trailblazer, a candidate of the people and catalyst of change who opened the door for women in the political arena and for the first Black president of the United States.
The Astronaut with a Song for the Stars
Growing up in a family of immigrants, Ellen dreamed of becoming a professional flutist. All all of that changed when she discovered engineering in college. Though she was told that field of study wasn’t for girls, the bright young scientist refused to give up. She ultimately became a NASA astronaut who shattered barriers and rocketed to success!
Be sure to check out our favorite books about Inventors and Inventions.
You can find all of my book lists here.