Tag Archives: picture book biographies
We all can learn so so much from picture books (I know I do!). So here’s a list of 18 standout non-fiction picture books that illuminate historical figures, events, science, nature, culture, math, art, and more! I hope you get to check out some of these because all of them will speak of our world and inspire kids (and you) to know more, to care more, to experience more.
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone words by Traci N. Todd pictures by Christian Robinson (2021). This treasure of a book pops and sings and draws you in. “Nina was done with being polite. As far as she could tell, politeness had gotten her people nothing.”
One Sun and Countless Stars by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (2022) is part of a wonderful series, and in this newest installment, Mehrdokht Amini’s illustrations struck me even more—particularly the ones whose compositions zoom in so the rich colors and textures come alive.
Mambo Mucho Mambo: The Dance That Crossed Color Lines by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (2021) is a wonderful account that takes you back in time and makes you want to dance.
Where the Wee Ones Go by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Zosienka (2022) is soothing and illuminating (and just the right amount of sad and hopeful) about the “vulnerable animal babies” the author and illustrator capture in this bedtime book.
The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi and Loveis Wise (2021) is an extraordinary illustrated poem that’s also an expansive history of the African diaspora while illuminating the principles of Kwanzaa. It’s about the past, but also about the present and future and the myriad ways Black Americans have shaped the world.
Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! by Art Coulson, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (2021). A story that fabulously incorporates interactive math as Bo searches for just the right container to display his marbles at his family’s booth at Cherokee National Holiday. You can learn some Cherokee words in the back as well!
Circle Under Berry by Carter Higgins (2021) is an imaginative, spatial exploration of shapes, of prepositions, of how we see, what we see, and the relationships of things. And it is deeply smart and satisfying.
Art of Protest: Creating, Discovering, and Activating Art for Your Revolution by De Nichols, illustrated by Diana Dagadita, Oliva Twist, Molly Mendoza, Diana Ejaita (2021). A fabulous protest primer, art workshop, history all in one. “…my hope is that this book will encourage and equip you to use art as a language and instrument that can help you champion your chosen cause,” De Nichols.
A Shape Shifting Adventure in Hawai’i written by Daniel Frates, illustrated by Jamie Meckel Tablason (2021) is the tale of a line who takes many exciting shapes while traveling around their Hawai’i home.
Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Gold Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. (2021). A story of an innovating woman in engineering and the way both a love of math and her Cherokee values shaped her journey and contributions.
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith (2021) starts with a genealogical school assignment that leads to an honoring history of the main character’s African ancestors. It celebrates African cultures and peoples, unflinchingly describes being stolen and enslaved, and praises Black resistance, joy, and pride.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper (2021) speaks the unspeakable and doesn’t turn away from the truth of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in a truly incredible book.
Hear My Voice: The Testimonials of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States complied by Warren Binford for Project Amplify. A bilingual picture book that’s harrowing and heartbreaking: the true stories of children at Border Patrol facilities— in their own words, powerfully illustrated by different Latinx artists.
Pura’s Cuentos: How Pure Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories written by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Magaly Morales (2021) is an ode to this legendary children’s librarian (and first Latina librarian in NYC) from Puerto Rico who enchanted children with her stories of home told in Harlem.
Stitch by Stitch: Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly Sews her Way to Freedom by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (2021) is a fascinating true story of a remarkable woman that has stunning artwork that builds along with the biography, layer by layer, stitch by stitch.
Moth and Butterfly Ta-Da written by Dev Petty, illustrated by Ana Aranda (2021) has vibrant, whimsical art capturing two friends who celebrate their differences as they transform—ta-da!
The Angel of Santo Tomas: The Story of Fe Del Mundo by Tammy Lee (2022) is the marvelous biography of a woman who demonstrated intellect, courage, and kindness for her community even in the direst of circumstances.
How to Make a Mountain: from Geologic Formation to Thriving Habitat in Just 9 Simple Steps and Only 100 Million Years! by Amy Huntington, illustrated by Nancy Lemon (2022) is the science of mountain formation in an inventive, DIY package.
These four non-fiction picture books, all published this year, showcase incredible people in history—and some young people today—who raised their voices to create change.
Shirley Chisholm is a Verb! written by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Rachelle Baker (2020).
This picture book is a tribute to Shirley Chisholm and her verbs, her doing, her work and guts and courage. And the way she raised her voice as part of that. In Barbados, “…her teachers taught Shirley how to SPEAK up, and they helped her understand the power of words.” In Brooklyn, she became a teacher herself.
She helped people. Stood up for people. She was part of organizing Head Start. She ran for State Assembly and won. She ran for Congress and won. In 1968, she was the first Black woman elected to Congress!
She took action upon action. She spoke up and then spoke up again. She ran for President! In doing so, Chisholm inspired so many people and paved the way for so many others.
Rachelle Baker’s bold artwork in this biography portrays the spirit of the time as well as Chisholm’s dynamism.
Collection copyright © 2020 by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Jeanette Bradley. Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc. All work used by permission of the individual authors, who control all rights. All poems copyright © 2020 by the individual authors. “Water Protector” © Joseph Bruchac.
No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Jeanette Bradley (2020).
This picture book is a treasure of inspiration, of poems and illustrations by kidlit creators, each featuring a young person creating change.
Some of these kids may be familiar to you, some of them may not, but every spread showcases one kid, their brief bio, a call to action, and a poem in their honor by acclaimed writers like Hena Khan, Traci Sorell, Carole Boston Weatherford, Andrea J. Loney, and Nikki Grimes.
A variety of amazing young people for readers to admire and take a cue from, 14 different journeys and issues of activism that matter to them, that matter to us all.
The Power of her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne by Lesa Cline-Ransom and John Parra (2020).
This picture book captures the life of writer, fighter, and question-asker Ethel L. Payne who grew up in Chicago and “always had an ear for stories.”
Payne also had a lot of courage and persistence—when her school newspaper wouldn’t let a Black student write for it, when she worked toward social change in her neighborhood, when she set her sights on traveling the world as a journalist.
All that courage and persistence landed Payne in the press room of the White House asking important questions as “First Lady of the Black Press.” She documented history—and she was part of it—pushing for civil rights, for answers, and for change.
This non-fiction account is complemented by John Parra’s unmistakable illustrations full of color, texture, and symbols.
Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell and R. Gregory Christie (2020).
This picture book profiles Ella Baker, who took it to heart when her mother told her: “Lift as you climb.”
As a child, Ella Baker looked after neighbor kids and worked on the farm where her grandparents had been enslaved. She worked hard in school at her studies and as a waitress to pay for those studies. She moved to New York City where she worked hard for the NAACP, for the rights of Black Americans.
She worked for voting rights, always listening to people, always lifting her voice for justice, and always lifting as she climbed.
R. Gregory Christie’s art is extraordinary in this book, as always: technicolor backgrounds, captivating compositions, and portraits that pop off the page.
Thanks to Penguin Young Readers and Charlesbridge, I’m giving away two picture books—if you’re a a teacher or librarian, enter below to win a copy of SHIRLEY CHISHOLM IS A VERB and NO VOICE TOO SMALL below! (US only.)
In honor of Women’s History Month and my sincere love of picture book biographies, here are some of my historical lady favorites:
Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls.
That title just has to be referring to Ella Fitzgerald, right?! Humble beginnings, hardship, and in the end, a dream come true. (Also, Sean Qualls always does extraordinary artwork.)
“Ella was not pretty, but so what? The girl could swing!”
While I think Fitzgerald was lovely, I so appreciate the sentiment that as a performer, it was all about her skit-scat and not her raggedy cat!
Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors? by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman.
The story of Elizabeth Blackwell, just one of the ladies in history who broke silly rules like “girls can’t be doctors,” to be the first and then inspire others.
“Some people are afraid of anything new or different.
Touch the Sky by Anna Malaspina, illustrations by Eric Velasquez.
Alice Coachman, olympic high jumper, was the first black female to win a gold medal at the games. But the story starts at the beginning, when Coachman is a young girl running and leaping barefoot in Georgia in the 30s. The writing is pure poetry too.
“The moon was so far from Albany, where Momma saved pennies because there weren’t enough. But a dream is a beginning and as Alice grew older, her dream was to soar.”
Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo, illustrated by Julia Denos.
This one goes behind the gorgeous glamor of movie star Audrey Hepburn and shows us her childhood, her heart, and her work on behalf of humanity.
Mama Miti byDonna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
The true and moving story of Wangari Maathai and her Greenbelt Movement in Kenya. A Nobel Peace Prize-winning modern day heroine!! And Nelson’s stunning textile collage brings the story to colorful, textural life!
Emily by Michael Bedard, pictures by Barbara Cooney.
We glimpse the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson herself through the eyes of a young neighbor girl.
“There is a woman on our street they call the Myth. She lives with her sister in the yellow house across the road.”
FEATURED HERE BEFORE:
You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer by Shana Corey, illustrated by Chelsea McLaren.
Here Come the Girl Scouts, the story of Juliette “Dasiy” Gordon Law.
And more historical women bio books to check out:
* Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Tavares.
*Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers by Sarah Warren, illustrated by Robert Casilla.
* Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by Laura Beingessner.
*Mary Walker Wears the Pants by Cheryl Harness, illustrated by Carlo Molinari.
*Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell.
*Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
Doctor, athlete, poet, singer, scientist, soldier, actress and activist, fashion pioneers and suffragettes. So many inspiring ladies to read about!! And many more not mentioned here. Leave your favorite(s) in the comments!