Picture Book Biographies

As a child, I loved biographies. I especially remember that my very small school had a series of chapter book biographies with orange covers, and I read them all. They were great tales about the childhoods of people that were unfamiliar to me at the time—Julia Ward Howe, Clara Barton, Jane Addams, Ernie Pyle—and I remember reading them many times. Now I know that they were fictionalized biographies, but the stories of how their childhoods shaped their adult lives and achievements intrigued me.

Quite a few great picture book biographies are being published this fall. Most of the people are familiar to me (except Jean-Michel Basquiat and Stephen Bishop), but many of the stories will be new to young readers.

And click here for more bios for readers from elementary through high school.

Ada Lovelace  Ansel Adams  Leonard Nimoy  Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science : The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley (ill. by Jessie Hartland). 9781481452496. October 2016. Gr K-2.
From her parents, Ada received imagination and love of math and science, which she combined to create the first computer program—two hundred years ago! This biography is an excellent choice for a STEM curriculum.

Antsy Ansel : Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliott (ill. by Christy Hall). 9781627790826. 2016. Gr 1-4.
Ansel Adams, the famous American photographer who, as a child, just couldn’t sit still unless he was outside in nature.  This book follows his childhood, with back matter giving more information on his art.

Fascinating : The Life of Leonard Nimoy by Richard Michelson (ill. by Edel Rodriguez). 9781101933312. 2016. Gr PK-3.
Even those who are not sci-fi fans will probably recognize Leonard Nimoy, the actor who became famous by playing the character of Spock in the classic Star Trek TV series.

I Dissent : Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy (ill. by Elizabeth Baddeley). 9781481465595. 2016. Gr K-2.
When she was a child, RBG’s mother decided that girls didn’t need an education. She protested, and has been standing up for what she believes in since then. She is quite famous for her feisty dissenting arguments as a Supreme Court justice.

 

Lift Your Light a Little Higher  Music in George's Head  My Name Is James Madison Hemings  Poem for Peter

Lift Your Light a Little Higher : The Story of Stephen Bishop : Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson (ill. by Bryan Collier). 9781481420952. 2016. Gr K-2.
Stephen Bishop was a slave who worked as a guide in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. He taught himself to write by watching tourists spell their names on the walls of the cave. Not much is known about the man, so this biography offers a lot of speculation.

The Music in George’s Head : George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue by Suzanne Slade (ill. by Stacy Innerst). 9781629790992. 2016. Gr 1-4.
George Gershwin, composer, didn’t need music playing in order to hear music; he heard music even in conversation and street sounds. Here Slade focuses on the many things that inspired his famous Rhapsody in Blue.

My Name Is James Madison Hemings by Jonah Winter (ill. by Terry Widener). 9780385383424. October 2016. Gr 1-3.
In this somewhat fictionalized biography of one of the sons of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, many questions are raised about the issues of slavery and racism.

A Poem for Peter : The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney (ill. by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson). 9780425287682. November 2016. Gr 2-5.
For twenty years, Ezra Jack Keats had photographs on his wall of a little African American boy enjoying the snow. He followed his passion—to write and illustrate his own books—and won the Caldecott Medal for The Snowy Day, the first mainstream book to feature an African American child.

 

Preaching to the Chickens  Radiant Child  Six Dots  Step Right Up

Preaching to the Chickens : The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim (ill. by E.B. Lewis). 9780399168567. October 2016. Gr K-3.
One of congressman John Lewis’s jobs as a child was tending to the chickens. Already as a child, he wanted to be a minister, so he would preach to his flocks.

Radiant Child : The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe. 9780316213882. October 2016. Gr 1-4.
Like George Gershwin and music, modern artist Jean-Michel Basquiat saw art everywhere, which inspired him in his collage-style paintings. The publisher says that Basquiat’s work shows kids that “art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean—and definitely not inside the lines—to be beautiful!”

Six Dots : A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryan (ill. by Boris Kulikov). 9780449813386. 2016. Gr PK-3.
Louis Braille, though he had become blind at the age of five, developed an alphabet of raised dots so people with visual disabilities could read by touch.

Step Right Up : How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman (ill. by Daniel Minter). 9781620141489. October 2016. Gr 3-6.
A former slave, Doc Key trained himself to be a veterinarian, but was nationally known for his horse, Jim Key, which he had taught to spell words, tell time, and do math. Doc said the secret to the training was “kindness, kindness, and more kindness.”

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