Picture book biographies have quickly become a favorite genre for me, especially because of all the high quality ones that have been released recently. Just in 2018, there have been numerous wonderful releases. (ETA: Some of our 2019 favorites have been added in at the end!) A well done picture book biography helps kids to learn about an important person in an engaging way. The text is engaging and the illustrations are captivating and reading the story brings up so many important topics. I have found I have learned a great deal from these books right along with my kids. Below is my list of favorite picture book biographies released in approximately the last year.
Dr. Jo: How Sara Josephine Baker Saved the Lives of America’s Children by Monica Kulling
My son loved this one and has requested many rereads. I really appreciated the way Dr. Jo saw problems and, instead of despairing, worked hard to find solutions. She took on things that were not in her usual skill set because she knew it needed to be done. She was just one person doing what she could to help, and she saved the lives of thousands of children.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
I read this with my son and we took our time reading through it and discussing as we went. A lot of great conversations happened about racial and gender inequality, engineering and math, and working hard for your dreams.
Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker
This one backs up and tells the story of Katherine Johnson starting in childhood and then goes throughout her life leading up to the time she saved Apollo 13. I think it’s great for kids to be able to see this heroine starting out a girl who loved to count. You could pair this book or the one above with the new Katherine Johnson Barbie doll for a fun and inspiring gift!
The Amazing Scientists series by Julia Finley Mosca
You can read my review of all three books in the series. The unique thing about these biographies is the rhyming text.
Alabama Spitfire by Bethany Hegedus
I always find it fascinating to learn the back story of author’s and their famous books and I really enjoyed reading this book to my son to learn about the experiences that led Harper Lee to writing To Kill a Mockingbird.
Pocket Full of Colors by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville
This one tells the story of Mary Blair who is the artist behind several animated Disney movies and the park ride It’s A Small World. She loved color and imagination, but her ideas didn’t fit into the black and white views of the men in the studios. I loved the theme throughout of her collecting colors wherever she went and how that was reflected in the illustrations.
Lights! Camera! Alice! by Mara Rockliff
Through a fun format resembling old movies this biography tells the story of the first woman filmmaker. I was surprised to learn she directed the first sound films ever made before Hollywood ever moved beyond silent films. You probably have noticed that almost all of the books on my list feature women and a large of this is because women have been overlooked or written out of history for years and now that their stories are coming to light I think it’s fascinating to learn of women doing things far before anyone ever expected them to.
Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson
With sweet illustrations and an engaging text, this one tells the story of Jane Austen was an ordinary girl who observed the world around her and decided to write about ordinary life in extraordinary ways. Reading it with my son we were surprised to find how much he actually has in common with Jane’s personality.
Lovely and interesting text combines with beautiful illustrations that really capture the feel of these iconic women make these books a joy to read. I learned a lot about what made these women so impressive. I especially enjoyed Just Being Audrey, because I thought the messages were so important and there is so much about her that I never knew or realized. She didn’t fit in to what people thought was beautiful, but she acted true to herself and was happy and ended having so many other people who wanted to be like her instead.
Ordinary People Change the World by Brad Meltzer
This series has had books coming out for several years, but there were a couple new additions this year! Each book focuses on a historical figure and how they started out as just an ordinary kid, but how they changed the world. They are written in kind of a comic book format and are very child friendly (but too dense and informative for the toddler crowd).
The Girl Who Ran by Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee
Tells the story of Bobbi Gibb who was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. I had no idea until reading this book how long it took for women to be allowed to run in a marathon and how the first woman to do it had to actually disguise herself and sneak into the race, because they wouldn’t allow her to enter. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I thought the various reactions of family, friends, and fellow racers were very interesting!
Free as a Bird by Lina Maslo
Malala is a current heroine and inspiration for many and in this picture book biography her story is told in a way children can understand and appreciate.
Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez
The story of a little girl who loved reptiles and went on to become the first curator at the Reptile House of the London Zoo. Her research and knowledge led her to become an international sensation. I loved reading about how she followed her passion.
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
I don’t know if this one is technically considered a biography, but it tells the story of Mae Jamison as a young girl dreaming to be an astronaut. I loved how her parents encouraged her to chase her dreams even when other people (including her teacher) didn’t think it was possible. The whole story focuses on her as a young girl rather than of a biography of her whole life. It has shorter, simpler text that makes it more attainable for younger kids as well.
Big Machines by Sherri Duskey Rinker
This one tells the story of Virginia Lee Burton and how her picture books came to be. I loved the way the story and illustrations unfold that you see Burton draw her iconic characters and make up the stories for her young sons. It was so neat to see the stories coming to light and my son got really excited when he noticed familiar characters.
Anybody’s Game by Heather Lang
I was a little girl who loved playing sports right along with the boys and so this book really resonated with me. It tells the story of Kathryn Johnson, who was the first girl to play Little League Baseball. The way it’s written flows like a high interest story and it’s not full of dates and facts, so it doesn’t read like a slow non-fiction at all. Sports were a huge part of my childhood and I can’t imagine being banned from playing while watching my brothers and other boys play instead. I had no idea how long it took for girls to be allowed to play despite so many girls desperately wanting to.
Little People, Big Dreams series by Isabel Sanchez Vegara
There are a bunch of different books in this series with more coming out all the time. Several new books were released in this last year. All of the books tell the story of famous figures throughout history and are written with child friendly text.
New Favorites added in 2019:
From a Small Seed: The Story of Eliza Hamilton by Camille Andros.
Eliza Hamilton has become a household name due to the smashing success of the Hamilton musical, but previously she was not often talked about and I had no idea of her impressive life and all the contributions she made to the country. I find Eliza fascinating and inspiring and I have loved learning more about her. From a Small Seed is a beautiful depiction of how Eliza grew from a bright young girl through all of her defining experiences into a strong elderly woman. The text is concise enough for younger readers to follow along, but there is plenty of depth for older readers as well. I love the illustrations in this one!
Finding Narnia by Caroline McAlister
Another great author backstory! My son and I loved reading about C.S. Lewis and how he found inspiration for his beloved Narnia books. It was also wonderful to see a story of two very different brothers having a strong relationship and supporting each other.