30 Picture Book Biographies

Here are 30 excellent picture book biographies for kids interested in nature, science, invention, justice, presidents, sports and the arts.

We have been reading picture book biographies at our house for weeks as I work on selecting my favorites for this post. This is not a bad thing. I love biographies. Netflix has me pegged as a lover of uplifting biographical films, from films about Bill Cunningham to Bela Fleck to Jane Goodall. I find it fascinating to see how others choose to spend their lives and to read about people who are driven to pursue a variety of hobbies and careers with passion. It is also fascinating to learn about how individuals were touched by and shaped historical events.

To select the picture books for this list, I read the more than 50 award winning picture book biographies at my library. I also read biographies about particularly inspiring people whose stories I would like to share with kids. From these, I selected the 30 picture book biographies that I would recommend to a 2nd through 5th grade teacher interested in sharing picture book biographies with his students.

These 30 picture book biographies are all compelling in one way or another. Most of these biographies include information about the subjects’ childhoods that kids will be able to relate to. There are stories of children struggling with illness and poverty. There are stories of children fascinated by sounds, machines and the natural world. These 30 biographies include a variety of stories that will inspire a variety of kids.

There are also several biographies on this list about people who lived through extraordinary times. These biographies bring subjects like slavery and the civil rights movement to life move vividly than any textbook could.

Picture book biographies for kids interested in…

Nature

  • Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola (Wangari Maathai, environmentalist/leader). See also Seeds of Change by Jen Culleron Johnson.
  • Miss Ladybird’s Wildflowers by Kathi Appelt and Joy Fisher Hein (Lady Bird Johnson, influential First Lady and champion of the Highway Beautification Act).
  • For the Birds: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson by Peggy Thomas and Laura Jacques (Roger Tory Peterson, artist/naturalist and creator of the Peterson Field Guides).
  • Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian (Wilson Bentley, naturalist and photographer).

Science

  • Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola (Sylvia Earle, scientist).
  • The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life With the Chimps by Jeanette Winter (Jane Goodall, scientist). See also Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell.
  • The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins: An Illuminating History of Mr. Waterhouse Hawkins, Artist and Lecturer by Barbara Kerley and Brian Selznick (Waterhouse Hawkins, sculptor and natural historian).

Invention

  • Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet (Tony Sarg, puppeteer).
  • The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Brights Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton and Tony Persiani (Bob and Joe Switzer, inventors).
  • Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully (Margaret E. Knight, inventor).

Justice

  • Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney (Harriet Tubman, civil rights leader).
  • Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney (Sojourner Truth, civil rights leader). For older kids, see also Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell and R. Gregory Christie.
  • Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier (Rosa Parks, seamstress and civil rights leader).
  • Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone and Rebecca Gibbon (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, women’s rights leader).

Presidents

  • Abes Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Doreen Rappaport and Kadir Nelson (Abraham Lincoln, U.S. president).
  • Teedie: The Story of the Young Teddy Roosevelt by Don Brown (Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. president).

Sports

  • America’s Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle by David Adler and Terry Widener (Gertrude Ederle, swimmer).
  • Satchel Paige by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome (Satchel Paige, baseball player).
  • Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man by David Adler and Terry Widener (Lou Gehrig, baseball player).
  • Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull and David Diaz (Wilma Rudolf, runner).
  • Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle and a Bicycle Changed History by Sue Stauffacher and Sarah McMenemy (Tillie Anderson, cyclist).
  • Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac and S.D. Nelson (Jim Thorpe, decathlete). See also Jim Thorpe Bright Path by Don Brown.

The Arts

  • Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum by Robert A. Parker (Art Tatum, pianist).
  • What Charlie Heard by Mordicai Gerstein (Charles Ives, composer).
  • When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Munoz Ryan and Brian Selznick (Marian Anderson, singer).
  • Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney (Ella Fitzgerald, singer).
  • A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet (William Carlos Williams, poet).
  • Drawing From Memory by Allen Say (Allen Say, author/illustrator).
  • Frida by Jonah Winter and Ana Juan (Frida Kahlo, painter).
  • Alvin Ailey by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney (Alvin Ailey, dancer).
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12 Responses to 30 Picture Book Biographies

  1. nelly1 says:

    Hi, can i ask you something? I’m looking for children books with “scary” animal illustrations like the big bad wolf (or a fox) eating pigs (or seven kids or “Red Riding hood” or birds in “Chicken Little” or duck in “Peter and the wolf”) or being pictured with a fat stomach. Could be any other animal as well. Have you seen any book of this sort? Any sort of help is appreciated. Thanks in advance.

    Great blog, by the way!

  2. Darshana says:

    excellent list. thanks!

  3. shellibrary says:

    Your blog is so well done. Great post.

  4. karadhya says:

    Hi, Amy. This is a great list….some of which I’ve heard of and some of which I haven’t. Our local library has a pretty nice section for picture book biographies, and I like to snoop around from time to time. Hope to come across some more on your list!

  5. PragmaticMom says:

    Nice list!! I love picture books as a quick but fairly complete to learn about a historical figure!

  6. Thank you for putting together this wonderful collection, will most definitely be on the look out for these books. I love biographies, these examples are great for getting my children started :)

  7. thanks for posting this. my oldest loves and is fascinated by biographies. can’t wait to find these at our library.

    • Amy says:

      If you find the right biography for the right kid, I think biographies will fascinate most kids. It was fun to read these with my children and see which ones they have latched onto.

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