Biography books are a great way to get kids interested in reading. Biography has been proven to improve self-esteem, critical thinking skills, and empathy for others. We often get requests that the books that we send are fun, full of imagination, and adventurous - there are an exceptional amount of fictional stories that fit those requirements! As exciting and as eye-opening as the fictional world is, we think that non-fiction books can be just as or even more expansive, inspirational, and fun!
Learning the stories of outliers and game-changers can create a sense of safety and excitement in children for their own potential! Biographies are a great way to help kids learn about the lives of successful people and how they became successful. Biographies can also be used as a tool to inspire children to set goals for themselves and work towards achieving them.
Some biographies may contain sections that are more difficult to read, such as when the person has faced adversity. This is an opportunity for parents to discuss these sections with their children in order to provide context and guidance.
Biographies can be used at any age, but they are most effective when children are young because it is easier for them to identify with the characters in the story.
Top 5 Benefits of Reading Biographies for Children
We find that reading Non-fiction, particularly Biographies, are beneficial in the following ways:
- A great way for children to start to understand the world that they have entered into. These books answer the question - who came before me?
- The illustrations, photographs, and timelines that are included in these books make these stories come alive and make them more relatable.
- Children emulate the values they see - they learn critical thinking, empathy, respect, problem solving and so much more through these stories.
- These stories expose children to different perspectives other than their own cultural experiences.
- A way to be inspired. Leaders are rule-breakers - the earlier children are exposed to them the better their own chances of going against the grain and rising above societal unspoken rules. We are raising innovators here!
Here are some of our favorite Biographies:
I AM Series by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos
We can't stop gushing about the books in this series. Each individual that is featured in this series tells snippets of their own stories from childhood to when they become renown. Each person exemplifies a value or a set of values that are helpful for kids to grasp at an early age. Inspired the PBS Kids TV show Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum. One great role model at a time, these books encourage kids to dream big. You’ll want to collect each book in this dynamic, informative series!
Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Dickinson and John Hendrix
As a child, Dickens was forced to live on his own and work long hours in a rat-infested blacking factory. Readers will be drawn into the winding streets of London, where they will learn how Dickens got the inspiration for many of his characters. The 200th anniversary of Dickens's birth was February 7, 2012, and this tale of his little-known boyhood is the perfect way to introduce kids to the great author. This Booklist Best Children's Book of the Year is historical fiction at its ingenious best.
A Girl Named Rosita by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Leo Espinoza
When young Rosita moved from Puerto Rico to the mainland United States, she didn’t know what to expect—but she knew she loved to sing and dance. Working to overcome the language barrier and bullying she experienced in a strange new country, Rita eventually made her way to Hollywood with a dream to be a star. There, she fought to be seen and heard and eventually reached the pinnacle of success, landing her iconic role in West Side Story and, finally, winning her groundbreaking Oscar. Informative author’s note and timeline also included.
A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea David Pinkey, Steve Johnson, and Lou Fancher
The story of The Snowy Day begins more than one hundred years ago, when Ezra Jack Keats was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. The family were struggling Polish immigrants, and despite Keats’s obvious talent, his father worried that Ezra’s dream of being an artist was an unrealistic one. But Ezra was determined. By high school he was winning prizes and scholarships. Later, jobs followed with the WPA and Marvel comics. But it was many years before Keats’s greatest dream was realized and he had the opportunity to write and illustrate his own book.
Andrea Davis Pinkney’s lyrical narrative tells the inspiring story of a boy who pursued a dream, and who, in turn, inspired generations of other dreamers.
Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane by Carole Boston Weatherford and Sean Qualls
Young John Coltrane was all ears. And there was a lot to hear growing up in the South in the 1930s: preachers praying, music on the radio, the bustling of the household. These vivid noises shaped John's own sound as a musician. Carole Boston Weatherford and Sean Qualls have composed an amazingly rich hymn to the childhood of jazz legend John Coltrane.
Before John Was a Jazz Giant is a 2009 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book and a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad
By the 1930s Elsa Schiaparelli had captivated the fashion world in Paris, but before that, she was a little girl in Rome who didn’t feel pretty at all. Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli is the enchanting story for young readers of how a young girl used her imagination and emerged from plain to extraordinary.
Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli is a stunning and sophisticated picture book biography that follows Schiaparelli’s life from birth and childhood to height of success.
Informative backmatter and suggested further reading included.
Cezanne’s Parrot by Amy Guglielmo and Brett Helquist
All Cezanne wants is to be a great painter like his friends Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir. But when he shows his works, the professors, the critics, and the collectors all dismiss him: "Too flat!" "Too much paint!" "These are rough and unfinished!" Even his own pet parrot, Bisou, can't be brought to say, "Cezanne is a great painter!" And who can blame them? Cezanne doesn't care about tradition, and he doesn't follow the rules. He's painting in a way no one else has done before, creating something completely new--and he's destined to change the world of art forever. Cezanne's Parrot is a spirited celebration of creativity, determination, and perseverance--and the artist who would become known as the father of modern art.
Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler by Elizabeth Brown and Aimée Sicuro
They said only men could paint powerful pictures, but Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) splashed her way through the modern art world. Channeling deep emotion, Helen poured paint onto her canvas and danced with the colors to make art unlike anything anyone had ever seen. She used unique tools like mops and squeegees to push the paint around, to dazzling effects. Frankenthaler became an originator of the influential “Color Field” style of abstract expressionist painting with her “soak stain” technique, and her artwork continues to electrify new generations of artists today. Dancing Through Fields of Color discusses Frankenthaler’s early life, how she used colors to express emotion, and how she overcame the male-dominated art world of the 1950s.
Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh
As a child, Amalia Hernández saw a pair of dancers in the town square. The way they stomped and swayed to the rhythm of the beat inspired her. She knew one day she would become a dancer.
Amalia studied ballet and modern dance under the direction of skilled teachers who had performed in world-renowned dance companies. But she never forgot the folk dance she had seen years earlier. She began traveling through the Mexican countryside, witnessing the dances of many regions, and she used her knowledge of ballet and modern dance to adapt the traditional dances to the stage. She founded her own dance company, a group that became known as el Ballet Folklórico de México.
Using his signature illustration style, inspired by the ancient art of the Mixtecs, award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh tells the story of Amalia Hernández and the formation of the Folkloric Ballet, one of the most famous and successful dance companies in the world.
Granddad Mandela by Ambassador Zindzi Mandela, Zazi and Ziwelene Mandela, Zondwa Mandela and Sean Qualls
Zazi and Ziwelene’s great-grandad is called Nelson Mandela. Once day, they ask their grandmother 15 questions about him and his life. As their conversation unfolds, Zazi and Ziwelene learn that Nelson Mandela was a freedom fighter, a President, and a Nobel Peace Prize–winner, and that they can carry on his work today.
Seen through a child’s perspective, authored jointly by Nelson Mandela's great-grandchildren and daughter, and published in collaboration with Mandela Legacy Media, this book brings Nelson Mandela’s incredible story alive for a new generation of children.
Jackie and Me: A Very Special Friendship by Tania Grossinger and Charles George Esperanza
Thirteen-year-old Tania Grossinger lives in the famous Grossinger hotel in New York's Catskill Mountains. Lots of celebrities come to Grossinger's, but Tania just wants to meet one man: Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League baseball. When Jackie stays at Grossinger's on vacation, he hears that Tania is a terrific ping-pong player. Jackie invites the young girl to meet him for a game at four o-clock—but she doesn't believe he's serious and stays in her room to read. Soon the telephone rings; it's Jackie, wondering where Tania is! When she dashes downstairs to the game room, the famous Dodgers star is waiting for Tania—and this is the beginning of an unlikely but very special friendship. Jackie and Me offers a unique glimpse into icon Jackie Robinson's life off the field, told from a very special perspective: that of a friend.
Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell by Selina Alko
Before composing more than two hundred songs, Joni was a young girl from a town on the Canadian prairie, where she learned to love dancing, painting, birdsong, and piano. As she grew up into an artist, Joni took her strong feelings—feelings of love and frustration, and the turbulence that came with being a young woman—and wrote them into vivid songs.
Brought to life by Selina Alko’s rainbow collages and lyrical language, this heartfelt portrait of a feminist and folk icon is perfect for parents, children, and music lovers everywhere.
Back matter includes a letter from the author and Joni’s full discography.
Madame Saqui: Revolutionary Rope Dancer by Lisa Robinson and Rebecca Green
In revolutionary France, a girl named Marguerite Lalanne longed to perform above large crowds on a tightrope, just like her acrobatic parents. Sneaking off to the fairgrounds for secret tightrope walking lessons, Marguerite finessed her performance skills, ultimately performing for crowds as a young rope dancer. And eventually, Marguerite would perform as Madame Saqui, waltzing and pirouetting across- and never falling off- countless ropes above adoring crowds. A nouvelle chérie de Paris, Madame Saqui cemented her place in circus history, winning the adoration of the French people and royalty alike, including Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. This remarkable biography unveils the inspiring story of a trailblazing woman who revolutionized the circus world-- without ever missing a step.
Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen: The Story of Six Novels, Three Notebooks, a Writing Box, and One Clever Girl by Deborah Hopkinson and Qin Leng
Jane watched and listened to all the things people around her did and said, and locked those observations away for safekeeping. Jane also loved to read. She devoured everything in her father’s massive library and before long, she began creating her own stories. In her time, the most popular books were grand adventures and romances, but Jane wanted to go her own way...and went on to invent an entirely new kind of novel.
Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen includes a timeline and quotes from Austen's most popular novels.
Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung and Chris Sasaki
Before he became an artist named Tyrus Wong, he was a boy named Wong Geng Yeo. He traveled across a vast ocean from China to America with only a suitcase and a few papers. Not papers for drawing--which he loved to do--but immigration papers to start a new life. Once in America, Tyrus seized every opportunity to make art, eventually enrolling at an art institute in Los Angeles. Working as a janitor at night, his mop twirled like a paintbrush in his hands. Eventually, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime--and using sparse brushstrokes and soft watercolors, Tyrus created the iconic backgrounds of Bambi.
Sparky and Spike: Charles Schulz and the Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever by Barbara Lowell and Dan Andreason
This charming book is a story about a boy nicknamed Sparky and his beloved dog, Spike. Spike is the most amazing dog ever. He inspires Sparky to draw. Someday, Sparky will be an artist. Based on the childhood of Charles Schulz, creator of the world-renowned Peanuts comic, and the dog who inspired the most beloved dog of all—Snoopy—this book will resonate with children everywhere. Sparky & Spike includes a biographical note, as well as archival photographs of Sparky and Spike and a letter Charles Schulz wrote to the book’s illustrator, Dan Andreasen, when Andreasen was a boy.
The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy and Stacy Innerst
Over the last forty years, Aaron Lansky has jumped into dumpsters, rummaged around musty basements, and crawled through cramped attics. He did all of this in pursuit of a particular kind of treasure, and he’s found plenty. Lansky’s treasure was any book written Yiddish, the language of generations of European Jews. When he started looking for Yiddish books, experts estimated there might be about 70,000 still in existence. Since then, the MacArthur Genius Grant recipient has collected close to 1.5 million books, and he’s finding more every day.
Told in a folkloric voice reminiscent of Patricia Polacco, this story celebrates the power of an individual to preserve history and culture, while exploring timely themes of identity and immigration.
The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds & The Life of H. Tracy Hall by Hannah Holt and Jay Fleck
Before a diamond is a gem, it’s a common gray rock called graphite. Through an intense trial of heat and pressure, it changes into one of the most valuable stones in the world.
Before Tracy Hall was an inventor, he was a boy—born into poverty, bullied by peers, forced to work at an early age. However, through education and experimentation, he became one of the brightest innovators of the twentieth century, eventually building a revolutionary machine that makes diamonds.
The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank's Window by Jeff Gottesfeld and Peter McCarty
The tree watched a little girl, who played and laughed and wrote in a diary. When strangers invaded the city and warplanes roared overhead, the tree watched the girl peek out of the curtained window of the annex. It watched as she and her family were taken away—and when her father returned after the war, alone.
The tree died the summer Anne Frank would have turned eighty-one, but its seeds and saplings have been planted around the world as a symbol of peace. Its story, and Anne’s story, are beautifully told and illustrated in this powerful picture book.
Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock and Mary GrandPre
Vincent van Gogh often found himself unable to sleep and wandered under starlit skies. Those nighttime experiences provided the inspiration for many of his paintings, including his most famous, The Starry Night. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime—but he continued to pursue his unique vision, and ultimately became one of the most beloved artists of all time.
Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky and Julie Morstad
Based on Anne-France Dautheville's solo ride around the world in the 1970s, this poetic journey follows an unnamed young Parisian of that era who makes good on her dream "to go Elsewhere." In two epic overland segments she travels across Canada, and then from Bombay to Paris—across vast prairies, deserts, and mountain ranges—stopping for warm encounters with local residents in many lands or (a realistic recurring theme) to repair her motorcycle, but mostly spending long hours alone.
Using varied layouts and a shifting monochrome color scheme that lends her unframed panels a retro look, Morstad begins by depicting each tool and personal item the traveler carries in her minimal luggage, then goes on to place gracefully posed figures with expressive, delicate features in settings ranging from looming hills and barren, distant vistas to busy cityscapes.
What Degas Saw By Samantha Friedman
What Degas Saw looks at the world through a beloved artist’s eyes and provides insight into his creative process. Walking through the streets of Paris with cape and cane, the French artist Edgar Degas observes the world around him, finding inspiration at every turn. From the blurry faces of passersby glimpsed through a bus window to the sun-dappled landscape seen from a moving train, from the hunched profiles of laundresses at work to light-bathed ballerinas on the opera house stage, the artist—with open eyes and a curious mind—collects impressions of the people and places he sees.
Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe and John Shelley
The Bard of Avon is responsible for such familiar phrases as "what's done is done" and "too much of a good thing." He even helped turn "household words" into household words. As readers will discover, "the long and the short of it" is this: Will changed the English language forever. Will's words pop up all over the place!
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar
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.
Brought to colorful life by Paola Escobar’s elegant and exuberant illustrations and Anika Aldamuy Denise’s lyrical text, this gorgeous book is perfect for the pioneers in your life.
Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers
In her debut picture book, Misty Copeland tells the story of a young girl--an every girl--whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl's faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird.
Lyrical and affecting text paired with bold, striking illustrations that are some of Caldecott Honoree Christopher Myers's best work, makes Firebird perfect for aspiring ballerinas everywhere.