I had planned to include this massive list of picture book biographies in my post about creating a biography unit study. But…it got a bit out of hand and made that post way too long. So here we are. Below are over 100 picture book biography recommendations to suit almost anyone.
You will find books of diverse characters, creative problem-solvers, global stories, and courageous individuals. This list of picture book biographies celebrates young and old contributors, entertainers and activists, athletes and poets. Enjoy!
To make it easier, the list is divided into eight categories.
The categories include: Creators & Performers, Athletes & Athletics, Activists & Change-Makers, Scientists & Mathematicians, Inventors & Inventions, Historical Heroes, Bookish Types, and Just for Fun.
Creators & Performers
Beautiful Shades of Brown: the Art of Laura Wheeler Waring by Nancy Churnin
Noticing a distinct lack of representation of art or artists who reflected her appearance, Laura Wheeler Waring set out to change that. As an artist, she completed portraits of accomplished African-Americans that hang today in the Washington, D.C. National Portrait Gallery.
Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock
An account of photographer Dorothea Lange photography of the people and places of the Great Depression in the United States.
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal
Ann Cole Lowe learned to sew from her momma and grandma. She continued to sew even after her mother’s death but faced segregation in her design school learning. Her creative masterpieces were worn by icons and her resiliency is inspiring.
It Began with a Page by Kyo Maclear
Japanese-American Gyo Fujikawa’s life provides a look at the relationship between public and personal history. As a children’s illustrator Fujikawa became an early advocate for representation in chidren’s literature.
Liberty’s Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus by Erica Silverman
The inscription beneath the Statue of Liberty was written to raise money for Lady Liberty’s pedestal. This is the woman who wrote the lines that defined the statue.
Maya Lin: Artist-Architect Of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey
Meet the young woman who designed the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. and hear the intention behind her masterpiece.
My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey by Jeanne Walker Harvey
From the stories of his ancestors in North Carolina to the liveliness of New York, artist Romare Bearden’s work in the medium of collage honors the inspiration of life.
My Name is Georgia: A Portrait by Jeanette Winter
From New York to New Mexico Georgia O’Keefe lived freely and her art expressed her big views.
Papa is a Poet: A Story about Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober
A biography about Robert Frost told from the unique perspective of his daughter.
Pocket Full of Colors by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville
The designer of It’s a Small World at Disney World used colors and her travels to create the iconic ride.
Sebastian: A Book about Bach by Jeanette Winter
Sebastian grew up in a family of musicians – music was everywhere – and he added to it. Hundreds of years later Bach’s music is still learned by students and performed by musicians around the world.
The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock
The story of Kandinsky’s struggle to create abstract art when society heavily favored more classic lines and images.
The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton: Poet by Don Tate
George taught himself to read and, though enslaved, found ways to compose and distribute his poetry at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. But would he ever be free?
The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock
A garden that blooms from castoff trash inspires a community to save it.
The Shape of the World: A Portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright by K.L. Going
Start at Frank Lloyd Wright’s childhood and watch as he grows to become one of the most renowned U.S. American architects, incorporating nature with his buildings.
The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter
Follow Hadid’s amazing accomplishments as she incorporates the natural world into her memorable designs.
Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock
Follow Chagall’s life and work to understand the colors and emotions that are so evocative in his work.
Anything but Ordinary: the True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff
Adelaide Herrmann learned the tricks of the magic trade alongside her husband. When he died, she determined that the show would continue. Her own skills in magic earned her the title Queen of Magic.
I, Vivaldi by Janice Shefelman
Trapped by a promise made by his mother that he would become a priest, Vivaldi spends the first part of his life trying to fight his desire to be a musician. When the two vocations merge, it’s music to everyone’s ears.
Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo
Audrey Hepburn’s life story is more varied than many other entertainers and her influence goes well beyond film and theater.
Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan
After a promise to God, Mahalia Jackson went on to become the unrivaled Queen of Gospel music against all odds.
Mozart: Gift of God by Demi
A beautiful telling of the young musicians life and times, including attention to the role of faith in his development of his gifts.
The Music in George’s Head: George Gershwin creates Rhapsody in Blue by Suzanne Slade
Follow young George through streets and houses as he collects the styles and genres of music that he would bring together for his most recognized composition.
Athletes & Athletics
Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimentel
Women can’t run the Boston Marathon? Bobbi Gibb disguises herself and proves that they can.
Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy
The birth of a sport: this is how James Naismith created basketball.
Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac
Native American Jim Thorpe, named Bright Path, was recognized as the Greatest Football Player and Greatest Athlete of the Half-Century, but his way to athletic fame was not without great struggle.
Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray
Nadia Comaneci changed the face of competitive gymnastics when she became the first gymnast to earn a perfect 10.0.
Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson by Sue Stauffacher
Everyone agrees Althea is nothing but trouble, but one person sees raw potential and sets her on the path to tennis success.
Pelé King of Soccer by Monica Brown
How a poor boy from Brazil became the world’s greatest soccer player and the first man to reach 1,000 goals.
Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream by Deloris Jordan
Jordan’s family share his story before he became the incomparable #23.
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story by Audrey Vernick
Effa Manley was a champion administrator, advocate, and activist for the baseball players who moved from the Negro Baseball League to Major League and was recognized accordingly.
Sisters: Venus and Serena Williams by Jeanette Winter
A sisterhood that holds through thick and thin, sickness and health, wins and losses.
Super Grandpa by David M. Schwartz
At 66 years old, Gustaf Håkansson was told he was too old to join the Tour of Sweden bicycle race. So he rode the 1,000 miles unofficially, won the whole thing, and delighted his country.
The Kid from Diamond Street by Audrey Vernick
Edith Houghton started playing women’s professional baseball when she was ten years old.
The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin
Ever wonder how baseball developed its hand signals? Deaf player William Hoy needed to know what the calls were and suggested the solution and now spectators in the stands could know what was happening, too.
Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper by Ann Malaspina
Everybody was telling her how to behave and be a lady, but Alice Coachman just wanted to jump. And she did – right on to the Olympic gold medal platform.
Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull
How a victim of debilitating childhood polio became a three-time Olympic gold medalist.
Activists & Change-Makers
All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel
Meet the young activist who joined a protest at the Capitol building that would launch the Americans with Disabilities Act into the forefront of political conversations.
Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson
Persevering against all odds Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah cycled 400 miles across Ghana with one leg to show his country that “disability is not inability.”
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull
From a shy boy to a prominent leader advocating for the rights of migrant farmworkers, this is the life story of Cesar Chavez.
Florence Nightingale by Demi
Florence is known for her work as a nurse during the Crimean War, but it is her healthcare reforms and sanitation standards that changed the healthcare environment long-term. Learn of her perseverance, problem-solving, and advocacy.
I Could Do That: Esther Morris Gets Women to Vote by Linda Arms White
The Wyoming territory was the first place in the United States to allow women to vote. This is the story of the plucky woman who made it happen.
Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport
Author Doreen Rappaport uses quotes directly from MLK Jr.’s speeches to introduce his big ideas to young minds.
Mary Walker Wears the Pants by Cheryl Harness
Another woman defying medical conventions of the time. When the Civil War broke out Mary Walker created a modified medical uniform and served alongside Union forces as a doctor. She became the only woman awarded the Medal of Honor for her service.
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia by Miranda Paul
Journey to Gambia and learn how Isatou Ceesay launched an effort to clean up her country from plastic bags. Solving two problems with one solution, her innovative thinking helped clean up the trash, keep livestock from choking to death, and created economic independence for women.
She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader by J.G. Annino
Betty Mae Tiger Jumper was born of a Seminole woman and a white man. Not until she was fourteen did she learn to read and write, but she was a quick learner. She went on to earn her nursing credentials, supported her husband’s various jobs, and eventually became the first female elected Seminole tribal leader and serving as a bridge between the Seminole and white cultures.
She was the First: the Trailblazing Life of Shirley Chisholm by Katheryn Russell-Brown
At three years old it was clear that Shirley Chisholm was going to be a leader. She stood up for the underrepresented and ignored. In doing so she chartered a path of political firsts for Black women over and over again.
The House that Jane Built: A Story about Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone
Jane Addams was the first American woman to earn a Nobel Peace Prize. She transformed a Chicago neighborhood of poverty into a community by creating a settlement home with playgrounds and public resources right in the middle of it.
The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson
This was my youngest daughter’s favorite and the one she remembered after we read over 100 biographies. This is the story of a 6-year-old civil rights activist who marched for equal rights in Birmingham, Alabama, and spent time in jail as a result. This is her heroic story.
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prévot
Maathai’s work refreshing the trees of her native Kenya and founding the Green Belt Movement for peace and reconciliation earned her a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? By Tanya Lee Stone
Elizabeth Blackwell challenged expectations for women of the time and became the first female doctor in the United States.
Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells by Philip Dray
The Emancipation Proclamation freed Ida from her enslavers when she was not quite two years old. Her fierce will and determination kept her on the path of pursuing justice all her life. The subtitle says it all: The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist.
Scientists & Mathematicians
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark
Ada Byron Lovelace understands an inventor’s mechanical computer better than anyone else. As part of her collaboration with him she writes the world’s first computer program in order to show its capabilities.
Nothing Stopped Sophie by Cheryl Bardoe
Sophie Germain approached math problems and gender discrimination with the same creative problem-solving ability. Even in the face of setbacks in her research, she persevered and became the first woman to win a grand prize from France’s Academy of Sciences for her work.
The Boy Who Loved Math: the Improbable life of Paul Erdös by Deborah Heiligman
Paul Erdös never took the familiar and typical path for anything in life. His math genius was evident at an early age, but his ability to perform basic life skills was a bit of a challenge. Still, it is hard to say for sure whether he was most admired for his mathematical fluency and capacity to solve problems or his generous and kind nature to those around him. A truly unique character and a must-read biography.
Buzzing with Questions by Janice N. Harrington
Charles Henry Turner asked dozens and dozens of questions about bugs. As an entomologist he studied bees, ants, and myriad other creepy critters with fascinating questions and experiments.
I, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen
Galileo invented the microscope and telescope and championed the idea, controversial at the time, of a sun-centric universe. Albert Einstein called him “the father of modern science.” This is his story told in his own reimagined voice.
Marie Curie by Demi
An in-depth blending of Marie Curie’s private life and professional accomplishments.
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne
This is an accessible look at Albert Einstein’s life, and encouragement for all readers to be curious.
Otis and Will Discover the Deep by Barb Rosenstock
Each man succeeded in his own place, but not until they joined together could they accomplish what they most wanted.
Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh
Marie Tharp was fascinated by the ocean. Encouraged by her father to think big, she went on a quest to map the bottom of the ocean floor.
Stone Girl, Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning by Laurence Anholt
Mary was connected to the natural world by a bolt of lightning. She went on to discover several important fossils and make key scientific observations. This is her story.
The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just by Mélina Mangal
Ernest Everett Just saw what others did not see. He grasped the significance of the whole when others only saw bits and parts. Learn how watching sea creatures led him to observations about egg cells and the origin of life.
Inventors & Inventions
Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World by Elizabeth Rusch
Nikola Tesla brought ideas about electricity that were ahead of his time. Learn about his efforts to light Chicago’s World Fair and his rivalry with Thomas Edison
John Deere, That’s Who! By Tracy Maurer
A young blacksmith from Vermont who started out by inventing the steel plow
Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor by Emily Arnold McCully
Mattie was a problem-solver from the start, but when her work was stolen by another individual she has to prove that yes, she, a woman, did come up with the invention.
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
The story of the Ferris Wheel and its rousing success – against a lot of odds!
Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant
Louis Braille lost his sight at five years old. This is his story of inventing the braille alphabet. Discover his process and strategies for finding the best system
The Crayon Man by Natascha Biebow
A fun look at the inventor and process behind one of childhood’s most ubiquitous elements.
Tiny Stitches: the Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks
Vivien Thomas did not receive recognition for his contributions because of his skin color. But make no mistake, he is the man behind the life-saving procedures of open-heart surgery for children. A powerful story of one man’s commitment to using his gifts even when no one notices.
Young Thomas Edison by Michael Dooling
A look at Thomas Edison’s life from birth to success. Early difficulties with school and financial struggles didn’t keep Edison from inventing and creating
Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker’s Story by Joseph Burchac
Chester Nez was forced to leave his family and attend a boarding school designed to show him that his native Navajo culture and language were useless. But Chester refused to give up his heritage, and when a code was needed for military communications in World War II the Navajo language provided it.
Eleanor, Quiet No More by Doreen Rappaport
A neglected and shy child, Eleanor Roosevelt would grow into an outspoken advocate for the poor and forgotten.
Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers
Frederick Douglass started his life enslaved in the South. He would grow up to escape slavery, learn to read, and become a passionate abolitionist, writer, and leader.
Good Queen Bess by Diane Stanley
Queen Elizabeth the First’s story is one of a strong-willed woman, a gracious leader, and a beloved queen. Stanley captures all the dynamics of the court and environment of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
Hard Work But It’s Worth It: the Life of Jimmy Carter by Bethany Hedgedus
Jimmy Carter learned early in life the value of hard work, the unfairness of segregation, and the potential for change. Guided by a list of Good Mental Habits that he developed, Carter became a President, a celebrated humanitarian, and a courageous man of faith.
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin
The secret missions and courageous activity of one Polish social worker. Irena Sendler helped nearly 400 Jewish children escape the Warsaw Ghetto.
Leave it to Abigail: the Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams by Barb Rosenstock
She asked questions, married for love and not social status, managed a farm, fed hungry soldiers, corresponded with her husband regularly, and became a forerunner of women’s rights to be involved in politics.
Miracle Man by John Hendrix
The story of Jesus told with breath-taking illustrations.
Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence by Gretchen Woelfle
Mumbet was enslaved in Massachusetts in 1776 and recognized the disconnect between the Declaration of Independence and her enslavement. She set out to win her freedom.
Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson
A lyrical and artistic telling of Nelson Mandela’s journey from small boy to activist to President.
Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo
2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus developed a micro-lending system that lifted local individuals out of poverty. A literal example of a small thing making a huge difference. This book follows his life from young child to academic to innovator.
Abe Lincoln: the Boy Who Loved Books by Kay Winters
Meet the U.S.’s sixteenth president through his reading habits as a young boy.
Balderdash!: John Newberry and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books By Michele Markel
If you’ve read an interesting children’s book lately, you have John Newberry to thank for it. In the 18th century, books for children emphasized rules and lessons. Newberry envisioned books that would tell stories, science and games; then he made those books happen.
Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeannette Winter
Luis loves to read, but pretty soon his books fill up his entire house. His solution? Buy two donkeys and take books to children around the country.
Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough
Miss Moore wanted children to feel welcome in libraries and set out to create spaces for kids with that in mind. Accessible book shelves, bright colors, and no “shh” signs.
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise
Pura Belpré came to American from Puerto Rico in 1921 and brought the folktales of her homeland with her. She became a bilingual assistant at the New York Library and began telling her stories.
The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
Book lovers in Basra, Iraq had been meeting at Alia Muhammad Baker’s bookstore for fourteen years. Then, war arrived. Alia takes quick measures and courageous efforts to save the 30,000 books of her library.
Turning Pages by Sonia Sotomayor
This autobiography charts Sotomayor’s growth through the books that she reads. A wonderful way to explore the influence of books on a person’s life and learn about Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien by Caroline McAlister
As a boy, John Ronald loved dragons. He imagined them during his dark and bleak years. As a man he created his own and became a much loved author. Meet J.R.R. Tolkien.
Lost Boy: The Story of the Man Who Created Peter Pan by Jane Yolen
John Barrie had a difficult start to life but recovered his sense of adventure and wonder as an adult. It was the right mix to imagine, develop, and create Peter Pan.
Lucy Maud Montgomery by Alexandra Wallner
About the writer who brought us the beloved Anne Shirley, this picture book looks into her strict upbringing and early struggles before she found success.
My Name is Gabriela by Monica Brown
The story of Nobel-prize winning Chilean author and poet Gabriela Mistral is beautiful and inspirational. It encourages children to love words and pursue their dreams.
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant
Peter Mark Roget loved words and quickly became a writer. But he didn’t write stories. Roget wrote lists. Discover how his unique tendency to write lists of words evolved into a handy resource for readers and writers everywhere: Roget’s Thesaurus.
Write On, Mercy! By Gretchen Woelf
Mercy Otis Warren lived in and among the beginnings of the American Revolution. Secretly she wrote poetry and plays and essays. Not until later in life did her full contribution come to light in the form of a three-volume history of the American Revolution.
Just for Fun
Balloons Over Broadway: the True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet
Tony Sarg was an extraordinary puppeteer. But his biggest challenge – and greatest success – was making puppet-magic large-scale and memorable. His work inspired and created the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Will Allen played professional basketball in Europe before settling in Milwaukee. An abandoned lot inspired him to create an innovative garden. Soon his produce and methods were reaching far and wide. Problem-solving at its best – and most delicious.
Fartiste by Kathleen Krull
I guarantee that there is no other more original biography on this list than this one. I had to read it once myself to make sure I was understanding it correctly. A man learned to manage his flatulence so that he could mimic an astonishing array of noises and sounds. When he finally made it to a significant stage he found that his greatest pleasure was creating a situation where people didn’t want to laugh because it was seen as undignified humor but couldn’t help themselves because of his performance. A truly one-of-a-kind talent.
Stand Straight, Eva Kate: the True Story of a Real Giant by Kate Klis
When Eva Kate was taunted by children at her school for her incredibly large size, her parents vowed not to let it happen again. When Eva had the opportunity to earn a living by allowing people to look at her size, she used her height and people’s curiosity to her advantage. Definitely a story to bring up a lot of good conversations.
The Bravest Woman in America by Marissa Mos
Ida Lewis loved the sea. Her father taught her everything he knew about keeping the lighthouse in Rhode Island where he worked. When she eventually became the lighthouse keeper she ignored general ideas that women couldn’t handle the work. Her bravery saved numerous lives, and she earned the Congressional Life Saving Medal and the American Cross of Honor.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstei
This is the story of French aerialist Joseph Gordon-Levitt who walked between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. It is a remarkable and dangerous feat. The book is also written as a tribute to the events of 9/11 and could be used as a softer introduction to them.
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lovaine Hubbard & Oge Mor
My girls and I were riveted throughout this book. Mary Walker just kept getting older and older and collecting so many meaningful life experiences but not learning to read. Indeed, it was almost at the end of her life that she finally learned to read. An amazing woman and a picture book that does justice to her perseverance and remarkable spirit.
When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike by Michelle Houts
One day, at 67, Emma Gatewood got up to take a walk and kept on going. Sort of. She took to the Appalachian Trail twice – the first time was a bit of a bumble. The second time she learned from her first experience, ignored those who said she shouldn’t try again, and went on to hike the entire trail. Go, grandma, go!
Other Biography Resources
This is not the only list of picture book biographies that I’ve put together. If you’re looking for content for Women’s Month in March or just some more ideas, check out the post of 75 Biographies of Amazing Women. (Fair warning: there is definitely overlap between this list of picture book biographies and that one, but there are also several distinctions.)
For ideas on how to use picture book biographies in your class, check out the post on How to Create a Biography Unit Study.
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