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25 Wonderful Picture Book Biographies for Readers of All Ages


25 Wonderful Picture Book Biographies for Readers of All Ages

Picture book biographies are one of my favorite genres. They chronicle the life and times of some of the most famous people in the world, including the people behind beloved inventions. They are accessible to all levels of students – even high schoolers! Readers get a broad overview in picture book form, and then authors generously include ample back matter for further research and reading.

Take a look through this list of my top 25 favorite picture book biographies. You will find the stories behind the invention of the super soaker, the fascinating life of the first Black ballerina to dance for the American Ballet Theatre, the man behind ramen noodles, and so much more.

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1. The Brilliant Deep: The Story of Ken Nedimeyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation

By Kate Messner

The Story of Ken  Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation - Picture Book Biographies

Environmental scientist Ken Nedimeyer is working to rebuild coral reefs by hand. The efforts are surprising, involving gluing grafted corals to barren sea floors and tending them. It is an education in the importance of coral reefs to our planet’s seas and also a treatise to human hope for a brighter, greener future.

2. Queen of Physics, How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom 

By Teresa Robeson

How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom  - Picture Book Biographies

At a time when girls were not routinely educated in China, Wu Chien Shiung’s parents encouraged her love of science. She became an accomplished physicist and the first female instructor at Princeton University, among many other accolades.

3. Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando 

Written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

The Story of Momofuku Ando_Picture Book Biographies

This is the story of the invention of ramen, one of the world’s most famous foods, after Momofuku Ando saw long crowds in food lines after World War II.

4. The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons 

Written by Natascha Biebow and illustrated by Steven Salerno

The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons_Picture Book Biographies

The Crayon Man tells the story of Edwin Binney, the inventor of Crayola Crayons. Binney wished to bring the magic of nature’s vibrant colors into the lives of children, succeeding with his famous box of crayons that originally sold for five cents.

5. Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles

Written by Patricia Valdez and illustrated by Felicita Sala

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor_Picture Book Biographies

Joan Proctor was the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum and the designer of London Zoo’s famous Reptile House. She grew up hosting tea parties for her favorite reptiles, a tradition she continued in the Reptile House, where she hosted children’s tea parties complete with a Komodo dragon guest.

6. Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist 

Written by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens

The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most  Fearless Scientist_Picture Book Biographies

Eugenie Clark earned herself the nickname “Shark Lady” after devoting her life to them. She faced the dual challenges of people who feared and hated sharks and people who didn’t think women should be scientists.

7. Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré 

Written by Aneka Aldamuy Denise and illustrated by Paola Escobar

The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré_Picture Book Biographies

Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian, immigrated to America in 1921. She began her library career as a bilingual library assistant, where her Spanish retellings of stories were wildly popular. Her distinguished career still influences readers today, and the Amerian Library Association named an award after her given annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator “whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.”

8. Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade 

By Melissa Sweet

The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade _Picture Book Biographies

Puppeteer Tony Sarg is the inventor of the famous parade balloons that are part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is a great STEM title that goes into detail about the mechanics of the balloons as well as delving into the joy they bring to millions each year.

9. It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

Written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad

How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way_Picture Book Biographies

During WWII, Gyo Fujikawa’s family was taken to a Japanese internment camp while she worked as an illustrator in New York City. Watching the nation’s prejudice tear apart her family, she wanted to find a way to include diverse children in her illustrations. She wrote and illustrated the book Babies, which was initially rejected but once published sold nearly 2 million copies. She was a trailblazer in children’s literature in an era when we are still striving for inclusive texts.

10. Mae Among the Stars 

Written by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington

Mae Among the Stars_Picture Book Biographies

Mae Jemison was the first Black woman to travel in space. Mae Among the Stars encourages children to follow their dreams no matter what detractors may say.

Written by Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrated by Bryan Collier

How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art  Gallery_Picture Book Biographies

Ernie Barnes grew up in the segregated South. While he was recruited to play football for an all-black university and eventually played in the NFL for the Colts, his true passion was in creating art. He got his opportunity after leaving the NFL when he was hired as the first official artist for the American Football League.

12. The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin 

Written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley

The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin _Picture Book Biographies

Temple Grandin, who was diagnosed with autism as a young child, has a unique and powerful connection with animals. She has used this connection and the unique way her mind works to improve the lives of farm animals all over the world.

13. Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome

The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George

Joseph Boulogne was the child of a Black slave and her white slaveowner. He was able to study music in Paris, where he became a master violinist and eventually composed operas. The illustrations in this book are exquisite.

14. What Miss Mitchell Saw

Written by Hayley Barrett and illustrated by Diana Sudyka

What Miss Mitchell Saw

The subject of this picture book biography, Maria Mitchell, will be an inspiration to girls everywhere. Mitchell was the first American scientist to discover a comet, which was named after her. She used her acclaim to advocate for science and math education for girls.

15. Just Being Audrey 

Written by Margaret Cardillo and illustrated by Julia Denos

Just Being Audrey

Audrey Hepburn was America’s sweetheart and a film icon, but she did much beyond acting. Growing up in Nazi Germany inspired in her a lifelong desire to spread kindness, and she used her fame to do humanitarian work through UNICEF.

16. Ron’s Big Mission

Written by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden and illustrated by Don Tate

Ron's Big Mission

This is the story of Ron McNair, a young boy who grew up to be an astronaut on the Challenger mission. As a young boy in the segregated South, Ron found himself unable to check out books from the public library. His was able to obtain a library card through peaceful resistance, which in turn fed his love of flight.

17. The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors 

Written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tony Persiani

The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas  and Brand-New Colors

Joe and Bob Switzer invented fluorescent colors, which didn’t exist prior to 1935. Like many great inventions, their brand-new colors were invented by accident when the brothers were experimenting for a magic act. Their colors went on to be used in WWII, street signs, advertisements, and more the world over. The book itself cleverly reflects the story, as it is largely black and white until the end culminates in color.

18. Buzzing with Questions

Written by Janice N. Harrington and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner

Charles Henry Turner is notable as the first Black entomologist. His lifelong fascination with bugs, animals, plants, and all things science is chronicled in this fun book. The author includes extensive back matter for further reading.

19. John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien 

Written by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien

The man we known as J.R.R. Tolkien is John Ronald in this delightful and surprising picture book about the boy who grew into the man behind the most famous fantasy series of all time. As a child, John Ronald loved dragons and imagined them everywhere he went. As an adult, his imagination only grew stronger, and he used his early love of dragons to create The Hobbit.

20. Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

Written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Don Tate

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions: Barton, Chris,  Tate, Don: 9781580892971: Amazon.com: Books

Just like the invention of fluorescent colors, the invention of the iconic toy called the Super Soaker happened by accident. Engineer Lonnie Johnson was working on cooling mechanisms when he inadvertently created what has become one of the top twenty toys of all time.

21. On a Beam of Light: A Story About Albert Einstein

Written by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

A Story of Albert Einstein

On a Beam of Light is the story of the child who grew up to be Albert Einstein. As a child, Einstein didn’t really fit in with the other children. His wild imagination made him endlessly curious about the world around him. This is a great picture book to encourage children to use their imaginations and embrace who they are inside.

22. She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein 

Written by Lynn Fulton and illustrated by Felicita Sala

How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

On a dark and stormy night, a young girl drifts off to sleep dreaming of a monster. She is determined to beat Lord Byron in their competition to see who can write the best ghost story. She eventually goes on to write one of the great gothic novels of our time, Frankenstein.

23. Firebird

Written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers

Firebird

Misty Copeland was the first African-American dancer to be promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. In her picture book debut, she imagines a conversation between herself and an aspiring ballerina who struggles with self-confidence. The resulting book is a positive and empowering story for children everywhere.

24. Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines

Written by Sarah Aronson and illustrated by Robert Neubecker

The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the  Machines

Rube Goldberg’s father encouraged him to find a career more practical than art, so Goldberg became an engineer. After college, he decided that his passion for art could not be denied and took a job as a newspaper cartoonist. He became famous for his elaborate machines which performed simple tasks in complicated fashion.

25. The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine 

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin

The Polio Pioneer

This picture book biography feels particularly appropriate to read during the Covid-19 pandemic. It chronicles the life of Dr. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine. Dr. Salk’s legacy lives on at the medical research facility, the Salk Institute.

Other Amy’s Book Lists You’ll Love:

25 Wonderful Picture Book Biographies for All Ages

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AuthorAmy

Veteran Legend

I am an unrepentant lover of words - and lucky me, I spend all day, every day immersed in them. When I'm not teaching, I'm reading. Or writing. Or teaching eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) adolescents about the power of the written word. I live on the scenic Oregon Coast with my dog, two cats, and five-year-old son.

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