The Lovely World of Picture Book Biographies

These days it is easy to find beautiful picture book biographies. I feel like I see new ones on the shelves of libraries and bookstores or featured in pictures in my Bookstagram feed all the time. They are plentiful and abundant. It is lovely.

A picture book that gives us a glimpse into the life of someone else and the challenges they overcame is a good thing. Add in illustrations and a story that is relatable for readers of all ages (and I do mean all ages) and you have a good, GOOD thing. Today I am going to highlight some of my favorite discoveries to date.

The best thing is I am constantly discovering more of these treasures through Bookstagram, the library and other sources. Rest assured, this will not be the last picture book biography session we share together.

In light of that, I am limiting this list to ten books that would make an excellent addition to any library, including yours.

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austin

From Amazon: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of our greatest writers.

But before that, she was just an ordinary girl.

In fact, young Jane was a bit quiet and shy; if you had met her back then, you might not have noticed her at all. But she would have noticed you.

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.

I will admit to having a strong Jane Austen bias, but I LOVED this book. It is filled with illustrations I know I would have poured over as a kid because I find myself doing so as an adult. Jane’s story is told in an inspiring and very relatable way. This book is as beautiful to look at as the story is to read.

The Journey that Saved Curious George

From Amazon: In 1940, Hans and Margret Rey fled their Paris home as the German army advanced. They began their harrowing journey on bicycles, pedaling to Southern France with children’s book manuscripts, including what would become the international sensation Curious George, among their few possessions.

Louise Borden combed primary resources, including Hans Rey’s pocket diaries, to tell this dramatic true story. Her collection of archival materials introduce readers to the world of Hans and Margret Rey while Allan Drummond's dramatic and colorful artwork illustrates their wartime trek to a new home.

I’m making a stretch here (maybe) at calling this a picture book with it’s length coming in close to 100 pages, but it is filled with pictures and it is a book, so there you go. Within it’s pages is an inspiring story about the authors of one of the most loved literary characters ever, Curious George.

If we rule out length as a requirement, I need to make a mention of one of my favorite books that is similar in size and scope. Some Write!: the Story of E.B. White is another beautiful book that shares a beautiful story that I love to read and therefore share. I wrote about it once here, check it out! It was incredibly inspiring to me.

The Camping Trip that Changed America

From Amazon: Caldecott medalist Mordicai Gerstein captures the majestic redwoods of Yosemite in this little-known but important story from our nation's history. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt joined naturalist John Muir on a trip to Yosemite. Camping by themselves in the uncharted woods, the two men saw sights and held discussions that would ultimately lead to the establishment of our National Parks.

A great book to read if you have plans to visit any of our country’s National Parks, and a great book to read if you don’t. The Camping Trip that Changed America tells the story of how we came to have National Parks in the first place. I am so thankful for this camping trip and for President Roosevelt for having the foresight to establish our amazing National Parks. What a gift shared through the pages of this excellent book.

6 Dots: the story of young Louis Braille

From Amazon: Louis Braille was just five years old when he lost his sight. He was a clever boy, determined to live like everyone else, and what he wanted more than anything was to be able to read. 
 
Even at the school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him.
 
And so he invented his own alphabet—a whole new system for writing that could be read by touch. A system so ingenious that it is still used by the blind community today.
 
Award-winning writer Jen Bryant tells Braille’s inspiring story with a lively and accessible text, filled with the sounds, the smells, and the touch of Louis’s world. Boris Kulikov’s inspired paintings help readers to understand what Louis lost, and what he was determined to gain back through books.

Louise Braille was amazing boy who changed the world. He gave the gift of books and reading to the blind and he did so as a young blind man himself. I love his story and I love how this book tells it. This book is a special one. I loved it!

The House that Jane Built

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From Amazon: This is the story of Jane Addams, the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, who transformed a poor neighborhood in Chicago by opening up her house as a community center.

Another inspiring life that changed the world. This book shares the story of Jane Adams and her work with the poor in Chicago. It is well worth the read. We have a rich heritage of amazing lives lived for others in our country and Jane’s is one of them.

Pocket Full of Colors

From Amazon: Amy Guglielmo, Jacqueline Tourville, and Brigette Barrager team up to tell the joyful and unique story of the trailblazing Disney artist Mary Blair.

Mary Blair lived her life in color: vivid, wild color.

From her imaginative childhood to her career as an illustrator, designer, and animator for Walt Disney Studios, Mary wouldn’t play by the rules. At a time when studios wanted to hire men and think in black and white, Mary painted twinkling emerald skies, peach giraffes with tangerine spots, and magenta horses that could fly.

She painted her world.

I did not know who Mary Blair was before I read this book, but I knew her work well. You probably do too. She was a woman who influenced one of the most influential company’s of our time, Disney. The pictures and vibrant colors alone make this book worth picking up. It is beautiful and bright and tells Mary’s story through pictures as much as words.

Trombone Shorty

From Amazon: Hailing from the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews got his nickname by wielding a trombone twice as long as he was high. A prodigy, he was leading his own band by age six, and today this Grammy-nominated artist headlines the legendary New Orleans Jazz Fest.

Along with esteemed illustrator Bryan Collier, Andrews has created a lively picture book autobiography about how he followed his dream of becoming a musician, despite the odds, until he reached international stardom. Trombone Shorty is a celebration of the rich cultural history of New Orleans and the power of music.

Trombone Shorty is another book worth picking up simply because of the illustrations. And when you do, make sure you read the story too. A rags to riches story about the power of music and following your dreams. If you love it (and I think you will), there is a follow up book called The 5 O’Clock Band by the same author and musician you might want to pick up too.

Splash of Red

From Amazon: As a child in the late 1800s, Horace Pippin loved to draw: He loved the feel of the charcoal as it slid across the floor. He loved looking at something in the room and making it come alive again in front of him. He drew pictures for his sisters, his classmates, his co-workers. Even during W.W.I, Horace filled his notebooks with drawings from the trenches . . . until he was shot. Upon his return home, Horace couldn't lift his right arm, and couldn't make any art. Slowly, with lots of practice, he regained use of his arm, until once again, he was able to paint--and paint, and paint! Soon, people—including the famous painter N. C. Wyeth—started noticing Horace's art, and before long, his paintings were displayed in galleries and museums across the country.

Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet team up once again to share this inspiring story of a self-taught painter from humble beginnings who despite many obstacles, was ultimately able to do what he loved, and be recognized for who he was: an artist.

Another beautifully illustrated book you will want to read (am I getting redundant yet?)! I love books that contain stories about following dreams and doing what you were created to do. Against so many odds, that is what Horace Pippin did. I love this story of an artist’s life and I love the illustrations used to tell it.

Whoosh!

From Amazon: You know the Super Soaker. It’s one of top twenty toys of all time. And it was invented entirely by accident. Trying to create a new cooling system for rockets, impressive inventor Lonnie Johnson instead created the mechanics for the iconic toy.
 
A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.

For all those inventors and engineers out there, this is a picture book for you. It is a story of perseverance and following your dreams and a fun look into how the Super Soaker was invented.

Mr. Ferris and His WheEl

From Amazon: Capturing an engineer’s creative vision and mind for detail, this fully illustrated picture book biography sheds light on how the American inventor George Ferris defied gravity and seemingly impossible odds to invent the world’s most iconic amusement park attraction, the Ferris wheel.

A fun, fact-filled text by Kathryn Gibbs Davis combines with Gilbert Ford’s dazzling full-color illustrations to transport readers to the 1893 World’s Fair, where George Ferris and his big, wonderful wheel lifted passengers to the skies for the first time.

Finally, the wonderful, against-all-odds story of how the Ferris Wheel was invented and another book you will want to add to your collection. Wonderful illustrations help share the story of Mr. Ferris and his Wheel; it is an excellent picture book and an excellent read.

What are some of your favorite picture book biographies? Let’s keep the list going in the comments!

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