Picture Book Biographies

We live in a most exciting time, one of abundant picture book biographies! At my library, patrons of all ages check out these books. One adult recently told me he found it an excellent way to learn about famous people—past and present—without spending precious time reading a full biography on each person. With their lavish illustrations and informative back matter, this is no surprise. Authors and illustrators of picture book biographies put in a lot of research time to make sure their facts are correct, recorded, and shared in an entertaining manner. Below, you’ll find an alphabetized list of new releases from the past year—all well worth a look.

A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights was written by Kate Hannigan and illustrated by Alison Jay. Published in 2018 by Calkins Creek. This is an awesome story about a fearless unsung champion who was way ahead of her time. She even ran for president in 1884 and 1888. Belva was a lawyer, teacher, and activist who strongly believed in equality for all. I love the crackled-style folk art illustrations.

Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird was written by Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Erin McGuire. Published in 2018 by Balzer and Bray. Alabama Spitfire is a fascinating look into the creator of one of my favorite novels: To Kill a Mockingbird. Nell’s journey to tell her powerful story is inspiring and the pictures are delightful.

Anybody’s Game: The Story of the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball was written by Heather Lang and illustrated by Cecilia Puglesi. Published in 2018 by Albert Whitman & Company. Very cute story about talented Kathryn Johnston who was determined to play baseball on a boys’ team even if it meant cutting her hair and breaking the rules to get there.

Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books was written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Published in 2017 by Chronicle Books. Wonderful tribute to the ‘father of children’s literature’ for whom the famous Newbery awards were named. The busy illustrations are full of interesting details.

Becoming Bach was written and illustrated by Tom Leonard. Published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press (A Neal Porter Book). Johann Sebastian Bach was born into a family of great musicians. As one who saw musical patterns all his life, this is the story of how he followed his dreams to become a true Bach. Beautiful illustrations add much to this interesting biography.

Before She Was Harriet was written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome. Published in 2017 by Holiday House. (A Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book).  The illustrations are lavish and lush and go perfectly with the lyrical writing in this gorgeous book about Harriet Tubman who has gone down in history for her exceptional strength and bravery.

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton was written by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by John Rocco. Published in 2017 by HMH Books for Young Readers. I love this special biography filled with information, great illustrations, and real photographs. Whether or not you are already a fan of Katy and the Big Snow, The Little House, Mike Mulligan and the rest of Virginia’s classic winners, you will be after you flip though this delightful book.

Charlie Takes His Shot: How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf was written by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by John Joven. Published in 2018 by Albert Whitman & Company. Another amazing story about an unsung hero, who took great risks to open up a national pastime game to all who want to play. Charlie became the first black golfer to win the Professional Golf Association Tournament.

Dangerous Jane was written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Alice Ratterree. Published in 2017 by Peachtree Publishers. Great story about Jane Addams, another strong, empathic woman who, rather than sit back and hope for change, stood up for what she believed. Fascinating details of her life from birth, up through winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Well done watercolor illustrations throughout.

Danza! Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México was written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Published in 2017 by Harry N. Abrams. Duncan’s award-winning illustration style is so fabulous—colorful, unique, and always recognizable. And this fascinating story about the dancer and founder of Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet is no exception.

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression was written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Sarah Green. Published in 2017 by Albert Whitman & Company. Interesting introduction to one of the leading documentary photographers of the twentieth century. The illustrations do a good job of reflecting the time period.

The Flying Girl: How Aída de Acosta Learned to Soar was written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Sara Palacios. Published in 2018 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Both the pictures and the poetic words soar in this colorful tale of another little-known champion who broke through barriers. Aída became the first woman to fly a motorized aircraft.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos was written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra. Published in 2017 by North South Books. The lively and colorful acrylic paintings were a perfect choice for bringing this fabulous Mexican artist to life. Unlike other picture books about Frida, this one also stands out for its focus on her pets.

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon was written by Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrated by Micha Archer. Published in 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books. This depiction of a determined young runner gives nice details of the obstacles Bobbi overcame in order to participate (unofficially) as the first woman runner in the Boston Marathon. Fun collage pictures have added mile markers that follow the marathon route.

Grace Hopper, Queen of Computer Code written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu. Published in 2017 by Sterling. A cheerful positive message of going after what you want in life. Laurie’s done it again with choosing a strong female character who wanted to know how things worked. Vivid cartoon-style digital illustrations, with quotations from Grace throughout, add much to this lovely book.

Imagine That! How Doctor Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat was written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Published in 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers. Although there have been plenty of Dr. Seuss biographies, this book was unique in that it focuses entirely on The Cat in the Hat and how it came to be written. As you can tell by the brilliant cover, this is a fun read!

Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles was written by Patricia Valdez and illustrated by Felicita Sala. Published in 2018 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Yet another fascinating woman scientist I knew nothing about. Her uncommon interest in reptiles (she even brought her crocodile to math class one day) gives a humorous twist to this story of being true to oneself.

John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien was written by Caroline McAlister and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Published in 2017 by Roaring Brook Press. Really, who could resist opening a book on the life of this masterful storyteller? The lovely depictions of the English countryside bring a dreamy quality to Tolkien’s boyhood and fascination with dragons. Great back matter, as well!

Karl, Get out of the Garden! Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything was written by Anita Sanchez and illustrated by Catherine Stock. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. From his start as a curious young boy, Linné ended up naming more than 12,000 species of plants and animals. His Latin classification system was accepted and used by scientists across the globe. A lovely, well done introduction on an important aspect of biology.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne was written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. Published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Beautiful art brings Lena’s story to life. Her constant determination and struggle against racism is an important aspect that bears retelling.

Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot was written by Matthew Clark Smith and illustrated by Matt Tavares. Published in 2017 by Candlewick. Lovely writing complements the soft watercolor and ink paintings of this charming story of a courageous woman who took to the skies despite the dangers involved with this mode of transportation.


Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics was written by Jean L. S. Patrick and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. This was a fun read. The paintings are well done with super writing to match. Told with humor, I enjoyed learning about this strong athlete.


Mae Among the Stars was written by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington. Published in 2018 by Harper Collins Publishers. A gorgeous picture book—bold digital and ink illustrations—inspired by the life of Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space.


Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing was written by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Lucy Knisley. Published in 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Excellent combination of good writing and fun illustration with real pictures of Margaret at the end of this entertaining read.


Melvin the Mouth: Young Mel Blanc…before he was the Man of 1,000 Voices was written by Katherine Blanc and illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. Fun to learn more about the man behind famous cartoon voices, such as Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, and Woody Woodpecker.

The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano was written by Elizabeth Rusch and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Published in 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. This lively book, filled with fascinating details and gouache paintings, is sure to please all music lovers.



Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen is written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Qin Leng. Published in 2018 by Balzer & Bray. Being the Story of Six Novels, Three Notebooks, a Writing Box, and One Clever Girl, this absolutely lovely book is a must for all Austen fans. At the end, each of her famous works is given a brief summary, including special quotations pulled from the novels.


Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist was written by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens. Published in 2017 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. A great, colorful, inspiring story for young adventurers.


Strange Fruit: Billy Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song was written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb. Published in 2017 by Millbrook Press. A powerful book dealing with difficult themes during a dark time in U. S. History, just before the Civil Rights Movement.


Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth was written and illustrated by Don Tate. Published in 2017 by Charlesbridge. Fun pairing of bright, outlined, illustrations and an intriguing story. Interesting back matter includes Tate’s own time as a bodybuilder.

Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky was written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary Grandpre. Published in 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers. One can never have too many books about Vincent Van Gogh and this one is spectacular—gorgeous and lyrical!


Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? The Story of Ada Lovelace written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. Published in 2018 by Henry Holt & Company. Another fine book on Ada with bright whimsical illustrations and a solid storyline.


Before finishing this post, I discovered even more new releases. Eight books I’m excited to check out are shown in this picture:How wonderful for all of these talented people to finally get long overdue recognition for their grand efforts in making this a better world. What do you think? Aren’t picture book biographies a wonderful creation? Did I miss any of your favorites?

For an interview with Heather Lang, author of Anybody’s Game, please click here.


  1. Marcia! What a list of books you’ve compiled here! Thanks so much for this excellent post. I’m off to the library!


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