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15 of the Best Picture Book Biographies


Why am I writing about a booklist at the beginning of summer?  Schools are just letting out, students AND teachers are running out the doors preparing for summer, and the last thing educators are thinking about is next school year.   However, hear me out. I found that I have a little extra pocket money during the summer months.  Well, I am not buying extra snacks, supplies, science experiment materials, and other school-related items that teachers often pay out of their pockets for.   So, might as well put the money set aside for school products to good use by bulking up my classroom library!  Check out these 15 Picture Book Biographies!

Of course, there are other reasons too besides extra money.  Sure, you may be needing some excellent biographies for summer reading.   Families may ask for some additional reading to practice.  Summer school may be holding literature circles, tent reading, and picnics!   The list goes on and on.  However, why biographies?

Biographies for Elementary Students

There are numerous benefits to including biographies for your elementary students. Let’s be honest, it is difficult to find GOOD nonfiction texts that capture students’ interest and that they can read and comprehend. When we read stories, we are often transported to another world.  What is so cool about biographies is that they are the world that we are surrounded in.  Readers are transported into that person’s life!

Looking into others’ lives, their achievements and their struggles can help us look into our own selves to make connections.  Wow, talk about the perfect Social-Emotional Lesson! This list includes life stories of influential people, including athletes, inventors, women, civil rights activists, and more.

Iconic Athletes Biographies

1. The Story of Simone Biles

By: Rachelle Burk

Before we knew Simone Biles as the greatest gymnast of all time, she was just a high-energy kid from Texas. Simone won 5 Olympic medals by the time she turned 22, but she had to sacrifice a lot to get to where she is today. Your students will love this beautifully illustrated picture book!

2. Stephen Curry: The Boy Who Never Gave Up

By: Anthony Curcio

This inspiring picture book biography follows Stephen Curry, a boy who was too short and weak to make the basketball team growing up. His dream was to play in the NBA even when no one else believed that he could. Read to find out how Stephen Curry’s hard work and determination made him one of the greatest NBA players of all time.

3. The Story of Jackie Robinson: A Biography Book for New Readers

By: Andrea Thorpe

The Story of Jackie Robinson doesn’t just explore his legacy.  The first Black Major League Baseball player, Jackie Robinson was also an important civil rights leader.  Through hard work and teamwork, Jackie Robinson shows his growth from a thoughtful young boy from California to an American Role Model and Activist.

Are your students interested in this baseball legend?  Continue on with ETTC’s close reading of Jackie Robinson direct from our Black History Unit.

4. The Story of Misty Copeland

By: Frank Berrios

Misty Copeland is the first Black female principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre. Before she made history and became a symbol of change in the world of ballet, she was a determined girl who loved watching gymnastics and dancing on the drill team. She worked hard and overcame many obstacles to fulfill her dream of becoming a great ballerina. This book helps kids explore how Misty went from being a shy young girl growing up in California to a world-famous ballet dancer and a role model to many people.

The perfect text for the perfect passage.  Be sure to check out our Misty Copeland passage with an extension activity here.

5. Ronaldo: A Boy Who Became a Star

By: Steve Herman

Born in a poor family, Cristiano Ronaldo decided to follow his dream.  He worked hard and overcame all obstacles to become one of the best soccer players in history.  The perfect text that teaches children not only to work hard to make their dreams come true but also learn how to be successful doing what they love.

Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of self-motivation.  Whether athletic, academic, or anything in between – our students can use the tools and help intrinsically with self-motivation skills.

Picture Book Biographies: Women Behind the Scenes

6. Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge

By: Rachel Dougherty

What happened when the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge fell ill mid-construction? Well… his wife stepped in of course!  Meet Emily Roebling, the woman who supervised every aspect of the project while her husband was bedridden.  She continued to learn about things only men were supposed to know at the time.  Learn how Emily Roebling insisted she could do it all, did, and how her hard work helped to create one of the most iconic landmarks in the world.

7. Human Computer: Mary Jackson

By: Andi Diehn

A full-color picture book biography about Mary Jackson, who became the first female African American engineer at NASA―includes several STEM activities for some real-world learning connections!

8. The Story of Amelia Earhart

By: Stacia Deutsch

How does this biography teach children to dare to be different?  Amelia Earhart became the first woman pilot to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane―and she broke many other flight records before her mysterious disappearance. Before she made history and changed the world for pilots everywhere, Amelia was an adventure-loving kid who wasn’t afraid to be different. From a young girl growing up in Kansas to an American Hero and pioneer of flight.

Take a look at Education to the Core’s STEM challenge of building Paper Airplanes.  Complete with student journals, teacher guide, vocabulary cards, and more!

9. Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist

By: Linda Skeers

Here is another great and beautifully illustrated picture book biography on this list!  Mary Anning loved scouring the beach near her home in England for shells and fossils.  One day, something caught Mary’s eye… bones.  Dinosaur Bones!  Mary’s discoveries rocked the world of science and helped create a brand-new field of study: paleontology.

10. Computer Decoder: Dorothy Vaughan

By: Andi Diehn

Does this name sound familiar with #7 on this list?  Absolutely, however, both deserve recognition for their individual hard work and groundbreaking journeys.  Meet Dorothy Vaughan, one of NASA’s first African American managers and front-line electronic computing skills! Looking for some more STEM activities in the classroom?  Bonus: this biography includes a mini-lesson for an introduction to coding!

Historical Figures

11. Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.?

By: Bonnie Bader

My students last school year were obsessed with the “Who Was” series.  I knew I had to include at least one on this list.  What better one to choose than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?!  One of the most influential civil rights activists of our time, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped organize boycotts and marches.  All while maintaining a peaceful and nonviolent tactic.  His advocacy was for the poor and spoke out against racial and economic injustice.

Need a Timeline of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and achievements?

12. Looking at Lincoln

By: Maira Kalman

Who was Lincoln really? This little girl wants to find out. She discovers, among other things, that our sixteenth president was a man who believed in freedom for all, had a dog named Fido, loved Mozart, apples, and his wife’s vanilla cake, and kept his notes in his hat. From his boyhood in a log cabin to his famous presidency and untimely death, Maira Kalman shares Lincoln’s remarkable life with young readers in a fresh and exciting way.

13. The Story of Ruby Bridges

By: Arlisha Norwood Alston, PhD

When I hear the phrase “breaking down barriers” my mind automatically thinks about Ruby Bridges.  As the first Black student to attend an all-white public school in the southern United States, she helped desegregate schools and change the course of history.  Her life changed when she was chosen to attend William Frantz Elementary, where she became a civil rights leader at a very young age. Explore how Ruby went from being a thoughtful girl growing up in Mississippi to a national leader in the fight for equality with this text.

Pair this text with one of ETTC’s read-alouds that was included in our Monthly Packets resources.  After students listen to or read in small groups, there is a written response for students to reflect and connect.

14. The Story of Anne Frank

By: Emma Carlson Berne

Discover the life of Anne Frank – a story about staying hopeful.  Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who lived during World War II, when people like her were killed just for being Jewish. Anne and her family were forced to hide in a tiny, secret space to try and survive, and Anne began keeping a diary to practice her love of writing and pass the time. Even though she was scared, Anne believed in the goodness of people and never gave up hope that life would get better again.

15. I am Rosa Parks

By: Brad Meltzer

Ready to teach your students to always stand up for what is right? Dream big as Rosa Parks’s strength is highlighted in this biography.  Allow your students to discover how Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man on December 1, 1955, making history.  Her brave act sparked the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott and brought the civil rights movement to national attention.  Her story is powerful, inspiring, and unforgettable.



I think I may be grabbing some of the biographies underneath the Athlete category, if not all 15!  I truly think the athletes will get some of my male and even female students interested in picking up some of these titles.  What are your top picks right off the bat?  In addition to this working list, are there any biographies that you would include that we are missing?  Please help me fill my library up with some more great picture book biographies!  Be sure to comment below with the titles and authors that we are missing from this list!


Written By – Christopher Olson & Madison Patten


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