Friday, March 10

11 Nonfiction Picture Book Biographies About Amazing Women

Did you know March is National Women's History Month? And that we celebrated International Women's Day just two short days ago? So it only made sense to start gathering a list of some of my favorite women's biographies. In this case, I picked picture book biographies. I love this format because it makes biographies so much more fun for kids (okay, and for me, too). While I realize you're not always going to get every last fact about a person's life, picture book biographies do allow the sharing of inspiring messages—and, of course, gorgeous illustrations that really drive the emotional aspects of a person's story.

Here's my eleven favorite women's biographies for kids. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments below!

Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe
Written by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Laura Freeman
Little Bee Books (January 17, 2017)

So beautifully done! Blumenthal has captured a story that not only highlights a special and worthy person's life, but communicated it in a way that allows every reader to learn from it. In particular, I loved the repeated sentiment that, when faced with so many challenges, Ann "thought about what she could do, no what she couldn't change."

Matching the wonderful story are the bright and gorgeous illustrations from Freeman. With a story about a fashion designer, there had to be lots of colors and pretty dresses--but also a lot of emotion from a person who was often discriminated against. The pictures really capture Lowe's work, as well as her joys and sadness.

Malala: Activist for Girls' Education
Written by Raphaële Frier, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty
Charlesbridge (February 7, 2017)

While this picture book biography may be one of many Malala biographies that are flooding the markets, this one should definitely be on your to-read list. It is truly valuable to children (and adults) of all ages as it plainly and realistically states Malala's amazing story. But it also has some truly vivid and beautiful illustrations. The style is full of emotion and appeal, especially in regards to Malala's homeland in Pakistan. It's so gorgeous. There's also photographs and more in-depth biographical notes at the end of the book. Highly recommended!

When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike
Written by Michelle Houts, illustrated by Erica Magnus
Ohio University Press (September 15, 2016)

Here's a little-known amazing woman—67-year-old Emma Gatewood was the first woman to solo hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. On a whim, really. It's quite an awesome story where, not only do you learn a lot about quite an admirable woman, but also get inspired and impressed. Seriously, I hope I can be like Grandma Gatewood in my old age. I think Houts, then, did a good job of communicating Gatewood's personality and her hiking story without being overly wordy or boring. The illustrations are beautiful. Really, overall it's well done.

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still
Written by Karlin Gray, illustrated by Christine Davenier
HMH Books (June 7, 2016)

Nadia Comaneci was a feisty and imperfect little girl who went from climbing trees in the forests of Romania to swinging into history at the 1976 Olympic Games, where she received an unprecedented seven perfect scores in gymnastics. The illustrations are especially beautiful; their fluidity help capture Nadia's own fluid movement and excellence. But it's also still full of facts and stories from Nadia's life (like the time she tried on roller skates as a kid and rolled right out the store). This biography will be perfect for fans of today's great, Simone Biles.

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass
Written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Orchard Books (January 5, 2016)

This quick and simple account is about the friendship between two well-known & loved activists. As the refrain repeats in the book, "Some people had rights, while others had none. Why shouldn't they have them, too?" And that's it really. There's not a whole lot of delving into the individuals—their pasts or motivations—just that simple, but powerful question. I think this a great introduction for the youngest readers. Plus, the care with which it was illustrated is very evident. Really, a beautiful book.

Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller
Written by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Tavares
Disney-Hyperion (October 16, 2012)

A simple biography of a most amazing woman. The author gives simple accounts of Helen’s life intermingled with quotes from Helen Keller herself to really emphasize each difficult stage in her life—and, of course, her work with Anne Sullivan. I love how poignant the story becomes when one can read Helen’s own words. The illustrations are especially big and beautiful, and the book is sure to entertain and educate children.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
Written by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Simon & Schuster (September 20, 2016)

After doing a lot of research on the Supreme Court for my undergrad, I will admit I'm pretty biased towards this one. But the story is a good one, especially with the bold text interspersed within (and plus, all the different ways of saying "I dissent" will help build vocabulary!). And I loved the illustrations. It is a bit long, but so worth it.
I am Amelia Earhart
Written by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
Dial Books (January 14, 2014)

Written from the subject's point of view and with almost cartoonish illustrations, this book makes biographies fun for kids. I'm particularly partial to Amelia Earhart, myself, but this author has done all sorts of biographies you should check out!
Marie Curie (Little People, Big Dreams)
Written by Isabel Sanchez Vegara, illustrated by Frau Isa
Frances Lincoln Children's Books (March 2, 2017)

With very sparse text and soft illustrations, this book is definitely targeting the lower age groups of picture book readers—which is great because you should introduce your kids to biographies early! While not totally chalk-full of information, it still sends a clear message about following your dreams.
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
Written by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Chronicle (January 14, 2014)

Ah, the ever dazzling Josephine Baker. Made that much more dazzling by the talents of Christian Robinson. As you can see on the cover, this book has been well-awarded, but the story it tells is particularly fascinating. It helped me realize just how much influence this entertainer had and the struggles she went through to attain her dreams. Give it a try!
Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell
Written by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Henry Holt (February 19, 2013)

I actually really liked this one, having had no previous knowledge about Elizabeth Blackwell. It's got such a classic picture book feel (whimsical illustrations with a courageous journey) but still factual enough to learn much about Dr. Blackwell. It's a great look into how far women's rights in education have come.

If you want a display idea for showing off these awesome books at your library or school, check out my idea for a Women's Month display here. And if you want to expand your list to include any mighty girl characters, I have a previous book list with awesome historical fiction heroines. Don't forget to add any of your own recommendations below!

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