19 Picture Book Biographies To Read Together | Summer Reading 2021

SLJ is publishing lists all summer long—from family stories to mysteries to teen reads. Here's some of our favorite picture book biographies, from inventors and engineers to scientists and artists. The individuals profiled in these captivating read-alouds will inspire young readers (and their grown-ups).

Book jackets for picture book bios


See more Summer Reading 2021 selections

SLJ is publishing lists all summer long—from family stories to mysteries to teen reads. Here's some of our favorite picture book biographies, from inventors and engineers to scientists and artists. The individuals profiled in these captivating read-alouds will inspire young readers (and their grown-ups). 


Fearless World Traveler: Adventures of Marianne North by Laurie Lawlor. illus. by Becca Stadtlander. Holiday House.ISBN 9780823439591.
This is a sple ndid account of Marianne North, who was born in England in 1830. North’s paintings and her co ntribution to the botanical and natural sciences of the time were extraordinary (her paintings are the only images left of some extinct animals and plants), as was her determination to pursue goals that most women at the time could not.

Lady Bird Johnson, That’s Who!: The Story of a Cleaner and Greener America by Tracy Nelson Maurer. illus. by Ginnie Hsu. Holt. ISBN 9781250240361.
A shy child, the former First Lady Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson grew into a confident speaker as she reached adulthood. Hsu’s light, airy illustrations utilize thematic wildflowers to vividly frame key moments and people. 
Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi by Sigal Samuel. illus. by Vali Mintzi. Levine Querido. ISBN 9781646140374.
A little-known story of the first female rabbi, Osnat Barzani, a Kurdish Jew whose knowledge of the Torah and leadership of a yeshiva in ancient Iraq broke gender barriers.

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow. illus. by Steven Salerno. HMH. ISBN 9781328866844.

For many children, crayons are ubiquitous, everyday items, but as this informational picture book attests, that wasn't always the case.

Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler by Elizabeth Brown. illus. by Aimée Sicuro. Abrams. ISBN 9781419734106.

A prominent abstract expressionist whose career spanned six decades but who is not as well known as her male contemporaries today, Helen Frankenthaler loved color and celebrated it through an artistic style that came to be known as "soak-stain painting."

Hello, Neighbor!: The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell. illus. by author. Holiday House/Neal Porter Bks. ISBN 9780823446186.
Newer and older fans are welcomed to the neighborhood in this warm tribute to Fred Rogers.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise. illus. by Paola Escobar. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062748683.
A look at the life and legacy of one of the most significant and inspiring figures in library history.

Secret Engineer: How Emily Roebling Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Rachel Dougherty. illus. by author. ISBN 9781250155320.
A celebration of Emily Warren Roebling, the unsung female engineer behind the Brooklyn Bridge's construction.

Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret by Jess Keating. illus. by Katie Hickey. Tundra. Jun. 2020. ISBN 9780735265080.
Marie Tharp worked as a geologist and oceanographic cartographer at a time when women were not particularly welcome in the field.

Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story by Shana Keller. illus. by Kayla Stark. Sleeping Bear. ISBN 9781534110014.
Narrated from Douglass’ point of view, this early biography describes his childhood quest to learn to read and write.

book covers

Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil deGrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull & Paul Brewer. illus. by Frank Morrison. Crown. ISBN 9780399550249.
Krull and Brewer trace Neil deGrasse Tyson’s journey from his first trip to the Hayden Planetarium to his current role as the planetarium's director.

The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music by Debbie Levy. illus. by Sonja Wimmer. Kar-Ben. ISBN 9781541522190.
Levy’s captivating picture book biography tells the story of Flory Jagoda, known today as the “Keeper of the Flame” of Sephardic culture and music.

Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey by Lori Mortensen. illus. by Chloe Bristol. Versify. ISBN 9780358033684.
With straightforward, rhythmic prose and deliciously atmospheric illustrations, this picture book biography of Edward Gorey distills his unconventional life and career.

Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin by Tracy Newman. illus. by Abigail Halpin. Abrams. ISBN 9781419741104.
An appealing picture book biography about the childhood of violinist Itzhak Perlman, born to Polish Jewish parents living in Palestine in 1945.

Lights! Camera! Alice!: The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker by Mara Rockliff. illus. by Simona Ciraolo. Chronicle. ISBN 9781452141343.
As an assistant in a camera shop, story-loving Guy-Blanché saw a unique opportunity to help sell a new-fangled product: the moving-picture camera. Rather than document life, Guy-Blanché reimagined it by using film to tell stories and to innovate techniques in special effects, color, and sound.

Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland into a Home by Barb Rosenstock. illus. by Christopher Silas Neal. Calkins Creek. ISBN 9781629794402.
Instead of focusing on specific buildings Wright created, this book highlights the roots of his thinking—how what he believed as a boy influenced what he did as a grown man.

Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet / Mario y el agujero en el cielo: Como un quimico salvo nuestro planeta by Elizabeth Rusch. illus. by Teresa Martínez. Charlesbridge. ISBN 9781580895828; ISBN 9781580895828.
Growing up in Mexico, Mario Molina loved exploring the world around him and performing experiments with his microscope. As an adult, he made a horrific discovery: CFCs, chemicals used in countless everyday items, were damaging the environment by destroying the ozone layer.

Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person To Ever Run a Marathon by Simran Jeet Singh. illus. by Baljinder Kaur. Penguin/Kokila. ISBN 9780525555094.
At age 81, Fauja Singh became a runner and eventually ran a marathon, persisting despite injuries, self-doubt, and racism.

Thurgood by Jonah Winter. illus. by Bryan Collier. Schwartz & Wade. ISBN 9781524765330.
When six-year-old Thurgood Marshall convinced his parents to legally change his name from Thoroughgood, his future as a lawyer seemed predestined.

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