Biographies: Books for Young Children

These booklists share the stories of a remarkable and diverse group of people with young children. From artists like Maria Tallchief and Gabriel García Márquez to math and engineering pioneers such as Katherine Johnson and Young Soichiro Honda, these books are sure to inspire young children to dream big.

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Aani and the Tree Huggers

Age Level: 6-9

Based on true events in northern India, this is the story of a little girl's bravery. Distinctive color illustrations, inspired by Indian miniature painting, accompany the moving story.

Amelia to Zora

Illustrated by: Megan Halsey
Age Level: 6-9

"An introduction to 26 diverse, 20th-century women who have made a difference in such varied fields as the arts, sports, journalism, science, and entertainment. The entries include Dolores Huerta and Frida Kahlo." — School Library Journal

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story

Age Level: 6-9

Product Description: This fascinating picture book biography tells the childhood story of Buffalo Bird Woman, a Hidatsa Indian born around 1839. Through her true story, readers will learn what it was like to be part of this Native American community that lived along the Missouri River in the Dakotas, a society that depended more on agriculture for food and survival than on hunting. Using as a resource the works of Gilbert L. Wilson, who met Buffalo Bird Woman and transcribed her life's story in the early 20th century, award-winning author-illustrator S. D.

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México

Age Level: 6-9

Danza! is a celebration of Hernández’s life and of the rich history of dance in Mexico. As a child, Amalia always thought she would grow up to be a teacher, until she saw a performance of dancers in her town square. She was fascinated by the way the dancers twirled and swayed, and she knew that someday she would be a dancer, too. She began to study many different types of dance, including ballet and modern, under some of the best teachers in the world. Hernández traveled throughout Mexico studying and learning regional dances.

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos

Illustrated by: John Parra

The fascinating Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is remembered for her self-portraits, her dramatic works featuring bold and vibrant colors. Her work brought attention to Mexican and indigenous culture and she is also renowned for her works celebrating the female form. Brown's story recounts Frida's beloved pets — two monkeys, a parrot, three dogs, two turkeys, an eagle, a black cat, and a fawn — and playfully considers how Frida embodied many wonderful characteristics of each animal. 

Harlem's Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills

Illustrated by: Christian Robinson
Age Level: 3-6

Bold, bright illustrations and a cheerful text that includes song lyrics introduce the life of an early 20th century African American performer. Though part of the Harlem Renaissance, Mills is a relative unknown who both on and off stage worked to help other African Americans and those who were less fortunate than she. An author's note concludes this charming life sketch.

Hidden Figures

Illustrated by: Laura Freeman
Age Level: 6-9

Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good. They participated in some of NASA's greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America's first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world.

Honda: The Boy Who Loved Cars

Illustrated by: Katie Yamasaki
Age Level: 6-9

Young Soichiro Honda loved to figure out how things work, and better still, create his own inventions. As a young man, he struggled in school, but he soon became a successful mechanic and manufacturer — steps that would one day enable him to realize his dream of building motorcycles and automobiles. Mark Weston shares fascinating details of Honda's life story and Katie Yamasaki's whimsical paintings evoke Honda's pioneering spirit and imagination in this intriguing biography.

Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World

Age Level: 6-9

Featuring the true stories of 35 women creators, ranging from writers to inventors, artists to scientists, Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World inspires as it educates. Readers will meet trailblazing women like Mary Blair, an American modernist painter who had a major influence on how color was used in early animated films, actor/inventor Hedy Lamarr, environmental activist Wangari Maathai, architect Zaha Hadid, filmmaker Maya Deren, and physicist Chien-Shiung Wu.

Mission to Space

Age Level: 6-9

Astronaut John Herrington shares his passion for space travel and his Chickasaw heritage as he gives children a glimpse into his astronaut training at NASA and his mission to the International Space Station. Learn what it takes to train for space flight, see the tasks he completed in space, and join him on his spacewalk 220 miles above the earth. This unique children s book is illustrated with photos from Herrington's training and space travel and includes an English-to-Chickasaw vocabulary list with space-related terms.

My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz

Illustrated by: Rafael López

The beautiful artwork of this award-winning picture book about salsa queen Celia Cruz practically jumps off the page, and conveys the spirit and rhythmic energy of her music. Learn about Cruz's childhood in Havana and her entry into the world of salsa music from vibrant illustrations and text presented in English and Spanish.

My Name Is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel García Márquez

Illustrated by: Raúl Colón
Age Level: 9-12

Monica Brown tells the story of young Gabriel García Márquez and provides children with an introduction to magical realism by showing how young Gabriel’s surroundings and imagination merged in fantastic ways, fostering his creativity and building the foundation for the legendary characters and stories he would later create. Raúl Colón brings these rich imaginings to life in vivid illustrations that complement the lyrical text. Pura Belpré Honor Award.

My Name Is Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela Mistral

Illustrated by: John Parra
Age Level: 3-6

"My name is Gabriela Mistral. It is a name I chose myself because I like the sound of it." With these words, Monica Brown introduces us to the Chilean poet and author who, in 1945, became the first Latin American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The lyrical text and exquisite illustrations bring Gabriela's childhood and talent to life for young readers.

Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People

Illustrated by: Julie Paschkis
Age Level: 3-6

Neftali always loved nature and words. This fondness allowed Neftali — better known as Pablo Neruda — to create poetry in a "voice [that] was heard across nations and ocean." Rich language and lush illustrations that incorporate words in Spanish and English are sure to enthuse young writers while introducing this Nobel-winning poet.

Pelé: King of Soccer

Illustrated by: Rudy Gutiérrez

Did you know that as a boy, Pelé played soccer in bare feet with a grapefruit instead of a soccer ball? Monica Brown shares the inspirational story of the beloved soccer star's rise from humble beginnings to becoming El rey del fútbol. Rudy Gutiérrez's brilliant and fluid illustrations of Pelé and "the beautiful game" of soccer leap off the page. Bilingual text. Curriculum guide available.

Rosa

Illustrated by: Bryan Collier
Age Level: 6-9

Rosa Parks was an ordinary woman who became a hero because she "was not going to give in to that which was wrong." A catalyst for the famous Montgomery Bus boycott in Alabama, she turned the nation's attention to a glaring injustice in our society. Powerful illustrations evoke a time before the Civil Rights era and give the reader a glimpse at a person, her impact, and a period in American history.

She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story

Illustrated by: Don Tate
Age Level: 3-6

Effa Manley, born when jazz was new and sports were segregated, was passionate about fairness and baseball. She was to become the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame along with players from the Negro Baseball League. Her life is presented in stylized illustration and clear text, for an intriguing portrait of a person and a time.

Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez

Illustrated by: Joe Cepeda

Many years ago in California, an energetic young Girl Scout named Dolores worked to raise money for soldiers fighting in World War II. A thoughtful young boy named Cesar worked in the fields to help his family put food on the table. As young adults, these two extraordinary individuals would meet and spend the rest of their lives working tirelessly on behalf of migrant workers and children through nonviolent struggle — side by side.

Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story

By: Paula Yoo
Illustrated by: Dom Lee
Age Level: 6-9

As an Asian American child growing up in California, Sammy Lee was only allowed to use the public pool on Wednesdays. But Sammy was not easily deterred from his dream of becoming an Olympic diver, and at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, he became the first Asian American to win a gold medal in U.S. history. Paula Yoo and Dom Lee skillfully bring Sammy's story to life in this inspirational biography.

Sky Dancers

Illustrated by: Christy Hale
Age Level: 6-9

"In her first work of fiction for children, Kirk introduces the generations-old connection between the Mohawk people and steelworking. John Cloud, who lives on a reservation, misses his father and uncle during their weeks working construction sites in Manhattan. John's first visit to the city brings both strange sights ('There were traffic lights where John thought trees should be') and deepening pride when he witnesses his father's agile figure high atop the incomplete Empire State Building." — Booklist

Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx

Illustrated by: Christina Rodriguez
Age Level: 6-9
Language: Spanish (Bilingual Eng/Sp)

This bilingual picture book tells the story of Sotomayor's childhood in the Bronx, her time at Princeton, and her confirmation on the Supreme Court, with a special focus on her mother's unwavering support throughout her life. Lovely illustrations capture the warmth and joy of Sotomayor's family and story. Note: The biography includes a discussion of the racial undertones of her nomination and confirmation hearing.

Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina

Illustrated by: True Kelley
Age Level: 6-9

Maria Tallchief shares the story of her childhood and path to becoming America's first prima ballerina. Growing up on the Osage Indian reservation, Maria was a gifted pianist and dancer, but at the age of twelve, her father told her that she must choose between dance and music. Maria chose ballet, changing the course of her life and the face of classical ballet in America.

The Storyteller's Candle

This is the story of librarian Pura Belpré, told through the eyes of two young children who are introduced to the library and its treasures just before Christmas. Lulu Delacre's lovely illustrations evoke New York City at the time of the Great Depression, as well as the close-knit and vibrant Puerto Rican community that was thriving in El Barrio during this time. Bilingual Spanish-English text.

This little trailblazer : a girl power primer

Illustrated by: Daniel Roode
Age Level: 3-6

Learn all about influential women who changed history in this engaging and colorful board book perfect for trailblazers-in-training, which includes Florence Nightingale, Rosa Parks, Maria Tallchief, Wilma Rudolph, and Sonia Sotomayor.

Tito Puente, Mambo King

Illustrated by: Rafael López
Age Level: 3-6

Tito Puente was born to be a musician. He grew up to become the Mamba King to whose music people danced the mambo, rumba and cha-cha. Rhythmic language and animated illustrations briefly present Tito's life and the impact of music throughout.

Viva Frida

Age Level: 6-9

In this visually stunning tribute to Frida Kahlo, artist Yuyi Morales offers a representation of Kahlo's creative process with stop-motion puppet and paintings, photographed by Tim O'Meara. The result is a work of art in and of itself lovingly created to honor Kahlo, and Morales shares her own process of creating the book in this video.  Since the text is limited, more biographical information can be found in the books featured on our Diego & Frida children's booklist.

Waiting for the Biblioburro

Illustrated by: John Parra
Age Level: 6-9

Meet Ana, a young girl who loves to read. There aren't many books in her small Colombian village, though — until the day Ana meets the Biblioburro, a librarian who brings books through the mountains on the backs of two strong donkeys. Inspired by the heroic efforts of real-life librarian Luis Soriano, this story asks readers, "How far would you go for a book?"