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Best Biographies for Kids

By Sandra Clark

My daughter, Lucy, loves whenever a book is “a real true life story” as she says. She smacks her lips in satisfaction to know a tale is good enough to be true. To meet with her greatest reading pleasure I’ve been spending more time in the children’s biography section of the library. It’s not as dry as it once was. Hooray. I’m delighted to find real and well written and illustrated “real true life stories” geared for really young readers. I thought I would start sharing some of our favorite selections since sometimes these jewels don’t get top billing. Some of these stories have been the loveliest way to introduce big ideas, historical events, and figures.

Here’s one of our swoons: Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, A Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History by Sue Stauffacher. Illustrated by Sarah McMenemy. It’s all in the title, but the story is so rich it could only be true. We love boot-strapping women who make things happen.

All about the life and art of Alexander Calder. I always loved his playful, colorful art even before I knew its creator by name. This book is a fun way to share it with kids with hands on activities to experience the art and creations. This book is a delight. Meet the Artist: Alexander Calder by Patricia Geis.

Another true story for Lucy. Annette Kelllerman broke the rules of swimming and fashion and into record books with her bold style and spunk. There aren’t many stories about real life mermaids, but this true story is the most inspiring one we’ve read. Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.

Maria Kalman writes in such an engaging way it’s as though she’s gushing, right there with you, trying to tell you all the coolest quirks and achievements of Thomas Jefferson in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything. But the part we loved best were the flaws, they aren’t ignored of glazed over but addressed in an honest, open fashion. A great man, even with his great errors. And my daughter likes everyone who shares her hair color.

Big, black, beautiful. This story of Sojourner Truth is as bold as the woman it’s based on. Strong prose makes this story sing out. Lucy closed the cover after we read it, asked her forever question, “is it a real, true story?” I affirmed that it was. Her reply, “I am impressed.” We love a good book about a great role model. My daughter asked if I could also tell everyone about when Sojourner Truth stood up before an assembly of male preachers who were discussing the inferiority of women and put them in their place by preaching about the strength and courage of real women. She wanted me to write it all verbatim, but just check out the book. Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney

A bluebonnet award winner in Texas, this darling book by Melissa Sweet tells the true story of the clever and imaginative Tony Sarg. The book is beautifully composed and cunningly written. We read this much more regularly than the parade comes around. One of our favorites. Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet. I swoon over all of her illustrations and books. She specializes in biographies, and they’re exceptional.

Please share some of your favorites in the comments below. We’d love to check them out.


About Sandra Clark

Sandra Clark Jergensen's writing (most often about food) has been published in Gastronomica, Apartment Therapy, The Exponent, and at Segullah, where she was once the Editor-in-Chief, and now as Features Editor. Sandra geeked out on food and writing as a master's student food studies at University of Texas, Arlington. She makes her home in California where she runs without shoes, foster parents, teaches cooking, develops recipes, and struggles to take pictures with her eyes open, and sometimes all at the same time. She is the owner and creator of thekitchennatural.com.

5 thoughts on “Best Biographies for Kids”

  1. To balance my children’s voluminous fantasy reading with other, good writing based on the world that actually exists, and to fortify their connection with their heritage, I was looking for a suitable book on John Wesley Powell, explorer of the Colorado River. Richard Maurer wrote one that was just what I was after, The Wild Colorado: The True Adventures of Fred Dellenbaugh, Age 17, on the Second Powell Expedition into the Grand Canyon. This short book, 120 pages, tells a wonderful tale of a young man who gained a place in a glorious, sometimes boring, highly challenging undertaking, and returned home two years later with a course for his life determined. Link for more that I wrote about this biography and a few words about another by Maurer, The Wright Sister: Katharine Wright and Her Famous Brothers.

  2. We recently read "Snowflake Bently" the man who photographed snowflakes and discovered no two were alike, and "Teedie: The Story of Young Teddy Roosevelt" …. enjoyed them both….?

  3. The autobiographical novels by Ralph Moody are some of my favorites! I read them to our sons over the years and frequently referred to them for their great character building passages. Jean Frizt writes wonderful books for children; the one I remember best is "George Washington's Breakfast."


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