7 New Picture Book Biographies

Here's another bunch of new nonfiction books I've been reading for the Cybils Award this year!  

Fred's Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers by Laura Renauld

This book would be a good fit for an elementary school audience that is familiar with Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. The book talks about Fred Rogers life growing up, his journey into and work with television, and his legacy. Throughout the book, words that name feelings and emotions are italicized.  As far as backmatter goes, just an author's note comes along with this one, no photos of Fred Rogers or timeline of his life. It's a book about feelings that also happens to be about Mr. Rogers, rather than the other way around. The art and color in the book do a good job of complimenting the text and evoking mood. 

Having watched the recent Mr Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor, I didn't learn anything particularly new about his life from this book. Still, if I were teaching about feelings and emotions, this would be one to reach for. 

Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice by Nikki Grimes

This picture book biography of Senator Harris has a side story: A narrative about a first-grade girl, Eve, who is annoyed with a classmate who said "girls can't be president." She tells her mom about the situation and her mom tells her about how Kamala Harris hopes to be president someday. As the biography tells about Kamala Harris's upbringing and how she got into politics, Eve and her momma speak in italics at the bottom of some pages. I wondered if this would deter some readers, but it worked really well for my second-grade daughter. The book preaches hard work and perseverance and ends the biography portion with "Kamala Harris is still writing her American story." A little bit of humor from Eve and her mom close it out. A timeline and sources can be found in the backmatter, and the timeline adds salient details that didn't fit in the text. 

I have read Grace for President innumerable times to my daughter, and this book reminded me of that one. They make a nice pair. If you're looking for insight into the background and motivations of Kamala Harris, this seems like a good place to start. 

Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist by Linda Skeers

Having never heard of her before, I found it fascinating to learn about Mary Anning and her discoveries near her home. We learn about Mary from her childhood to her adulthood, and the book touches on the discrimination she experienced because she was a woman in the early 1800s. The amount and quality of fossils that she discovered, and the depth of her curiosity and knowledge were impressive.  The book was written well for an elementary audience and the backmatter added to the understanding for older readers. Great timeline, too. This was one I caught my kids reading on their own.

Lizzie Demands a Seat!: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson

The book details an incident of racism when Elizabeth Jennings was refused a seat on a streetcar in New York City in 1854. It then takes us through the aftermath of that incident in her community, to the court where her case was heard, and to her community and the country after the verdict.  

This book was interesting. I know of Rosa Parks, and I was blown away by Claudette Colvin a few years back, but Elizabeth Jennings' name was new to me. Her story is compelling and the book adds to the overall story of civil rights. I didn't particularly care for the illustrations, done in watercolor, but I loved the author's note (which included some photographs and lots of extra facts). 

Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson by Jen Bryant

I didn't know who August Wilson was, and this book took a little while to get around to telling us what August Wilson did, so that was an interesting experience. The washing machine story at the beginning of the book is an excellent example of the kinds of discrimination that make life difficult for People of Color. Over all, the book was very interesting, and the way August Wilson educated himself in libraries is inspiring.

HIghly organized and complete with extensive backmatter (author's note, detailed timeline, notes from each page, bibliography and more) this book leaves you with no doubt that the author knew her stuff. Great for upper elementary ages and older. 


Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit by Linda Elovitz Marshall

This was the one my librarian knew. "I love the illustrations!" she said. It was an awe-inspiring story, explaining how Beatrix Potter overcame societal expectations to write and publish, and was a champion of conservation. Potter is presented in a wholly positive light here, and her struggles as a woman in earlier times are detailed, too. I wasn't not aware of the massive impact she had on conservation in English countryside, so I learned something. I'd recommend this to those who love Peter Rabbit and for general young audiences.

Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Doreen Rappaport

Another Feminist addition to this collection! This one was fascinating especially considering a) it's the first bio of RBG I've read b) she so recently passed away and c) she consulted on the book. It touched a lot on the work she did to help people of both genders by ensuring that they were treated equally by the law. 
This one was very well illustrated, and I liked the design element of having quotes by Ginsburg in a larger, bolder font. Reading so many of her own words helped me feel like I knew her better. It had extensive backmatter, in case the main text piques your interest. I'd recommend this for upper elementary ages and older. 

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