From Stagecoach Drivers to Furniture Builders: 6 Picture Book Biographies About Astounding Historical Figures

It’s never too soon to start learning about rad historical figures. These picture book biographies will introduce the littles in your life to the people they’ll be admiring forever.

Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonara Carrington, by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall
Visual storytelling is one of the most important parts of a picture book, so it’s no surprise that the life of an artist lends itself to a picture book biography. The story of surrealist artist Leonara Carrington is adapted by Michelle Markel and Amanda Hall in Out of this World. Leonara used to draw everywhere she could, imagining the worlds her grandmother told her about, and kept drawing for the rest of her life. Abandoning notions of becoming a proper English lady, Leonara joined the surrealist movement, traveling from London to Paris to Mexico and creating art alongside Max Ernst, Diego Rivera, and Frida Kahlo.

Fearless Mary, by Tami Charles and illustrated by Claire Almon
Let’s go on an adventure with Mary Fields, the trailblazing African American stagecoach driver! A former slave, Mary Fields became the first woman African American stagecoach driver in 1895, while in her 60s, after beating out all the cowboys who also applied to the job. She traveled the American West with a pet eagle, protecting her mail delivery and never once losing a horse or a package. She’s totally awesome, and this picture book biography is a perfect way to explore her life.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, by Anika Aldamuy Denise and illustrated by Paola Escobar
One of my favorite picture book biographies to come out this year, Planting Stories tells the story of Pura Belpré. You’ll know her name from the Pura Belpré award, but Pura’s life as a storyteller and puppeteer and New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian is fascinating. When she came to the New York Public Library, she took the cuentos folklóricos of her Puerto Rican homeland into stories that influenced New York for generations. In being true to Pura Belpré, a Spanish-language edition is also available.

Sweet Dreams, Sarah, by Vivian Kirkfield and illustrated by Chris Ewald
I have a soft spot for women who build furniture, likely in part due to an overwhelming desire to build my own bookcases. So it’s no surprise that I love Sweet Dreams, Sarah by Vivian Kirkfield and Chris Ewald, which shares the life of Sarah E. Goode. The first African American woman to get a US patent, Sarah worked in her furniture store, recognizing what her customers needed and building her unique cupboard bed to fulfill their demand. Her story is fascinating and fantastic and a worthy read for those kiddos who can’t stop building things with their toy sets.

Mary Blair’s Unique Flair: The Girl Who Became One of the Disney Legends, by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Brittney Lee
Kids love Disney movies. Parents love Disney movies. I love Disney movies. So get ready to enjoy Mary Blair’s Unique Flair. This picture book biography examines the life of one of the Disney legends, who developed some of the most iconic Disney movies. From loving art as a child to her travels with Walt Disney to South America, Mary Blair’s Unique Flair follows her life and her love of color with gorgeous, popping illustrations.

The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown, by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Sarah Jacoby
This is the best picture book biography I’ve ever read. I don’t care who you are: you need to read it. In forty-two pages, Mac Barnett tries to explain what’s so important about Margaret Wise Brown, and about books, and about reading books. This examination of Margaret’s life and work, which asks questions designed to make kids and adults alike think, is a must-read. Just go pick it up, please.

What picture book biographies do you love?

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