Category Archives: biography

Picture book Biographies

They can be boring, text book-like books. But, if done well, a biography can also be a fascinating, stimulating read for kids.
Not only does it depend on the person whose life is being described, but much of it depends on how well it has been written and illustrated.
Here are two of my favourite ones.

Me, Jane by Patrick McDonnell
is very sparse on words. And in that sparseness lies its power.
It shows us a little girl with her stuffed chimpanzee. She loves observing animals and spending time in nature.
She does a great job of patiently watching the chickens in the chicken coop. Jane dreams of, one day, working to help animals.
The book shows how she sticks to her goals and how her dream comes true: Jane Goodall does get to work with animals and nature when she grows up.
This picture book biography was awarded:
the 2012 Caldecott Honor Book,
the Charlotte Zolotow Award Winner,
It was a Horn Book Fanfare Book,
a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book
a New York Times Notable Children’s Book,
a Booklist Editor’s Choice Book and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book. It also was a 2011 Bank Street College Children’s Book Committee Outstanding Book
a University of Wisconsin-Madison CCBC 2012 Children’s Choices Book
a Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Book
a National Parenting Publications Awards Gold Winner
a Booklinks Lasting Connections Book
a 2014 Illinois Monarch Children’s Choice Award Winner and
a 2014 Iowa Goldfinch Book Award Winner

• Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 1st edition (April 5 2011)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0316045462
• ISBN-13: 978-0316045469

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
is a very different book but also a children’s biography.
This is not your standard picture book: it has 176 pages. But the art and text in this book make it a master piece.
Every page is a treat for the eyes. Collages of pictures, bits of wood and yarn, typed quotes and information work together seamlessly to paint an extraordinary picture of a writer’s life well lived. E.B. White’s biography could well have turned into a boring book since not too much out of the ordinary happened in his life. But this tender book shows how a young boy grew up, in a loving family, with a huge interest in common farm animals. The book makes you realize how little events can be turned into big stories, if written with the right touch of love and devotion. How many of us even know E. B. Whote’s first name? This book made me feel that I got to know him intimately. But mostly it showed me how text, art and design can create a stunning book that I ket touching, feeling and reading. Its one story I did not want to end.


2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Award
Amazon Top 20 Children’s Books of 2016
Booklist Editors’ Choice 2016
Book Links’ Lasting Connections 2016
Book Page Best of 2016
Bulletin Blue Ribbon 2016
Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Books of 2016
Horn Book Fanfare
Kirkus Best of 2016
Nerdy Book Club Nerdies 2016 Longform Nonfiction
New York Times Bestseller
People Best Children’s Books of 2016
Publishers Weekly Best of 2016
Raleigh News & Observer Best of 2016
San Francisco Chronicle Best of 2016
School Library Journal Best of 2016
Shelf Awareness Best Books of the Year
Nonfiction Detectives: Best of 2016
Washington Post Best of 2016

• Hardcover: 176 pages
• Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (Oct. 4 2016)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0544319591
• ISBN-13: 978-0544319592

Me, Jane by Patrick McDonnell

            This is simply the very best biography I have ever read.
Try writing a biography of a famous person who has led a long life, rich in a wide variety experiences. Chances are this will turn into a lengthy book.
But you are writing for children. 
A picture book is only 32 pages. Still, most biographies have dense text and many information boxes to cramp in the facts.
Me, Jane 
is a very short, simple story with lovely illustrations. 
It focuses on a very small girl with big dreams. Jane’s favourite companion is a toy chimpanzee. 
Jane watches a chicken hatch an egg and is enamoured by nature. She sketches birds and other animals in her diary. And Jane dreams of, one day, traveling to Africa.
Jane grows up to become one of the world’s most well known primatologists, Dr. Jane Goodall.

The story is told in such a way that degrees and accolades are not important. What is important is for a child to dream and to follow that dream. It’s a beautifully told story.

Backpages do give more information on Jane Goodall, on all she accomplished and on her Foundation which enables many young people to follow in her footsteps and become environmentalists.

Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Judging by this list of recognitions I am not the only one who loves this book:

A Charlotte Zolotow Award WinnerHorn Book Fanfare BookNew York Times Best Illustrated Children’s BookNew York Times Notable Children’s BookBooklist Editor’s Choice BookKirkus Reviews Best BookA Kids’ Indie Next List BookA 2011 Bank Street College Children’s Book Committee Outstanding BookA National Parenting Publications Awards Gold Winner
A Booklinks Lasting Connections Book
A 2014 Illinois Monarch Children’s Choice Award Winner
A 2014 Iowa Goldfinch Book Award Winner”

A 2012 Caldecott Honor Book

A University of Wisconsin-Madison CCBC 2012 Children’s Choices Book
A Parents’ Choice Silver Honor Book

A Brush Full of Excitement!

One of my latest books is the biography of Canadian artist Ted Harrison. This book is proving to be a welcome addition in homes and schools everywhere and has been shortlisted for almost every possible children’s book award in Canada. Thanks to Ted Harrison’s inspiring story and to the gorgeous design by Pajama Press, this book is rapidly becoming very popular.
This is what Pajama Press’ website says about it (
Ted Harrison’s brightly colored and wildly imaginative paintings set in the Yukon have become synonymous with the North. His instantly-recognizable images of the land of the midnight sun hang in galleries and private collections around the world. But how did a boy who grew up in a drab mining town in northeast England become one of Canada’s most beloved and decorated artists?
A Brush Full of Colour is the story of a boy whose passion for learning would save him from a life in the coalmines. The books by the American writer Jack London and Canadian poet Robert Service fired his imagination with scenes of the wilderness and the Klondike Gold Rush. He trained as an artist, and a stint in the British Intelligence Service allowed him to travel. But Ted never stopped dreaming of the North, and when he saw an advertisement for teachers in Northern Alberta, he jumped at the chance to emigrate to Canada, where the biggest adventure of his life would begin.
Margriet Ruurs and Katherine Gibson trace the life of Ted Harrison and the influences that would lead to his unique style as an artist. Filled with full-color examples of his vivid art, and with a foreword written by Ted Harrison, A Brush Full of Colour will provide inspiration for a new generation of budding artists.
Click here to view our gallery of Ted Harrison-inspired art created by Margriet Ruurs and the kids and parents at North York Central Library in Toronto.
Awards and honours:
2016 Rocky Mountain Book Award nominee
2016 OLA Forest of Reading Silver Birch Non-Fiction Award nominee
2015 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award Shortlist
2015 Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award nominee
2015 Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada Information Book Award nominee
2015–2016 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Award nominee
2015 Spring Best Books for Kids & Teens Starred Selection
2014 OLA Best Bet
“An outstanding, well-organized biography… A joy to look at and an inspiration to read.”—School Library Journal
“Seldom does an artist’s biography for children offer so many beautiful reproductions of the subject’s work. Pair this inviting book with Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life’s Song (2009), another wonderfully visual celebration of an artist following his own path.”—Booklist
“A child-friendly introduction to an iconic, wonderfully accessible and quintessentially Canadian artist.”—Kirkus Reviews
“…a must have…The text is easy to read,comprehensive, and interesting…[A] beautifullypresented book…Highly recommended…”—Resource Links
“This outstanding biography does more than just inform the reader of Ted Harrison’s life in a well organized way. A Brush Full of Colour is indicative of the spirit and passion of its subject…Highly Recommended.”—CM Magazine
“This inspirational and informative biography includes many stunning examples of Harrison’s luminous artwork as well as resources, sources and a foreword written by the artist himself…”—Canadian Children’s Book News
“…this book is virtually larger than life…A Brush Full of Colour is an exemplary youngCanLit biography…”—CanLit for LittleCanadians
“The table of contents for this lovely new book from Pajama Press entices with the promise of a foreword by the artist himself, and then goes on to let the reader know that soon they will learn about Ted’s childhood, his world travels, his life in the north, and his life as a full-time artist.” – Sal’s Fiction Addiction
“Here’s a book that will be as interesting for you as it will be for your child. A Brush Full of Colour is a vibrant, fact-based picture book about Canadian artist Ted Harrison.” – Getting Kids Reading
Teachers, here is a page with activities based on the book:
CBC Radio Fan Choice Award
For an interview on CBC Radio about this book, click here to listen to the podcast: