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