Fantastic picture book biographies


picture book biographies

By Caitlin Giffin

At the Sunnyside library, we love picture books! Meant to be shared, our collection boasts big, beautiful illustrations and accessible text that appeal to a wide range of ages. Biographical picture books are a trend in children’s literature that continues to pick up speed, and it’s no surprise why. They are a wonderful way to spark a child’s interest in true stories and real people and to introduce complex social and historical issues, all while sharing a great story. Here are a few I’ve read recently and really enjoyed. Happy reading!

Clever Hans: The True Story of the Counting, Adding and Time-Telling Horse,
by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Mike Lowery

Animal lovers will swoon over Clever Hans, the story of an amazing horse who appeared to accomplish extraordinary mathematical feats in front of German audiences in the early 20th century. But could Hans really count and tell time, or was it all just an elaborate hoax? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Written in a fun comic strip format, this story will be sure to appeal to young graphic-novel fans and can be used as an effective first introduction to behavioural sciences.

Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston,
by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

I was so excited to get my hands on a picture book about Zora Neale Hurston, one of the larger-than-life characters of the Harlem Renaissance and among America’s greatest storytellers. Author Alicia D. Williams tells Hurston’s story with beautifully flowing prose, highlighting her passion and determination to live an adventurous life. Throughout the book, the reader is introduced to many of the folk tales Hurston collected and compiled during her time as an anthropologist, making it an excellent choice for those interested in the art of storytelling.

The Notebook Keeper:
A Story of Kindness from the Border,
by Stephen Briseño, illustrated by Magdalena Mora

At the San Ysidro border checkpoint in Tijuana, Mexico, a refugee in the crowd was chosen to keep a notebook with a list of people waiting for their chance to enter the United States. When the notebook keeper’s time came to cross the border, they would choose another waiting for asylum to take their place. This tradition is the basis of Stephen Briseño’s The Notebook Keeper, a tender story that tackles the reality of refugees at the American border with grace and dignity.

 Dragon Bones:
The Fantastic Fossil Discoveries of Mary Anning,
by Sarah Glenn Marsh, illustrated by Maris Wicks

Kids are fascinated with dinosaurs, and books about these extinct creatures are always a hit. Dragon Bones introduces the life of Mary Anning, a fossil hunter who discovered the Icthyosaur and Plesiosaur. Considered the mother of paleontology, Anning was often denied recognition of her discoveries because of her gender. Simple text and big cartoonish illustrations will appeal to the smallest paleontologists out there, and a wonderful appendix provides detailed information about all of Anning’s fantastic fossil finds.

You can find these titles and many more at the Ottawa Public Library.

 Caitlin Giffin is a children’s programs and public service assistant at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library.

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