Biographies often get a bad rap- especially among kids. They bring up memories of school assigned book reports and boring encyclopedia articles filled with dry facts. And one does have to search a little harder to find compelling fun stories about people who changed the world around them-- but they do exist! The following collection represent my favorite sampling of picture book biographies that are not only fun to read but also feature people (and maybe a bear or two) who don't often find themselves as the subjects of school reports.
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton
What better way to make a biography more interesting than to use the inventor of the Super-Soaker water gun? This book tells the story of Lonnie Johnson who grew up in Alabama and loved tinkering and inventing things even when he was little. Even after the success of his Super Soaker technology he is still working on inventing new ways to improve the world around him.
The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins
Kate Sessions always loved being in nature but found herself living in the desert town of San Diego. Instead of pining away (pun intended) for her beloved trees she found a way to bring her favorite things to her city. Urban gardening! Female empowerment! Creative problem solving! What could be better?
Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick
Although this book is shelved in the fiction section the story it tells is factual. It depicts the journey of a bear named Winnipeg who went to the brink of war with her owner before being transferred to the London Zoo where she befriended a little boy named Christopher Robin. Complete with real life photos of Winnie this endearing story is sure to captivate any animal lover or who ever wondered what happened before anyone ever ventured to the Hundred Acre Wood.
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet
This is the story of the man who is responsible for the yearly spectacle that is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Tony Sarg always loved puppets and jumped at the chance to create a window and then a parade filled with them for Macy's department store. But when the parade becomes ever more popular he is faced with a challenge-- how can he make sure all of the kids can see his puppet creations when they are only a few feet high?
Sonia Sotomayor: a judge grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter
As the first Latina Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor is arguably the most recognizable name on this list. But unlike many traditional biographies, her story is told in an easily approachable narrative which makes it an excellent contender for this particular list of biographies. The fact that the text is in both English and Spanish is just an added bonus.
The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
A picture book version of a longer book, the Boy who Harnessed the Wind tells the story of William's Malawi drought stricken village. After many hours in the library, 14 year old William figures out how to use his surroundings to bring much needed electricity to his community.
The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller
A swashbuckling tale of the inventor of the doughnut Hanson Gregory. After signing onto the ship Achorn Hanson is faced with a horrible problem- a ship full of hungry sailors. Another great example of creative problem solving and unsung heroes this book is almost as delicious as the pastry depicted in it's pages.
Mr. Ferris and his Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
As the title indicates this is the story of George Ferris, the engineer of the Ferris Wheel. With beautiful illustrations and narrative style text this book tells a story of a person who refused to take no for an answer and proved to the world that he was right to believe in himself.
Gingerbread for Liberty! by Mara Rockliff
Of all the hundreds of biographies and other non fiction books about the American Revolution this is the only one I've seen that tells the tale of Christopher Ludwick a baker turned soldier. When his talents for delicious desserts are required Ludwick answers his country's call with gusto and perhaps helps to turn the tide of the war.
The High Score and Low Down on Video Games by Stephen Krensky
This title is actually part of a series called "The History of Fun Stuff". Written in easy to read text perfect for younger readers this series focuses on how different technologies and other kid friendly topics have evolved over time. Yes I realize this isn't a biography in a traditional sense but it does talk about dozens of oft overlooked people who have contributed to wonderful inventions like pizza, fireworks and cookies. It would be the perfect jumping off point for a more in depth search for any of those fascinating unsung heroes.