Literary Ladies for Littler Readers
Who are the women behind some of our favorite books? How did they get their start in writing, and how have their words and stories transformed our bookshelves for centuries?
Picture book biographies are a great way to introduce young readers to nonfiction in an accessible way, or for older readers to quickly learn about a biographical figure. These ten picture book biographies are all about female authors -- from Jane Austen to Emily Dickinson to Zora Neal Hurston and Maya Angelou. Get ready to dive into the fascinating lives of these ladies, and get inspired to read some of their famous works!
On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
Meet reclusive poet Emily Dickinson in this intricately illustrated picture book biography. From birth to death, this book explores Emily’s life right alongside her own poetry. The text is well spaced and not too dense, and the poetry inclusion makes it an excellent read-aloud choice.
Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neal Hurston by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara
In this vibrant picture book biography, readers will meet Zora Neal Hurston, American author, and follow her from her upbringing in Eatonville and beyond. Hurston’s devotion to telling stories shines in this biography that focuses on her youthful endeavors to capture the stories around her.
Phillis’ Big Test by Catherine Clinton, illustrated by Jean Qualls
Learn about Revolution-era poet Phillis Wheatley in this biography that captures her life and focuses especially on the trial she underwent to defend herself as the true author of her work. There is a significant amount of prose in this thorough mixed media picture book biography. This is great for classes learning about the Revolution who want to bring Wheatley off the page.
Little People, Big Dreams: Maya Angelou by Lisbeth Kaiser, illustrated by Leira Salaberria
From little girl in the segregated south to speaking at a presidential inauguration, this picture book biography of poet Maya Angelou is a treat! The illustrations are friendly and colorful, the text is well-paced, and the reader will learn about the poet, her upbringing, her work, and the impact her writing has had on the world.
Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A Cabrera
Readers will meet Gwendolyn Brooks, poet, in this picture book biography about her life. With beautiful full-page illustrations and shorter text blocks, this is perfect for young burgeoning poets and biography readers. Brooks story is moving and well-told, and pieces of her poetry are included throughout! (Also available as a library e-book.)
Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Jen Corace
Meet Jane Austen, from her childhood to her career as a writer, in this lushly illustrated biography about her upbringing in a time where women were expected to marry and be silent. We see Jane through the course of her life and learn about how she stood up against societal expectations, explored her own writing, and became a household name. This picture book features a fair amount of text!
Louisa May’s Battle: How the Civil War Led to Little Women by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Carlyn Beccia
Learn about Louisa May Alcott’s service as a nurse during the Civil War in this picture book biography. Readers will learn about the work she did during the war, the context in which she initially began writing professionally, and the U.S. during the Civil War through a new lens. This is a text-heavy picture book.
Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Author of Anne of Green Gables by Alexandra Wallner
Travel to Prince Edward Island to learn about the tough upbringing of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who was raised by her grandparents, which inspired her most famous story about an orphan girl taken in by an older couple. From her days writing stories to the work and education she sought, it all comes back to Prince Edward Island and the lasting impact of her most famous book, Anne of Green Gables. This is a longer-text picture book that features colorful, classical illustrations.
Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Erin McGuire
Young readers can learn about To Kill a Mockingbird author Nelle Harper Lee, from her Alabama upbringing alongside Truman Capote to her eventual success as a Pulitzer Prize winning author in this full-color illustrated picture book biography. This covers Lee’s life from childhood to her older years and focuses on her drive to write as well as the lasting impact of her famous book. This is a longer-text piece, but ideal for kids who aren’t yet ready for the full novel.
Beatrix Potter by Alexandra Wallner
Beatrix Potter is an author well-known but often unexplored by modern children. Kids who love her rabbit stories -- or the recent movies adapted from her work -- will enjoy learning more about her life in the late 19th century and her growth as an artist. Infused with personal details, lots of nature, and of course, rabbits, this would be an excellent picture book biography for a student doing a book report or supplementing Peter Rabbit tales.