Reading picture books together is often the beginning of a grand conversation about all kinds of subjects, from racial tolerance to fossils. Some children will be able to read the following illustrated biographies themselves, but given their rich vocabularies and somewhat higher reading levels, the books make ideal read-alouds for moms to share with kids.
"What To Do About Alice?"
A joyful romp of a book relating the early years of Alice Roosevelt, known for her high spirits and her famous dad, Theodore Roosevelt, who once said, “I can be president of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.” Alice’s adventures will tickle kids, who’ll appreciate the girl who joined an all-boys club, rode her bicycle everywhere, and didn’t let leg braces stop her for a minute. Good humor infuses both Barbara Kerley’s story and illustrator Edwin Fotheringham’s depictions of Alice and her exasperated father.
"Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates"
As a boy in Puerto Rico, the great right fielder hit soup cans instead of baseballs, which were too expensive for his family. He kept working hard (a theme of many picture-book bios, by the way), and leapt, grand-slammed, and crashed his way through the system and into the major leagues. Eventually Clemente led the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates to a World Series victory against the New York Yankees. Jonah Winter’s book, illustrated by Raúl Colón, also deals succinctly with the prejudice faced by Clemente, a black Latino; that alone should lead to many good discussions.
This award-winning biography describes the life of Wilson Bentley (1865-1931), a farm boy “who loved snow more than anything else in the world.” While his Vermont neighbors were building forts and throwing snowballs, Bentley was studying snow crystals, and, later, after buying a microscope with a camera attached, he figured out how to photograph snowflakes individually. The self-taught scientist/farmer became one of the world’s experts on snow! Mary Azarian’s artwork, woodcuts tinted with watercolor, won the book a Caldecott Medal in 1999. Written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin.
"Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas"
Adult aficionados of picture-book biographies often come to appreciate the delightfully weird choice of subject matter in the genre. Case in point: Meghan McCarthy’s ode to bodybuilder Angelo Siciliano, a.k.a. Charles Atlas (1893-1972), a celebrity of the Television Age. When the “World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man” was a skinny boy growing up in Brooklyn, he had a big problem he needed to solve: he was getting beat up way too often. Drawing inspiration from an art museum and a trip to the zoo (yep, the zoo), Atlas began the fitness plan that changed his body…and his life.
"Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and Her Remarkable Discoveries"
A must-read for budding paleontologists, written and illustrated by Don Brown, a standout biographer in the kid-lit world. Mary Anning (1799-1847) was only twelve years old when she and her brother found an almost-perfect fossilized ichthyosaur skeleton near the sea in her small English town. Fossil-hunting (and selling) became Anning’s life’s work, and she also discovered plesiosaurs and a pterodactyl, which hangs today in the British Museum. Not bad for a girl who’d left school at eleven!