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Meet New Friends: 10 Picture Book Biographies

Welcome in the New Year with new friends! You’ll meet the woman whose mathematical interests helped lead to the modern computer, share the excitement of a storm on Ferris’ original “observation” wheel, discover who started the first community center for the poor, and more fascinating life stories. Each of these books is not only well sourced (and documented), but also made to be shared by reading aloud. So open a book and curl up with a friend in hand on a cold January day.

Quotable Quotes: The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you'll go. -- Dr. Seuss

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

By: Laurie Wallmark
Illustrated by: April Chu
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Richly hued illustrations and an engaging text (that reads aloud well) present a brief look at the life of a girl who was well ahead of the 19th century in which she lived. Ada’s mother left her husband, the philandering poet Lord Byron, moving to London. There she encouraged Ada’s passion for all things math, including developing algorithms for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, an early computer.

How Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz

By: Jonah Winter
Illustrated by: Keith Mallett
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Jelly Roll Morton became – to his grandmother’s horror – a musician in New Orleans, developing his own unique style of jazz. Rhythmic, rhyming language and swirling, color-saturated illustrations glimpse the life and work of this little known musician, perhaps inspiring readers to take a longer look at the artist and his work.

Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

By: Jonah Winter
Illustrated by: Shane Evans
Genre: Fiction, Biography, Historical Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

As the older woman, Ms Lillian, walks a steep hill to vote. While walking, she remembers the precipitous climb that those who preceded her made so that she could cast her ballot. The storyteller’s tone of the text and dramatic illustrations tell a powerful story.

Luna and Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest

By: Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Julia “Butterfly” Hill was born much later than Luna, a thousand year old redwood tree. But her bravery and tenacity saved Luna and the forest from destruction by living in the tree for about two years. This unusual story of activism is told from the perspective of both Butterfly and Luna accompanied by gentle, eye-catching, and informative illustrations. 

Queen of the Diamond

By: Emily Arnold McCully
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Baseball was very popular in 1900 but it was played mostly by boys.  In a small state in a small town in New England, however, a girl named Lizzie was going to change that. Lizzie’s natural skill at the sport was evident early on and she (with the support of her family) stuck with it to become the Queen of Baseball. Buoyant illustrations and readable text combine to present an upbeat story of this early female athlete.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova

By: Laurel Snyder
Illustrated by: Julie Morstad
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Her mother was a laundress but Anna was inspired by dance and music she saw in the Russian theater. A lyrical text is complemented by evocative illustrations to evoke the spirit of the life, work and travels of prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Even her death is subtly presented in both word and image for a stirring introduction to an amazing artist

The Fantastic Ferris Wheel: The Story of Inventor George Ferris

By: Betsy Harvey Kraft
Illustrated by: Steven Salerno
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Have you ever had an idea spark another notion? A waterwheel may have been one boy’s inspiration for what is ubiquitous at today’s carnivals and amusement parks: the Ferris wheel! George studied engineering and created the world’s first 6-story tall observation wheel which showcased at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair to the amazement of all. Realistic illustrations and lively text bring the man and his times to life.

The House that Jane Built: A Story about Jane Addams

By: Tanya Lee Stone
Illustrated by: Kathryn Brown
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Her travels as the child in a wealthy family helped Jane realize that there were those much less well off. She moved into a home in a gritty part of Chicago where she opened Hull House to address the needs of those in poverty, likely the country’s first community center. Jane’s work in Chicago is described in fluid text and gentle, evocative illustrations presenting a portrait of the 19th century.

The Inker’s Shadow

By: Allen Say
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The author/illustrator’s look back at his early years started in Drawing from Memory (2011) continues here. Allen doesn’t really fit in at his father’s friend’s Southern California military academy.  Leaving it was the start of a journey toward finding the artist within. Told through a variety of artistic pieces and styles and a highly person narration, readers will empathize and ache with this Caldecott winning artist. 

Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation

By: Peggy Thomas
Illustrated by: Stacy Innerst
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Thomas Jefferson’s many activities and interests took root in a new country and remain evident in contemporary America. They are celebrated in a breezy but informative text and charming, stylized illustrations in a muted palette that help bring the time, the person and his undertakings into focus. 

Proceeds from the sale of books purchased at Amazon.com help support the Reading Rockets project. Thank you!

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