My Favorite Biographies: Picture Books and More!

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons

This one’s about the guy, Edwin Binney, who invented Crayola crayons, and his cousin, C. Harold Smith. So fun! Now I know where the business name “Binney and Smith” came from.

This one above is a fascinating look into colonial times. It features the story of a real young woman, Amelia Simmons, who learned how to cook as an indentured servant for a family of little boys in the late 1700s. She determined to make the first American cookbook, using local New England ingredients, like cornmeal and squash. I always thought Fanny Farmer was the first person to write an American cookbook, but according to author Deborah Hopkinson, it was Amelia. This story shows how she received the honor to bake Independence Cakes (one for each colony) to serve at George Washington’s inauguration in New York City, and includes the recipe to make 13 cakes, including 20 lbs of flour! Thanks to Amelia, who introduced the word “cookie” to American readers. The word cookie came from “koejke” which Dutch settlers used.

What would it be like not to know how to read until you learn at age 116? This is the amazing true story of Mary Walker, who lived to be 121. She was born into slavery and lived until 1969. When she felt lonely, she read from her Bible.

A very sweet book about a very sweet man. Who doesn’t like him these days? My third book that I’ve read about him.

I love this book because it shows how to be inquisitive. Which we need some modeling of because as we grow up in this screenful, pre-programmed world we sometimes lose it. 🙂

Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the True Story of an American Feud by [Jurmain, Suzanne Tripp]

I think it’s super cool that Tom and John were so different, but still friends, but then they became enemies. Their story is an example to all of us that we can be friends with someone different from us, and if we fight, we can forgive and start over. I also love that Benjamin Rush, a mutual friend, helped to get them back together. It just makes me wonder if I could do the same thing for any warring friends I might have. 
An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster's Spelling Revolution
Probably not a true biography as it’s about not just one person, but two people. So maybe the biography of a friendship? Just like the one about John and Tom. This one’s about Noah Webster and Ben Franklin’s united effort to create a new alphabet for American English. Fascinating!

This is my favorite picture book on George Washington because of Cheryl Harness’ gorgeous watercolor, outlined in ink, illustrations. I also love all the classic, great stories of George that show his noble character. But if you are reading this to kids under 12, don’t bother to read every single word. It’s too much for them. All the words and all the details on the maps are for adults. Check out Cheryl’s other picture book biographies, of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They are all fabulous.

This one is cute for introducing kids to the amazing, inventive life of Ben Franklin. you might need to clarify that Ben didn’t really have a talking mouse. 🙂

How Emily Saved the Bridge: The Story of Emily Warren Roebling and the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

I heard about the story of Emily Roebling from Ramona Zabriskie’s Wife for Life book, which I read over a year ago. Emily is an example of a “Wife for Life,” because of how she helped her husband in his quest to build the Brooklyn Bridge, a feat of engineering, which in turn helped build their marriage. Fascinating! I enjoyed reading this book to my 9-year-old. I love picture books about real people that tell real stories in a short amount of time and leave me feeling so good. It’s just inspiring and amazing and wonderful to think that someone, especially a woman in the 1800s, could just decide that she can study something and be an expert on it, without going to formal school and getting a degree in that subject. Emily’s father-in-law, John Roebling, who started the Brooklyn Bridge, died, after getting tetanus while working on the bridge. Then her husband, who was left with the task of finishing the bridge, got ill and bedridden. So she took over the monumental task of being the liaison between her husband and the crew, communicating his vision and instructions, getting the bridge finished! Amazing! I’m going to get the book about them by David McCollough in Audible to get more details.


Is there such a thing as a biography of an animal? This is another true story. It shows the power of people to cause change. I love it!

This book, by the author of Snowflake Bentley, is such a fun celebration of the life of Alice Waters, the founder of Chez Panisse, a famous restaurant, and her passion for uniting people with wholesome food. I love Alice’s idea of the Edible Schoolyard.

I love this picture book story of the life of Booker T. Washington. He was an amazing man. I didn’t know he was so visionary that he literally built the school that he founded brick by brick, even making the bricks himself, after intense study. In this age of easily accessible tutorials, he leaves us no excuse for not accomplishing our dreams. The watercolor illustrations are just lovely.

Here are more. I don’t have time to comment about them, just go get them. You will love every one!


Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade (Bank Street College of Education Flora Stieglitz Straus Award (Awards))

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition

Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott

(The rest of these below aren’t picture books. Just so you know that I know.)

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

The Faithful Spy is a graphic novel, not a picture book, about a theologian turned spy who felt duty bound to assist in the plot to kill Hitler. The mesh of words and illustration by the author/illustrator John Hendrix is amazing. I wish I could have learned history in my youth reading books like this and Nathan Hales’ books, along with picture books.

Here’s one about an underrated hero in American history: Nathaniel Bowditch. He was a mathematician who wrote a guide for ocean navigation, The Practical Navigator. According to this site, he “made seamanship a science and left all mariners in his debt.” Why I didn’t learn about him in public school, I don’t know. It was only until I homeschooled my own children that I discovered the man and this book.

So this one below is not a picture book, or for children, but I’m including it here as I transition to talk about biographies for adults. It’s not a biography per se but the story of three famous men and their life with food, so that’s sort of biographical right?

The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine by [DeWitt, Dave]

I saw the book above in the gift shop at Colonial Williamsburg and so hunted it down at my local public library as soon as I got home. I didn’t know that Washington was such the fisherman. It includes recipes for such things as Jefferson’s ice cream (with a copy of it written in his own hand!) and Boston Baked Beans. If you are like me and don’t drink alcohol you may want to skip all those parts about their fascination with spirits.

The rest of these aren’t particularly for children either. I’m listening to these in Audible as “treats” every Thursday when I take my long drive home from my homeschool group meetup (90 minutes one way) after the kids fall asleep in the car:

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II

Last but not least I have to mention Louisa May Alcott and her mother. This one is actually a children’s biography of Louisa that I read aloud to my kiddos a few years ago…


and then a “bio” of sorts of Louisa and Abigail May, her mother, and their mother-daughter relationship, for adults.


You can read more about the book here! It is a gem! If you want to go deeper, read the compilation of Abigail’s letters and diary entries in this book below, by the same author as above. She is actually a grand niece of Louisa.

I hope you can enjoy all these great books!

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4 Responses to My Favorite Biographies: Picture Books and More!

  1. nerdyemgmailcom says:

    Ooh! So many incredible titles! I don’t know where to start! Maybe with The Crayon Man. Thanks, C.J.!


  2. Pingback: #abookandagameaday, First Half of May 2020- still social distancing | Tree of Life Mothering

  3. Pingback: Picture Books for October 2020 | Tree of Life Mothering

  4. Pingback: Reading Picture Books to Older Children: Why You Want To | Tree of Life Mothering

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