Notes from a Librarian: Picture Book Biographies

I love picture book biographies. They are a great way to get a short, interesting introduction to someone’s life, without having to wade through nitty gritty details found in longer biographies. I will often check out one or two, bring them home, and without saying anything, leave them lying around the house. They are so inviting that it is hard to resist picking one up and reading it. Over the next few days just about everyone in the house reads through them. Then we have something interesting to talk about over the dinner table. Here are some of my favorite picture book biographies.

A Boy Called Slow by Joseph Bruchac , illustrated by Rocco Baviera
This is a story about the childhood of Sitting Bull. Children of the Lakota people were not named at birth. They were given a name based on something they did or some characteristic they had. Sitting Bull was first called, “Slow” because he tended to be a thinker, rather than an athlete. This story tells how he earned his adult name and came to lead his nation. Joseph Bruchac is a wonderful Native American author who has written many fiction and nonfiction books with Native American themes.

Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott, by Yena Zeldis McDonough, illustrated by Bethanne Anderson
Louisa May Alcott led a life just as interesting as any of her books. Indeed, Little Women was largely based on her childhood experiences. As she grew older her family was part of the Existentialist community that included Emerson and Thoreau, and she would often baby sit Emerson’s children. This biography is richly illustrated by a local BYU professor/illustrator. This is a book that will be published this month, but I was lucky enough to see an advance copy of it.
Josephine’s Dream, by Joan Betty Struchner, illustrated by Chantelle Walther
Josephine Baker was an African American singer who became famous in Europe during the 1920’s. After her success in show business, she used her wealth to adopt and raise 12 children from many countries. This is also illustrated by a local artist. Chantelle is a children’s librarian at the Provo City Library.

Muhammad by Demi
I am a huge Demi fan. I love the richness and detail of her very stylized illustrations. Almost all her books have an Asian or Mid-Eastern theme. In this book she gives a basic introduction to both Muhammad’s life and the founding of Islam. She also respects the Moslem belief that there should be no likeness ever made of Muhammad by representing Muhammad as a gold silhouette in each illustration.

Handel, Who Knew What He Liked by M.T. Anderson and Kevin Hawkes
This book tells about the life of the famous composer with some measure of humor, focusing on his independent streak. For example, when Handel was a boy his parents didn’t want him studying music, so he and his brother sneaked a clavichord into the attic so he could go up at night to practice. The book ends with the story of the writing of The Messiah.

Donna Cardon is a children's librarian at Provo City Library and a well known children's book critic. We'd like to thank her for allowing us to republish her articles for our readers. She's just started a blog of all the children's books she is reading. You can visit her blog HERE