Biographies for 3rd and 4th Graders

I highly recommend these picture book biographies to liven up both curriculum areas and read-aloud time.

“Picture-book biographies are especially suited for building schema for understanding biography, as mentor text for writing biography, and for increasing liveliness during social studies and science instruction.  Listening to biographies read aloud introduces children to times, places, and heroes.” Terrell A. Young and Darcy H. Bradley, Book Links, March 2011.

All Star!  Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever.  Jane Yolen.  Philomel, 2010.Master storyteller, Jane Yolen has hit a home run with this picture book biography.
Great illustrations and large size make it perfect for sharing with a class or group.  Pair this with Dan Gutman’s “Honus and Me” for an in depth time-travel look at the 1909 World Series.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade

Basketball Belles : How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women’s Hoops on the Map.  Sue Macy.  Holiday House, 2011.
A very engaging book in terms of both text and illustrations.  In 1896, the first women’s intercollegiate basketball game was played between Stanford and Berkley.  Told from the point of view of Agnes Morley, a Stanford student who was raised on a farm in New Mexico.  Her mother hoped that going to college would make her more lady-like.  Excellent backmatter includes a photo of her team, timeline and resources.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade

Boys of Steel:  The Creators of Superman.  Marc Tyler Nobleman.  Knopf, 2008.
Two shy and nerdy Cleveland high school boys created the world’s first superhero in 1934.  One was a gifted writer, the other a gifted illustrator.  Perseverance pays off!
Picture Book.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade

The Brothers Kennedy : John, Robert, Edward.  Kathleen Krull.  Simon & Schuster, 2010.
A celebration of the contributions the three brothers made to American society.  It flows nicely through their childhoods and into their political careers and focuses on their dedication to the principles of hope, compassion, justice and loyalty.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade

Harvesting Hope : The Story of Cesar Chavez.  Kathleen Krull. Harcourt, 2003.
At age 10, Cesar’s family had to move from their drought plagued Arizona ranch, to find work in California.  After many years of working in very poor conditions, he organized a 300 mile protest march resulting in the first farmworkers contract.  Poetically told.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade

Django : World’s Greatest Jazz Guitarist.  Bonnie Christensen.  Roaring Brook Press, 2009.
The very inspiring story of Django Reinhardt, a gypsy boy born in Belgium in 1910.  Living in extreme poverty, he learned violin from his father and then mastered the guitar, playing on street corners in Paris.  He became very well known when tragedy struck and he was badly burned.  He overcame his disability and created a new technique for playing jazz.  A beautiful, lyrical picture book.
Read-aloud 2nd-5th grade

Mama Miti : Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya.  Donna Jo Napoli.  Simon & Shuster, 2010.
This is the third and perhaps most visually beautiful picture book about the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient who transformed her country by getting women to plant millions of trees.  Truly inspiring.  Combine this with “Planting the Trees of Kenya,” and “Wangari’s Trees of Peace” for inspiration on many levels.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 2nd-6th grade

Night Flight : Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic.  Robert Burleigh.  Simon & Schuster, 2011.
A poetic and suspenseful account of the aviatrix’s 1932 solo flight from Newfoundland to Ireland.  The courage and danger are palpable.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 2nd-5th grade

Odd Boy Out : Young Albert Einstein. Don Brown.  Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
A good introduction to the childhood, his “oddness,” disinterest in school, except for math and music.  There are many ways to learn, especially when exploring subjects one is passionate about.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud  3rd-6th grade

Our Children Can Soar:  A Celebration of Rosa, Barack and the Pioneers of Change.  Michelle Cook.  Bloomsbury, 2009.
Brief text introduces 13 African Americans who were “pioneers of Change.”
Each double page spread is illustrated by a different artist.  Back matter includes a paragraph about each individual and each illustrator.  Perfect introduction to biography or Black History Month.  Students should be inspired to find out more about these influential Americans.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade

A Picture Book of Cesar Chavez.  David Adler.  Holiday House, 2010.
A chronological biography of the courageous labor leader and civil rights activist told in a very kid friendly manner.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum. Meghan McCarthy.  Simon & Schuster, 2010.
A great read-aloud picture book biography about Walter Diemer, the inventor of bubble gum.  Obviously a high interest topic, but it shows perseverance and the joy of success. Back matter includes more interesting info on the man and gum.
Read-aloud 2nd-5th Grade

Soar, Elinor! Tami Lewis Brown.  Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010.
She began taking flying lessons at age ten and in 1927 Elinor Smith became the youngest licensed pilot in the country.  A year later at the age of seventeen she flew (illegally) beneath four of New York City’s East River bridges.  Exciting!  Pair this with Don Brown’s, “Ruth Law Thrills a Nation.”  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade

Stand Straight, Ella Kate : The True Story of a Real Giant.  Kate Klise.  Dial, 2010.
Ella Kate Ewing was born in 1873 in Rainbow Missouri.  At age 7 she began growing at a very rapid rate.  By age 13 she was 6 feet tall.  She reached her final height of 8 feet, four inches at age 22.  She had, what at that time, was an unnamed condition now known as giantism.  She traveled the world and made a life of fame and fortune for herself by being a star attraction in many traveling shows.  Fascinating picture book.
Read-aloud 1st-5th grade

Summer Birds : The Butterflies of Maria Merian.  Margarita Engle.  Holt, 2010.
In the 1600’s, insects were considered evil creatures that came from mud.  Thirteen year old Maria loved butterflies and observed, chronicled and painted their life cycle. Copies of her prints are now in museums around the world.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 1st-4th grade

Tillie the Terrible Swede:  How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History. Sue Stauffacher.  Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
Swedish immigrant, Tillie Anderson, defied convention in the 1890’s, followed her dream and became a bicycle racing champion.   An engaging and inspiring read.  We have come a long way, ladies!  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 3rd-5th grade

A Wizard from the Start : The Incredible Boyhood and Amazing Inventions of Thomas Edison.  Don Brown.  Houghton Mifflin, 2010.
This picture book biography zeros in on Edison’s life from age 8 – 20, making this very accessible to kids.  Though he acquired 1093 patents in his life, it was all play to him.  The book ends with his light bulb invention and will inspire kids to follow their own interest and passions.
Read-aloud 2nd-5th grade

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