Biographies and Common Core

Picture book biographies are fantastic examples of Narrative Nonfiction emphasized in Common Core.  Publishers have given us outstanding books in this genre for the past several years.  They have branched out from the traditional subjects to bring us incredible people children and many adults have never heard of.  Check them out.  You won’t be disappointed!

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Annie and Helen.  Deborah Hopkinson.  Schwartz & Wade, 2012.
This beautifully written biography focuses on Annie Sullivan’s amazing journey as Helen Keller’s teacher, beginning when Helen was age 7.  It includes excerpts of letters Annie wrote to her former teacher describing her frustrations and belief in Helen’s intelligence.
A captivating true story that will leave kids wanting to find out more about this dynamic duo.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 2nd-5th grade

The Amazing Harry Kellar:  Great American Magician.  Gail Jarrow.  Calkins Creek, 2012.
Everyone has heard of Houdini, but many are unaware of America’s great magician, Harry Kellar, Houdini’s mentor.  He achieved international acclaim.  The science behind some of his illusions is explained.  Entertaining and informative.  Long picture book.
Read-aloud 5th-8th grade

Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World.  Tracey Fern.  Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012.
Naming him after P.T. Barnum, Brown’s parents hoped that he would do something extraordinary.  As a toddler, he followed behind his father’s plow and picked up fossils.  His passion led him to become the paleontologist who first discovered a T. Rex skeleton.  His skills also enabled him to be a spy in both world wars, gathering geographic and geological information fro the U.S.  This lively and fascinatingly told story gets my vote as the best picture book biography of 2012.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade

Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse.  Marjorie Blain Parker.  Dial, 2012.
The clever contrast of black and white drawings through the parts of Henri’s life that he struggled with and didn’t enjoy with the vivid colors of his dreams and his artwork as it evolved make this picture book biography of the renowned artist a good starting place to learn about his accomplishments as an artist.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 2nd-5th grade

Helen’s Big World : The Life of Helen Keller.  Doreen Rappaport.  Hyperion, 2012.
Beautifully designed, visually appealing this gem focuses on Keller’s extraordinary education provided by Annie Sullivan.  What sets this book apart is the way it incorporates quotes from Keller’s own writing.  Supports Common Core narrative informational text.  Picture Book
Read-aloud 2nd-4th grade


Mama Miti : Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya.  Donna Jo Napoli.  Simon & Schuster, 2010.
This is the inspirational story of Kenya’s Wangari Matthai and how she taught the women of Kenya to plant native trees.  This helped to solve problems including hunger and clean water.  She Received the Nobel PeacePrize.  Supports Common Core narrative informational text.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade


Noah Webster & His Words.  Jeri Chase Ferris.  Houghton Mifflin, 2012.
Noah Webster had many accomplishments.  He standardized spellings and usage of American words in our first schoolbooks, but it wasn’t until age 70 that he published
his American Dictionary of the English Language.  What most people don’t know is that he played a significant role as a founding father.  Much of the story is told in “dictionary” format with the right touch of humor.  Supports Common Core narrative informational text.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 3rd-6th grade

The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto.  Elizabeth Rysch.  Rising Moon, 2007.
This picture book biography reads like a story as it entertainingly tells of Michael E. Brown’s interest in outer space from the time he was a young child through his research which led him to redefine “planet.”  Fact boxes help to show the scientific process.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 2nd-5th grade



A Splash of Red : The Life and Art of Horace Pippen.  Jen Bryant.  Knopf, 2013.
Horace loved to draw and was very skilled at a young age.  He even drew sketches in the trenches during WWI.  Unfortunately, he was wounded and came home unable to lift his right arm.  Years went by before he tried creating art again, this time by holding his right hand with his left.  Today his work can be seen in many art museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  Picture Book.
Read-aloud 1st-5th grade
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