Biographical Books to Inspire Young Minds

Memoir-loving adults will be happy to know that there are books for children, too, which celebrate the lives and contributions of real-life leaders, artists, and innovators. Most go well beyond a straightforward biography in the kid-equivalent of historical fiction. Here are seven titles about or inspired by people who really exist(ed) for little readers to discover—from the budding artist to the aspiring astronaut.

FOR THE ARTIST

Cloth Lullaby by By Amy Novesky, art by Isabelle Arsenault
Louise Bourgeois is not an obvious choice for the subject of a children’s book. But her life is told beautifully here, tracing the sculptor’s entry into the arts through her mother, a seamstress and weaver. Cloth Lullaby examines Bourgeois’ childhood, her relationship with her mother, and the evolution that led to her famous sculptures (her prominent larger-than-life spider, included).

FOR THE CHEF

Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear, art by Julie Morstad
A tale about food, childhood, and friendship, this fictional narrative takes inspiration from iconic chef Julia Child—including a “recipe for staying young” and the real-life friendship between Child and French chef Simone Beck (named Simca in the book). The advice to not abandon the joys of young life—and to not be sparing with butter—should be applied to the real world, too.

FOR THE POET

Love to Langston by Tony Medina, art by R. Gregory Christie
Poet Langston Hughes was a notable part of the Harlem Renaissance in 1920s New York. Almost 50 years after his death, this collection of poems introduces young readers to his work and life, starting with early stories of his family history, which are told to readers the way they were presented to Hughes as a child.

FOR THE WRITER

King of the Birds by Acree Graham Macam, art by Natalie Nelson
When American writer Flannery O’Connor was a young girl, she trained a chicken to walk backwards—and, later on, began collecting peacocks (at one point she had 40 of them!). King of the Birds, which takes its name from one of O’Connor’s essays, follows a girl in a standoff with a peacock that refuses to show its tail. What transpires is a sweet and quirky tale that will charm old and new fans of the Southern Gothic writer.

FOR THE SCIENTIST

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, art by David Roberts
As the title suggests, this book is inspired by notable women in the fields of science and technology, Ada Lovelace included. The title character is a young girl with a penchant for asking questions: Why are things the way they are? How do they work? Young Ada takes on experiments and investigations to find answers to her many queries. While she’s not always successful, the story is less about figuring things out than following the desire to learn.

FOR THE ASTRONAUT
The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield, art by Terry Fan and Eric Fan
Not so long ago, world-renowned astronaut Chris Hadfield was living in space for five months. He has written books for adults and spent years giving talks to children, and so The Darkest Dark combines those experiences, culminating in Hadfield’s first-ever book for kids. Based on his childhood, the story follows a boy named Chris who is destined to be an astronaut, but is afraid of the dark.

FOR THE ACTIVIST
I Am Martin Luther King Jr. by Brad Meltzer, art by Christopher Eliopoulos
Even as a young boy, Martin Luther King Jr. had reasons to dream of a better and more just world. I Am Martin Luther King, the newest book in a series of biographies for children (which includes Helen Keller, Jackie Robinson, Albert Einstein and others), condenses King’s life into a volume just right for a child’s comprehension. An important look at history and an inspiration for young change-makers.