Biographies, memoirs, and diaries offer inspiring stories that introduce children and teens to amazing people. Many offer life lessons that reach them in unique and empowering ways. As you’ll see in this collection, not all biographies are about people.
Our recommendation is to pair the books with blank journals or notebooks so that the recipient can begin to write their own story, save inspirational quotes, etc.
Note: This list is a bit shorter, as we included two biographies in this morning’s post with illustrated nonfiction ideas: Up and Away! by Jason Henry (picture book) and The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix (graphic novel, YA)
Like a Girl by Lori Degman
| picture book, ages 4 and Up |
Meet 24 girls who, because of their passion and/or action changed the world’s perceptions of what it means to be a girl. Each page begins with words of action – starting each page: stand up, prevail, create, soar, train, change – and pairs that concept with women who exemplify the concept.
Not only are the women from around the world, they represent diverse abilities and areas of achievement. Some historical figures – like Ruby Bridges, Malala Yousafzai, Amelia Earhart, and Simone Biles – will be instantly recognized. The majority, however, will be new-to-the-reader introductions (e.g., Gertrude Ederle, Jane Addams, Tammy Duckworth).
Powerful, descriptive rhyme turns the traditional interpretation of “like a girl” onto its uplifting edge! Through these trailblazers, the author encourages girls to ask questions and be curious. One of those rare picture books that are perfect for any age!
A Giraffe Goes to Paris by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris
| picture book, ages 8 to 12 |
In 1826, Muhammad Ali, the pasha of Egypt, has a special present for the King of France: a giraffe. Her name is Belle and it is Atir’s job to get her there.
Their journey begins on an Italian ship and continues 500 miles on foot from Marseilles to Paris. Atir tells us about the journey and their life in Paris.
This first-person story introduces a piece of history kids aren’t likely to have heard about. Plenty of white space and a great balance of text and illustration make this a wonderful choice for developing readers, too. Even before she knew this was a true story, my daughter (8) liked this book. When she found out it was part of history, she found it even more impressive.
Stories for Boys Who Dare to Be Different: True Tales of Boys Who Changed the World without Killing Dragons by Ben Brooks
|illustrated chapter, ages 9 and Up |
From Patch Adams to Benjamin Zephaniah, meet the men who have made or are making contributions in all walks of life, all around the globe.
Some are trailblazers in a particular subject or social issue; some have overcome emotional or physical challenges; and yet others who used their curiosity, natural skills, or passion for others to change the way we think or go about our day.
Comics-like illustrations will pull readers in to read stories of men/boys they have never heard of. Kids who like short stories will not only flip over these 1-page biographies, but love the fact that they don’t have to start on page 1!! Expect your reader to pick this book up often.
brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
|ages 10 and Up |
brown girl dreaming is a memoir told in verse poetry. The author crafts her journey growing up as an African-American girl in the 1960s and 1970s. Woodson spent most of her childhood in the South and later moved to Brooklyn, and her words illustrate two very contrasting places. Woodson describes her experiences growing up and finding her way in the world, from encountering segregation to discovering her life’s passion.
There is a central idea of the importance of family, with most poems surrounding this concept. Woodson’s family is very important to her and you can see the beautiful bond they have in the novel. As she grew older, Woodson started developing a love for words and writing.
Teen Reader (13): This book is very meaningful and delightful. It was intriguing to get a new point of view on how the events of the fight for equality affected Woodson because history isn’t usually written from a child’s perspective. I found it extremely inspirational to read about the sacrifices her grandparents made to provide a better life for their grandchildren.
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