Non-fiction picture books and biographies are one of my favorite ways to inspire young readers and expose them to experiences of different individuals who have left their mark! In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve pulled together 12 of my favorite non-fiction read alouds that are perfect for primary learners to discover new influential women.
Mary Blair, one of the first women hired at Disney, had a passion for playing with color and using it to bring change to the screen. Her ideas were often questioned by her male counterparts who aimed for black and white art. But it caught the attention of Walt himself which landed her the opportunity to design the iconic, It’s a Small World. This colorful and vivid picture book biography will make any Walt Disney or art fan over the moon ecstatic with its fun illustrations. I also think it’s a great text for showing kiddos career paths in the arts.
When collecting shells, Mary Anning stumbles upon… BONES and over time recovers the first complete dinosaur skeleton. Because she was female, Anning was unable to attend classes but continued to dig, uncover and learn about each of her discoveries on her own. By doing so, she helped pave the way for the future of paleontology. If you’ve got a dinosaur lover, this is a must have for your dinosaur collection.
The World is Not a Rectangle is a DREAMY non-fiction text about Zaha Hadid. Hadid was an innovative architect whose roots inspired her eye for unique building design. This picture book biography follows Hadid from her childhood in Iraq, to college in London to the obstacles she faced during her career path as an Iraqi woman. The closing of the book shares stunning illustrations of Hadid’s famous building designs that are sure to inspire some young minds and get them to think outside of the box.
From the time she was a kid, Eugenie Clark loved and was fascinated by sharks. She made it her mission to learn about them and show the world they’re not as scary as they appear. The text follows her through college, as one of the few females, in her Zoology program as well as her underwater research where she finally encounters… SHARKS! One year, I had a class of kindergarteners who especially loved this one because 1. SHARKS 2. a brave girl shark trainer!
by Michelle Meadows (MacMillan Kids, December 2020)
This book released at the end of 2020 and has become a fast favorite of mine since finding it at the start of 2021. It’s a fresh and powerful story that’s written in such a primary friendly way. Kiddos will love the colorful illustrations and lyrical text about, decorated gymnast, Simone Biles and her life leading up to her Olympic victory. Before she was a star, Biles was adopted by her grandparents and started in gymnastics quickly after! I really love how this book shows little readers (in text & illustrations) that Biles chose to make sacrifices and train hard extra hard to land her spot on the team! It really speaks to Biles work ethic and dedication for chasing her dreams. Not to mention, it’s a powerhouse message to send for little readers about chasing their own dreams.
by Malala Yousafzai (Little Brown, 2017)
A kid friendly and inspiring story written by Malala that shares her dream to make the world a peaceful place. Growing up in Pakistan, Malala wished for a magic pencil so she could make changes to her valley. Soon enough, Malala finds out girls are forbidden to attend school in her country. Rather than using a magic “pencil” Malala finds the magic of her voice and speak up – inspiring MAJOR change! This is a text that will leave you with goosebumps as you rally behind her, her cause and send the reminder YOUR VOICE MATTERS. A must read for kiddos of all ages.
A non-fiction selection that celebrates your differences are what make you unique. Dr. Temple Grandin, who was diagnosed with autism by age 2, struggled to fit in at various schools. But, she felt a strong connection to animals. The Girl Who Thought in Pictures shares her victorious story in which she defied the odds stacked against her (like not speaking till age 4) to becoming a farming visionary who improved farm life for animals all over the world by using her special gift of visual thinking – like thinking in pictures! My former kinders really loved this one and fell in love with Temple, her love of animals, and how much she studied to help them.
by Anika A. Denise (HarperCollins, 2019)
When Pura Belpré’s New York visit turns into a long-term stay, she takes on a job at the NYC public library and discovers there are no Spanish voices on any of the shelves. This picture book bio Planting Stories brings to light and celebrates how Pura Belpré completely transformed her library program with storytelling, puppets and inclusion of bilingual literature. Her hard work and dedication is truly inspiring for young readers and really speaks to phrase “taking matters into your own hands.” Today, we still honor her legacy with the Pura Belpré award celebrating LatinX experience and voices.
by Sarah Suzuki
I’m a huge art lover and Kusama fan. I actually scored this book at her mirrors exhibit in LA! This text is perfect for little learners exploring colors, patterns and have an interest in the arts.
by Isabel Sanchez Vegara (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2018)
Ella Fitzgerald will forever be one of my favorite singers and this book from the Little People, Big Dream series does an amazing job of delivering her story to a younger audience in a very kid friendly way. I’ve read many Ella Fitzgerald children’s books but not all of them expand on her life experiences but this one does! From singing on the streets to her rise to stardom, little learners will get to know the real Ella and discover why she’s coined, The First Lady of Song!
by Jeanette Winter (Penguin, 2011)
Jane Goodall’s love of animals started early on! The Watcher takes the reader on a journey to Africa to watch chimps alongside Jane in this non-fiction picture book that shares her passion and dedication to learning and sharing about chimps. I love that this picture book gives little readers a little taste of research and observation within its illustrations.