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Sometime between childhood and adulthood I forgot how to dream for my life. In between was the reality “You can do whatever you want to do” from my mother and the reality “You will never earn money if you get a degree in art” – also from my mother. As a good kid, I believed everything people would say about my potential. When I expressed an interest in writing or journalism, they ridiculed me that it was “too difficult” for me; If it was acting or dancing it was “too competitive”. Obviously, it was confusing and got me into a teenage identity crisis. Who could I be if I couldn’t be who I was?
Now, as an adult and a mother, I realize that we have to follow our curiosity in order to live our truth. We have to accept our curiosity. We need to be able to explore. To do something wrong. To find out how we individually interpret the world around us. That will help us make the world a better place.
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Fortunately, millions of amazing people paved the way for us who refused to internalize the negative messages about their dreams. People so excited about what they were doing that nothing mattered but this one thing. Who knew that what their heart said was the way without anyone expecting anything from them.
Here are the stories of 20 people who went their own way and not only changed their lives but also ours. 20 stories of people who curiously followed them, followed their love and paved the way for a better society for us. These 20 biography books for kids can help your kids dream big.
20 of the best biography books for kids
The story of Harriet Tubman by Christine Platt
Before becoming known for her struggle to free people from enslavement, she was a little girl who was saddened that her family was separated. Tubman will be a key figure in most children’s history lessons – so this book also gives a life schedule with age-appropriate discussion questions. And if that’s what you love, the series also includes biographies of Barack Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Benjamin Franklin, and more.
Six Points: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant and Boris Kulikov
This picture-book biography tells the story of how Louis Braille lost his sight and invented an alphabet. The young Braille wanted nothing more than to be able to read after an accident, as a result of which he lost his eyesight. His invention gave blind children around the world a new way to navigate a world that was not made for them. Not only is this book inspiring, it shows children that anyone can do good things.
Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne and Éric Puybaret
Once upon a time there was a boy named Jacques. He loved exploring the oceans. This quirky and poetic biography by Jacques Cousteau will inspire children to follow their exploratory nature and help them realize that every person who has made history started out with curiosity as a child.
Elizabeth Goes First: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Suffrage of Tanya Lee Stone and Rebecca Gibbon
From a young age, Elizabeth understood that things were not the same in her life. How could only a few people have the right to vote? Votes are the foundation of our democracy. So she went to college, gathered like-minded friends, and made her statements. It didn’t stop until women in the United States were given the right to vote. She was a girl who saw a problem and grew up trying to find the solution.
Scroll: My life story of Sonya Sotomayor and Lulu Delacre
Sonya Sotomayor, the first Latina on the Supreme Court, recalls her life and the steps that took her there. For them it was books. Books helped her cope with difficulties in her life, reconnect with her roots, and show her that her future was full of opportunity. In her autobiography, Sotomayor encourages children everywhere to read, dream and puzzle for themselves.
Malala’s magic pen by Malala Yousafzai and Kera Ascoet
As a girl, Malala wanted a magic pen. A tool she could use to make everyone happy. To make the world a little brighter around them. As she got older, she realized that even if she didn’t have a magic pen, she could work hard to make the world a better place. Told in a way that is appropriate for children, we learn about the struggles Malala faced to pursue her dreams and how, even then, she clung to hope for a better future for herself and her friends.
Pablo Neruda: Poets of the People by Monica Brown and Julie Paschkis
Sometimes people create with color, but for a little boy in a city in Chile, the words were better. Pablo wrote poems about all the things he loved. Things he found in nature, things his friends made, and the things he found in the market. He wrote about the people of Chile, their struggles and passions. It all started with a little boy who loved to paint with words.
Drum Dream Girl: How a Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle and Rafael López
Millo Castro Zaldarriaga dreamed of drumming. However, girls were not allowed to drum on their little island. She dreamed of hammering large congas and tapping small bongos. One day she decided to follow her dream – what happened next, when her bright music was heard, was magic: people dance and sing and decide that boys and girls can make music. Millo’s story shows that both boys and girls can drum and dream freely. She is an inspiration to children everywhere.
The story of the Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and George Ford
Ruby was just a normal 6 year old until she was selected as the first black person to enroll in an all-white elementary school. A lot of people didn’t like this idea and said some mean and threatening things. Ruby did as she was told and went to school anyway. How does a little girl change the world? By being courageous in the face of racism and injustice.
A voice named Aretha from Katheryn Russel-Brown and Laura Freeman
How did a calm and shy Detroit girl become the Queen of Soul and the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? She stayed true to herself and her ideals by refusing to play for separate audiences and never forgetting her roots. She stood up for what was right. Aretha Franklin has proven that you can do anything with passion, perseverance and respect.
The Stars Count: The story of Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician from Lesa Cline-Ransome and Raúl Colón
When NASA introduced mathematicians called “human computers”, one woman stood out among them all. Katherine Johnson was instrumental in bringing John Glen around the world, helping men walk the moon, and getting Apollo 13 home safely. This book is for girls who love numbers – who don’t let problems get in the way of work.
Vincent Can’t Sleep by Barb Rosenstock and Mary Grandpre
Vincent Can’t Sleep is the story of how one of the most popular and creative artists found his inspiration. When Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t sleep, he went for a walk at night and was inspired by his famous painting Starry Night. With loving poetic writing, it tells the children to follow their passions even if they don’t see the return in their lives. (Maybe wait until you go outside alone at night until they grow up.)
Magic Ramen by Andrea Wang and Kana Urbanowicz
“Peace follows a full stomach,” thought Momofuko Ando as he worked in his laboratory to find a quick, easy, and tasty way to make ramen soup. He wanted to help those in the long daily lines for soup after World War II. This is the story of a man, his dedication to his cause and the world’s favorite “simple soup”.
Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renée Watson and Christian Robinson
Florence was a little girl who loved to sing. She also loved her parents, who used to be enslaved. When her beautiful singing and dancing inspired patrons and playwrights alike, she knew she wouldn’t be happy without facing the injustice she saw daily.
I disagree: Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes her mark of Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley
“Disagreeing doesn’t make you uncomfortable,” the young Ruth Bader Ginsberg had to learn. This book is the first picture book in Ginsberg’s life. Children can see a girl stand up for what she believed in and become the most popular judge on the Supreme Court.
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Secrets of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
“The earth and every living being are made up of stars.” – Carl Sagan. As a boy, Carl Sagan loved learning about the stars. Carl opened the universe on his trip to the 1939 World’s Fair. A boy captured by the wonder of the cosmos became a man who launched satellites and taught the world the stars.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls
Sometimes being told that there is nothing you can do gives you the incentive to do more, especially when EVERYONE thinks you can’t. Emmanuel Ofosu Yepoah only had one leg – and this is the real story of how he cycled all over the country of Ghana (almost 400 miles!) And changed the way many people in his country thought about people with disabilities.
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story of Audrey Vernick and Don Tate
Effa Manley loved baseball. She loved going to Yankee Stadium and watching Babe Ruth swing at the fences. Soon she became her own heroine by becoming the manager and owner of the Newark Eagles. Effa was the first (and only) woman to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for her work with the Eagles. From a girl who grew up in Philly to a Hall of Famer, Manley shows us how to swing for the fences.
Jimi sounds like a rainbow: A story of the young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio and Javaka Steptoe
Can someone paint pictures with sound? Jimi was a normal kid who loved to paint and listen to music. This is the story of a child who interpreted the world in their own way and, over time, learned to weave music and images to become one of the most influential people in the world.
Eldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read from Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora
Mary Walker was born into slavery. She had her first child at the age of 20, lived through a civil war and two world wars, and worked many, many jobs. After all, Mary Walker learned to read at the young age of 116, proving that it is never too late to follow your dreams and also realize how incredible life can be.
After reading this list, do you want more? Check out historical fiction classics for kids and these picture-book biographies of black leaders and creatives.