Picture Book Biographies of Literary Giants

One of my favorite books when I was younger was Little Women. I still have my beloved copy for my daughters to be able to read. J has read an abridged version, but hasn’t yet delved into the meaty version of the classic yet. So finding a beautiful biography of Louisa May Alcott was like reading about an old friend.

louisaYona Zeldis McDonough’s wonderful book, Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott, is a joy. Louisa’s early life is reminiscent of Little Women, which is not surprising since she based that book on her own experiences. Louisa became who she was due to her parents’ unusual, at the time, beliefs, which are explained fabulously. She had a challenging upbringing and knew that she would find a way to contribute.

I loved reading about how her writing came about and her sheer determination. Her family and experiences shaped who she was and the work that she created. The back of the book also has some great quotes from Louisa May Alcott and samples of her poetry.

Most adults and children have fond memories of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I know that I still remember being allowed to stay up late to watch the film when it was aired once a year when I was a child. The story, written by L. Frank Baum in 1900, has stood the test of time the way very few stories can. His book, and the movie that followed, charm audiences of all ages, boys and girls.

road to ozKathleen Krull’s biography of the man, The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum, is a marvelous journey through his life and the many, many failures that finally led to his success as a writer.

Frank grew up well-off in an Emerald City-like homes, constantly daydreaming and making up stories. But when he tried to actually make something of himself, he failed over and over. Where he did succeed was with his family. Baum loved being a father and helped create a very happy home. He also entertained his children and their friends with his own stories, paying attention to what they liked and what they didn’t like.  As we all know, he finally decided to write those stories down and after seven years of rejection letters, wrote a story that got published.

The book is a great reminder to young minds that they should never give up and that they should believe in their dreams. Baum’s ability to notice what people liked and didn’t in his stories is also what made them so loved and timeless, another great thing for budding authors to pay attention to.

lost boyA final classic story that has withstood the test of time is Peter Pan. My family got even more into this classic tale in the past year or so after J was cast as Tinkerbell in a production and we saw both the musical Finding Neverland and the National Theater’s thought-provoking version of Peter Pan. Jane Yolen gives us a more factual version of the life and times of J.M. Barrie in her book Lost Boy: The Story of the Man who Created Peter Pan.

Future authors can learn about the early days of Barrie’s life when his family didn’t have much money, but when his mother was always reading to him and his siblings. Barrie was a creative spirit who put on plays with his friends and loved adventures. When he first experienced real theater, he was hooked.

As with other writers, J.M. Barrie had to be patient and determined. He started having success with some stories and plays in London, but inside he was still a kid at heart. When he met the Llewelyn Davies boys in Kensington Garden, it would forever change his life.

The special touches in this book are quotes from Peter Pan on each page. The quotes themselves were very true to J.M. Barrie’s personal life.

These are wonderful options for learning about classic authors that children will recognize. It is great to see how each of them came about being writers and how determined all of them had to be. Another prime example of why non-fiction picture books are so important.


Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy (I haven’t been doing so well lately).   Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!


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