8 Best Biography Picture Books for Upper Elementary

8 Biography Picture Books for Upper Elementary

One of the most exciting times of the school year is when we dive into biographies!

Not only do the kids love biography project time, but so do I! Why? Here are some of the reasons why I just LOVE biography project time:

  • students are engaged and actively reading nonfiction
  • students are applying a wide range of reading strategies as they read this form of nonfiction
  • students learn from one another as they are reading about different people
  • biography reports and projects ties together reading and writing in an authentic way

Sounds great, right? It is true! SO much goodness comes from completing biography projects. On top of all of that, students work independently on the project and feel a huge sense of accomplishment and pride when they are done.

But before all of this goodness can happen, we start small. We kick off our biography unit and project by reading high-quality picture books that truly illustrate the elements that are found in biographies, like these. 

This list of 8 picture books includes titles that are must adds to your upper elementary classroom. And bonus, grab the FREE organizer and activity to use with any of these books to help you kick off biographies in your classroom!

Shark Lady written by Jess Keating

8 Biography Picture Books for Upper Elementary

The only thing more engaging than reading about sharks is reading about the woman who just swam with the sharks. This biography tells the story of Eugenie Clark. I love this picture book biography because it begins the story of Eugenie's life with her as a young girl. The reader goes on a journey learning about her life and her actions to make her dream of becoming a marine biologist a reality. I especially love the book's last pages that include informational paragraphs about sharks, the timeline of Eugenie Clark's life, and the author's note. 

Dinosaur Lady written by Linda Skeers

8 Biography Picture Books for Upper Elementary

One of the reasons why this book makes my list of top biography picture books is because there are so many examples that help students discover the character traits of Mary Anning, like being determined, brave, and curious. This biography book is a great choice to read during a biography unit and a character trait unit. This exciting story will shock some of your students as they learn that Mary Anning discovered dinosaur fossils and bones before the word dinosaur was even invented! With all the goodies at the end of this book, too, your students will love to read and reread this book. The last pages include informational paragraphs about fossils, Mary Anning's life timeline, and the author's note. This highly engaging story is a must-read in your class.

WHOOSH! written by Chris Barton

8 Biography Picture Books for Upper Elementary

This story of Lonnie Johnson and his super soaking invention was recently recommended to me, and I instantly fell in love with it! This book begins with Lonnie Johnson as a young child who enjoys making things work and being challenged. Students will easily relate to Lonnie and his failures with some of his inventions. The reader follows Lonnie through his young adult life, his adult life, and all of his ups and downs. This book is filled with amazing illustrations and diagrams that kids love to check out. The author’s note at the end will certainly encourage students to dream big and come up with the next best invention.

Breaking the Ice written by Angie Bullaro

8 Biography Picture Books for Upper Elementary

You don't have to be a hockey lover or even a sports fanatic to love the story of Manon Rheaume, the first woman to play in the National Hockey League. This picture book is the perfect match for upper elementary students. It is filled with important dates, figurative language, dialogue, and excellent word choice. Manon's story Remind students that working hard and failure go hand in hand with trying to achieve your goal. As with the other picture books included in this list, the afterword, real photographs, and timeline at the end of the book truly bring to life for the students that this story is a true story.

King of Ragtime written by Stephen Costanza

8 Biography Picture Books for Upper Elementary

The King of Ragtime tells the story of the talented Scott Joplin. This biography is another perfect read-aloud for upper elementary students. The author gives great detail about all elements of Scott's life beginning in his childhood, while the illustrator supports the vivid story with beautiful pictures on each page. With rich vocabulary, onomatopoeia, and an easy-to-follow sequential telling of Scott's life, Students will be engaged and learn how important it is to follow their dreams. I especially love that this book allows you to bring music into your classroom, which is sure to catch the attention of your musically talented students.

Helen's Big World written by Doreen Rapport

Helen Keller read aloud for kids

Helen's Big World not only makes my list of top biographies to read with your class, but it also holds a spot on my Women's History Month Picture Book List, too. That is because I always look forward to reading this book year after year. I may be a little biased because I have driven by her beautiful home in Connecticut on my way to teach each morning for many years. See her Connecticut home here. Her story is one of pure inspiration for both students and adults alike. The author of this book does a fantastic job of bringing the story of Helen Keller to life through rich text and beautiful illustrations. I especially love the powerful quotes throughout the book, the focus on both the struggles and accomplishments of Helen Keller's life and the sign language chart included in the book. Definitely a must-read!

Looking for a kid-friendly article about Helen Keller's life? Try this one.

Martin's Big Words written by Doreen Rapport

Martin Luther King Jr read aloud for kids

This biography is part of Doreen Rappaport's biography series. All of the books in this series are just right for upper elementary students, include powerful quotes and illustrations, and get students critically thinking about the focus person of the book. This one, about Martin Luther King, Jr, is no exception. While many students may have heard a story or two about Dr. King, the powerful quotes woven throughout the book will leave students with a lasting impression about the accomplishments, struggles, and determination of Martin Luther King, Jr. No matter what other book you have read about Dr. King, read this one during your biography unit. 

KIDSTORY: Anthology of 50 Children and Young People Who Shook Up the World written by Tom Adams

biography anthology read aloud for kids

I love having anthologies in the classroom, like this biography anthology. They are perfect for when you do not have a lot of time to read aloud to your students. This one tells the story of 50 exceptional children and young people who left their mark on the world. I especially love this book because the contents page categorizes the biographies by topic, with ten amazing children for each subject. For example, one topic is “Create and Dream.” This category has ten mini-biographies about children like Louis Braille and Shirley Temple. Each biography in the book is only two pages long, making it the perfect quick read for each day of your biography unit. From Emma Watson to Pocahontas, this anthology has a wide range of children and young adults to read and learn about each time you pick it up. With a beautiful mix of photographs, illustrations, and quotes, your students will enjoy reading as they put their nonfiction reading skills to the test. This book is one that you will love to visit each day and that your students will love to borrow again and again.

While there are so many biography picture books that you can share with students, these make my list because of their unique stories. These are books that your students probably have not heard...yet! Add them to your own stack of read-aloud books and watch student engagement soar as you read each of these powerful biography stories.

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8 Biography Picture Books for Upper Elementary

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