There is something special about a picture book biography. I love many types of picture books, but the biography books in particular are often high-quality stories about a person’s life. We learn things about diverse people that we didn’t know (or perhaps more about someone we only knew a bit about), yet the text is at an accessible level for intermediate students.
Yes, some of them have more dense amounts of text, which is something to consider if selecting them for younger elementary students, but the information provided in them is valuable, informative and engaging.
It is through picture book biographies that I have learned to code, become an artist, been an athlete, advocated for causes, created new buildings, dived into the depths of the ocean and soared to the heights of the solar system. It is through picture book biographies that students can do the same and see in their potential a life that they may never have imagined, or a life that validates their hopes and dreams.
Picture book biographies are highly researched pieces of literature that allow for students to learn about someone’s life in a visually paired format that can add to their understanding more than a biography of only prose.
One thing I appreciate seeing is a picture book biography about an artist in which the illustrations or art style itself is an homage to the style of that artist. It adds an additional piece of visual literacy and art appreciation that can be combined with our #ClassroomBookADay goals to deepen our students’ learning.
Another element that is especially well done in most biography picture books is the opportunity to use the prose in the story part of the book as a paired text with the additional information provided in the back matter. Often the text of the book will be in a narrative format and the text in the back matter will be in an informational format, providing a chance to compare those two genres. Biography picture books can provide depth beyond the learn about people and read aloud value.
Some of the strongest teaching moments come when we are allowed to start lessons from a place of joyful engagement with a picture book used for a #classroombookaday read-aloud, and then use that text students have had a shared experience around to dive deeper into some of the skills we want to help them develop.
And even better, we get a chance with these biographies to help kids broaden their views of the world and the kinds of small and large impacts individual people can have in it, especially when they follow their passion and heart.
Jillian Heise is a Grade K-5 Library Media Teacher in southeastern Wisconsin. She previously taught Grades 7-8 ELA in the Milwaukee area for 11 years and is board certified. Jillian is a passionate advocate for student choice in reading and the power of shared stories through #ClassroomBookADay picture book read-alouds. She brings her literacy expertise and knowledge of books to her role as Chair of the WSRA Children’s Literature Committee. You can find Jillian talking books and education at Heise Reads & Recommends and on Twitter at @heisereads.
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