Picture Books Bios I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Hark, A Vagrant Comics)
Okay. So now we’re finally getting some interesting picture book biographies on a regular basis. When I was a kid you had your Helen Keller and your Abraham Lincoln and you were GRATEFUL! These days, people are interested in celebrating more than just the same ten people over and over again. Why this year alone I’ve seen some incredibly interesting picture book biographies of comparatively obscure figures. These include . . .
- Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley, ill. Jessie Hartland
- Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson (Ada’s really hot this year)
- Anything But Ordinary: The True Story of Adelaide Herman, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, ill. Iacopo Bruno
- Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff, ill. Hadley Hooper
- Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, ill. Isabelle Arsenault
- Esquivel! Space‐Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood, ill. Duncan Tonatiuh
- Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal, ill. Laura Freeman
- I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, ill. Elizabeth Baddeley
- The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick, ill. Steven Salerno
- Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave‐Explorer by Heather Henson, ill. Bryan Collier
- Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean‐Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
- Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh, ill. Raul Colon
- To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet & Dr. Kathy Sullivan, ill. Nicole Wong
- Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super‐Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, ill. Don Tate
- The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin, ill. Jez Tuya
And those are just the ones I’ve seen!
It’s encouraging. And then I wonder – do people need suggestions for more fun biographies? Because if they do have I got the woman for you!
First off, meet Kate Beaton. You may only know her from her two Scholastic books, last year’s The Princess and the Pony and this year’s King Baby. But Kate has been running an online comic site called Hark, A Vagrant! for years. There are many lovely things about the site, but I’m particularly fond of her brief biographical comics on obscure historical figures. She’s been doing them for years and once in a while I really do see one turned into a picture book (paging Ada Lovelace . . .). So in today’s goofy post I’m going to pull out some of Kate’s work in the hopes that maybe there’s an author or illustrator there who’d like to write a picture book biography about someone awesome and relatively unknown.
By the way, you can follow these links to read these comics in a clearer format, if you like. And I think you can even buy prints of them, if you want.
I legitimately had never heard of her. A badass Asian-American aviatrix heroine? Um… how is she NOT in a picture book bio? Because quite frankly we could use a huge uptick in our Asian-American women bios in general. Particularly if they involve air stunts.
Is it weird that there isn’t a really well-known Henson picture book biography out there? I guess his life wasn’t completely perfect (second family at the North Pole and all) but as African-American explorers go, he’s fantastic. As it happens, this was the first Hark, A Vagrant! comic I ever read. I was a fan for life afterwards.
She helps to discover DNA! She doesn’t get credit for it! This story has everything!
She’s so often just linked to Typhoid Mary, but Ms. Baker did wonders for infant mortality rates and just generally sounds like an amazing woman. And I like how Beaton draws her hair.
I’m pretty sure we’ve had picture book bios on her before, but the only one I can remember was for older kids.
Again, never heard of her. And as Kate put it regarding Nightingale, “She is no longer my favorite Crimean War nurse.” This is timely too since as of three days ago there was a report in The Guardian over the huge furor over a statue honoring Seacole’s achievements. Read it, when you get a chance. Then write a bio of Seacole.
Maybe not so obscure thanks to his biopic, but sure as shooting lacking in some significant pic bios.
Of course when all is said and done, Kate should really just make her own picture book biographies. Or, do a book for older readers of Biographies You Should REALLY Know and Don’t.
Oh, it would work.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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