Do you have a favorite author you’d love to introduce your kids to, but they aren’t old enough yet? Or maybe they’d love to learn more about the author of their favorite picture books books. Either way, you just might find some of your family’s favorite authors on this list of picture book biographies of famous authors.
Biographies of Picture Book Authors
Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker illustrated by John Rocco
Burton wrote many beloved classics such as The Little House and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. This book traces the beginnings of these books to Burton’s desire to entertain her sons. Her story is told with a touch of whimsey that makes it a delightful read.
A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney illustrated by Steve Johnson
Ezra Jack Keats, the son of Jewish immigrants, is famous for creating the first American picture book to feature a black child, The Snowy Day. Pinkey creates a lovely tribute to both Keats and his character, Peter, in her poetic text.
The Journey that Saved Curious George The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey by Louise Borden illustrated by Allan Drummond
This book is rather text-heavy for a picture book, but it is written in free verse, which makes it more readable. Margret and H.A. Rey were both born in Germany to Jewish families. They met and married in Rio de Janeiro and moved to Paris to work as children’s book creators. They fled Paris on bicycle just before the German invasion with the manuscript that would become Curious George tucked safely in their luggage.
Biographies of Classic Authors
A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson illustrated by John Hendrix
This is the childhood story of Charles Dickens. At twelve, Dickens was working in a factory. His father is in debtor’s prison, and he’s trying to earn money for his family. Thankfully, things take a good turn for Dickens later on, but what seems to get him through are the stories he makes up.
John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien by Caroline McAlister illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
This book uses Tolkien’s lifelong fascination with dragons to tell his story up to his writing of The Hobbit. I wrote a full review of it for Story Warren here.
Alabama Spitfire The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by Bethany Hegedus illustrated by Erin McGuir
Nelle (Harper Lee) loved words. And it’s clear the author of this picture book loves words just as much because this is a vivid and delightful read. This biography details Nelle’s tomboy childhood, her friendship with Truman Capote, her persistence in writing, and finally her fight for privacy after the success of her book.
Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson illustrated by Quin Leng
I’ve always loved Jane Austen, so I was shocked at how much I learned about her from this delightful picture book! One tidbit is that her father believed in her writing and sent her first novel to a publisher himself (which was rejected). Also, her books were published without her name. They simply read, “by a lady.” How extraordinary!
Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou illustrated by Jen Corace
Jane Austen deserves two books about her, doesn’t she? This one is much more text-heavy and suited for older kids. However, it gives a greater sense of the society in which Jane lived and the expectations put on girls to marry. It even touches on her more personal stories of love and loss. It also focuses more on the hardships in her life and how her novels were different than other books of her time.
Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott by Yona Zeldis McDonough illustrated by Bethanne Andersen
Though text heavy for a picture book, this story doesn’t feel too long. The author takes her time detailing Louisa’s unique childhood, and providing connections that readers familiar with Little Women will pick up on. The impressionistic illustrations lend a soothing ambiance. The back matter includes some fun tidbits including quotes, poems Louisa wrote as a child, and one of her favorite recipes.
She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lynn Fulton illustrated by Felicita Sala
This biography focuses closely on the how Mary Shelley came up with the idea for and wrote Frankenstein. It begins the night Lord Byron dares the assembled guests to write a ghost story. The book uses story to trace Mary’s thoughts, dreams, and influences. I will say, this version is, appropriately, very creepy! It’s very well done, but I wouldn’t recommend it for sensitive kids.
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey illustrated by Júlia Sardà
Again, as with Austen, I couldn’t choose between the two fabulous biographies of Mary Shelley. This biography looks at Shelly’s life from childhood missing her dead mother, to her elopement with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, to the ghost story contest and beyond. It’s also less creepy than She Made a Monster despite the illustrations of the monster on many pages.