This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library librarians to celebrate our favorite recently published children's biographies. Enjoy!
Never Caught, The Story Of Ona Judge [Young Readers Edition]: George And Martha Washington's Courageous Slave Who Dared To Run Away
5th grade & up. This youth adaptation of a National Book Award Finalist features a real-life teen heroine and the narrative thrill of excellent historical fiction. Most of us know George Washington was a hero of the American Revolution. Less known is his role as a slave owner who went to extreme lengths to kidnap Ona Judge, an enslaved teenage girl who made an audacious escape from the Washingtons. Dunbar and Van Cleve’s excellent adaptation is responsive to youth readers without watering down the content. Topics like the reality of rape within the toxic power dynamics of enslaver and enslaved are handled truthfully and sensitively. Excerpts from the Washingtons’ letters and other documents of the time punctuate the narrative with detailed primary sources, and archival material is featured in back matter. Never Caught invites readers to honor the agency of enslaved people and engage critically with the complex origins of the United States.
Reaching For The Moon: The Autobiography Of Nasa Mathematician Katherine Johnson
5th-8th grade. Groundbreaking NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who is African American, tells her own tale in this middle-grade autobiography. Peppered with family photographs and a conversational tone, the book covers Johnson’s childhood in 1920s West Virginia through her work on NASA’s Apollo 11 moon mission. Lively historical detail, dialogue and personal anecdotes convey her parents’ deep values of education, generosity, perseverance and community while relaying the impact of racial segregation both day-to-day and on major life decisions. In the 1950s, Johnson began working with a team of African American women who performed mathematical calculations at NASA, and her exceptional skills made her an indispensable part of the Apollo 11 team. Both a historical chronicle of racial segregation and an intimate portrait of family and professional life, Johnson’s autobiography paints an unforgettable picture of an extraordinary 20th-century life.
Paper Son : The Inspiring Story Of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant And Artist
1st-3rd grade. Meet Tyrus Wong, the immigrant artist whose work inspired the iconic animation in Bambi. In 1919, only “citizens of high status” from China were admitted to the United States. In search of a better life, Tyrus and his father posed as a merchant and son, making the long sea voyage from China to San Francisco. Constantly doodling as a child, Wong grew up to become an artist and work for Disney. There, his soft, ethereal art, influenced by his Chinese heritage, became Bambi’s driving aesthetic. Sasaki’s delicate illustrations evoke the style of vintage animation as well as Wong’s soft color palette and spare brushwork. Leung’s lyrical text brims with emotion and captures the heart, hardship and hope of Wong’s experiences, while back matter of family photographs and an author and illustrator note provide an intimate glimpse into Wong’s impact on other Asian-American artists. This picture book biography is powerful nonfiction storytelling.
Sparky & Spike : Charles Schulz And The Wildest, Smartest Dog Ever
1st-4th grade. Dive into the backstory of the iconic cartoonist in this marvelously illustrated book. As a child, the antics of Schulz’s own dog, Spike, inspired what would become the Snoopy cartoon. Illustrated with artwork that echoes Peanuts’ aesthetic and the era of Schulz’s childhood, the book introduces readers to a lonely child who loves art and his dog but struggles to fit in. One powerful two-page spread makes masterful use of pacing through illustration; we see Schulz surrounded by classmates as he draws for them, then on the facing page, he’s pictured all alone as his classmates play outdoors. This book will connect with fans of art, comics and pets, as well as any child who has felt left out. The back matter contains archival photos of Schulz and Sparky. Sparky and Spike is an unforgettable read about Schulz and how Snoopy came to be.
Brave Ballerina : The Story Of Janet Collins
Preschool-3rd grade. Nothing could stop Janet Collins, the first Black prima ballerina, from dancing--not even racial discrimination. After being told she could join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo only on the condition of painting her skin white, Janet was heartbroken but persistent and refused to hide who she was. Bold and lyrical text moves the story forward within impeccably rhyming lines like “This is the dancer who kept going strong, / bare feet flying / to a Spanish song,” while soft ink and watercolor illustrations convey movement and emotion. Primary source photos along with a list of further resources and an author’s note are available for further exploration at the end of the book. Brave Ballerina is a pleasing, innovative biography that is ideal for beginning readers and lovers of dance alike.
Let 'er Buck! : George Fletcher, The People's Champion
3rd-6th grade. Young fans of the Old West will delight in this picture book biography about George Fletcher’s rise to rodeo stardom. From boyhood, George loved everything about horses, so much so that he became a rancher. As a Black cowboy though, George’s dreams of competing in rodeos faced obstacles, but he was always up for the challenge. When the 1911 Pendleton Roundup arrived, George was ready to show his skills and wow the crowds. Wide-brush oil paint illustrations paired with folksy text immerse readers in the days of the Old West, while design elements and typography evoke the silent movie era. Back matter showcases historical photographs, cowboy slang, detailed historical notes and a discussion of historical research about figures who, perhaps due to social inequality, leave little written record. A biography that reads like a tall tale, Let ‘Er Buck is perfect for rodeo fans as well as classroom units on historical research.
Kindergarten-4th grade. This crisp biography recounts the life of the Supreme Court’s first African American justice. Narrated through a series of moving statements of fact, the story chronicles how Thurgood Marshall’s early experiences with racism drove his evolution as an attorney who argued court cases that, one by one, changed discriminatory laws. Collier’s cut paper illustrations capture the anger, strength and determination of Marshall, his family and their peers as they navigate the fight for justice. Back matter includes a historical note and photographs of Marshall in action. This steadfast, stirring biography brings the stakes and triumphs of each legal case to powerful life for young readers.