Biographies are not an easy text type for children to write. One of the reasons for this is that they need a wide knowledge of the world and particularly about the person they are going to write about. Without this wide knowledge the biography tends to become a list of facts about their lives rather than telling us about the person. Many of the biographies I have chosen for this list start with the person in childhood and discuss how this affects what they do later in life.
“Every life is inexplicable, I kept telling myself. No matter how many facts are told, no matter how many details are given, the essential thing resists telling. To say that so and so was born here and went there, that he did this and did that, that he married this woman and had these children, that he lived, that he died, that he left behind these books or this battle or that bridge – none of that tells us very much.” ― Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy
Virginia Wolf said ‘History is too much about wars; biography about great men.’ So, to counter that view, many of these biographies are about women.
Little People, Big Dreams is a series of books aimed at younger children about incredible women. This one is Amelia Earhart by Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Mariadiamantes. The series includes Coco Chanel, Frieda Kahlo, Maya Angelo, Agatha Christie and Marie Curie.
Each double page spread provides information about Earhart as a child and how expereinces in her childhoold were the driving force to fly. She became the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean. This informative biography comes with extra facts about Earhart’s life at the back.
This book is suitable as a model of writing for Yr2 and appears on our texts that teach list.
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst continues the theme of women who did great things that had a big impact.
This book is about several women, each one detailed on a double page spread. One of the many strengths of this book is that the layout and presentation is different for each woman. I love the page for Coco Chanel where the word ‘Snip!’ is used as a refrain.
Uncomfortable corsets! Snip! (Oh la la!) Pointless bows and ribbons! Snip! (Au revoir!) Giant fancy hats! Snip! (Sacre bleu!).
This book really teaches layout matching content and a lively way of writing about people. It is suitable for Yrs 3 and 4 and appears on our texts that teach list.
Women in Science – 50 fearless pioneers by Rachel Ignotofsky provides mini-biographies of women, many of whom I had not heard of. When you look at the book, you will not be surprised to find out that Ignotofsky is a graphic designer. Each double page spread provides a biography, snippets of information, iillustrations about their work and a picture of them. If you visit Love Reading 4 Kids and sign in, you can download a double page spread to see that the book is like. This book is suitable for Yr5 and 6 and appears on our texts that teach list.
The Darkest Dark: Astronaut by Chris Hadfield is a really interesting book. The main part of the book details Hadfield’s life as a child and his interest in space and space travel told in story form. At the back of the book is a biography of Hadfield and his work as a Canadian pilot, finishing with a message from Hadfield.
Although this book would be suitable for Yrs3 and 4 to read, as a model of writing where children learn to manage the shifts in formality through varying grammar and vocabulary, this book would be excellent for Yrs5 and 6. Hilary Mantel talks about being like a historian and interpreting, selecting, discarding and shaping but as a writer of fiction making up people’s thoughts. This would be possible with this book.
I am a complete sucker for the part of the page on Amazon that says ‘people who bought this also bought….’ and so this is how I came to own a copy of One Giant Leap: The story of Neil Armstrong by Don Brown. Again, this book tells of the young Armstrong and his desire to fly and how this ended up with him being the first astronaut to walk on the moon. Suitable for Yrs3 and 4.
Cloth Lullaby: The woven life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Noveesky and Isabelle Arsenault is beautiful.
The writing isquite lyrical –
The river provided flowers and fruit, a lullaby and a livelihood.
but also makes the link between weaving and spiders which so influenced the work of Bourgeois. The illustrations are gorgeous and weave together the cloth and the river in flowing images across the pages. Woven throughout the text are quotes from Bourgeois and others who have written about her and these are listed and attributed at the end of the book. This would be an interesting way for children to ‘borrow’ from other writers and use in their writing. At the is also an Author’s Note which writes a biography that is a more formal biography that provides some background information that is not in the main text. These two models would provide an excellent model for managing shifts in formality, making this book suitable for Yrs5 and 6. This book will appear on our texts that teach list.
Meet the artist! Alexander Calder by Patricia Geis is a book that I have written about before. It contains pop-ups, little booklets, a circus and suggestions for creating your own art works.
This is a very accessible biography for Yrs 3 and 4 with the book on Picasso in the same series more suitable for Yrs5 and 6.
Many schools study Mary Anning so this book Stone Girl, Bone Girl by Laurence Anholt may be one book that is already in school. Like Louise Bourgeois, Mary Anning was very influenced by one of her parents: her father who introduced her to fossils. Anning is also included in the book Fantastically Great Women and so it would be interesting to compare the information included in each and compare. Other books that could also be used are Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon by Jeannine Atkins and The Fossil Girl by Catherine Brighton. For teachers there is the wonderful book by Tracy Chevalier – Remarkable Creatures. These books would be suitable for Yrs 3 and 4.
This book follows a similar pattern to The Darkest Dark and several others, telling the story of Jane Goodall as a child and ending with a biography in a more formal tone. The images are part photograph part illustration which is a visual way of showing what is known and what is imagined. A really useful model for KS2 Me … Jane is told by Patrick Mcdonnell.
Charles Dickens by Manning and Granstrom is a wonderful way to tell the story of a person’s life. Told through more formal biography, speech bubbles, comic strips, illustrations and smippets of information. The ‘story’ also moves between third and first person. This makes is a fantastic book to teach managing shifts in formality and is included on our texts that teach lists.
Included in this book is background information about the life and times when Dickens was alive and this is one of the reasons this book is so good and different to other biographies.
Manfish by Jennifer Berne is the story of Jacques Cousteau told in picture book style. There are parts of the text which swirl and wave around the page and others that are set out in paragraphs. This was one of the first picture book biographies that I read and was what convinced me there were other ways of sharing an interest in a person in writing.
If a book is on our texts that teach list then we have a teaching sequence written around it. To purchase sequences individually, click here and scroll through the pages. To purchase a whole school subscription to over 120 teaching sequences for Yr1 to Yr6, click here.