Writers put pen to paper to tell stories to the world, whether it be fiction, journalism, poetry or even letters. These picture book biographies of women writers tell the tales of women who harnessed their writing talent to tell important stories. As seen in our list of 48 picture book biographies of women in history, women do indeed have important tales to tell.
On this list you will find several categories of women authors. Poets, novelists, authors of children’s books and journalists and political writers. Many of the women wrote in more than one form, and they come from all walks of life, Japan, bucolic England, rural South America and more. Reading these biographies to your children will teach them about the lives of the women who wrote the stories they love.
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Of course some of these poets wrote prose, as well, and if you read these biographies of women poets you will find out who! Looking for ways to celebrate the contributions of women with poetry? Check out our poems for Women’s History Month.
Are You An Echo: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko
by Misuzu Kaneko, Sally Ito, David Jacobson, and Michiko Tsuboi
There is no doubt in my mind that your children will love Kaneko’s poems. They speak to everyday observations, wonders and musings that any child might have. Kaneko’s poems are set alongside the story of her life, from her childhood as an avid reader and then as an adult, when her life became unhappy. The authors tell her sad story, in which she ends her life with sensitivity and care. The second half of the book consists of more of her poetry in both the original Japanese and English translations. A fascinating translator’s note describes the unique challenges presents by Kaneko’s poems.
Rise!: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou
by Bethany Hegedus
One of the most important poets of the 20th century, Maya Angelou’s poetry gives voice to millions of women whose complicated lives are filled with hardship, triumph, self-awareness and perseverance. This utterly gorgeous book follows Angelou’s journey with adversity to activism and literature.
My Name Is Gabriela/Me llamo Gabriela
by Monica Brown
Gabriela Mistral was the first Latina to win the Nobel Prize. This biography tells the story of how her imaginative spirit and love of words and sounds inspired her to become a poet. When she was fifteen she became a school teacher, sharing her love of reading, writing and education with the children of her home country of Chile.
Phillis’s Big Test
by Catherine Clinton
Stolen from African and enslaved as a young girl, Wheatley became America’s first published African-American poet in 1773. In this glimpse of her life, Phillis must prove that she is the author of the poetry she wrote. Since she is African and female, few believe her talent.
Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty
by Linda Glaser
Do your kids know that the words of Lady Liberty were written by a woman? This is the story of how that came to be. Glaser looks at Lazarus’s life growing up and how her work with immigrants inspired her to write “The New Colossus.”
On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson
by Jennifer Berne
On Wings of Words explores how Emily Dickinson’s rich inner life and her observations of the world’s details merge into her unusual and private poetry. Berne’s expert weaving of Dickinson’s own words throughout the text and Stadtlander’s glorious illustrations make this a masterful picture book biography.
This section is devoted to biographies of female novelists who wrote well known books for adults, although these authors are frequently assigned in high school English classes.
She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein
by Lynn Fulton
Most kids can describe the popular image of Frankenstein’s monster: the squared off green head with stitches. But do they know he was dreamed up by a women in the 19th Century? This fun biography tells the tale of the dark and stormy night Frankenstein and his monster were born.
Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen
by Deborah Hopkinson
Do we not all Love Jane Austen, my friends? Now you children can learn to love her, too. And they will! Especially after learning about her love of observing others, her humor and her fondness for theater and books.
Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird
by Bethany Hegedus
With To Kill a Mockingbird maintaining it’s place as one of the most read books in the United States, this picture book biography of its author, Nelle Harper Lee, is worth reading. Hegedus looks at Lee’s childhood interests and her friendship with Truman Capote, incorporating Lee’s own words into the text. In some ways, this will be a more satisfying read for people who have read Lee’s novel, but that audience will be older than that for this book.
Children’s Book Authors
Your children will love to hear the biographies of their favorite authors!
The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown
by Mac Barnett
You have never read a picture book biography like this one. Barnett masterfully plays with words, forms, and his text evokes the unusual and somewhat whimsical life of its subject. Barnett respects the intelligence of the reader just as Brown did. Splendid.
Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig
by Deborah Hopkinson
Charlotte Voake’s illustrations are the perfect match for a story about Beatrix Potter, evoking the style of the famed author, without trying to imitate it. Young Beatrix loves animals, but she doesn’t always have the best of luck when it comes to caring for them. Such is the case when she borrows her neighbor’s guinea pig and it eats a bit of paste! Lovely, charming and funny.
Just Like Beverly A Biography of Beverly Cleary
by Vicki Conrad
Young Beverly grew up wanting to read books about children like herself. Since there weren’t any, she decided to write them. We all know that anecdote but Conrad’s biography takes that nugget and expands how Clearly’s life led up to the point of writing her loved-by-every-kid-in-the-world books.
Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton (How Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel and Friends Came to Life)
by Sherri Duskey Rinker
It is fitting that this biography of the creator of Mike Mulligan is written by the author of Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. Rinker tells the story of Virginia Lee Burton, “Jinnee,” and her ability to create magical words and pictures for her sons. Anyone familiar with Burton’s illustrations will be delighted by illustrator John Rocco’s tribute to her.
Journalists and Historians
Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells: The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist
by Philip Dray
In Post-Civil War America, Wells was an anti-lynching activist and one of the first successful Black Americans to win a legal battle in court. She wrote tirelessly against Jim Crow and refused to back down, even in the face of threats to her life.
The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
It is likely you have yet to meet Ethel L. Payne, but she became known as “The First Lady of the Black Press.” She got her start writing letters about politics and social issues, and worked as a writer at a Chicago newspaper before becoming one of only three Black journalists to hold a press pass to the White House. An extraordinary woman worth knowing about!
Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber
by Sue Macy
I loved this charming story of Garber, a woman who paved the way for today’s female sportswriters. She never gave up and was one of the first reporters to cover African-American sporting events. She was widely known and respected by sports enthusiasts as someone who would cover sports without prejudice. Payne’s illustrations of Garber make her stand out in a crowd, despite her small stature.
Write On, Mercy!: The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren
by Gretchen Woelfle
I love the story of Mercy because not only did she become an accomplished writer and political thinker before, during and after the American Revolution, she was surrounded by men who encouraged and valued her contributions, despite the prevalent belief that woman’s role was to cook and sew.
More biographies of women that you will love: