From an Alabama Spitfire to A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider...and Also an Octopus

You might have noticed that non-fiction picture books, especially picture book biographies, are making a mark in the book world lately. And for good reason. These aren't your grandparent's non-fiction books (although some of them may be about your grandparents...). They are well-researched and innovative. They're less "book report" and more book. They often focus on just a short period of a person's life, are concisely and cleverly told, and/or mix a fictional story with juicy bits of non-fiction information (a category often referred to as "fictinformational").

The best ones capture the good and the bad in relatable, child-friendly ways, and remind us that we're all human. They whet the appetite for further learning. They inspire us. And this stack of some of our non-fiction favorites is chock-full of the best of the best.

Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird
Bethany Hegedus and Erin McGuire

Published just last month (Jan 2018), Alabama Spitfire tells the tale of (Nelle) Harper Lee's life - from her childhood (readers can easily see the inspiration for future characters), to her friendship with Truman Capote, to her success as the author of "the book of the twentieth century." While younger readers won't relate to her adult years as much, or understand the ties to the actual novel, there is plenty of inspiration for young readers; from a "tomboy," standing up to bullies/being bullied to persistence and success after feeling like her work wasn't good enough to share with others for seven long years.

Deborah Hopkinson and Qin Leng

Barbara Herkert and Lauren Castillo

Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davies

Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her
Amy Novesky and Vanessa Brantley Newton

I really love when I can tie the arts together with a picture book that makes everything a little more concrete. This is a great story to read to any music lovers; the tie-in between Billie Holiday and the love she had for her dogs also makes it perfect for animal lovers. I also adore this one as a writer. The words beautifully capture the fact that everyone makes mistakes (while leaving the door open for parents to decide how much to share about the mistakes she made - which if your kids are anything like mine, they'll ask) and that mistakes have consequences. But no matter the mistake, we can bounce back: "Then, just when her career was at the top, Lady got into trouble. She had to leave home for a year and a day. And Mister couldn't come. Lady knew what it was like to be left, and it made her heartsick."

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature
Cindy Jenson-Elliot and Christy Hale

This one is for any child who can't sit still, and would rather be outside (in other words, every child). A beautiful book for introducing or encouraging an interest in photography, as well as a reminder to stop and notice nature - a wonderful lesson not just for kids!

This one would pair quite well with a copy of The Pocket Scavenger, a journal for scavengers and world explorers, by Keri Smith.

Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper

Javaka Steptoe

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still
Karlin Gray and Christine Davenier

A perfect tie-in to any Olympic watching, this is the story of Nadia Comaneci, and her rise to Olympic gold (over and over).

I love this one for it's depiction of the amount of time and practice that goes into doing anything well, as well as how it doesn't gloss over Nadia's early failures and defeat.

Perfectly paced and a great length for the attention-span of littles, Nadia's story is a tale that both boys and girls will enjoy, whether into gymnastics or not.

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness
Donna Janell Bowman and Daniel Minter

Did you grow up with Mister Ed on Nick at Night? If you did, you are going to love this one. A horse that could read, write and do math? Even if you didn't grow up with Mister Ed, I'm pretty sure you'll find that this is an irresistible story.

It is a story of love and kindness toward animals. Of perseverance. Of breaking though historical racial barriers. Of entrepreneurialism (because OH MY GOODNESS, Doc had an entrepreneurial spirit - a formerly enslaved man who became a self-taught veterinarian, with his own line of medications!).

I honestly can't say enough good things about this book. Just read it. :)

Lynne Cox and Brian Floca

Danna Smith and Bagram Ibatoulline

Jason Chin

I'd love to hear your thoughts, or if you have a favorite that isn't featured on the list. Happy reading!


  1. What an amazing, comprehensive list of non-fiction picture books. I really need to get my hands on the Ansel Adams one - I have a feeling my son would really connect with it.

    1. Thanks, Lauren! Both G and I really like it. It's quiet, but then so is photography!

  2. Aww, thank you! It is always a thrill to hear that readers connect with Step Right Up!