Art, Biography, History, Top Picks

Top Picks: Biography Series

Picture Biographies by Ingri & Edgar D’Aulaire
These books for elementary readers also make great read-alouds for younger children.  They are children’s classics, written 70 years ago and are still in print!  Husband and wife both worked on the words and pictures, a perfect team.  Full color lithographs contain so much detail that young eyes enjoy, and the stories are well-told.  A series every child should read.

Step-Up Books
First, we must note that while the reprints of these wonderful old books say “Landmark Books” on the covers, inside they are the original text of the Step-Up Books, they are written on a younger level than the Landmark Book series which is listed below.  If you can find the originals young readers will be delighted with the large print and spacing that is easy on their eyes.  The Step-Up books are written on a 1st or 2nd grade reading level, but are great stories that will interest even older readers.

Garrard Discovery Books, World Explorers, and American Indians Biography Series
This is my favorite biography series for elementary readers.  The stories begin with a chapter about the subject’s childhood and then they move into their adult life.  They are well-written, contain lots of dialogue that helps the child picture himself in the book.  Garrard published three series of biographies: Discovery Books, World Explorers, and American Indians.  All of these are written on a 2nd grade reading level, and contain many two-color illustrations.  When I read these aloud to my younger brother, he would always beg for another chapter–no matter who we were reading about!

Childhood Of Famous Americans
This series has been perennially popular since it was first published in the 1940s.  Many printings of these books have cemented them in the memories of generations of young American readers.  These biographies are very fictional, for the most part, but the last few chapters do convey the character’s place in American history.  The idea is that they introduce young readers to a famous American in a story about the character’s own childhood, so children become familiar with great figures from history.  Written on a 2nd or 3rd grade reading level, these books are a great way to encourage students to develop their reading skills while learning about great American men and women.

American Adventures
These vintage readers are out-of-print, but worth hunting down.  Written for a 2nd grade reading level, but longer (about 250 pages), these books are divided into sections of several chapters that help new readers tackle a longer chapter book.  Line drawing illustrations complement the text.  Enjoy these if you can find them!

Back in print, these classic books introduce children to the lives and music of great composers.  Wheeler believed that children could become acquainted with musicians, even if they weren’t noble men.  Her stories focus on the positive characteristics of the musician, mainly relating the relevant musical events of his childhood.  Interspersed in the illustrated text are excerpts of sheet music, pieces described in the text and, simple enough for beginning pianists.  Written for 3rd-4th grade readers, Wheeler’s biographies are also enjoyed by younger listeners and older readers alike.

Elizabeth Ripley Artist Biographies
These books are about 70 pages long, each two-page spread has a full-page black-and-white photograph of one of the artist’s works.  Written for 4th-5th grade readers, these biographies are a nice blend of biography and art appreciation; specifics about individual paintings are woven throughout the story of the man’s life.  Older readers and younger listeners will be interested as well.

Signature Biographies
Published by Grosset & Dunlap in the 1950s and 60s, these are a non-fiction equivalent to their popular We Were There series, but instead of fictional children as the main characters the Signature Books are told from the perspective of the biography’s subject.  Plenty of dialogue make these books read like a fictional story, but they are really true–these biographies are fun to read and will engage your upper-elementary readers.  The information isn’t dumbed down, and will be enjoyed by older readers as well.  The Story of Edith Cavell–a World War One nurse is a favorite in the series, with both boys and girls.

Landmark Books
This is perhaps the most well-known, collected series by homeschool families, yet I am continually surprised by those who don’t know about these great books.  Published by Random House in the 1950s and 60s, these books were written by some of the best children’s authors of that time and specialists in their academic fields. There are almost 200 titles in the series comprised of biography, history, and social science topics.  Written at about 5th grade level, some of these books are still in print, though many can be found inexpensively on the used book market.

Messner Biographies
These biographies are perhaps the most well-written, interesting biography series out there for junior high-high school readers.  Their subjects are extensive, from scientists to world leaders, sports figures to musicians, there is a Messner Biography on just about anyone you’d want to read about!  

5 thoughts on “Top Picks: Biography Series

  1. What a wonderful site you've put together!! We are just starting our homeschooling journey as the dd is now 4. I have been very stirred by Charlotte Mason and what I have learned so far. Will probably be following mainly AO year 0 with bits & pieces of other methods/curriculum as it interests us. I think this next year will probably be more "school" for me than my little one, as I try to work it all outplan, etc)! LOL Thanks so much for taking the time to put all this together:)

  2. We have so many things to learn from biography books. One day I was looking for a good book and I found Yuri Mintskovsky's top 9 biographies and I decided to try and read one. Even if all of them are about business I enjoyed reading them and I've also learned so many interesting things.

  3. Amanda,

    What a great find you have there. My little boys especially loved those books. They are not tales, however, but could work for a history biography n form 1A, especially if your child is beginning to read.


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