The power of the individual to overcome poverty, racism, sexism, and adversity and achieve success is a story oft repeated in the history of America. Stories of personal triumph in the face of great hardships instruct and inform our children, but of even more importance, they inspire.

Biographies of Americans of achievement can be found for children in all age groups. Two children’s authors have made careers of distinction in this genre. Jean Fritz writes great biographies for young students. They are both informational and entertaining, and are often fully illustrated. And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?, You Want to Vote Lizzie Stanton?, and The Double Life of Pocahontas, are a few of her many fine books.

Russell Freedman is an extraordinary biographer. He has stated “I want to write a book that will be read from beginning to end with a mounting sense of anticipation and discovery- read willingly, with a feeling of genuine pleasure.” Parents and teachers will love his books as much as older children and teens. The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane, Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery, and Martha Graham: A Dancer’s Life can be read aloud chapter by chapter.

Following are recommended titles for young and older readers about historical and cultural heroes for you to check out at your local library:

For Young Readers

The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin by James Cross Giblen, illustrated by Michael Dooling
A Boy Called Slow: The True Story of Sitting Bull, written by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Rocco Baviera
Edward Hopper Paints His World, written by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Wendell Minor (Henry Holt and Co., 2014).
Eleanor (Eleanor Roosevelt), written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney
Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Richard Byrd (Penguin Group, 2012).
Frederick Douglass: Leader Against Slavery by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack
Harriet and Promised Land (Harriet Tubman), written and illustrated by Jacob Lawrence
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, written by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle Books, 2014).
Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man Alive, written by David A. Adler, illustrated by Terry Widener
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier
Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth, written by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Gregory Christie
Our Children Can Soar: A Celebration of Rosa, Barack, and the Pioneers of Change, written by Michelle Cook and illustrated by Pat Cummings, James Ransome, Eric Velasquez, and Leo Dillon
Revolution by Deborah Wiles (Fiction: Scholastic Press, 2014).
Shooting the Moon: The Amazing Life and Times of Annie Oakley, written by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Bernie Fuchs
Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I A Woman by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack
To Dare a Mighty Thing: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt, written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by C.F. Payne (Disney Hyperion Books, 2013).
A Woman in the House and Senate, written by Ilene Cooper and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014).
Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People, written and illustrated by Bonnie Christensen

For Older Readers

An American Hero: The True Story of Charles A. Lindbergh by Barry Denenberg
Because They Marched: The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights that Changed America by Russell Freedman. (Holiday House, 2014).
Carver: A Life in Poems (George Washington Carver) by Marilyn Nelson
The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chevaz and the Farmworkers Movement by Susan Ferris, Ricardo Savdoval, and Diana Hembre
Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids: His Life and Ideas by Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen
Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper (Fiction: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013).
John Glenn’s Return to Space by Gregory Vogt
The Life and Death of Crazy Horse by Russell Freedman
Mary Cassatt by Susan Meyer
Ordinary Genius: The Story of Albert Einstein by Stephanie McPherson
Paul Robeson: The Life and Times of a Free Black Man by Virginia Hamilton
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance by Jennifer Armstrong
The World at Her Fingertips: The Story of Helen Keller by Joan Dash

© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance