Wednesday, March 14, 2018

ReFoReMo Day 10: Andrea J. Loney Celebrates Remarkable Biographies

By Andrea J. Loney


 A good biography tells a great story. A great biography crafts an immersive and meaningful experience for the reader. These five biographies make wonderful use of poetry, visual metaphors, and dramatic tension.
                       








And since today is Pi Day (3/14 or 3.14), I am celebrating by including a delightful biography of the great mathematician Fibonacci.




Andrea is giving away a signed copy of Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! To be eligible for prizes throughout the challenge, you must comment on each post, be registered by March 4, and consistently read picture books during the challenge.



Andrea J Loney won the 2014 Lee & Low New Voices Award for the picture book biography TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VANDERZEE! (Lee & Low Books). She is also the author of BUNNYBEAR (Albert Whitman & Company), and DOUBLE BASS BLUES (Knopf, Summer 2019). She lives in Inglewood, California.


230 comments:

  1. Thanks, Andrea, for these great selections. Happy Pi day!

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  2. The role of picture book biographies is so sacred, as the stories transport messages of real life scenarios and experiences. When the essence of truth is conveyed in a biography, the wisdom shines into the depths of the reader and listener. It's one of the most powerful mediums in children's stories, and Andrea's post features this point beautifully. Many thanks for sharing!

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    1. Wow! I love this view on picture book biographies!

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  3. Great = immersive. So true. Thanks for this (and for the reminder to serve some pie - hope you have a delicious slice today).

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    1. Yes, I am pie-bound in the next half hour or so!

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  4. I love Finding Winnie, but haven't read these other suggestions. Thanks for pointing me to them.

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  5. Biographies, at least for me, have always bridged a gap between fiction and reality.The telling of history in a biography can be magical and support the dreams of young readers. Thanks for the wonderful selections.

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  6. I love how picture book biographies are shared with middle grade students to introduce someone who made a difference in our world. Finding Winnie is one of my favorites.

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    1. Yes, I've had some great conversations with middle graders and biographies. And I love Finding Winnie too.

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  7. Andrea, I love your book Take a Picture of Me! It's so inspiring...

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    1. Thank youuuuuu! James had an amazing life!

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  8. Thank you for your focus on picture book biographies. I love Finding Winnie and look forward to reading the other titles.

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  9. Thank you for this inspiring list. One i would like to add is Manjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin, pictures by Danny Popovici. I have a couple biography ideas I have researched, but can't seem to get in gear to start writing.

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    1. Manjhi Moves a Mountain is also wonderful. Maybe you can trick yourself into starting your biography ideas ;-)

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  10. Andrea, thank you for highlighting these biographies. As a young reader, I loved to read about about people's lives, but they were rarely if ever featured in picture books. Great examples of how to do it!

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    1. Yes, kids today have a wider variety of options for biographies than we did back in the day. I think it's pretty awesome.

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  11. Thank you for this list of mentor texts. My 6-year old son loves picture book biographies. His two favorites are Malala's Magic Pencil, The Watcher about Jane Campion and on a Beam of Light about Albert Einstein. After we read the Einstein book he was walking around pointing everything that is made up of atoms, it blew his mind. He was also surprised that kids could make a difference in the world and asks me to show him photos of Malala as a little girl. There is something so special about biographies and their power to inspire us young and old.

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    1. Oh how wonderful for your son! I love, love, love Beam of Light -- it blew my mind when I read it to second graders. I really love sharing biographies that show how a little kid's interests can grow to become an adult's legacy.

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  12. Thank you for this interesting post!

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  13. I loved finding Winnie. Thank you for your post!

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  14. Also...so many inspiring biographies, but I do have a problem with a picture book labeled nonfiction by the LOC and with a nonfiction call number and yet using "imagined scenes, people, thoughts, and dialogue." To me, that's a story based on the life of someone, but it's not a biography.

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    1. I was surprised by that too when I started researching recent picture book biographies a few years ago. The sheer variety of nonfiction historical literature really amazed me.

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  15. This looks like a great list of books. I have only read one so far, so got to get to work to check out the rest. I'm sure these will be helpful to those of us who write biographies.

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  16. Biography PBs seem to be the most challenging type of PB. How to portray precise words/actions without exact research documentation is something I need to better understand. Are there writing books about this PB topic? Great PB selections here. Thanks, Andrea.

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    1. I'm not sure if there are any books on writing picture book biographies, although I have been to some wonderful workshops on the topic at the NJ and LA SCBWI conferences. I also read a lot of biographies and try to figure out what makes them work so well.

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  17. I LOVE biographies. One of my favorites is Snowflake Bentley. Thank you for these new ones. I have finding Winnie, but look forward to reading the other ones.

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    1. Ooh, I just added Snowflake Bentley to my hold list at the library!

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  18. Snowflake Bentley is a good one, I agree Laurie!
    I think biographies are a great intro for kids to get interested in history. If you can place your character in the time period it really helps kids learn what was going on at that time in history-and makes it more real to them. Nice post!

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  19. Thanks for the biography recommendations, Andrea! And Happy Pi Day...

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  20. Thank you for these great recommendations! And what a fun idea, to include a mathematician on this day.

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    1. Yes, I could not believe my luck when they told me which day I'd be posting!

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  21. Love Finding Winnie and can't wait to read the others. (still behind on my holds at the library, since we can only get 15 at a time- I'll get there!) Thanks!

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    1. I'm behind on my holds too. My librarians get nervous whenever they see me during ReFoReMo. One asked if I'm planning to start my own library!

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  22. Also- I might add that I LOVE Nina Simone and had no idea this book existed, so thanks! Really can't wait to read that one

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  23. These mentor texts offer so much to the reader. Thanks, Andrea!

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  24. Finding Winnie is a found treasure. Can't wait to check out the others. Thanks, Andrea!

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  25. Thank you for introducing to me to a couple of these titles I had not read before. I had fun telling the librarians about these books, several of which they had not read yet either!

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  26. I LOVE Finding Winnie (I have long been a Pooh fan), but I haven't read these others. Thank you for the recommendations!

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  27. Thanks for this great list of biographies! I LOVE Finding Winnie! There are a couple of new ones I'll have to check out.

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  28. Thank you for a good selection of biographies. Loved reading Finding Winnie. I've also read BunnyBear. It was a delightful read.
    Carole Calladine

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  29. Another great list. Thanks so much for your suggestions.

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  30. Thanks for these mentor text suggestions! Most are new to me.

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  31. Thank you for sharing these wonderful biographies, Andrea!

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  32. Thanks for exposing me to new biographies, I found 3 of the 5 at my public library. I don't see any of these titles in the elementary school libraries I visit. I wonder why. Probably not used in K-3rd grades.

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  33. I find biographies intimidating. Thank you for sharing some great examples.

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    1. Biographies can be written in so many forms. Some can be intimidating but some can be like, "Hey, let me tell you about this awesome person and the cool stuff they did."

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  34. Read Lost and Found Cat last night and ugly-cried in a parking lot because I didn't want to wait until I got home to read it. What an inspiring story!

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    1. I was pretty skeptical of Lost and Found Cat when I first saw the cover, but once I opened it and started reading, the story and illustrations pretty much liquified me too. So inspiring!

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  35. Andrea, Happy Pi Day to you. Love the BLOCKHEAD book and LOST AND FOUND CAT.

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  36. I love PB bios. What a great selection, Andrea! I've read all of them (including yours) except Nina and I just requested it from the library. Thanks too for the reminder about Pi Day!

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  37. Thank you for this great selection of pb biographies!!

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  38. Hi Andrea! Thanks for the great list of biographies. I enjoyed reading them.

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  39. Isn't it amazing how much we we adults can learn from books such as these? About other adults- and kids- who have done great things and lived great lives and made a difference? These books are wonderful examples. Also, I LOOOOVE Winnie :) once of my favs.

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  40. Thanks for the wonderful recommendations!

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  41. Thanks, Andrea. SO interesting how NINA is told from the first person. Thanks for all these picks!

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    1. Yes, NINA was a fascinating take on a picture book biography, the voice, the use of black and white as a visual metaphor, all of it!

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  42. I'm looking forward to diving into these great stories. Thanks, Andrea, for sharing some of your fave biographies!

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  43. These books are great mentor texts for biographies. The different presentation styles are very helpful! Becky Loescher

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  44. Alice Carty FulgioneMarch 14, 2018 at 10:22 AM

    Thanks for all the wonderful recommendations! I loved "Finding Winnie" & I'm looking forward to reading the others.

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  45. Happy Pi day and thanks for these great titles (love your books, too, Andrea!).

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  46. I love reading biographies - these are wonderful examples, great mentor texts. Thanks!

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  47. These were great bios. I was intrigued by Nina, and loved the story of the wayward kitten (how kind people can be).

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  48. Thank you for this great list of biographies!

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  49. Thank you for this wonderful list and the idea to read Blockhead to my kids for Pi day (we homeschool.) This book is so interesting! I haven’t considered writing bibliographies before but these mentor texts have sparked by curiosity. Maybe I will.

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    1. Blockhead is such a fun read-aloud! The best part is looking for all the spirals throughout the book. And biographies are a fun challenge to write. Go for it!

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  50. Thanks for the list of biographies, Andrea! I will add them to the library list.

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  51. Nice shout out for Pi Day!
    Sorry to hear about Stephen Hawkin's passing today. Maybe the next pb bio will be for him.

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    1. I am sad about Stephen Hawking's passing too. But he was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death and he died on Pi Day AND Albert Einstein's birthday so even in death he's a total STEM rockstar in my book.

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  52. Thanks for the great list of books! Happy Pi Day!

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  53. Fantastic examples, Andrea! Thanks!

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  54. I know I won't be in the running to win any prizes this year for ReFoReMo because I know I won't be able to keep up with the posts and the reading. But I saw you were posting today, Andrea, and wanted to make sure I stopped by. I'm so thrilled you mentioned the book about Fibonacci...I will try to get it. I'd love to see how they crafted that story.

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    1. Thanks Vivian! And when you look at the book, notice how the artwork echoes the mathematical theories in the text in a totally kid-friendly way. Brilliant!

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  55. Thank you for these great selections, and the Pi day reading! I enjoyed Take a Picture of Me, and I'm happy to find so many wonderful bios in the PB section of our library.

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  56. Thank you Andrea for sharing these biographies. These are such great examples of how to write a biography in an interesting way.

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  57. Thank you for sharing these great examples of biographies!

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  58. Thank you for this list of biographies. They are fun and informative. I loved NINA!

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  59. I love picture book biographies! Thanks for your suggestions, Andrea!

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  60. Loved the selection today. Each book is a unique way to write a biography. They all bring the people to life in their own way: through first person narrative, poetic illustrations, emotion, etc.

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  61. Thanks, Andrea, for these wonderful recommendations. I actually just decided to write a biography, which is a new venture for me. These will serve as great mentor texts!

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  62. Thank you for the great reading list. A few of these were new to me and I really enjoyed them. I am working on my first NF PB so this is perfectly timed. Thanks!

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  63. "A great biography crafts an immersive and meaningful experience for the reader." I love this line and the fine examples you posted, Andrea. Thank you for sharing these remarkable biographies.

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  64. Andrea, thank you for these mentor texts. I have Finding Winnie and look forward to the others here. A bit of a wait at the library. I really want to read the Fibonacci book. I have always been fascinated by the Golden Ratio.

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    1. The Golden Ratio is pretty magical. :-)

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  65. Blockheads is one of my favorites, very poignant.Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der See took me away to a totally different world,quite lovely and immersive. Keep up the great writing!

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  66. Thank you for such a rich selection of bios. And Happy Pi Day!

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  67. Andrea, I enjoyed reading these inspirational biographies. They speak powerful messages for children and adults.
    I hope to write a picture book biography one day about my dad who was a microbiologist. Reading these books has sparked some ideas on how I might approach writing his biography.

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  68. I enjoy reading biographies. Now I will try to see the differences between good and great ones.

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  69. All are great biographies Andrea! Great share. p.s. I love YOUR BOOK, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! It's a heartwarming and joyful book to read when looking for inspiration.

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  70. Thank you for sharing these great titles! I'm in the process of writing a picture book biography and enjoy knowing of some more to help me along. Thank you! I enjoyed learning about Winnie and loved the illustrations, but for some reason the book didn't touch my heart. Sad :(

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  71. Thank you for sharing this collection of biographies. Blockhead was quite eye-opening.Happy Pi Day!

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  72. Andrea, these are great examples!!
    PS- my family loves BUNNYBEAR!

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  73. I love biographies! These are great mentor texts as I am revising a biography now.

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  74. Thank you for these great recommendations!

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  75. I love biographies--so many people, so many stories. Amazing in such a short space the conviction, determination, and perseverance of these people are portrayed.

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  76. Hi Andrea, thanks for all these great titles. I'm hoping one of my own biography titles will be added to this list one day. :)

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  77. Andrea, thank you for these biography titles. I am currently researching one myself and these mentor texts came at the perfect time! I think writing a biography demands a special level of responsibility to remain authentic while also creating a work of art. I look forward to exploring more titles, as well.

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  78. Love this post, Andrea. I’ve read many picturebook bios. I own Einstein and Gershwin by Suzanne Slade and my favorite I Dissent about RBG by Debby Levy. I am submitting my first pbbio and hoping for interest. Wish me luck. I’ll use your points as I revise once again.

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  79. Andrea, great post. I love when a biography has a great subject and is beautifully written. Impressive!

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  80. Thanks for the PB biography suggestions!

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  81. Thanks for this post, Andrea, and I look forward to reading your PB biography, too. I found it interesting that BLOCKHEAD was written in first person; I haven't seen that often in PB biographies.

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  82. Finding Winnie is one of my favorites. Looking forward to the one on Fibonacci. Happy Pi Day!

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  83. Thanks for these great biography suggestions, Andrea. I love all of these. Sometimes I find biographies that include lovely lyrical language but the dramatic tension is lacking. These do a great job with both!

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  84. This is what I love about ReFoReMo - new to me mentor texts. Thanks for these suggested titles, Andrea. I've read FINDING WINNIE and LOST AND FOUND CAT. I look forward to reading the other titles

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  85. Thank you, Andrea. I look forward to reading these + your own. I love pb biographies!

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  86. Thanks, Andrea. I love writing pb biographies, but haven't nailed on for publishing yet. I am going to read and reread your introduction. I will try to include poetry, visual metaphor and dramatic tension to enhance the stories I'm trying to write. Thank you again. I love this post.

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  87. Thank you for the inspiring stories!

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  88. Interesting stories. Thanks! Love Bunnybear, too.

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  89. Hi Andrea! So happy to learn that there’s a PB bio on Nina Simone. I loved FINDING WINNIE and I look forward to reading your other suggestions. I’d like to add TAKE A PICTURE OF ME, JAMES VANDERZEE to this list!

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  90. Thank you for reminding us that biographies are important. I loved them as a kid. I guess I still do because I still read them. Look at what happened to the biography of Hamilton.

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  91. Biographies are one of my favorites! I enjoyed reading some new ones, thank you;)

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  92. Loved Finding Winnie. I will check the other out, thank you!

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  93. Thanks, Andrea. I have a lot to learn here!

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  94. OH, HOW I LOVE a good pic book bio! They are such a great way to showcase someone's life in a way that makes us want to find out even more about them. I recently read "Finding Winnie" for the first time, and ABSOLUTELY ADORE it! I can't wait to read the others recommended today.

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  95. I love using biographies as a way to introduce young students to amazing people. Thank you for sharing Blockhead. I'll share it with my husband the math teacher.

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  96. Love the focus on biographies...thanks for sharing!

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  97. Thanks for this intriguing topic, Andrea. I love Pam Jones-Nill's comment that picture book biographies "bridge a gap between fiction and reality." I haven't attempted to write a biography myself, but I would imagine that it is challenging as an author to walk that line between creatively describing real events and embellishing. I like that most of these biographies had an author's note with "the rest of the story."

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  98. I can't wait to read the Fibonacci biography! Love the distinction between good and great. Well said!

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  99. Thanks for recommending such interesting picture book biographies. I loved Finding Winnie. The line,"The train rolled right through dinner and over the sunset and around ten o'clock and into a nap and out the next day until it stopped at place called White River"is so wonderful and inspiring! Great example of lyrical writing! The books also had super examples of backmatter. Very informative post!

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  100. So far I've only read Finding Winnie. Thanks for a great list!

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  101. I'm embarrassed to admit that when I think of nonfiction, I usually think it will be boring. I really like how engaging these titles are. I am so glad that there has been a push for engaging nonfiction pieces, like these biographies.

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  102. I was able to read two of these, the others I haven't found yet. But they are such engaging, heartfelt stories. I'm sure children would learn so much from these books including lots of empathy.

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  103. Thank you for this list of biographies. They will be a great help as mentor texts.

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  104. Your post caused me to reflect on how many wonderful people I learned about as a child by reading biographies.

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  105. Loved all of these books! I found myself reading them very slowly so I could take everything in. I was fully immersed for sure! Thanks for the great suggestions!

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  106. Great book choices for today. It seems there are many good ways to write a nonfiction PB.

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  107. Making a children's book about an adult comes with its own set of challenges... I really appreciate the great texts you chose for this one. And a special thanks for the Pi connection!!

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  108. Andrea, you are an inspiration! Just sayin'.

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  109. Thanks for this wonderful list of mentor texts for biographies.

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  110. Writing a picture book biography is something I want to tackle one day. Figuring out how a person will resonate with a young reader seems like a challenge as well as the research that's involved. One day!

    I had gotten all excited about writing about a person and found out a relatively recent picture book had already written about him and it had gotten great reviews so waiting for another inspiration. From the summary it appears the book had the same slant I would have given it too.

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  111. These are such lovely examples, and different examples, of how biographies can be presented to young readers. Too bad school text books aren't more like these! I wonder if it takes longer to write a PB bio than a pure work of fiction...and who fact-checks the bios prior to press? Hrmmm :)

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  112. Biographies aren't typically my thing, but I trust these are excellent examples. I can't wait to pick them up.

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  113. I had never read FINDING WINNIE before but loved it. I am becoming a bigger fan of biographies all the time. Thanks for the suggestions!

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  114. I have always loved biographies. Thanks for introducing me to a couple I hadn't read.

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  115. So many wonderful biographies! Thanks!

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  116. Arin Wensley
    Growing up I was never a fan of biographies, but I am beginning to enjoy them more.

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  117. Thanks Andrea. Finding just the right story inside the story seems to be very important for biographies. I find that I become bogged down by the research and can't move forward.

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  118. This is something I've not tried. Somehow it intimidates me - maybe I just need to find the right person to research. :) Thank you Andrea!

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  119. I've discovered that I really enjoy pb biographies. Thank you!

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  120. I enjoy most biographies, and - being a Canadian - have especially appreciated Finding Winnie. Thanks.

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  121. Loved these examples! Finding Winnie was my favourite - love the juxtaposition between Cole and the past. Fibonacci was also fascinating - even as an adult. Thanks!

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  122. Great selections! Three of these titles were new to me. I really enjoyed the inspiring stories and learning something new. The language in NINA and the variety of illustration styles were a treat, too.

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  123. Somehow I've never read the Winnie the Pooh books. I'm curious if the opening of "Finding Winnie" echoes something in Milne's work.

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  124. What an amazing story told in Lost and Found Cat!

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  125. Happy Pi Day! I spent the whole day celebrating math with pies, I missed your great recommendations. No worries, I'm correcting this oversight now. :)

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  126. I just dived into the world of writing bios myself. Thanks for some to check out.

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  127. Thanks, Andrea! It was a pleasure meeting you at the Philadelphia African American Book Fair last month. One of my favorite biographies with lyrical language, metaphor, and tension is DAVE THE POTTER: ARTIST, POET, SLAVE.

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  128. Excellent mentor texts, Andrea! I loved chatting with you in the Debut PB Study Group!

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  129. Apparently these are all great books as they are all on hold at my library. The only one I've been able to get my hands on so far is "Finding Winnie" which is absolutely stunning. Thank you for your list. I will read the others and add them to my spreadsheet as they become available.

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  130. There is a Great Story in Everybody.

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  131. Thanks for this great list of immersive biographies, including one to celebrate pi day!

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  132. I was so glad to meet 2 great biographies...Winnie and Lost/Found Cat. I wish my local library carried the other 3, but...I did find 2 great ones by accident...A POEMS FOR PETER and RUTH BADER GINSBURG.

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