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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Picture Books Bios I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Hark, A Vagrant Comics)

Okay. So now we’re finally getting some interesting picture book biographies on a regular basis.  When I was a kid you had your Helen Keller and your Abraham Lincoln and you were GRATEFUL!  These days, people are interested in celebrating more than just the same ten people over and over again.  Why this year alone I’ve seen some incredibly interesting picture book biographies of comparatively obscure figures.  These include . . .

  • Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley, ill. Jessie Hartland
  • Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson (Ada’s really hot this year)
  • Anything But Ordinary: The True Story of Adelaide Herman, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, ill. Iacopo Bruno
  • Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff, ill. Hadley Hooper
  • Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, ill. Isabelle Arsenault
  • Esquivel! Space‐Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood, ill. Duncan Tonatiuh
  • Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal, ill. Laura Freeman
  • I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, ill. Elizabeth Baddeley
  • The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick, ill. Steven Salerno
  • Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave‐Explorer by Heather Henson, ill. Bryan Collier
  • Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean‐Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
  • Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh, ill. Raul Colon
  • To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet & Dr. Kathy Sullivan, ill. Nicole Wong
  • Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super‐Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, ill. Don Tate
  • The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin, ill. Jez Tuya

And those are just the ones I’ve seen!

It’s encouraging.  And then I wonder – do people need suggestions for more fun biographies?  Because if they do have I got the woman for you!

First off, meet Kate Beaton.  You may only know her from her two Scholastic books, last year’s The Princess and the Pony and this year’s King Baby.  But Kate has been running an online comic site called Hark, A Vagrant! for years.  There are many lovely things about the site, but I’m particularly fond of her brief biographical comics on obscure historical figures.  She’s been doing them for years and once in a while I really do see one turned into a picture book (paging Ada Lovelace . . .).  So in today’s goofy post I’m going to pull out some of Kate’s work in the hopes that maybe there’s an author or illustrator there who’d like to write a picture book biography about someone awesome and relatively unknown.

By the way, you can follow these links to read these comics in a clearer format, if you like.  And I think you can even buy prints of them, if you want.

First up:

Katherine Sui Fun Cheung


I legitimately had never heard of her.  A badass Asian-American aviatrix heroine?  Um… how is she NOT in a picture book bio?  Because quite frankly we could use a huge uptick in our Asian-American women bios in general.  Particularly if they involve air stunts.

Matthew Henson


Is it weird that there isn’t a really well-known Henson picture book biography out there?  I guess his life wasn’t completely perfect (second family at the North Pole and all) but as African-American explorers go, he’s fantastic.  As it happens, this was the first Hark, A Vagrant! comic I ever read.  I was a fan for life afterwards.

Rosalind Franklin


She helps to discover DNA!  She doesn’t get credit for it!  This story has everything!

Dr. Sara Josephine Baker


She’s so often just linked to Typhoid Mary, but Ms. Baker did wonders for infant mortality rates and just generally sounds like an amazing woman. And I like how Beaton draws her hair.

Ida B. Wells


I’m pretty sure we’ve had picture book bios on her before, but the only one I can remember was for older kids.

Mary Seacole


Again, never heard of her. And as Kate put it regarding Nightingale, “She is no longer my favorite Crimean War nurse.”  This is timely too since as of three days ago there was a report in The Guardian over the huge furor over a statue honoring Seacole’s achievements.  Read it, when you get a chance.  Then write a bio of Seacole.

Harvey Milk


Maybe not so obscure thanks to his biopic, but sure as shooting lacking in some significant pic bios.

Of course when all is said and done, Kate should really just make her own picture book biographies.  Or, do a book for older readers of Biographies You Should REALLY Know and Don’t.

Oh, it would work.

Happy writing!

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I love this post — I’m such a fan of picture book biographies and Kate Beaton (she’s a hoot)! When I spew random facts about historical figures that my family has never heard of, it’s often because I read about that person in a picture book biography!

    I also wish there were more biographies in general about Asian American women. It looks like there’s a chapter about Katherine Sui Fun Cheung in Women Aviators: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions, and Record-Setting Journeys, but that’s a middle school and up nonfiction book. There’s a picture book biography about a different Asian American female pilot: Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee, which I used when I worked in the library.

    Yes, let’s petition Kate to write a kids’/teens’ version of Hark! A Vagrant/Step Aside, Pops … it would be fabulous!

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Fun Asian-American picture book bios. We should make demands. It’s not that the bios don’t exist, they’re just never get to be quirky. I am a big proponent of more humor in our nonfiction. More fun, please!

    • Elisa Edwards says:

      There is a picture book biography of Ida B. Wells called “Let the Truth be Told” by Walter Dean Myers that was recently reprinted.

  2. Hi —

    Carole Boston Weatherford wrote (and Eric Velasquez illustrated) a lovely picture book biography of Matthew Henson called I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explore (Walker, 2007).

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Yes indeed, back in 2008. Perhaps Walker & Co. should consider rereleasing it.

  3. Since you’re the one who introduced me to Our Kate, I had to come back and say OF COURSE we need to encourage her to just do ALLLLLL the picture book biographies. I could enjoy a Seacole one from her for sure!

  4. Dibs on Rosalind Franklin. Unless Kate does it first. Or anyone else… 🙂

  5. WOW…thank you so much, Betsy! I’m passionate about writing pb bios…have one coming out in Spring 2017 about the 1st black woman to own a U.S patent…and another under consideration about two iconic American celebrities who were friends. I truly love uncovering these moments and people that the history books have forgotten…and bringing them alive for young readers. Kate is BRILLIANT…thank you so much for introducing me to her work.

  6. I have already pitched two of these people to an editor! And yes, there are so many more great stories waiting to be told.

  7. Hi! Just an fyi that my picture book, Keep On!, about Matthew Henson, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, was published by Peachtree and came out in paperback just last October. It includes excerpts from Henson’s autobiography, a timeline, and photos. (It won an Oregon Book award,) I think Stephen also illustrated a book on Ida B. Wells.

  8. The Ida B. Wells book Deborah alluded to is “Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells: The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist ” by Phillip Dray, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn. It was released in 2008 and I’m not sure whether it’s still in print, but it’s absolutely wonderful and ought to be read by everyone.