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Suggested Biographies by Grade Level


Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Explore these fascinating stories about real people. Grade levels are suggested, but remember that each Reader is different, and might find something interesting at another level. Under each grade is a link for even more titles, or you can try our May We Suggest service for more recommendations.


Before she was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Also available in: video | e-video

A lyrical biography of Harriet Tubman honors the woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life, discussing her roles as a slave, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, a nurse, a Union spy, and a suffragist.

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz

Learn about a a young boy with a speech impediment, who overcame his difficulties by working with animals.

Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo

Illustrations and text describe the life of Audrey Hepburn, beginning with her childhood, and describing her life in Nazi-occupied Holland, her dreams of becoming a prima ballerina, her success as an actress, and her efforts to help the world's children through UNICEF.

Meet the woman known as "the Lady Edison."  Mattie Knight loved to make things ranging from a foot warmer for her mother or toys for her older brothers. When she was 12, she made a metal guard to prevent shuttles from shooting off looms and hurting workers. Later, Mattie invented a machine that could cut and glue the square-bottomed paper bags we still use today.

This biography of Carl Sagan focuses on his childhood and culminates in the Voyager mission and the Golden Record.

More suggestions for Kindergarteners.

First Grade

This book looks at the life of the artist Benny Andrews -- illustrated with his original paintings -- from his childhood and youth in rural Georgia, through his studies in Chicago and his activism and artistic success in New York City.

Who was Grace Hopper? A software tester, workplace jester, cherished mentor, ace inventor, avid reader, naval leader-- AND rule breaker, chance taker, and troublemaker. 

This picture book biography of oceanographer Sylvia Earle discusses her childhood along the Gulf of Mexico, her passion for the environment, and her experiences in ocean exploration.

This picture book biography of urban environmental artist Tyree Guyton discusses his childhood in 1950s Detroit and the way he used art to transform his decaying, crime-ridden neighborhood into an internationally-recognized exhibit.

Also available in: e-book

Mumbet's Declaration of Independence tells the story of a Massachusetts slave from the Revolutionary era.  In 1781, she successfully used the new Massachusetts Constitution to make a legal case that she should be free.

More suggestions for First Graders.

Second Grade

Alfred Nobel was the man who founded what became known as The Nobel Prizes. Nobel also invented dynamite, becoming very wealthy from his invention. Learn about how Nobel's sadness over dynamite's use for harmful destruction led him to create yearly prizes for those who have rendered the greatest services to mankind.

Dare the Wind by Tracey E. Fern

This biography describes how Ellen Prentiss received sailing lessons from her father during childhood, married a ship captain, and helped set a world speed record during the Gold Rush era.

Mo Willems by Abby Colich

This book presents the life and career of Mo Willems, including his childhood, education, and milestones as a best selling children's author.  Find his work in the library catalog if you like humorous stories.

This introduction to the abolitionist and women's rights activist narrates her rise from former slave to preacher and orator a century before the Civil Rights Movement.

Examine the life of Peter Mark Roget and his invention of the thesaurus. 

More suggestions for Second Graders.

Third Grade

Discover the life of the astrophysicist, including his childhood in the Bronx, his academic career, and his status as a scientific expert.

This biography profiles the life of Bass Reeves, a former slave who was recruited as a deputy United States Marshal in the area that was to become Oklahoma.

A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley

A portrait of the American writer imagines his early years as a city youth whose dreams about the fields and woods of the country inspired him to pursue a literary life based around the things he loved.

A riveting and atmospheric picture book about the young woman who wrote one of the greatest horror novels ever written and one of the first works of science fiction, Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is an exploration of the process of artistic inspiration that will galvanize readers and writers of all ages.

More suggestions for Third Graders.

Fourth Grade

Ali : an American Champion by Barry Denenberg

This insightful biography puts the famous boxer into historical context through the use of newspaper articles, interviews, opinion pieces, and photographs.

Readers of this book will be introduced to the life of the passionate performer and civil rights activist that traces her journey from the slums of St. Louis to the world's most famous stages.

From Sally Ride's youth to her many groundbreaking achievements in space and beyond, Sue Macy's riveting biography tells the story of not only a pioneering astronaut but a leader and explorer whose life, as President Barack Obama said, "demonstrates that the sky is no limit for those who dream of reaching for the stars."

The author describes her battle against polio when she was thirteen and her efforts to overcome its debilitating effects. For another true story about polio, try One Step at a Time.

Spotted Tail by 1963- David Heska Wanbli Weiden

This biography traces the life of the famous Lakota leader who expertly guided his people through a pivotal and tumultuous time in their nation's history as they fought and negotiated with the U.S. government. Spotted Tail is remembered for his unique leadership style and deep love for his people. 

More suggestions for Fourth Graders.

Fifth Grade

Learn about the peaceful protest organized by teenager Barbara Rose Johns in order to secure a permanent building for her segregated high school in Virginia in 1951 and how her actions helped fuel the civil rights movement.

Bugs, of all kinds, were considered to be "born of mud" and to be "beasts of the devil."  Why would anyone, let alone a girl, want to study and observe them? One of the first naturalists to observe live insects directly, Maria Sibylla Merian was also one of the first to document the metamorphosis of the butterfly.

In 1704, Alexander Selkirk was voyaging across the South Pacific when, after arguing with the ship's captain, he was put ashore on an uninhabited island. With little more than a musket and his wits, Selkirk not only survived in complete solitude for more than four years but came to be quite comfortable and happy. Readers will discover how Alexander Selkirk's real-life adventures inspired the fictionalized story of Robinson Crusoe.

Maya Lin : thinking with her hands by Susan Goldman Rubin

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is one of the most famous pieces of civic architecture in the world. But most people are not as familiar with the reserved college student who entered and won the design competition to build it. 

This account of the early life of Gerald R. Ford follows his history up through high school. More biographies about the president from Michigan can be found in JBIO FORD.

More suggestions for Fifth Graders.

Sixth Grade

Follow the story of Holocaust survivor Leon Leyson, who was the youngest child in his family and possibly the youngest of the hundreds of Jews rescued by Oskar Schindler. Many readers are familiar with the story of Anne Frank, but there are many other similar tales.

The Brothers Grimm by Raymond H. Miller

These two brothers are responsible for many of the fairy tales we know and love today. Find the fairy tales in the J398 section, including this Illustrated Treasury.

Cheaper by the dozen by Frank B. (Frank Bunker) Gilbreth

One of the best-loved American memoirs of an oversized family and the parents who held them together.

What do you get when you put twelve lively kids together with a father--a famous efficiency expert--who believes families can run like factories, and a mother who is his partner in everything except discipline? You get a hilarious tale of growing up that has made generations of kids and adults alike laugh along with the Gilbreths.

One of the most celebrated female World War II resistance fighters shares her remarkable, heroic story in this revealing chronicle of her experiences as a special agent for the British Special Operations Executive.  For a fictional account that follows a female agent, try Code Name Verity.

Try a biography of a building. Discover how a team of scientists and historians unearthed a Maryland homestead from the 1600s and engaged in painstaking work to restore the ruin to its former glory.

More suggestions for Sixth Graders.