The Who Was? series of illustrated biographies from Penguin Workshop, easily recognizable for the bobblehead-type illustrations on the covers, is a juggernaut. Launched in 2002 with four inaugural volumes, the series has grown to more than 250 titles, expanding into graphic novel and board book formats, and has been adapted as a Netflix TV series. Recent STEM/STEAM entries include Who Is Jane Goodall? A Who Was? Board Book by Lisbeth Kaiser, illustrated by Stanley Chow, and Who Is Greta Thunberg? by Jill Leonard and Who Is Neil deGrasse Tyson? by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso, both illustrated by Manuel Gutierrez.
The Little Naturalists board books, part of the BabyLit line from Gibbs Smith, introduce youngest readers to such subjects as George Washington Carver and Rachel Carson, focusing on pivotal moments and achievements in their lives.
Earlier this year HarperCollins launched the VIP illustrated biography series for middle graders featuring “underappreciated historical figures and groups with a focus on leaders in science and technology,” according to the publisher’s description. Among the debut titles is VIP: Lewis Latimer: Engineering Wizard by Denise Lewis Patrick, illustrated by Daniel Duncan, about the patent draftsman and inventor who improved upon the production method of carbon filaments for light bulbs among other things.
Random House Books for Young Readers offers its middle grade Trailblazers series celebrating the lives of pioneers past and present—including Neil Armstrong and Albert Einstein—aimed at “kids who loved Who Was? and are ready for the next level.”
Scholastic’s Children’s Press imprint will release the six inaugural titles in its SuperHERoes of Science series next February. These books for middle graders highlight some of the major contributions women have made in the world of science. Among the first volumes out of the gate are Making Inventions: Women Who Led the Way by Supriya Sahal and Exploring Space: Women Who Led the Way by Nancy Dickmann.
Discovering History’s Heroes is a middle grade biography series from Jeter Publishing under S&S’s Aladdin imprint that spotlights individuals who have changed the course of history but may not be as well-known as their counterparts. The latest addition to the line, Susan La Flesche Picotte by Diane Bailey, presents the life of the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree.
Quirk’s Kid Legends series of group biographies continues with Kid Innovators: True Tales of Childhood from Inventors and Trailblazers by Robin Stevenson, illustrated by Allison Steinfeld. The book turns the lens toward the childhoods of such STEM/STEAM figures as Bill Gates, Florence Nightingale, and Alan Turing.
DK, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, kicks off its What the Artist Saw series this month. The books draw from art, history, and culture to show readers what famous artists were looking at and influenced by as they created their work. First out of the gate are Vincent van Gogh by Amy Guglielmo, illustrated by Petra Braun, and Georgia O’Keefe by Gabriella Balkan, illustrated by Josy Bloggs. In addition, the DK Life Stories middle grade biography series, which launched in 2019, adds Marie Curie by Sarah Olsen Michel in January 2022.
And the picture book biographies in Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series by Brad Meltzer from Dial home in on an admirable character trait of a significant figure from history. One of the newest entries, I Am I.M. Pei by Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos, will hit shelves on September 28.