Patience and per­se­ver­ance are among the hard­est things for chil­dren to learn. How can we make press­ing on in the face of dis­cour­age­ment inter­est­ing to kids? By read­ing them amaz­ing sto­ries of cre­ativ­i­ty and resilience! Pic­ture book biogra­phies show the sat­is­fy­ing results of per­se­ver­ing over a life­time. All ages will be inspired by the true tales shared in these ten pic­ture books.

Mar­jo­ry Saves the Ever­glades:
The Sto­ry of Mar­jo­ry Stone­man Dou­glas
writ­ten by San­dra Neil Wal­lace
illus­trat­ed by Rebec­ca Gib­bon
Simon & Schus­ter
Books for Young Read­ers, 2020

After age 40, Mar­jo­ry became an advo­cate for the Ever­glades — “a slow-mov­ing, life-giv­ing riv­er of grass,” con­vinc­ing offi­cials to estab­lish a nation­al park there. She was almost 80 when a planned super­son­ic jet­port required she amp up her activism, and her efforts con­tin­ued until age 108.

Small Won­ders:
Jean-Hen­ri Fab­re and his World of Insects
writ­ten by Matthew Clark Smith
illus­trat­ed by Guil­iano Fer­ri
Two Lions Press, 2015

Ridiculed in the 1800’s for care­ful­ly observ­ing insects in their habi­tats, Jean-Hen­ri per­sist­ed doc­u­ment­ing them for decades. Near­ing his nineti­eth year he was still work­ing when the King of France vis­it­ed his vil­lage to inform him he’d been nom­i­nat­ed for the Nobel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture for his poet­ic writ­ing about the lives of insects.

A Plan for the Peo­ple:
Nel­son Mandela’s Hope for his Nation
writ­ten by Lind­sey McDi­vitt
illus­trat­ed by Char­ly Palmer
Eerd­mans Books for Young Read­ers, 2021

 This new pic­ture book biog­ra­phy explores Nel­son Mandela’s long fight for racial jus­tice in apartheid-era South Africa. He per­se­vered through decades of strug­gle and 27 years behind bars — pur­pose­ly edu­cat­ing him­self in prison to lead a new demo­c­ra­t­ic nation. Despite South Africa’s oppres­sion of its non-white cit­i­zens, Man­dela had hope — hope for a nation that belonged to every­one who lived in it.

Head­strong Hal­lie:
The Sto­ry of Hal­lie Morse Daggett,
the First Female “Fire Guard”
writ­ten by Aimée Bis­sonette
illus­trat­ed by David Hohn
Sleep­ing Bear Press, 2021

In the 1880’s the For­est Ser­vice didn’t hire women — think­ing they couldn’t han­dle the phys­i­cal chal­lenges or iso­la­tion. But they didn’t real­ize how deter­mined Hal­lie Morse Daggett could be. A true sto­ry of “girl power.”

Henri’s Scis­sors
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Jeanette Win­ter
Beach Lane Books, 2013

Late in his life, famed artist Hen­ri Matisse is ini­tial­ly dis­cour­aged as he con­tem­plates life in bed or wheel­chair. Deter­mined to remain cre­ative, he resumes draw­ing — even using chalk tied to a pole. Even­tu­al­ly Matisse “draws with scis­sors’ by cut­ting sin­u­ous nat­ur­al shapes from col­ored paper. Quotes gleaned from Matisse’s let­ters to an old friend illu­mi­nate his joy,

The Old­est Stu­dent:
How Mary Walk­er Learned to Read
writ­ten by Rita Lor­raine Hub­bard
illus­trat­ed by Oge Mora
Schwarz and Wade Books, 2020

Mary Walker’s pre­cious Bible wait­ed 101 years before she learned to read it at the age of 116. Fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry of a woman whose long life spanned from the Civ­il War to the Civ­il Rights Move­ment, and who — with per­se­ver­ance and ded­i­ca­tion — proved that you’re nev­er too old to learn.


Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Fros­tic Sto­ry
writ­ten by Lind­sey McDi­vitt
illus­trat­ed by Eileen Ryan Ewen
Sleep­ing Bear Press, 2018

Nature artist and ear­ly envi­ron­men­tal­ist Gwen Fros­tic built a suc­cess­ful busi­ness around her art. She con­sis­tent­ly chal­lenged stereo­types of dis­abil­i­ty, of women, and in the lat­er years — the low expec­ta­tions of old age.

A Riv­er of Words:
The Sto­ry of William Car­los Williams
writ­ten by Jen Bryant
illus­trat­ed by Melis­sa Sweet
Eerd­mans Books for Young Read­ers, 2008

Cel­e­brat­ed poet William Car­los Williams per­se­vered with the writ­ing he loved through­out a busy, demand­ing career as a doc­tor. A true sto­ry to inspire any­one nurs­ing dreams of cre­ativ­i­ty, someday…

When Grand­ma Gate­wood Took a Hike
writ­ten by Michelle Houts
illus­trat­ed by Eri­ca Mag­nus
Ohio Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2016

In 1955, Six­ty-sev­en-year-old Emma “Grand­ma” Gate­wood became the first woman to solo hike the entire length of the Appalachi­an Trail in one thru-hike. She didn’t give up after fail­ing to fin­ish the first time, and she com­plet­ed the hike of over two thou­sand miles with no pro­fes­sion­al gear or tent.

The Fan­tas­tic Jun­gles of Hen­ri Rousseau
writ­ten by Michelle Markel
illus­trat­ed by Aman­da Hall
Eerd­mans Books for Young Read­ers, 2012

Despite pover­ty, lim­it­ed resources and bru­tal dis­cour­age­ment from the crit­ics Rousseau stays the course. This is a tale of blos­som­ing cre­ativ­i­ty real­ized in lat­er life. And a sto­ry of ded­i­ca­tion to learn­ing a new skill over many, many years.

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Jen F. Bryant
Jen F. Bryant
3 years ago

Thanks for includ­ing A Riv­er of Words on this ter­rif­ic book list. Willie DID per­se­vere and we are so grate­ful for that!

3 years ago

I love the theme of this book list! And I great­ly appre­ci­ate that you includ­ed HALLIE.

Colleen Paeff
3 years ago

You’ve includ­ed so many of my favorites on this list!