Before They Were Famous

When I discovered the biography section of the library as a kid, I thought I’d hit gold. There it was all mapped out for me–the path to fame and fortune. Albert Einstein was famous as a Nobel-prize winning physicist, but before that he was a kid that went to school, just like me (Although that is where the similarities ended, I was undeterred and studied physics through college. Alas, no Nobel prize.).

Biographies and autobiographies make the great acheievements of famous people seem reachable. Kid readers may find with the right skill set, timing, and luck they too could one day be the subject of a biography.

Here’s a book list of fascinating and inspirational life stories:

ROSA PARKS: MY STORY by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins

From IndieBound: Rosa Parks is best known for the day she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus, sparking the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott. Yet there is much more to her story than this one act of defiance. In this straightforward, compelling autobiography, Rosa Parks talks candidly about the civil rights movement and her active role in it. Her dedication is inspiring; her story is unforgettable.





From IndieBound: Who was this man who could walk through brick walls and, with a snap of his fingers, vanish elephants? In these pages you will meet the astonishing Houdini—magician, ghost chaser, daredevil, pioneer aviator, and king of escape artists. No jail cell or straitjacket could hold him! He shucked off handcuffs as easily as gloves.

In this fresh, witty biography of the most famous bamboozler since Merlin, Sid Fleischman, a former professional magician, enriches his warm homage with insider information and unmaskings. Did Houdini really pick the jailhouse lock to let a fellow circus performer escape? Were his secrets really buried with him? Was he a bum magician, as some rivals claimed? How did he manage to be born in two cities, in two countries, on two continents at the same instant?

Here are the stories of how a knockabout kid named Ehrich Weiss, the son of an impoverished rabbi, presto-changoed himself into the legendary Harry Houdini. Here, too, are rare photographs never before seen by the general reader!

KNOTS IN MY YO-YO STRING by Jerry Spinelli

From IndieBound: Newbery medalist Jerry Spinelli has penned his early autobiography with all the warmth, humor, and drama of his best-selling fiction. From first memories through high school, including first kiss, first punch, first trip to the principal’s office, and first humiliating sports experience, this is not merely an account of a highly unusual childhood. Rather, like Spinelli’s fiction, its appeal lies in the  accessibility and universality of his life. Entertaining and fast-paced, this is a highly readable memoir– a must-have for Spinelli fans of all ages.




Here are samples from a series of biographies:


From IndieBound: Thomas Edison’s 1,093 patented inventions include the light bulb, the phonograph, and significant contributions to the fields of photography. Combining lively text, rare period photos, and Edison’s own words, Delano paints a memorable portrait of this prolific American genius. Photos.

Note: This is one of a series of photobiographies created by this author for National Geographic.





From IndieBound: Did you know that the man behind Hershey’s chocolate used to work in an ice cream parlor? Or that he had to try over and over again to get his now-famous chocolate to taste as delicious as it does today? Milton Hershey’s life wasn’t always a bowl of chocolate Kisses. When he was in fourth grade, he even had to drop out of school and work to help his poor family make ends meet. Read all about how the man we know as the famous young chocolatier finally struck it rich — in money, love, and chocolate!

Note: This is one of a series of biographies, CHILDHOOD OF FAMOUS AMERICANS, published by Aladdin. A similar series is also available, CHILDHOOD OF WORLD FIGURES.




From IndieBound: Shirley Ann Jackson sees the unseen. She’s an expert in the invisible particles that make up everything in the universe, including you. Shirley Ann Jackson is a theoretical physicist, a scientist who studies the subatomic world using only paper, pencils, computers, and the most important tool of all: her imagination. Her passion for science blossomed during her childhood, with bumblebee experiments and go-cart races. But it’s her talent for math and her drive to succeed that have taken her career in amazing directions. Shirley uses her knowledge of electrons, neutrinos, and other particles of matter to better the lives of others–from solving important technology problems to teaching college physics to making nuclear power plants safer. A born leader, Shirley has always seized opportunities and broken down racial barriers, not only for herself but for others. Strong Force is the compelling story of an African American trailblazer and her science. Compelling and captivating, this true story of adventure traces the life of a young bee collector who lived her dream of becoming a world-renowned physicist.

Note: This is one of a series of biographies, WOMEN’S ADVENTURES IN SCIENCE, published by Joseph Henry Press.

In addition to a huge series of biographies published by DK Publishing, there’s also the Who Was…? series published by Grosset & Dunlap with titles such as WHO WAS WALT DISNEY? Tell us your favorite middle-grade biographies and autobiographies in the comments below!


Karen B. Schwartz would like you to know that the only biography written on her life so far is this one. She was born and went to school, just like you, and one magical day became a member of this blog. Also, she writes (a lot), reads (a lot), raises two rascally boys (it never ends), and meets famous people (sometimes).

Karen B. Schwartz