The best children’s book biographies about perseverance

Lisa Robinson Author Of Madame Saqui: Revolutionary Rope Dancer
By Lisa Robinson

Who am I?

I am a child psychiatrist and children’s book author. I also teach an elective course, Creativity and the Unconscious Mind, in Lesley University’s Creative Writing/MFA program. I am the author of two fiction (Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten, Pippa’s Night Parade) and two nonfiction picture books (Madame Saqui, Revolutionary Ropedancer, Were I Not A Girl: The Inspiring and True Story of Dr. James Barry). Coming out in 2022 is The Sweetest Scoop: Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Revolution and there are more books forthcoming! In my free time, I read voraciously and fly through the air on aerial silks at my local circus studio. 

I wrote...

Madame Saqui: Revolutionary Rope Dancer

By Lisa Robinson, Rebecca Green (illustrator),

Book cover of Madame Saqui: Revolutionary Rope Dancer

What is my book about?

Madame Saqui was a tightrope walker who dazzled Paris as she danced across the sky on a high wire during the French Revolutionary era. 

In the late 1700s, a girl named Marguerite Lalanne longed to perform above large crowds on a tightrope, just like her acrobatic parents. Sneaking off to the fairgrounds for secret tightrope walking lessons, Marguerite finessed her performance skills, ultimately performing for crowds as a young rope dancer. Eventually, Marguerite would perform as Madame Saqui, waltzing and pirouetting across—and never falling off—countless ropes above adoring crowds. Her daring feats—including walking across the Seine and between the towers of Notre Dame—led to her becoming a darling of Parisians and a favorite of Emperor Napoleon. She walked on the wire into her seventies! Her story adds a woman to the cast of characters on the stage of circus history.

The books I picked & why

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Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando

By Andrea Wang, Kana Urbanowicz (illustrator),

Book cover of Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando

Why this book?

Who doesn’t love ramen noodles?! Yum! This book tells the story of Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen noodle soup. When Ando saw long food lines after World War II, he was determined to find a way to make noodles that were quick and convenient. Believing that “peace follows from a full stomach,” he persevered at creating a noodle recipe that has become one of the world’s most popular and easy to prepare foods.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

By Anika Aldamuy Denise, Paola Escobar (illustrator),

Book cover of Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

Why this book?

Pura Belpré’s persistence in sharing her stories and belief in her Puerto Rican heritage, one that all children deserve to know about, resulted in a rich legacy of culturally diverse storytelling and published books throughout America. Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York City. She championed bilingual literature and spread story seeds across the land. In her honor, the American Library Association annually presents the Pura Belpré Award to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose literary work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience.

Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston

By Alicia Williams, Jacqueline Alcántara (illustrator),

Book cover of Jump at the Sun: The True Life Tale of Unstoppable Storycatcher Zora Neale Hurston

Why this book?

The gorgeous prose of this book uses dialect that echoes how Hurston used it in her stories. In spite of tremendous obstacles: a racist country, people who discouraged her, and personal tragedy, Hurston was as truly unstoppable as the title conveys. Her courage, persistence, and strength fueled a rich life as a writer, anthropologist, and folklorist. Her invaluable contribution, especially the preservation of African American folktales, enriched the literary world.

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial

By Susan E. Goodman, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial

Why this book?

The First Step tells an important and lesser-known story about Sarah Roberts, a schoolgirl who was not allowed to attend school in Boston in 1847 because of her skin color. Sarah and her family persisted by fighting this injustice; they took the City of Boston to court! Roberts v. City of Boston was the first case to challenge the United States’ legal system to outlaw segregation in schools. The Roberts family lost the battle, but their case was the first step toward desegregating schools. It’s important for children to learn that even if you don’t win, it’s vital to speak up and fight against injustice and that every step forward counts!

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles

By Patricia Valdez, Felicita Sala (illustrator),

Book cover of Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles

Why this book?

Reptiles and Komodo dragons, oh my! Joan Procter loved reptiles so much she received a crocodile for her sixteenth birthday. In spite of a chronic illness, Procter channeled her passion for reptiles into a career at London’s Natural History Museum and the London Zoo at a time when it was difficult for women to pursue such work. Against the odds of her health and gender, Procter conducted scientific research, published papers, and invented innovative lighting and design for the Zoo’s reptile house. Children will enjoy her story while also absorbing the message about following your passion and persisting through adversity.

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