The best picture-book biographies/memoirs for young animal lovers

Who am I?

I write picture-book biographies and my latest book focuses on the first giraffologist, Dr. Anne Innis Dagg. While researching this book, I learned about so many people who have dedicated their lives to studying and protecting animals. Almost always, their love of wildlife began in childhood. So why not inspire young animal lovers today with true stories about people who share their passion for wildlife?


I wrote...

Anne and Her Tower of Giraffes

By Karlin Gray,

Book cover of Anne and Her Tower of Giraffes

What is my book about?

At four years old, Anne saw her first giraffe and never stopped thinking about it. Her desire to study the world's tallest animal followed her from preschool to graduate school, from Canada to South Africa. And often, people laughed at her quest. But by following her love of giraffes, Dr. Anne Innis Dagg became a pioneer—the first scientist to study animal behavior in Africa.

Illustrated by Aparna Varma, Anne and Her Tower of Giraffes is a picture-book biography that celebrates the adventures of Dr. Dagg, the beauty of giraffes, and the power of persistence. 

The books I picked & why

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A Boy and a Jaguar

By Alan Rabinowitz, Catia Chien (illustrator),

Book cover of A Boy and a Jaguar

Why this book?

I’m a cat person (please don’t tell my dog). Therefore I was naturally drawn to a book by Dr. Alan Rabinowitz—a zoologist who dedicated his life to protecting the world’s wild cat species. But while young readers might pick up this book because they are cat lovers or intrigued by jaguars, they’ll discover so much more. This is the true story about a boy with a stutter and how he finds his voice by talking to jaguars. Later, he returns the favor by using his voice to advocate for big-cat conservation. Beautifully illustrated by Catia Chien, this memoir shows what it means to keep a promise and how pursuing your passion can help you overcome obstacles. The back matter includes an interesting Q&A with Dr. Rabinowitz.


Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos

By Monica Brown, John Parra (illustrator),

Book cover of Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos

Why this book?

I like biographies that approach a subject from a different angle and this book does that by focusing on the animals that influenced Frida Kahlo. By witnessing Frida’s relationships with her pets—a parrot, eagle, fawn, cat, dogs, turkeys, monkeys—kids will get to know Frida and learn how she became one of the world’s most beloved artists despite several challenges. The back matter explains that the artist often included her pets in her work. So when readers of this biography encounter one of Kahlo’s animalito paintings (perhaps in a museum or in another book), they will delight in recognizing Frida’s furry and feathered friends. A wonderful way to introduce kids to an artist’s work!


Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear

By Lindsay Mattick, Sophie Blackall (illustrator),

Book cover of Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear

Why this book?

You’ve probably read Winnie the Pooh, either as a child or to a child. But I bet you don’t know about the real bear who inspired one of the most famous characters in children’s literature. Told as an origin story within a bedtime story, this bestselling and award-winning illustrated biography ends with wonderful photos of all the characters: the real Winnie (a girl!), the vet who rescued her, the soldiers who cared for her, the boy who famously befriended her, and the author who immortalized the beloved bear. Best of all, Finding Winnie is a success at proving one of the book’s themes—sometimes the very best stories are true stories.


Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist

By Jess Keating, Marta Álvarez Miguéns (illustrator),

Book cover of Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist

Why this book?

“To others, sharks were ugly and scary. But Eugenie knew they were beautiful. As she glided through the cool water, she wished everyone could see sharks through her eyes.” - Shark Lady

I’m one of those ‘others’, regarding sharks as ugly and scary. But when I read Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless Scientist, I could see through young Eugenie’s eyes and appreciate her love for the magnificent creatures that deserve our respect. While there are wonderful feminist and STEM aspects to this book, what I love most about this picture-book biography is that the reader dives into Eugenie’s world and emerges with a better understanding of these animals. Perhaps sharks are not ugly and scary, after all.


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?

There is so much to love about this biography on scientist Joan Procter—from a girl having a tea party with lizards... to her journey of becoming a scientist and curator... to her alliance with real-life dragons! And every spread of this book slithers with stunning reptiles thanks to illustrator Felicita Sala. In the back matter, readers learn that the zoologist died at the young age of 34 due to complications from a chronic illness. But because of this inspirational biography, Procter’s story—and love of reptiles—will live on and on in the minds of young readers. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in reptiles, the conservation movement, and bears?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about reptiles, the conservation movement, and bears.

Reptiles Explore 7 books about reptiles
The Conservation Movement Explore 9 books about the conservation movement
Bears Explore 46 books about bears

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Queen of Physics, Mamie on the Mound, and Noodle & Lou if you like this list.