Tag Archives: biography


Nonfiction, but also some fictional, books are a great resource for those of us who are curious and want to learn more. Why do some cultures have certain traditions? How can you find a job you love? What makes people tick? And even… what if dinosaurs really existed? These books can provide answers to many questions…

Henna Is…, written by Marzieh Abbas and illustrated by Anu Chouhan, is a wonderful picture book that both delights and informs. Henna Is… is the story of how henna is actually grown, picked and ground into powder. It tells how, by adding ingredients, it is made into a paste that is used to paint designs on skin. But, through poetic text, it is also a multi layered story of how the tradition has been carried through the ages, how it has been passed on through countries and cultures and how it helps to celebrate many different occasions. Henna Is… is so much more than a joyful story about henna. Use it in the classroom to explain why some people paint temporary tattoos on their hands and use it to inspire art. ISBN 978-1-250-86266-2, Feiwel and Friends, New York.

Hooray for DNA!: How a Bear and a Bug Are a Lot Like Us

Hooray for DNA, How a Bear and a Bug Are a Lot Like Us, written by Pauline Thompson and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli is a picture book that shows how DNA makes us us. It looks at animals and other things that are alive, and how DNA turns us from a ‘thing’ into a person. But mostly it stretches how humans are alive and how – regardless of skin colour or eye colour, DNA makes us all related. The back pages have more in depth information  on the building blocks of DNA. A fun, rhyming read that encourages budding scientists to learn more. ISBN 978-0-593-42704-0, Alfred A. Knopf

The Extinct Files, My Science Project by Wallace Edwards.This is a brilliant picture book for dinosaur lovers of all ages. “Wally” Edwards is a kid in grade school who discovers that extinction of dinosaurs is just a giant coverup. He has photos and many observations to prove that dinosaurs are not extinct but have evolved to be smart and have adapted to urban civilization. The fantastic illustrations and book pages look like a child’s homework project, complete with perforations and string. The ‘photos’ are ‘taped’ to the pages to make it look like homework. However, just before handing in his project, it has been found by the dinosaurs, who undertake a security breach investigation and issue a warning to all dinosaurs to be careful. All Wally has left to show his teacher is a remaining corner of his report that was eaten by dinosaurs. A great, fun book to inspire students’ imagination! ISBN 978-1-55337-971-3, Kids Can Press

Meet Clara Hughes, by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas is the inspiring biography of an Olympic skater who battled mental health problems. This enlightening picturebook is part of Scholastic’s biograpies series. Not only does this book focus on Clara Hughes, an impressive athlete who won Olympic gold medals in speed skating and competed in cycling. She also struggled with mental health issues and depression. Clara created awareness of these conditions in hopes of helping others. She embarked on a Big Bike ride across Canada to raise awareness and was Canada’s flag bearer at the Vancouver Olympics. She is the only person ever to win multiple medals at both Summer and Winter Olympics.  A good read with the Olympics coming up! ISBN 978-1443197724, Scholastic Canada

See It, Dream It, Do It was written by Colleen Nelson and Kathie MacIsaac, illustrated by Scot Ritchie. The book helps to create awareness for kids about how to get the job of your dreams. What does it take to become a paleontologist? Or a basketball coach? How can you actually become a stand-up comedian or a microbiologist? The book shows kids real life situations, spin off jobs, and the kind of education or experience needed for a wide variety of jobs. It highlights a young woman who worked for the foreign service and became an Ambassador. Other young women became a pilot, a captain and cybersecurity analyst. What does it take to be a Lego designer or a male midwife? This fascinating book is aimed at young people but an equally informative read for people of all ages. ISBN 978-1-77278-288-2, Pajama Press

Margriet Ruurs is a writer in Canada who loves her job and is curious about just about anything. Book for for author talks in your school here:



Books About Big Dreams

The Girl Who Loved Giraffes: And Became the World's First Giraffologist

The Girl Who Loved Giraffes, written by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by François Thisdale is a beautifully executed, nonfiction picturebook that works on several levels. First and foremost it is the biography of a remarkable young woman who knew what she wanted. Anne Innis Dagg was a child who saw her first giraffe in a zoo. She studied worked and saved hard in hopes of, one day, going to Africa to see giraffes in the wild. Through sheer determination, she did, in the 1950’s, and became one of the first scientists to study and observe giraffes in the wild. Anne worked all of her life to preserve and protect her favourite animals.

This is also a story of feminism and discrimination since universities refused Anne a position as professor, simply because she was female. Later, universities apologized and even bestowed her with an honorary degree. Anne’s story is reminiscent of that of Jane Goodall, another female pioneer in the world of zoology.

And lastly, this picture book works as a catalyst to help young readers learn more about and appreciate giraffes, while encouraging them to follow their dreams. ISBN 9781554555406, Fitzhenry & Whiteside

Her Epic Adventure: 25 Daring Women Who Inspire a Life Less Ordinary

Her Epic Adventure, 25 Daring Women Who Inspire a Life Less Ordinary, by Julia de Laurentiis Johnston and Salini Perera. This nonfiction picturebook (64 pages) features women around the world who have accomplished impressive feats despite the fact that they were discouraged because they are/were female. The book is divided into sections like ‘Land’, ‘Ice’ and ‘Water’. Each double spread tells the story of a woman who achieved her dream, including Mae Jemison, America’s first black woman in space, the petite Junko Tabei from Japan who conquered each of the seven highest peaks on each continent and Arunima Sinha from India who reached the top of Mt. Everest despite having a prosthetic leg. I enjoyed learning about the youngest girl sailing around the world and about Sylvia Earle who became a world renowned oceanographer against all odds. A great book to encourage anyone, female or male, to achieve their dreams and not give up. ISBN 878-1-5253-0110-0, Kids Can Press

Two at the Top: A Shared Dream of Everest

Based on true events, Two At The Top by Uma Krishanaswami, illustrated by Christopher Corr, is the brilliant story of two boys who share a same dream: to climb to the top of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, one day. Neither boy knows if they can ever achieve their dream. Tenzing Norgay lives in Nepal and tends his father’s yaks. Edmond Hillary lives in New Zealand and tends his father’s bees. Lovely, mirroring pages and well balanced text shows how each boy, from an early age on, works and trains towards his goal. In 1953 the sherpa and the climber finally meet and, as a team, reach the summit of Mount Everest and achieve their joined dream. The book gives factual information on mountains and their environment in the back.  ISBN 978-1-77306-266-2, Groundwood Books

A Boy Named Tommy Douglas, by Beryl Young, illustrated by Joan Steacy is an important story for Canadian children to read. Or for that matter, for anyone who ever goes to a doctor’s office, gets treatment or stays in hospital and doesn’t have to pay. In Canada, we owe this free medical care to a boy from Saskatchewan who injured his leg in 1911. He felt it was unfair that he could not see a doctor because his parents could not afford it. For the rest of his life, Tommy Douglas worked hard in government and succeeded, in 1968, to bring universal health care to all Canadians. A fascinating story about how dreams can come true. ISBN 978-1-988242-41-5, Midtown Press

John's Turn

And it’s not only people who become famous who have big dreams. In John’s Turn, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Kate Berube, John is in elementary school and nervous, but also excited, that his turn is coming up at Sharing Gifts time, his class’ show and tell. Will he do magic tricks? Will he read? No, John puts on his leotards and dances, leaving the entire class in awe and earning a standing ovation from his friends. The book shows kids to believe in themselves and follow their own dreams by being brave. ISBN 978-1-5362-0395-0, Candlewick Press

Take Off Your Brave: The World through the Eyes of a Preschool Poet

And finally a very unusual book of poems: Take Off Your Brave, The World through the Eyes of a Preschool Poet, by Nadim (age 4) and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail. This is a collection of poems in picture book format. In the inbtroduction Nadim’s mom explains how they discussed ‘what a poem is’ and how she recorded his words. Now Nadim writes his own poems, encouraging his sister and his preschool class to write poems as well. The poems in this collection deal with love, friendships, nature, school and much more. In Dream School the students turn into kittens and there are no bullies. And when you come home… you can take off your jacket and take off your brave!  ISBN 978-1-5362-2316-3, Candlewick Press

Margriet Ruurs is the author of over 40 books for children. She conducts author presentations at international schools around the world. www.margrietruurs.com


What difference can one person make? Have you discussed global warming, Black Lives Matter and gender equality in class? These books about activism are shining examples of how you cán change the world, one issue at a time.

I Have the Right to Save My Planet

I Have The Right to Save My Planet, Alain Serres and Aurélia Fronty is chock full of facts about climate change and endangered species. The book explains that every child on earth has the right to water and clean air as decreed by the International Convention on children’s rights. It spells out many of the problems the earth is currently facing but gives children ways to manage these concerns: get your family to buy less plastic, don’t eat cookies made with palm oil from trees that are replacing rain forest, etc. With an interesting voice combined with beautiful art, this book is part of a ‘Rights’ series. ISBN 978-1-77306-487-1, Groundwood Books

Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality

Walking For Water, How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Nicole Miles is a wonderful story inspired by true events in Malawi. Victor and Linesi are twins. They love going to school but at some point Lenesi is the one who can’t go anymore because she has to fetch water for the family. In school, the new teacher tells the children about gender equality. Soon Victor sees the unfairness of this and has a plan: he and his sister take turns going to class and fetching water. The changes have a ripple effect so that, soon, equality becomes not just something that is only talked about but practised as well.  ISBN 978-1-5253-0249-7, Kids Can Press

Small History of a Disagreement

A Small History of a Disagreement by Claudio Fuentes, with art by Gabriela Lyon. This story is based in Chile but is so universal it could take place anywhere. Children come to school, after the holidays, to find a large fence blocking access to part of their school grounds, including the tall Monkey Puzzle tree. The introduction explains that this tree is millennial, more than a thousand years old and endangered. But laws allow it to be cut down to make room for the much needed school expansion. Soon, the controversies and debates begin. Groups form in favour of development as well as in favour of protection. Who will win? And how will so many students ever agree? Focused on a school based issue, this is the universal story of debate, disagreement and reaching satisfactory solutions through research and debate. A book that should be mandatory for all politicians… ISBN 978-177164-707-6, Greystone Kids

How to Become an Accidental Activist

Following How To Become An Accidental Genius, Frieda Wishinsky and Elzabeth MacLeod followed that title with How To Become An Accidental Activist. The book shows how many people, from all corners of the world, may be accidental, but definitely heroic, activists by standing up for what they believe in. The book shows people in history but also today taking action against social, gender or racial injustice. It shows what young people do for the environment and against bullying. The book shares inside stories of well known people like Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and Greta Thunberg in Sweden, but also of lesser known heroes like Rigoberta Menchu Tum standing up for equal rights in Guatemala and Song Kosal from Cambodia advocating against landmines. This book shows that you are never the only one and never should be discouraged from fighting for change and believing in doing the right thing. ISBN 978-1-4598-2611-3, Orca Book Publishers

Growing Up Elizabeth May: The Making of an Activist

Growing Up Elizabeth May, The Making of an Activist, written by Sylvia Olsen with Cate May Burton – is the story of how a girl from Connecticut became the leader of Canada’s Green Party. Inspired by her mother to take action against injustice, Elizabeth studied problems she saw around her in the environment. She fought for what she thought was right and battled politicians to ban pesticides. Eventually, that young girl was named one of the most influential women in the world, showing other young people to take action for what they believe in. This inspiring book is supplemented with examples of young people’s actions against plasticide, air pollution and more. Even though this book is about one particular person in North America, it is also a universal story of what can happen if you follow your heart and stick to your convictions. ISBN 978-1-4598-2370-9, Orca Book Publishers

Margriet Ruurs conducts author presentations and workshops at international schools around the world. Contact her directly to book for your school.