Inspire your children to follow their dreams, whether in science or the arts, with these wonderful new STEAM biographies! These beautifully done picture books teach children (and adults!) about pioneers in painting, dance, astronomy, and marine biology. But more importantly, they encourage children to be brave enough to pursue their interests, no matter what obstacles they may face.
Disclosure: I receive a complimentary copy of Dancing Through Fields of Color for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
STEAM Biographies for Kids
Great collection of STEAM biographies for kids, perfect for summer reading!
If you have a child who loves to color outside the lines, you must read Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler together! At a time when girls especially were meant to follow the rules, Helen Frankenthaler persisted in following her own path, letting her colors run free. She was in love with color and movement, from the swirl of blue waves around her in the ocean to the sunset rays streaming in their apartment windows.
Yet her whole life she had to fight against those that wanted her to do things as they always had been done, and who relegated women artists to small, less experimental exhibits. But she followed her instincts and went on to become a leader in the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s. She pioneered the revolutionary “soak-stain” method of letting paints actually soak into the canvas, thus ushering in the Color Field movement in painting.
A wonderful book to encourage children to follow their hearts and be courageous enough to color outside the lines. Outstanding illustrations capture the lush, vibrant colors of Frankenthaler’s work, plus a reproduction and photos of the artist at work can be seen at the back.
Mexican folkloric dance is ubiquitous these days, but it was not always so celebrated. Danza!: Amalia Hernández and Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet by the award-winning Duncan Tonatiuh, celebrates the achievements of dancer and choreographer Amalia Hernández. Accomplished in both ballet and modern dance, Hernández was moved to study traditional dances of her native Mexico, and she soon began to incorporate them into her pieces.
She founded the world famous dance company, El Ballet Folklórico de México, renowned for integrating elements of these regional dances into ballet and modern dance. It is largely thanks to Hernández’s efforts that Mexican dances are so well known around the world today. Hernández and her dance company (which still performs and tours internationally) helped celebrate the diversity of Mexican heritage and win recognition of Mexican traditions as art.
I adore Tonatiuh’s illustrations, which themselves are known to integrate elements of pre-Columbian art. Gorgeous book published on the 100th anniversary of Hernández’s birth.
Caroline’s Comets: A True Story is one of those stories that I read and think, “Why did I never learn about this in history class?” before answering my own question, “Oh wait! Because she was a woman…” Caroline Hershel was the first woman to discover a comet and the first woman to be paid for scientific research. Along with her brother William, she helped make astronomy into a modern science. Between them they found 2,500 nebulae, along with a number of comets discovered by Caroline. Yet as a child no one expected much from her. As a girl, she was taught “practical skills” rather than the arts and sciences taught to her brothers. She was often no better than a scullery maid for her family and was only allowed to go live with her older brother William – to whom she was devoted – when he paid for a maid to replace her.
When William began to focus on astronomy, Caroline joined him in his pursuits, becoming an assistant inventor and helping him build what was at the time the best telescope in the world. All of this, of course, while serving as a maid and accountant for her brother. It reminded me of the old saying about how Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels! While William is best known for discovering the planet Uranus, Caroline is famed as the Hunter of Comets. Fascinating book about the early history of modern astronomy, as well as the practical problems faced by female scientists.
Today we take for granted deep sea diving and all of the discoveries that have come from it, but Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere reminds us that it is really a very new field of exploration, one still full of danger and mystery. Otis Barton and Will Beebe were an unlikely pair. Beebe was a renowned explorer who saw the sea as another adventure. Barton was a young engineer who came up with a plan to make a deep sea dive a reality. Barton’s contraption, the Bathysphere, was a hollow metal ball just big enough for the two explorers – only four and a half feet! So many things could go wrong, and in fact, when they first went down in 1930 something several things did go wrong. First it was a small leak, but more serious was when sparks from a searchlight cord showered over them, threatening to reach the oxygen tanks. Luckily Barton was able to stop the sparks and save the dive…and their lives.
This was the first of 19 deep sea dives the men would do together in the Bathysphere. They were the first humans to see deep sea creatures alive, swimming in their own environment. Thanks to their courage, people began to see the ocean as a complete habitat, one that deserved study and protection. One of the great mysteries is that Beebe named four new species on his dives that have never been seen since. Did he imagine them, mistake existing species, or, since 95% of the oceans remain unexplored, have we just not come across them again?
Includes actual photos of the Bathysphere at the back of the book. And also I loved the note at the back from Beebe’s former assistant (and later Head of Science Reference at the Library of Congress, Constance Carter). She states that Beebe would often ignore letters from well-known scientists, instead focusing on answering letters from children, saying that it was more important to inspire a child.
What STEAM biographies inspired you as a child?