Grateful American Kids

A Bounty of Biographies for Tweens and Teens

Selected by Rachael Walker

Browse this list of biographies to find compelling and inspiring stories about the lives of Americans who shaped our county, had an impact on our culture, and fought for justice. Like all good biographies, these titles make clear that people with extraordinary accomplishments are still just people, who, along with their successes, struggle with emotions, face challenges, and meet with failure. Middle grade and YA readers will find much to reflect on, relate to, and discover about the world and themselves.

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin

Included in this captivating account of Native American super athlete Jim Thorpe’s personal story is a look at government persecution of Native Americans, the development of boarding schools like the Carlisle Indian School, and the origins and evolution of football.


Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery

Follow Dr. Temple Grandin through her childhood and early years, her education, and her groundbreaking work as an advocate, inventor, designer, and professor of animal science. Information about autism, neurodiversity, and animal welfare is interspersed with Grandin’s compelling life story.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M Hoose

In March of 1955, at age 15, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Through extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others, learn more about her life, her cry for justice, her role in the Civil Rights movement, and her pain and alienation.


Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming

Follow the frantic and desperate search for the missing daredevil pilot Amelia Earhart while learning more about her childhood adventures, her wide and varied work experiences, the people in her life, and her purposeful self-promotion.

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh by Candace Fleming

As the first person to make a solo flight from New York to Paris, Charles Lindbergh was celebrated as a legend. Uncover the man behind the legend—an uninspired student, a barnstorming stunt pilot, a serial adulterer, White supremacist, champion of Eugenics, an America-first isolationist, and pro-Nazi sympathizer.


The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Judith St. George

In alternating chapters meet Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, both of whom were orphaned, earned law degrees, were staff officers under General George Washington, became important figures in the new American government, and let political and professional competition become a bitter rivalry.

George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen

A brief summary of George Washington’s life before the Revolutionary War, including his early military career, sets the stage for the surprising details of early America’s secret war and Washington’s use of espionage against the British.


Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away; Young Readers Edition by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Ona Judge, born enslaved on the Mount Vernon plantation, grew up to become a favorite of both Martha and George Washington. Along with details of Ona’s childhood, life in the slave quarters, and her courageous escape to New Hampshire, readers will discover an early America wrestling with the conflicting ideals of the Founding Fathers and the reality of slavery.

Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleishman

As a magician, former vaudevillian and friend to Bess Houdini, author Sid Fleischman offers an intimate, insider’s look at the magical world and curious life of the flamboyant Harry Houdini, the son of a poor rabbi who transformed himself from Ehrich Weiss into a legendary escape artist.

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, a Monumental American Man by Tonya Bolden

This engaging book goes beyond often-shared story of Frederick Douglass’s self-education and self-emancipation to look at the man, the husband, the lover of the arts, and his many contributions of as an abolitionist, desegregationist, women’s rights advocate, diplomat to Haiti, bank president, orator, writer, editor, and publisher.

Abigail & John by David Bruce Smith

This authentic and fresh perspective on two brilliant individuals and their extraordinary relationship and equal partnership shares the ups and downs of the great union of Abigail and John Adams and the revolutionary history they both witnessed and made.



Eleanor Roosevelt, Fighter for Justice: Her Impact on the Civil Rights Movement, the White House, and the World by Ilene Cooper

Born into a world of privilege, Eleanor Roosevelt spent her life working to overcome the racial and religious prejudices ingrained in her during childhood. Discover both the public and the private Eleanor as she looks for her place in the world and works for social justice, civil rights, and racial equality.

Fighter in Velvet Gloves: Alaska Civil Rights Hero Elizabeth Peratrovich by Annie Boochever

This brief volume offers an intimate, personal look at the life of Alaska icon Elizabeth Peratrovich, the Tlingit woman who rallied Native Alaskans and their allies to fight for Alaskan Native rights and whose testimony led to the passage of Alaska’s landmark Anti-Discrimination Act in 1945, the first formal piece of civil rights legislation ever passed in the United States.

One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker, Seneca Sachem and Civil War General by Joseph Bruchac

Learn what it is like to be caught between two worlds as you trace the remarkable life of Ely S. Parker who, at a young age was a Grand Sachem for the Seneca nation, then studied law, worked as a civil engineer, served as a general in the Union Army, was the first Native American Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and also made and lost a fortune on Wall Street, all while facing prejudice, racism and hostility.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis

This revealing look at Rosa Parks paints a full, rich portrait of the seamstress who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, illuminating her ongoing fight against poverty and discrimination and lifelong political and civil rights activism.


The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Mary and Abraham Lincoln by Candace Fleming

Rich with images, notes, and other primary source documents, this scrapbook approach to Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln presents riveting stories of their lives as both individuals and as a couple.


Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Stan Yogi and Laura Atkins

Poetic free verse chronicles the life and activism of Fred Korematsu from his youth to his 1944 court challenge of the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military to force all people of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes and businesses on the West Coast and imprison them in distant camps.


Rachael Walker has more than 30 years of experience developing partnerships and educational products with nonprofit organizations, corporations, and public agencies to benefit at-risk children and families. She launches national campaigns, coordinates special events, and develops original content for the National Education Association, Random House Children’s Books, PBS, and WETA’s Learning Media initiatives (Reading Rockets, Colorín Colorado, and

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