Picture Book Memoirs

Read a memory!

Balouch, Kristen. One Million Trees: a True Story. New York: Holiday House, 2022.
This is the true story of how the author – when she was ten years old – spent a summer planting trees. She and her parents and her sisters flew from California to B.C. to join a crew planting seedlings between the stumps of trees cut down by loggers. Camping in the wilderness, they worked for forty days until they had planted one million trees. This intriguing picture book – filled with informative details – is highly recommended for readers 7 to 12 years old. Or for anyone curious about the life of a tree planter.

Mao and Me

Chen, Jiang Hong. Mao and Me. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2008.
Writer and artist Chen Jiang Hong tells the story of his Chinese childhood during  the 1960s. The finely detailed pen-and-ink and paint illustrations add emotional power to a quiet, understated memoir of the upheaval created by the Cultural Revolution. [China] 

Hadfield, Chris and Kate Fillion. The Darkest Dark. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2016. 

Imagine watching astronauts landing on the moon for the first time! Young Chris had a great imagination but he didn’t have to imagine this great event. He actually watched it. On television in July of 1969. This well-designed and dramatically illustrated picture book inspired by the Canadian astronaut author’s own childhood is recommended for readers and listeners 5 to 10 years old. It is, of course, also fun for much older people who – like Hadfield – vividly remember that first moon landing. [Astronauts; Imagination; Inspiration; Moon]

Humphries, Jessica Dee and Michel Chikwanine. Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls are Used in War. Toronto: Kids Can Press, 2015.

This graphic novel tells the true story of author Michel Chikwanine who came to Canada from the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa when he was 16 years old. Additional information and suggested resources for further research accompany this powerful autobiography recommended for readers 11 years old and up.  

Liu, Na and Andrés Vera Martínez. Little White Duck: a Childhood in China. Minneapolis: Graphic Universe, 2012.
Da Qin and her younger sister live with their parents in the city of Wuhan, China. This thought-provoking graphic novel – composed of 8 short stories – describes the author’s childhood in the 1970s. Emotive illustrations by the author’s husband – Andrés Vera Martínez – help to create a powerful portrait of life for two little girls in a changing world. Recommended for competent readers 9 years old and up.

Marin, Guadalupe Rivera and Diego Rivera. My Papa Diego and Me: Memories of My Father and His Art. San Francisco: Childrens Book Press, 2009.  

What an amazing way to learn about a painter! The artist’s daughter tells about her childhood by explaining – in English and Spanish – thirteen of her father’s paintings. A wonderful introduction to art history and Mexico! Recommended for readers and listeners 8 years old and up. 

McMullan, James. Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin, 2014.

Do you ever feel like you’re not quite good enough? That you can’t ever please your parents? That you don’t belong anywhere? Read this memoir about an artist who grew up moving from China to Canada to India to the U.S.A. and is now a highly acclaimed designer and illustrator. A 113-page autobiography with full-page illustrations recommended for readers 10 years old and up.

Mochizuki, Ken. Passage to Freedom: the Sugihara Story. New York: Lee & Low Books, 1997.  

In 1940, five-year-old Hiroki Sugihara watched as his father, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania, disobeyed orders and signed visa after visa for Jewish refugees fleeing the horrors of Nazi Germany. Hiroki’s father was soon transferred and the entire family – he, his parents, his aunt, and his two younger brothers moved to Berlin. In an afterward, Sugihara tells what happened to to his family as a result of his father’s courageous actions.The haunting full-page illustrations by Dom Lee and the well-spaced layout of the text enhance the power of this little-known story of a man who saved an estimated 10,000 refugees. Highly recommended for readers 7 to 70 years old. [Courage; Diplomats; Holocaust, Jewish; Sugihara, Chiune; WW2]

Morgan, Bernice. Seasons Before the War. Tors Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador: Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides Inc., 2018.
A wonderful memoir – partly fictionalized – about life in Newfoundland when it was still an independent country. Set in St. John’s just before the outbreak of World War II, the author recalls a childhood filled with everyday adventures. Accompanied by full-page illustrations that wonderfully match the nostalgic style of the story, this picture book is most highly recommended for both children and adults.  

Thank you, Mr. Falker

Polacco, Patricia. Thank you, Mr. Falker. New York: Philomel Books, 1998.

“At first, Trisha loves school, but her difficulty learning to read makes her feel dumb, until, in the fifth grade, a new teacher helps her understand and overcome her problem.” – CIP. This autobiographical story by a now prolific author recounts her difficulties learning to read. 


Nivola, Claire A. Orani: My Father’s Village. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.

“Children’s book author Claire A. Nivola explores the village of Orani, the tiny hamlet in the mountains of central Sardinia where her father lived before moving to New York during World War II.” – Baker & Taylor. 

Rabinowitz, Alan. A Boy and a Jaguar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

 Imagine being a young boy who stutters. All the time. Except when you are quietly talking to animals: to your pets or to the jaguar in the zoo. That was Alan Rabinowitz. So what did he do when he grew up? He became a world-famous zoologist and wildlife conservationist, of course. And a spokesman for the Stuttering Foundation of America. In this picture book lusciously illustrated by Cátia Chien, he tells his story in his own words. A great book for everyone 6 years old and up. 

Drawing from Memory

Say, Allen. Drawing from Memory. New York: Scholastic Press, 2011.
Drawing From Memory (Scholastic Press, 2011) by Caldecott medal winner Allen Say is an inspiring story about Allen Say’s life. His life was very eventful and also very interesting. This book starts with Allen telling what he did as a kid. All he did as a kid was read and draw. Their family had to escape the war and move quickly. But during that chaos, all Allen wanted to do was draw, and his parents and grandparents hated him for it. His Grandmother finally told him hat if he got into this very well known private middle school, she would rent an apartment for him at the age of 12. Allen of course studied everyday hoping to pass the entrance exam. Once he passed the exam, his Grandmother rented him a place in an apartment. This only reason his Grandmother sent him to the apartment was so he could study for his new school, but the only thing on Allen’s mind was to draw, and draw, and draw. After going out to dinner, Allen picks up the local newspaper at the restaurant. He starts to read about another kid who ran away from home just to draw. He soon got taken in by Allen’s favorite artist, Noro Shinpei. Noro gave him a test just as bad as the middle school exam. Allen passed and became the second apprentice of Noro Shinpei.
This book was creatively coloured. But this book was also very inspiring and interesting. I loved this book, because Allen’s life is very like mine. I often feel like Allen. (Kelvin in grade eight)

Scott, Jordan. My Baba’s  Garden. New York: Neal Porter Books/Holiday House, 2023.
How does the love of nature begin? For the little boy in this story, it begins with seeing his grandmother’s house filled with food from her garden: carrots, apples, garlic, beets, jars of pickles. It begins with walking to school with his grandmother and watching her rescue worms on rainy days. It begins with planting tiny tomato seeds in a small pot on a window sill. It begins with paying attention. A wonderfully evocative picture book based on the author’s childhood in Port Moody, British Columbia and illustrated by Sydney Smith. Highly recommended for children 5 to 10 years old. Highly recommended for readers learning how illustrations and words work together to tell a story. Highly recommended for readers of any age who want to learn how to include descriptive details in their writing.

How I Learned Geography

Shulevitz, Uri. How I Learned Geography. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2008.
A young boy uses his imagination to travel the world in this picture book recommended for readers 8 to 14 years old. An afterword that provides historical details about the acclaimed author’s life including his childhood as a refugee. 

Sis, Peter. Robinson. New York: Scholastic Press, 2017.
This beautiful picture book combines an experience from the author’s childhood with the story of Robinson Crusoe. The softly detailed illustrations, complemented by the capital-letters font, will enchant readers 7 to 14 years old. Highly recommended!

The Wall


Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

“Annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes take readers on an extraordinary journey of how the artist-author’s life was shaped while growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, as well as the influence of western culture through the influx of banned books, music, and news, in a powerful graphic memoir.” – Baker & Taylor. 

Spathelfer, Teoni. White Raven. Victoria: Heritage, 2021.
Little Wolf moves with her husband and three daughters to a peaceful island home where they enjoy living by the seashore and exploring in the forest. When Little Wolf’s mother, White Raven, comes to visit, the girls learn about their grandmother’s childhood in a residential school. Based on the author’s own mother’s early experiences at a residential school in Alert Bay, B.C., this picture book is one of the most detailed in its depiction of life for indigenous children. It focuses on facts: children had their heads shaved and covered with DDT; the food given to them was often mouldy and bug-ridden; sausages were served raw; toilet paper was sometimes eaten to appease the constant hunger; nights were filled with the sounds of children crying; if they spoke their own language, their mouths were washed out with soap; they were always called by number. However, the story also mentions the kindness of one of the teachers, Mrs. Oak, who cared for White Raven when she was ill and sewed her a new dress.

The format of this book – brightly coloured illustrations and a relatively large font with widely spaced lines of print – makes it ideal for reading aloud. The sentence structure is straight-forward and well-suited for readers eight to ten years old. The factual details make it excellent as a research resource for students nine to twelve years old. Therefore, while discretion should be used in presenting this picture book to very young readers, it is highly recommended for both elementary and middle school libraries. 

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk with Tuan Ho. Adrift At Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival. Toronto: Pajama Press, 2016.
In 1981, six-year-old Tuan escaped with his mother and two of his sisters. In the middle of the night, they got on a boat which took them far out to sea where they were rescued by sailors on an American aircraft carrier. Illustrated by award-winning Brian Deines, this powerful picture book tells the true story of one child’s journey as a refugee from Vietnam to Canada. Accompanied by historical and biographical information, as well as numerous photographs, this informative and inspiring story is recommended for readers 8 years old and up. 

Spirin, Gennady. Martha. New York: Philomel Books, 2005.
This is the story of an injured bird who was rescued by a young boy on a cold snowy day. She could have died but instead she was given a home. And one day she was ready to fly again. The beautiful flow of the sentences in this story and the exquisite watercolour illustrations create a sense of timelessness. A sense that the story happened in the past but is still living on in the memories of the people who rescued the bird that could not fly.
This true story set in Moscow tells how Martha the crow became part of the author’s family for a brief time long ago. Highly recommended as a book to buy for animal lovers of all ages. [Birds; Crows; Moscow (Russia); Wildlife rescue]

Child's Christmas in Wales

Thomas, Dylan. A Child’s Christmas in Wales. London : Dent, 1978. 

Thomas, Dylan. A Child’s Christmas in WalesCambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2004.

Tolstikova, Dasha. A Year Without Mom. Toronto: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2015.
Twelve-year-old Dasha remains with her grandparents when her mother moves to the U.S. to attend university. She spends time with her friends, falls in love, studies for exams, and attends art classes on the weekends. This autobiographical graphic novel is humorous in its vivid depiction of the emotional life of an adolescent. Dasha might live in Russia but her turmoils are similar to those of seventh-graders in the U.S. and Canada. Recommended for readers 11 to 16 years old. [Moscow; Mothers and daughters; Schools; Tolstikova, Dasha]
Winters, Nellie. Reflections from Them Days: A Residential School Memoir from Nunatsiavut. Iqaluit, Nunavut : Qinuisaarniq, an imprint of Inhabit Education Books Inc., 2020.
In 1949, when Nellie was eleven years old, she was sent to boarding school in Nain, Labrador on the east coast of Canada. In this 51-page autobiography, transcribed and edited by Erica Oberndorfer, she matter-of-factly shares her memories – both sad and happy, heart-breaking and humorous – in a voice truly her own. In the forward, she explains that we are all on earth to help each other and make our world “more wonderful.” This true story – illustrated by the author – will help readers see another life, another perspective, from a time not so long ago in Canada’s history. Highly recommended for readers 10 years old and up. 

More autobiographies and biographies HERE.

Read stories based on memories HERE.

Write about your own memories HERE.


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