The Who Was Biography Series: A Children’s Chapter Book Series Overview

The Who Was Biography Series: A Children’s Chapter Book Series Overview


Series Stats
  • Various Authors
  • Ages 7-12
  • 50+ Biographies

One of the more difficult subjects to teach children is history. Since the topics are usually old enough to feel unrelated to our current time, the challenge comes in finding how to present these moments as exciting and important for a younger generation.

In a continued effort to encourage students of all ages to read, publisher Penguin Random House has produced biographies on a variety of topics for almost twenty years. While they have series written for a variety of ages, one of their most popular is the Who Was series of children’s biographies.

These books are apart of a larger network of historical children's books called the Who HQ, which includes the What Was and Where Is series.

These biographies for children cover a variety of historical figures and time periods. There are books about important people like Walt Disney and Rosa Parks, or ones on time periods like The Gold Rush and D-Day. There are also books on famous or influential celebrities, like Elton John or Mahammed Ali.

These books share a common goal: providing a comprehensive yet easy to digest biography for children that are fun and interesting to read. 

who was is kids biographies chapter books

With almost 200 entries, over 20 million copies sold, and even a Netflix sketch comedy show, it’s clear these books have made an impact on children. After reading through them, it’s easy to see why.

The books usually are usually just over 100 pages long, which is an intentional choice according to publisher Penguin Random House. The goal is to have books that can engage children in a variety of topics, but also be long enough to be used in book reports.

The biographies are usually structured like a story, using the life of a person or the timeline of a famous event to bring up other important topics. They describe the person’s life, focusing on certain important moments that would later impact them.

For example, the book Who Was King Tut looks at the life of Ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamen. Rather than beginning with his birth, the book starts with Tut’s father, Amenhotep, and how he attempted to change Egypt’s customs. From there it details how Tut was thrown into power, his early death, and how his mummy came into modern prominence.

The books also describe historical events, concepts, or people related to these historical figures. If certain topics are of particular interest or need more explanation, the author will dedicate a page to this topic, giving a brief synopsis of the topic.

who was kids chapter books biographies sold by the book bundler published by penguin

In King Tut, author Roberta Edwards goes into great detail about Egyptian culture, describing the hieroglyphic writing style, Egyptian burial rituals, and even the various gods the Egyptians worshipped. After Tut’s early death, the book then goes into detail about how his tomb was founded by archaeologist Howard Carter, discussing how this discovery helped to popularize King Tut and the myths behind cursed mummies.

These books are also full of illustrations, depicting images or recreating famous photographs related to the discussion on the page. They work to heighten the stories, providing visuals for the person’s life.

In Who Was Rosa Parks, author Yona Zeldis McDonough uses the illustrations along with the descriptive pages to describe important events and figures in the Civil Rights movement. There are pages on Brown vs. The Board of Education, the use of the song “We Shall Overcome”, and Claudette Colvin, all accompanied with an illustration or two . 

One of the more interesting tangents is that of Claudette Colvin. She was a woman who was arrested after not giving up her seat on a segregated bus nine months before Rosa Parks’ famous incident. McDonough explains that while Colvin’s case was considered to represent the Civil Rights movement at that time, the NAACP ultimately went with Parks since she seemed like a better “role model”

McDonough adds at the end of this section “Claudette was every bit as brave as Rosa but her name is often left out of the story of the Civil Rights movement. 

This leads into the issue of how to present sensitive topics to children. History is full of complex people and dark situations, many that can be difficult for children to fully comprehend. The Who HQ often tackles these controversial or dark events and people head on with books about the Holocaust, Che Guevara and The Vietnam War.

When Michael LeSauvage, writer for, asked publisher Penguin Random House about this subject, they responded by saying “[We] try to present kids with a rounded, realistic portrait of every subject. Sometimes that means touching upon extramarital relationships, sexual orientation, drug use, even legal matters. However, we are very careful to treat these aspects in a way that is appropriate for a young audience.” 

Essentially, the writers and publishers of the Who Was series aim to write biographies that are appropriate for young readers, but still give a complete overview of a person’s life or of a historical event. They aren’t afraid to discuss topics of racism, death, and religion. 

Many of these topics are central to influential and important people, making it difficult to avoid them when discussing what makes them worth learning about. The Who Was series finds a balance between presenting the facts and knowing how to present them for a young audience.

In the case of Rosa Parks, her life story is directly tied into the racist history of America, including Jim Crow Laws, the Ku Klux Klan, and daily violence against African Americans.

McDonough doesn’t shy away from these topics, but instead finds ways to directly tie them into Parks’ story and contextualize them. There’s the Claudette Colvin story from earlier, but there’s also the inclusion of the KKK’s involvement in Parks’ hometown growing up.

Growing up in the segregated American South, Parks faced racism every day of her life. She could only ride certain buses, eat at certain restaurants, and she would be harrassed by the white people living in her small town.

McDonough brings up the Ku Klux Klan during one of the first chapters, describing how they would burn black people’s homes and churches while the police did nothing to stop them. She also describes how Parks’ father would sit outside their house with a shotgun whenever the Klan marched. 

Rather then go into extreme details, McDonough rather describes in plain words what these people did. The very next page after their initial mention is a side note describing the KKK in more detail, clearly stating that they are a hate group that gained popularity in the early 1900’s. 

By not shying away from this ugly part of Rosa Parks’ life, and an ugly part of American history, McDonough is able to clearly define what the KKK is by relating it directly to this person’s life, and without getting into graphic detail about the atrocities the group committed. 

In this case, and many others throughout the Who Was series, the dark and sensitive topic is directly addressed by connecting it to the main person of history of the book. The author also doesn’t go into greater detail so as to ensure the topic is equally appropriate for children and not shied away from.

WhoHQ continues to release books in the Who Was, What Was, and Where Is series. By writing engaging stories, full of accurate facts and historical context, these biographies are perfect for young readers looking to learn more about history and the world around them. 

A wide variety of WhoHQ children’s biography books can be found on the Book Bundler website. Ranging from inspiring historical figures, life-changing events, and even histories of famous fictional characters, the WhoHQ has something for everybody and is one of the most requested series on the entire website.

the who was show by netflix

List of Releases in the Who Was series:
  • Who Was Albert Einstein?
  • Who Was Annie Oakley?
  • Who Was Ben Franklin?
  • Who Was Sacagawea?
  • Who Is Maria Tallchief?
  • Who Was Harry Houdini?
  • Who Was Amelia Earhart?
  • Who Was Harriet Tubman?
  • Who Was Wolfgang Amadeous Mozart?
  • Who Was Thomas Jefferson?
  • Who Was Helen Keller?
  • Who Was Eleanor Roosevelt?
  • Who Was Mark Twain?
  • Who Was Ferdinand Magellan?
  • Who Was Louis Armstrong?
  • Who Was John F. Kennedy?
  • Who Was Ronald Reagan?
  • Who Was Charles Darwin?
  • Who Was Johnny Appleseed?
  • Who Was Leonardo da Vinci?
  • Who Was Thomas Alva Edison?
  • Who Were The Beatles?
  • Who Was King Tut?
  • Who Was Daniel Boone?
  • Who Was William Shakespeare?
  • Who Was Anne Frank?
  • Who Was Marco Polo?
  • Who Was Elvis Preseley?
  • Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.?
  • Who Was Queen Elizabeth?
  • Who Was Neil Armstrong?
  • Who Was Abraham Lincoln?
  • Who Was George Washington?
  • Who Was Walt Dinsey?
  • Who Was Claude Monet?
  • Who Was Pablo Picasso?
  • Who Is Barack Obama?
  • Who Was Franklin Roosevelt?
  • Who Was Jim Henson?
  • Who Was Jackie Robinson?
  • Who Was Rose Parks?
  • Who Was Dr. Seuss?
  • Who Was Paul Revere?
  • Who Was Babe Ruth?
  • Who Was Steve Jobs?
  • Who Was J.K. Rowling?
  • Who Was Ronald Dahl?
  • Who Was Jane Goodall?
  • Who Was Bill Gates?
  • Who Was Sally Ride?
  • Who as Bob Dylan?
  • Who Was Christopher Columbus?
  • Who Was Maurice Sendak?
  • Who Is Michelle Obama?
  • Who Was Davy Crockett?
  • Who Was Alexander Graham Bell?
  • Who Was Nelson Mnadela?
  • Who Is Steven Spielberg?
  • Who Was Ernest Shackleton?
  • Who Was Frida Kahlo?
  • Who Was Laura Ingalls Wilder?
  • Who Was Milton Hersehy?
  • Who Was Abigail Adams?
  • Who Is Dolly Parton?
  • Who Was Louis Braille?
  • Who Is George Lucas?
  • Who Was Bruce Lee?
  • Who Was Theodore Roosevelt?
  • Who Were The Wright Brothers?
  • Who Was Robert E. Lee?
  • Who Was Ulysses S. Grant?
  • Who Was Queen Victoria?
  • Who Is Muhammad Ali?
  • Who Was Clara Barton?
  • Who Was Marie Curie?
  • Who Was Henry Ford?
  • Who Was Roberto Clemente?
  • Who Was Issac Newton?
  • Who Was Julius Cesar?
  • Who Was Rachel Carson?
  • Who Was Susan B. Anthony?
  • Who Was Ghandi?
  • Who Was Alfred Hitchcock?
  • Who Was Ghengis Khan?
  • Who Is Gloria Steinem?
  • Who Was Stan Lee?
  • Who Was Andy Warhol?
  • Who Was Betsy Ross?
  • Who Was Charles Dickens?
  • Who Was Frederick Douglass?
  • Who Was Sitting Bull?
  • Who Was Wayne Gretzky?
  • Who Was Galileo?
  • Who Was Jesus?
  • Who Was Robert Ripley?
  • Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe?
  • Who Was Jacques Cousteau?
  • Who Was Winston Churchill?
  • Who Was Mother Teresa?
  • Who Was Steve Irwin?
  • Who Was Woodrow Wilson?
  • Who Was Beatrix Potter?
  • Who Was J.R.R. Tolkien?
  • Who Is Richard Branson?
  • Who Was Edgar Allan Poe?
  • Who Was Jesse Owens?
  • Who Were the Brothers Grimm?
  • Who Is Malala Yousafzai?
  • Who Is Jeff Kinney?
  • Who Is Derek Jeter?
  • Who Was Julia Child?
  • Who Was Marie Antoinette?
  • Who Was Blackbeard?
  • Who Was Seabiscuit?
  • Who Was Frank Lloyd Wright?
  • Who Was George Washington Carver?
  • Who Was Michael Jackson?
  • Who Was Sojourner Truth?
  • Who Was Maya Angelou?
  • Who Was Joan of Arc?
  • Who Is Elton John?
  • Who Was Alexander the Great?
  • Who Was Jules Verne?
  • Who Is Hillary Clinton?
  • Who Was Milton Bradley?
  • Who Is Bruce Springsteen?
  • Who Is Stevie Wonder?
  • Who Were The Three Stooges?
  • Who Was Charlie Chaplin?
  • Who Was Jacqueline Kennedy?
  • Who Was Cesar Chavez?
  • Who Was Lucille Ball?
  • Who Is Sonia Sotomayor?
  • Who Was Princess Diana?
  • Who Are the Rolling Stones?
  • Who Was Bob Marley?
  • Who Was Pete Seeger?
  • Who Was Andrew Jackson?
  • Who Are Venus and Serena Williams?
  • Who Is Pope Francis?
  • Who Was Alexander Hamilton?
  • Who Was Fidel Castro?
  • Who Was Lewis Carroll?
  • Who Is Ralph Lauren?
  • Who Was Chuck Jones?
  • Who Was Coretta Scott King?
  • Who Was Jane Austen?
  • Who Was Booker T. Washington?
  • Who Was Henry VIII?
  • Who Was Aretha Franklin?
  • Who Is the Dalai Lama?
  • Who Is Pele?
  • Who Was Leif Erikson?
  • Who Was Selena?
  • Who Were the Tuskegee Airmen?
  • Who Is Bono?
  • Who Is Judy Blume?
  • Who Was Napoleon?
  • Who Was Nikola Tesla?
  • Who Is Eric Carle?
  • Who Is Michael Jordan?
  • Who Was H. J. Heinz?
  • Who Was Norman Rockwell?
  • Who Was Che Guevara?
  • Who Was P. T. Barnum?
  • Who Was Stephen Hawking?
  • Who Is Oprah Winfrey?
  • Who Is R. L. Stine?
  • Who Was Mister Rogers?
  • Who Was Sam Walton?
  • Who Is Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
  • Who Is Jackie Chan?
  • Who Was Richard Nixon?
  • Who Is Temple Grandin?
  • Who Was Harvey Milk?
  • Who Was Ida B. Wells?

  • Sources:


    Author Bio:
    Sam Goodrich grew up reading to pass the time in school, seeing it as a way to entertain himself after a test. Now he's become a writer himself, hoping to expose the positive sides of media. When he's not writing about books, Sam is watching every movie, playing a few games, and trying to find ways to talk about them with anyone who will listen. His other work can be found on his portfolio website:

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