Best American History Picture Books for Young Children

library shelf childrens books

Getting your child excited about history starts with reading to them at a young age. With a myriad of books about history, there are so many excellent books to pick from. Each of these books will spark your child’s imagination, as well as give them a small sense of pride as they begin to understand the country they are a part of.

  1. A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women by Lynne Cheney, Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

This book is more than the average ABC guide for your child. Every letter describes an extraordinary woman from American history, starting with Abigail Adams. From there, your child will learn about Emily Dickenson, Harriet Tubman, Sacagawea and so many more remarkable women from our nation’s history.

With its colorful and lifelike drawings, this book is sure to keep your child invested. While many women have made contributions to the rich fabric of America, they often go unmarked.

This is a great book to get your child not only interested in American history, but to provide a foundation for them to recognize all empowered women around them (and perhaps in themselves). And, of course, it will help them learn their ABCs.

  1. Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson, Illustrated by Loren Long

This gorgeous picture book follows the story of a young African-American boy, describing the heroic acts of his great-great-uncle during World War II. It explores the Tuskegee airmen of WWII, while depicting beautiful flying scenes across nearly every page.

In the book, both uncle and nephew share a love of flying. We never learn the names of this uncle and nephew, making the book feel like it is collectively honoring all the original Tuskegee airmen.

The illustrations in this book are truly stunning. They are bright and capture a sense of hope and awe as you turn each page. This is the perfect book if you are hoping to inspire your children to investigate and seek new knowledge every day, and, of course, if you want to encourage your children to soar through the clouds.

  1. Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone, Illustrated by Ted Lewin

Set in Little Italy in the 1900s, this book depicts how hard it was for immigrants coming to America. Peppe moves to America with his family, and decides to work as a lamplighter to help support his family after his mother has died.

Initially, Peppe’s father disapproves of his son’s new job, saying that he came to America to find a better future for his children. But when Peppe’s younger sister is lost on the dark street, his father has a change of heart and sees the importance of the light, once Peppe brings his sister home safely.

This book breaks through the romanticized immigrant story of the early 20th century, and shows just how much these people had to struggle to make their place in America and how much they loved and supported each other through this struggle. Nearly every person living in America today is here because a relative decided to take the brave journey across an ocean. Peppe the Lamplighter is a simple story, but it is one that is relevant to everyone in America.

  1. The Silent Witness: A True Story of the Civil War by Robin Friedman, Illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

This is the amazing true story of a young girl and her family who watch the Civil War unfold before their eyes. Four-year-old Lula McLean lived on a plantation overlooking Bull Run Creek in 1861, when troops from both sides met on the fields where her family grew crops and where she used to play with her rag doll.

Her family decides to move away from the chaos and death, and relocates to a tiny village called Appomattox Court House. A few years later, when some strangers in tall boots arrive on their doorstep, the events that follow make Lula and her doll a part of history.

Part of what makes this book so wonderful is that it takes something as complex as the Civil War and puts it in a child’s perspective. You can travel to Virginia and see the very place where this story happened after reading the book. When giving your child a love of history, it is important to demonstrate that the sensational stories they are reading happened to real people in a real place.

vintage photo rappahannock river

  1. The Rough-Faced Girl by Rafe Martin, Illustrated by David Shannon

This is an Algonquin Indian folklore, which is similar to the story of Cinderella that we are more familiar with. It tells the tale of a girl whose face is marked from years of working by the fire, and her two older beautiful, wicked sisters, as they contend for the love of the Invisible Being.

In order to marry the Invisible Being, a woman must prove she has seen him by answering questions correctly. Ultimately, the Rough-Faced Girl proves herself to be the purest of heart.

This is a beautiful story with haunting and simple illustrations. Your children will be learning about different cultures and stories through the familiar framework of a story they are already acquainted with. All American Indian stories are a part of American history, and it is amazing to see how they come alive on the pages of a children’s picture book.

  1. Encounter by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by David Shannon

This is a truly unique book that presents the arrival of Columbus through the eyes of the Native Americans. It depicts the meeting between the Taino people and Columbus’ men, narrated by a young native boy. This boy dives into the emotions and drama of that first encounter in 1492.

While this story does not take place in what would become present day America, it is still a huge part of American history. Columbus opened the gates for the rest of Europe to flood the New World.

It was such an exciting discovery that the people who inhabited this world are often overlooked. If you want to inspire your children to look at events in history from every perspective, this is a great book to start those conversations.

Final Thoughts

There are so many stories that make up our rich history it is nearly impossible to encapsulate them all. These books are a good start for you and your family, and we hope they inspire many snuggled nights in bed, reading about our great nation.

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