44 Children's Books About Based on a true story

Updated Jan. 19, 2019
Ida, Always book
#1
Ida, Always
Written by Caron Levis and illustrated by Charles Santoso
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

A polar bear grieves over the loss of his companion, based on the real-life Gus and Ida of New York's Central Park Zoo.

Thank You, Mr. Falker book
#2
Thank You, Mr. Falker
Written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

The real-life, classic story of a dyslexic girl and the teacher who would not let her fail. A perfect gift for teachers and for reading students of any age. Patricia Polacco is now one of America's most loved children's book creators, but once upon a time, she was a little girl named Trisha starting school. Trisha could paint and draw beautifully, but when she looked at words on a page, all she could see was jumble. It took a very special teacher to recognize little Trisha's dyslexia: Mr. Falker, who encouraged her to overcome her reading disability. Patricia Polacco will never forget him, and neither will we. This inspiring story is available in a deluxe slipcased edition, complete with a personal letter to readers from Patricia Polacco herself. Thank You, Mr. Falker will make a beautiful gift for the special child who needs encouragement or any special teacher who has made a difference in the child's life.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré book
#3
Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré
Written by Anika Denise and illustrated by Paola Escobar
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

An inspiring picture book biography of storyteller, puppeteer, and New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian, who championed bilingual literature. When she came to America in 1921, Pura Belpré carried the cuentos folklóricos of her Puerto Rican homeland. Finding a new home at the New York Public Library as a bilingual assistant, she turned her popular retellings into libros and spread story seeds across the land. Today, these seeds have grown into a lush landscape as generations of children and storytellers continue to share her tales and celebrate Pura’s legacy. Brought to colorful life by Paola Escobar’s elegant and exuberant illustrations and Anika Aldamuy Denise’s lyrical text, this gorgeous book is perfect for the pioneers in your life. Informative backmatter and suggested further reading included.

Up in the Leaves book
#4
Up in the Leaves
Written by Shira Boss and illustrated by Jamey Christoph
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-9

Bob does not like the noisy, crowded streets and school hallways of his New York City home, so he decides to build a tree house in the cool, green calm of Central Park. Includes a note about the real Bob Redman.

The Water Princess book
#5
The Water Princess
Written by Georgie Badiel, Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H Reynolds
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Based on supermodel Georgie Badiel’s childhood, a young girl dreams of bringing clean drinking water to her African village With its wide sky and warm earth, Princess Gie Gie’s kingdom is a beautiful land. But clean drinking water is scarce in her small African village. And try as she might, Gie Gie cannot bring the water closer; she cannot make it run clearer. Every morning, she rises before the sun to make the long journey to the well. Instead of a crown, she wears a heavy pot on her head to collect the water. After the voyage home, after boiling the water to drink and clean with, Gie Gie thinks of the trip that tomorrow will bring. And she dreams. She dreams of a day when her village will have cool, crystal-clear water of its own. Inspired by the childhood of African–born model Georgie Badiel, acclaimed author Susan Verde and award-winning author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds have come together to tell this moving story. As a child in Burkina Faso, Georgie and the other girls in her village had to walk for miles each day to collect water. This vibrant, engaging picture book sheds light on this struggle that continues all over the world today, instilling hope for a future when all children will have access to clean drinking water.

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail book
#6
Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-7

"Emma Gatewood's life was far from easy. In rural Ohio, she managed a household of eleven kids alongside a less-than-supportive husband. One day, at age 67, she decided to go for a nice long walk. . . and ended up at the other end of the Appalachain Trail. With just the clothes on her back and a pair of thin canvas sneakers on her feet, Grandma Gatewood hiked up ridges and down ravines. She braved angry storms and witnessed breathtaking sunrises. When things got particulary tough, she relied on the kindness of strangers or sheer dumb luck to get her through the night. When the newpapers got wind of her amazing adventure, the whole country cheered her on to the end of her trek, which came just a few months after she set out. A story of real resilience and hardcore lady power, Grandma Gatewood proves that no peak is insurmountable. After all, at age 83, she hiked the whole trail again (sneakers and all)"--

Cloth Lullaby book
#7
Cloth Lullaby
Written by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-7

Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) was a world-renowned modern artist noted for her sculptures made of wood, steel, stone, and cast rubber. Her most famous spider sculpture, Maman, stands more than 30 feet high. Just as spiders spin and repair their webs, Louise's own mother was a weaver of tapestries. Louise spent her childhood in France as an apprentice to her mother before she became a tapestry artist herself. She worked with fabric throughout her career, and this biographical picture book shows how Bourgeois's childhood experiences weaving with her loving, nurturing mother provided the inspiration for her most famous works. With a beautifully nuanced and poetic story, this book stunningly captures the relationship between mother and daughter and illuminates how memories are woven into us all.

Charles Darwin's Around-The-World Adventure book
#8
Charles Darwin's Around-The-World Adventure
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-7

In 1831, Charles Darwin embarked on his first voyage. Though he was a scientist by profession, he was an explorer at heart. While journeying around South America for the first time aboard a ninety-foot-long ship named the Beagle, Charles collected insets, dug up bones, galloped with gauchos, encountered volcanoes and earthquakes, and even ate armadillo for breakfast! The discoveries he made during this adventure would later inspire ideas that changed how we see the world.

Trombone Shorty book
#9
Trombone Shorty
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

A Grammy-nominated headliner for the New Orleans Jazz Fest describes his childhood in Tremâe and how he came to be a bandleader by age six.

Thomas Jefferson book
#10
Thomas Jefferson
Written and illustrated by Maira Kalman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Renowned artist Maira Kalman sheds light on the fascinating life and interests of the Renaissance man who was our third president. Thomas Jefferson is perhaps best known for writing the Declaration of Independence—but there’s so much more to discover. This energetic man was interested in everything. He played violin, spoke seven languages and was a scientist, naturalist, botanist, mathematician and architect. He designed his magnificent home, Monticello, which is full of objects he collected from around the world. Our first foodie, he grew over fifteen kinds of peas and advocated a mostly vegetarian diet. And oh yes, as our third president, he doubled the size of the United States and sent Lewis and Clark to explore it. He also started the Library of Congress and said, “I cannot live without books.” But monumental figures can have monumental flaws, and Jefferson was no exception. Although he called slavery an “abomination,” he owned about 150 slaves. As she did in Looking at Lincoln, Maira Kalman shares a president’s remarkable, complicated life with young readers, making history come alive with her captivating text and stunning illustrations.

Melvin the Mouth book
#11
Melvin the Mouth
Written by Katherine Blanc and illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Meet young Melvin (the future Mel Blanc of Looney Tunes fame) as he drives everyone a little nuts with the noisy soundtrack to his day-to-day life. Melvin is an imaginative and noisy little boy who grows up to be Mel Blanc, Looney Tunes cartoon character pioneer and the voice behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Woody Woodpecker, the Tasmanian Devil, and so many more familiar personalities. Readers are treated to a typical day for young Melvin, when ordinary tasks like getting ready for school, riding the bus, and completing his chores are charged with sound effects and accompanied by his own personal soundtrack. His knack for making funny noises and using the versatility of his voice was like no other–much to the relief of his teachers. Penned by Blanc’s daughter-in-law, this first-person fiction-based-in-reality story is a fun romp and is sure to inspire young readers to turn trouble into triumph!

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education book
#12
Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education
Written by Raphaele Frier and illustrated by Aurelia Fronty
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

Malala Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban and fought for the right for all girls to receive an education. When she was just fifteen-years old, the Taliban attempted to kill Malala, but even this did not stop her activism. At age eighteen Malala became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ensure the education of all children around the world. Malala’s courage and conviction will inspire young readers in this beautifully illustrated biography.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne book
#13
The Legendary Miss Lena Horne
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Introduces "the life of Lena Horne, the pioneering African American actress, [singer], and civil rights activist"--Amazon.com.

My Shot book
#14
My Shot
Written and illustrated by Elena Delle Donne
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

“Elena is one of the brightest stars in our game today and an iconic role model.” —Lisa M. Borders, WNBA President “Inspiring in many ways.” —Kirkus Reviews Elena Delle Donne, 2015 WNBA MVP and 2016 Olympic gold medalist, shares her inspirational story of being a young basketball prodigy who gave up an impressive basketball scholarship for family and self-discovery.

Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams book
#15
Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams
Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Venus and Serena Williams. Two peas in a pod. Best friends. Sisters. Six days a week they awoke before the sun came up to practice their serves and returns, to learn to run faster and hit harder. They were unstoppable. At age fourteen, Venus played her first professional match. Three years later, it was Serena’s turn. It wasn’t easy. Some tennis fans cheered for these two fresh faces, while those who were unhappy to see two black girls competing in a nearly all-white sport booed and taunted them. But they didn’t let it stop them. With vibrant mixed media art, nonfiction superstars Lesa Cline-Ransome and Coretta Scott King Honor winner James E. Ransome share the inspirational story of two tennis legends who were fierce competitors on the courts, but close sisters above all.

Joltin' Joe DiMaggio book
#16
Joltin' Joe DiMaggio
Written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by James E. Ransome
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Bestselling author Jonah Winter and award-winning illustrator James E. Ransome knock it out of the park with this tribute to one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived, Joe DiMaggio. In the golden age of baseball, sports announcers ruled the radio, winning and losing was front-page news, and just about every young boy wanted to grow up to wear Yankee pinstripes, including Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio, Jr., a first generation Italian from San Francisco. “Baseball is not a job,” said young Joe’s dad, but through hard work and dedication, Joe grew up to make headlines as a top centerfielder and ace hitter—Joltin’ Joe, the Yankee Clipper. And when the paychecks started rolling in and the newspaper reporters wouldn’t stop calling, you can bet Pop was mighty proud! During the Depression and WWII the country needed something to cheer for, and Joe was the star player who outshone the rest, even marrying movie star Marilyn Monroe—all by keeping his mouth shut and his eye on the ball.

Basil and the Cave of Cats book
#17
Basil and the Cave of Cats
Written by Eve Titus and illustrated by Paul Galdone, Eve Titus
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

Named one of “13 Detective Book Series You Obsessed over as a Kid” by Buzzfeed.com and the inspiration for a hit Disney film, the masterful Great Mouse Detective series is now available to a whole new generation of readers! Basil the mouse detective sets off on a journey to solve one of the greatest mysteries of mousedom: Do miniature cats exist? Leading mouse scientists aren’t certain, but they believe that answers can be found in India. As Basil sets sail for the Far East—and the lost island of Kataarh—danger stalks him at every turn. Will Basil successfully unravel the mystery of these mini-cats and their mouse king?

Buddy book
#18
Buddy
Written and illustrated by William Joyce
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-9

Gertrude Lintz loved animals. And she had dozens, never mind that she lived in New York City. But one baby was her favorite, and she took care of this baby just like any other mother would. Except there was one difference: The baby was actually a baby gorilla named Buddy. Gertrude raises Buddy like a civilized human, but can—or, rather, should—wild animals be civilized? Based on the true story of Gertrude Lintz, the most famous dog breeder of the 1930s, Buddy is a moving, high-spirited adventure about a gorilla’s life in the city, and how the urban jungle can’t really compare to a real one.

Rice from Heaven book
#19
Rice from Heaven
Written by Tina Cho and illustrated by Keum Jin Song
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Rice from Heaven is a true story about compassion and bravery as a young girl and her community in South Korea help deliver rice via balloons to the starving and oppressed people in North Korea. "We reach a place where mountains become a wall. A wall so high, no one dares to climb. Beyond that wall and across the sea live children just like me, except they do not have food to eat." Yoori lives in South Korea and doesn't know what North Korea is like, but her father (Appa) does. Appa grew up in North Korea, where he did not have enough food to eat. Starving, he fled to South Korea in search of a better life. Yoori doesn't know how she can help as she's only a little "grain of rice" herself, but Appa tells her that they can secretly help the starving people by sending special balloons that carry rice over the border. Villagers glare and grumble, and children protest feeding the enemy, but Yoori doesn't back down. She has to help. People right over the border don't have food. No rice, and no green fields. With renewed spirit, volunteers gather in groups, fill the balloons with air, and tie the Styrofoam containers filled with rice to the tails of the balloons. With a little push, the balloons soar up and over the border, carrying rice in the darkness of the night over to North Korea.

Outside In book
#20
Outside In
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Bradbury
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

“A compassionate story of homelessness and friendship, recycled art and community.” —Kirkus Reviews A twelve-year-old boy living on the streets of Chandigarh, India, stumbles across a secret garden full of sculptures and sees the possibility of another way of life as he bonds with the man who is creating the garden in this searingly beautiful novel—based on a true story. Twelve-year-old Ram is a street boy living behind a sign on a building’s rooftop, barely scraping by, winning games of gilli for money, occasionally given morsels of food through the kindness of Mr. Singh, a professor and father of his friend Daya. But his prowess at gilli (an outdoor game similar to cricket) is what gets him into big trouble. One day, when he wins against some schoolboys fair and square, the boys are infuriated. As they chase Ram across town, he flings his small sack of money over a factory gate where no one can get it, and disappears into the alleyways. But someone does get the money, Ram discovers when he sneaks back later on to rescue what is his—a strange-ish man on a bike who also seems to be collecting…rocks? Ram follows the man into the jungle, where he finds something unlike anything he’s seen—statues, hundreds of statues…no, thousands of them! Gods and goddesses and buildings, all at half scale. What is this place? It seems that the rock collecting man, Nek, has built them all! When Nek discovers that Ram has followed him, he has no choice but to let the boy stay and earn back the money Nek has already spent. How else can he keep him quiet? For his creations lie on land that isn’t technically his to build on. As Ram and Nek hesitantly become friends, Ram learns the true nature of this hidden village in the jungle, as well as the stories of Shiva and Lord Rama, stories of gods and goddesses that in strange ways seem to parallel Ram’s…and Nek’s. Based on the true story of one of India’s most beloved artists and modern day folk heroes, Nek Chand was a real man—a man displaced from his home in the midst of war and conflict; a man who missed his home so terribly he illegally reconstructed his entire village in miniature out of found objects and rock, recreating mosaic statues and sculptures spanning acres of jungle. Though Ram is a fictionalized character, Nek’s artwork is real. Intertwined with mythology and the sociopolitics of India, this is an exquisitely wrought, unexpected, and singular tale about the connection of community and how art can help make us human.

Winnie book
#21
Winnie
Written by Sally M. Walker and illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

A picture book account of the true story that inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh classics follows the experiences of a World War I veterinarian and soldier who rescued a baby bear, made her his regiment's mascot and introduced her to Christopher Robin at the London Zoo.

Kitten and the Night Watchman book
#22
Kitten and the Night Watchman
Written by John Sullivan and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

A stray kitten changes the way the watchman sees nighttime in this tender book based on a true story, illustrated by Strictly No Elephants artist Taeeun Yoo. The night watchman hugs his wife and kids and drives to work. All night he is alone. Every hour he makes his rounds. He sees the stars twinkling. He hears the sounds of the night: ki-DEE ki-DEE ki-DEE shhhhheeeeeEEEERRRROOOOooooommmmmm Woof! Woof! Woof! Meeeoooow. When he is joined by a stray kitten, the night suddenly seems different. Has the kitten found a new home? Kitten and the Night Watchman is inspired by the true story of author John Sullivan meeting a stray cat while working as a night watchman. The cat, Beebe, was John’s companion for seventeen years.

The Funniest Man in Baseball book
#23
The Funniest Man in Baseball
Written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Jennifer Bower
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

Max Patkin was pitching in the minor leagues when he was injured and had to leave his dreams behind. He joined the Navy and eventually was able to play again while in the military . . . and this time he got to pitch against superstar Joe DiMaggio. When Joe hit one of Max’s throws out of the park, Max threw down his glove, left the mound, and chased Joe around the bases, making faces and imitating his every move. The crowd loved it! And a baseball clown was born. This inspiring and comical biography carries an important message: Life doesn’t always turn out exactly as you hope . . . but moving in a new direction can sometimes bring happy surprises.

Missing! book
#24
Missing!
Written and illustrated by Brenda Z Guiberson
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-14

Jimmy Hoffa, Barbara Follett, Amelia Earhart, D. B. Cooper-they all disappeared. Throughout history, individuals have gone missing without a trace; their disappearances haunt us. In this companion to Disasters: Natural and Man-Made Catastrophes through the Centuries, Brenda Guiberson explores the stories of seven individuals who have disappeared mysteriously. Thoroughly researched and illustrated with photographs and line drawings, this is exciting middle grade nonfiction. Godwin Books

Fairy Spell book
#25
Fairy Spell
Written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-7

In 1917, in Cottingley, England, a girl named Elsie took a picture of her younger cousin, Frances. Also in the photo was a group of fairies, fairies that the girls insisted were real. Through a remarkable set of circumstances, that photograph and the ones that followed came to be widely believed as evidence of real fairies. It was not until 1983 that the girls, then late in life, confessed that the Cottingley Fairies were a hoax. Their take is an extraordinary slice of history, from a time when anything in a photograph was assumed to be fact and it was possible to trick an eager public into believing something magical. Exquisitely illustrated with art and the original fairy photographs.

Have a suggestion for a book to add to this list? Send an email to [email protected]!