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Based On A True Story and Historical Figures: Books For Kids

This list of the best kids books about based on a true story is sure to include a new favorite for the voracious young reader in your life! From Joltin' Joe DiMaggio to Melvin the Mouth there's something here for everyone's tastes. Do you have a favorite book about based on a true story? Let us know!

Joltin' Joe DiMaggio book
#1
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.

The Quest for Z book
#2
The Quest for Z
Written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
picture book
Recommend Ages: 7-10

From an award-winning author comes a picture book biography that feels like Indiana Jones for kids! British explorer Percy Fawcett believed that hidden deep within the Amazon rainforest was an ancient city, lost for the ages. Most people didn’t even believe this city existed. But if Fawcett could find it, he would be rich and famous forever. This is the true story of one man’s thrilling, dangerous journey into the jungle, and what he found on his quest for the lost city of Z.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne book
#3
The Legendary Miss Lena Horne
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Celebrate the life of Lena Horne, the pioneering African American actress and civil rights activist, with this inspiring and powerful picture book from award-winning author Carole Boston Weatherford. You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way. Lena Horne was born into the freedom struggle, to a family of teachers and activists. Her mother dreamed of being an actress, so Lena followed in her footsteps as she chased small parts in vaudeville, living out of a suitcase until MGM offered Lena something more—the first ever studio contract for a black actress. But the roles she was considered for were maids and mammies, stereotypes that Lena refused to play. Still, she never gave up. “Stormy Weather” became her theme song, and when she sang “This Little Light of Mine” at a civil rights rally, she found not only her voice, but her calling.

Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams book
#4
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.

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education book
#5
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.

  1. Guts & Glory: The American Revolution - From George Washington crossing the icy Delaware, to Molly Pitcher fearlessly firing her cannon, the people of the American Revolution were some of the bravest and most inspiring of all time. Jump into a riot in the streets of Boston, join the Culper Spy Ring as they steal secrets in the dead of night, and watch the signing of the Declaration of Independence in this accessible, illustrated guide to the birth of the United States. History buff and popular blogger Ben Thompson's extensive research and irresistible storytelling make history come alive in this fourth book in the unforgettable Guts & Glory series.

  2. Guts & Glory: The American Civil War - From courageous cavalry rides deep into enemy territory to harrowing covert missions undertaken by spies and soldiers, the events of the American Civil War were filled with daring figures and amazing feats. This exhilarating overview covers the biggest battles as well as captivating lesser-known moments to entertain kids with unbelievable (and totally true) tales of one of America's most fascinating conflicts. History buff, Civil War reenactor, and popular blogger Ben Thompson uses his extensive knowledge and vivid storytelling style to bring the Civil War to life in this first book in a thrilling new series featuring incredible people, events, and civilizations. Get ready to learn just how awesome history can be!

  3. Charles Darwin's Around-The-World Adventure - 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.

  4. Thomas Jefferson - 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.

The Extraordinary Suzy Wright book
#10
The Extraordinary Suzy Wright
Written and illustrated by Teri Kanefield
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Children are taught much about the men who shaped early America, but history-shaping colonial women remain largely unknown and undiscussed. The Extraordinary Suzy Wright sets about to change that, telling the little-known story of Quaker Susanna (Suzy) Wright (1697-1784), a renowned poet and political activist. Suzy helped settle the Pennsylvania frontier, where she acted as legal counselor to her less literate neighbors, preparing wills, deeds, indentures, and other contracts. Surviving documents and correspondence between Suzy and a host of her contemporaries--including Benjamin Franklin; James Logan, Pennsylvania's governor and chief justice; and a few signers of the Declaration of Independence--reveal that Suzy, from her home on the frontier, exerted considerable influence in the highest circles of Pennsylvania government. This fascinating and inspiring story includes an author's note, bibliography, and index.

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!

    Did you enjoy our children's book recommendations? Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!