Best Kids Books About Historical figures

57 Kids Books About Historical figures

Updated Jan. 19, 2019
Hidden Figures book
#1
Hidden Figures
Written by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Based on the New York Times bestselling book and the Academy Award–nominated movie, author Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrator Laura Freeman bring the incredibly inspiring true story of four black women who helped NASA launch men into space to picture book readers! Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good. They participated in some of NASA's greatest successes, like providing the calculations for America's first journeys into space. And they did so during a time when being black and a woman limited what they could do. But they worked hard. They persisted. And they used their genius minds to change the world. In this beautifully illustrated picture book edition, we explore the story of four female African American mathematicians at NASA, known as "colored computers," and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career. "Finally, the extraordinary lives of four African American women who helped NASA put the first men in space is available for picture book readers," proclaims Brightly in their article "18 Must-Read Picture Books of 2018." "Will inspire girls and boys alike to love math, believe in themselves, and reach for the stars."

Nurse, Soldier, Spy book
#2
Nurse, Soldier, Spy
Written by Marissa Moss and illustrated by John Hendrix
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

This is the incredible true story of Sarah Emma Edmonds, who dressed as a man and fought in the Civil War. When she was 19, Sarah cut her hair, donned her brother's clothes, and fled from Canada, where her father wanted her to marry an elderly gentleman. In the U.S., she went by the name Frank Thompson and joined the Army to fight the Confederates. She was a nurse working on the battlefield when, because of her heroism, she was asked to serve as a spy. At her death, Edmonds was buried in a military cemetery, in a plot reserved for Civil War veterans--the only woman to have this honor.

Joltin' Joe DiMaggio book
#3
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.

Library on Wheels book
#4
Library on Wheels
Written and illustrated by Sharlee Glenn
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

If you can't bring the man to the books, bring the books to the man. Mary Lemist Titcomb (1852-1932) was always looking for ways to improve her library. As librarian at the Washington County Free Library in Maryland, Titcomb was concerned that the library was not reaching all the people it could. She was determined that everyone should have access to the library--not just adults and those who lived in town. Realizing its limitations and inability to reach the county's 25,000 rural residents, including farmers and their families, Titcomb set about to change the library system forever with the introduction of book-deposit stations throughout the country, a children's room in the library, and her most revolutionary idea of all--a horse-drawn Book Wagon. Soon book wagons were appearing in other parts of the country, and by 1922, the book wagon idea had received widespread support. The bookmobile was born!

The Extraordinary Suzy Wright book
#5
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.

Rosa's Animals book
#6
Rosa's Animals
Written and illustrated by Maryann Macdonald
picture book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

Painter and sculptor Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) led a highly nontraditional life, especially for a woman in the nineteenth century. She kept lions as pets, was awarded the Legion of Honor by Empress Eug�nie, and befriended "Buffalo Bill" Cody. She became a painter at a time when women were often only reluctantly educated as artists. Her unconventional artistic work habits, including visiting slaughterhouses to sketch an animal's anatomy and wearing men's clothing to gain access to places like a horse fair, where women were not allowed, helped her become one of the most beloved female painters of her time. Among the artworks discussed are The Horse Fair and Ploughing in the Nivernais. Along with her life story are a list of museums that house her work, a bibliography, and an index.

Thomas Jefferson book
#7
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.

She Persisted book
#8
She Persisted
Written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Bolger
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Chelsea Clinton introduces tiny feminists, mini activists and little kids who are ready to take on the world to thirteen inspirational women who never took no for an answer, and who always, inevitably and without fail, persisted. Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what’s right, even when they have to fight to be heard. In early 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to be silenced in the Senate inspired a spontaneous celebration of women who persevered in the face of adversity. In this book, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. They all certainly persisted. She Persisted is for everyone who has ever wanted to speak up but has been told to quiet down, for everyone who has ever tried to reach for the stars but was told to sit down, and for everyone who has ever been made to feel unworthy or unimportant or small. With vivid, compelling art by Alexandra Boiger, this book shows readers that no matter what obstacles may be in their paths, they shouldn’t give up on their dreams. Persistence is power. This book features: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Virginia Apgar, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor—and one special cameo.

The Quest for Z book
#9
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.

Preaching to the Chickens book
#10
Preaching to the Chickens
Written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. Lewis
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Critically acclaimed author Jabari Asim and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis give readers a fascinating glimpse into the boyhood of Civil Rights leader John Lewis. John wants to be a preacher when he grows up—a leader whose words stir hearts to change, minds to think, and bodies to take action. But why wait? When John is put in charge of the family farm’s flock of chickens, he discovers that they make a wonderful congregation! So he preaches to his flock, and they listen, content under his watchful care, riveted by the rhythm of his voice. Celebrating ingenuity and dreaming big, this inspirational story, featuring Jabari Asim’s stirring prose and E. B. Lewis’s stunning, light-filled impressionistic watercolor paintings, includes an author’s note about John Lewis, who grew up to be a member of the Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and demonstrator on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. John Lewis is now a Georgia congressman, who is still an activist today, recently holding a sit-in on the House floor of the U.S. Capitol to try to force a vote on gun violence. His March: Book Three recently won the National Book Award, as well as the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King Author Award, Printz Award, and Sibert Award.

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.

Looking at Lincoln book
#13
Looking at Lincoln
Written and illustrated by Maira Kalman
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Abraham Lincoln is one of the first giants of history children are introduced to, and now Maira Kalman brings him to life with her trademark style and enthusiasm. Lincoln’s legacy is everywhere – there he is on your penny and five-dollar bill. And we are still the United States because Lincoln helped hold them together. But who was he, really? The little girl in this book wants to find out. Among the many other things, she discovers our sixteenth president was a man who believed in freedom for all, had a dog named Fido, loved Mozart, apples, and his wife’s vanilla cake, and kept his notes in his hat. From his boyhood in a log cabin to his famous presidency and untimely death, Kalman shares Lincoln’s remarkable life with young readers in a fresh and exciting way.

Electric Ben book
#14
Electric Ben
Written and illustrated by Robert Byrd
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

A true Renaissance man, Benjamin Franklin was the first American celebrity. In pictures and text, master artist Robert Byrd documents Franklin’s numerous and diverse accomplishments, from framing the Constitution to creating bifocals. The witty, wise, and endlessly curious Franklin is the perfect subject for Byrd’s lively style and vibrant art. The pages pulse with facts, quotes, and captions, while the inventive design and intricately detailed illustrations make a striking tribute to the brilliant American.

Charles Darwin's Around-The-World Adventure book
#15
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.

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne book
#16
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.

Words Set Me Free book
#17
Words Set Me Free
Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-9

"Words Set Me Free is the inspiring story of young Frederick Douglass's path to freedom through reading"--

An Inconvenient Alphabet book
#18
An Inconvenient Alphabet
Written by Beth Anderson and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-10

Do you ever wish English was eez-ee-yer to spell? Ben Franklin and Noah Webster did! Debut author Beth Anderson and the New York Times bestselling illustrator of I Dissent, Elizabeth Baddeley, tell the story of two patriots and their attempt to revolutionize the English alphabet. Once upon a revolutionary time, two great American patriots tried to make life easier. They knew how hard it was to spell words in English. They knew that sounds didn’t match letters. They knew that the problem was an inconvenient English alphabet. In 1786, Ben Franklin, at age eighty, and Noah Webster, twenty-eight, teamed up. Their goal? Make English easier to read and write. But even for great thinkers, what seems easy can turn out to be hard. Children today will be delighted to learn that when they “sound out” words, they are doing eg-zakt-lee what Ben and Noah wanted.

I Am Abraham Lincoln book
#19
I Am Abraham Lincoln
Written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Follows Abraham Lincoln from his childhood to the presidency, showing how he spoke up about fairness and eventually led the country to abolish slavery.

I Am Sacagawea book
#20
I Am Sacagawea
Written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

"A biography of Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who served as a translator for the Lewis and Clark Expedition."

I Am Jackie Robinson book
#21
I Am Jackie Robinson
Written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

A Black History Month-timed entry in the best-selling series follows the heroic story of baseball star Jackie Robinson, describing, in text and comic thought bubbles, his childhood, early ambitions and barrier-breaking achievements. By the best-selling author of Heroes for My Son.

I Am Billie Jean King book
#22
I Am Billie Jean King
Written and illustrated by Brad Meltzer
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Billie Jean King is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Read about this amazing woman athlete in the seventeenth picture book in the New York Times bestselling series of biographies about heroes. This friendly, fun biography series focuses on the traits that made our heroes great--the traits that kids can aspire to in order to live heroically themselves. Each book tells the story of one of America's icons in a lively, conversational way that works well for the youngest nonfiction readers and that always includes the hero's childhood influences. At the back are an excellent timeline and photos. This volume features Billie Jean King, the world champion tennis player who fought successfully for women's rights.

I Am Helen Keller book
#23
I Am Helen Keller
Written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos, Brad Meltzer
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

"The story of Helen Keller, who learned to read and write despite being deaf and blind, and became an activist who fought for the rights of disabled people"

Ballots for Belva book
#24
Ballots for Belva
Written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Courtney A. Martin
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-7

A timely true tale for the 2008 presidential election In 1884, when men were the only people allowed to vote in national elections, Belva Lockwood took a bold but legal step: She ran for president! Women did not have the same rights as men, but Belva went on undeterred—and she got votes! Her run for office was based on experience and merit: Unlike many women of the time, she went to college, then to law school, and even argued cases before the Supreme Court. Though her campaign was difficult, Belva never wavered in her commitment to equality, earning the respect of many fellow citizens. A little-known but richly deserving American historical figure, Belva is an inspiration for modern-day readers. Despite all the changes in society since Belva’s time, there is still a lot to fight for, and Belva shows the way. The book also includes a glossary and a timeline of women’s suffrage events. F&P level: Q

I Am Jane Goodall book
#25
I Am Jane Goodall
Written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Learn all about Jane Goodall, the chimpanzee scientist.

Have a suggestion for a book to add to this list? Send an email to [email protected] with your book and list suggestion.