For a year or two I helped sit on the committee for the New York Historical Society’s book prize. Each year it goes to books that, “… honor the best children’s historical literature and encourage authors to continue to create engaging and challenging narratives that provide a window into the past for middle readers and their families.” And, oh ye poor starving middle grade historical fiction writers, it gives you a whopping $10,000, so get your publishers to submit your name next year.
I’m in Illinois now, but I miss it. It used to be that I’d gather up a bunch of names of potential candidates each year. The books would have to highlight a specific moment in American history. After all, just because a book is set in the past, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily saying something about a distinct historical moment. And when I started putting these lists together, I thought about doing the same thing. Only this time I’m going to include picture books as well.
Here is a collection of some of the most interesting American historical works for kids out this year. Split, as you can see, into Fictional Picture Books, Non-Fiction Picture Books, and Middle Grade Novels.
2016 American History for Kids
Fiction Picture Books
Diana’s White House Garden by Elisa Carbone, ill. Jen Hill
Historical Moment: WWII.
Doing Her Bit: A Story About the Women’s Land Army of America by Erin Hagar, ill. Jen Hill
Historical Moment: WWII.
Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. R. Gregory Christie
Historical Moment: American slavery in 19th century Louisiana
Historical Moment: Slavery in America. Specifically in 1828.
Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, ill. Francis Vallejo
Historical Moment: 1958 when Art Kane gathered together the greatest living jazz musicians for one photograph.
Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote by Dean Robbins, ill. Nancy Zhang
Historical Moment: Women’s suffrage. Culminates in 1920.
My Name is James Madison Hemings by Jonah Winter, ill. Terry Widener
Historical Moment: Slavery in America. Specifically during and after the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.
Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson, ill. Ron Husband
Historical Moment: 1847 in St. Louis after the passage of a Missouri law prohibiting the education of African-Americans.
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff, ill. Hadley Hooper
Historical Moment: Women’s Suffrage. Specifically it begins in April of 1916.
Elizabeth Started All the Trouble by Doreen Rappaport, ill. Matt Faulkner
Historical Moment: Women’s Suffrage from the beginning to the end.
The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman, ill. E.B. Lewis
Historical Moment: Segregation. Follows the 1847 (the same year as Steamboat School!) Supreme Court case that ended segregation in Boston’s schools.
Lincoln and Kennedy: A Pair to Compare by Gene Barretta
Historical Moments: The presidencies of both Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy.
The Navajo Code Talkers by J. Patrick Lewis, ill. Gary Kelley
Historical Moment: WWII.
Saved By the Boats: The Heroic Sea Evacuation of September 11 by Julie Gassman, ill. Steve Moors
Historical Moment: September 11, 2001.
The Seagoing Cowboy by Peggy Reiff Miller, ill. Claire Ewart
Historical Moment: Post-WWII America’s aid to Poland in 1945. Review of the book at the WWII children’s book blog The Children’s War here.
The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, ill. Red Nose Studio
Historical Moment: New York City in the 1860s and 1870s. Specifically the time of Boss Tweed.
A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent by Anne Rockwell, ill. Floyd Cooper
Historical Moment: The Revolutionary War.
Middle Grade Fiction
Makoons by Louise Erdrich
Historical Moment: The Great Plains of the Dakota Territory in 1866.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
Historical Moment: The Great Depression in New York City.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Adaptations
December 3 – Nursery Rhymes
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – Calde-Nots
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – International Imports
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Older Picture Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Graphic Novels
December 21 – Poetry
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Novel Reprints
December 30 – Novels
December 31 – Picture Books