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Historical Nonfiction Children’s Books I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Stuff You Missed in History Class Episodes)

symhc-new-logo-1600x1600Two’s a coincidence. Three’s a pattern.

So far I’ve found a couple different unexpected places concerning cool history that’s just pitch perfect for children’s books. First I did a post called Picture Books Bios I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Hark, A Vagrant Comics), (and I’m still waiting for those Katherine Sui Fun Cheung and Mary Seacole bios, y’all) which was followed shortly thereafter by History Nonfiction Children’s Books I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Drunk History Episodes). Now my latest obsession involves the entirely charming Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. Each episode covers a somewhat obscure moment in history, with a great deal of detail and research involved. I’ve only been listening for a couple months and I haven’t had a chance to really scratch the surface of what’s out there. I have heard enough to want to see children’s books based on some of the stories, though. Here are some favorites that really lend themselves to titles for young people:


Frances Glessner Lee and Her Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Got a girl that’s into dollhouses? Then check out the story of Frances Glessner Lee. Born a fine lady of society she basically paved the way for modern forensic investigation studies. Part of this was due to the incredibly detailed and tiny crime scenes she created. These dioramas of death are actually on display at the Smithsonian right now until January 28th, so researching her will be a breeze. Go to it! You can listen to the SYMIHC episode here.


Katharina von Bora


The Reformation is celebrating its 500th Anniversary this year, hence the proliferation of adult books celebrating Martin Luther. There have been a couple children’s book biographies of the man as well, and yet I’ve not heard much of anything said about his wife. As it turns out, Katharina von Bora was a pretty crazy amazing lady in her own right, considering the times in which she lived. But I am lenient. If you want a YA novel about her life (which basically WAS a YA novel) I’m cool with that. You can listen to the SYMIHC episode about her here.

Rodolphe Töpffer and the First Comic Book


It’s such a fun idea! I mean, you can debate whether or not Rodolphe really did create “comic books” or just “comic strips” but the fact remains that they were definitely comics. And fun ones too. I’m trying to think whether or not there are any decent picture book bios of comic creators out there. Seuss is close, since he started out doing comics, but that wasn’t his job exclusively. Let’s give Töpffer his due too. You could have oodles of fun with the art. You can also listen to the SYMIHC episode about him here.


The Green Children of Woolpit


Okay, so this would have to be the kind of book that discusses history in the context of fake news, finding reliable sources, ignoring heresay, etc. The story of the green children is wonderful in its own right, and I love the alien connection. You can listen to the SYMIHC episode about them here.


The Voynich Manuscript


I’ll be frank. I have absolutely no idea how you tell kids about The Voynich Manuscript. Again, like the Green Children, you might have to set this up as a mystery for the ages. Heck, it might not be the worst idea to write a book for kids about a mystery that will probably never ever be solved. Because as far as I can ascertain, that’s what we have right here. A goofball impossibility for the ages. You can listen to the SYMIHC episode about it here.


And while we’re on the topic, it occurs to me that there are two incredibly obvious picture book biography subjects that have yet to receive ANY attention at all. This is so weird it verges on the insane. I’m warning you, authors. Do NOT make me write these myself. They are:

Hedy Lamarr


She was a beautiful movie star that also invented and basically is one of the reasons we have Wi-Fi today. This one writes itself, people. Come on! Where’s that STEM love I’m hearing so much about these days? You can hear the SYMIHC episode about her here.


El Santo


Like Hedy, it’s getting increasingly weird that El Santo has yet to have a U.S. picture book bio. He’s considered the greatest legend in Mexican sports, he was a folk hero, and he never took off his mask. We’ve seen a tiny glimpse of him in this year’s remarkable Lucia the Luchadora, but that just whet my whistle. More! And to be honest, there wasn’t a Stuff You Missed In History Class episode about him. I just like the guy. Bio, please.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I a weird coincidence the Green Children came up in my conversation this weekend during a discussion of nutritional deficiencies. I’d known about them from a children’s book – the new National Geographic Don’t Read This Book Before Bed has a chapter about them. I’d love to see your take on it though, using an interesting story to also talk about how to interpret hearsay or understand why we don’t always know exactly what happened even when we have historical accounts.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Or, and you just reminded me of this, they could be an interesting take on nutrition. Either alone or as a book of nutritional deficiencies throughout history. Scurvy! Green children! The list goes on.

  2. Maybe you turned me onto this podcast on Fuse 8 and Kate? Not sure. Anyway, love, love, love it. And I still have your Drunk History post filed away for future story ideas.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I did mention it there! I’m so glad you’re listening too. They’re just such comforting folks to listen to, even as they discuss some seriously creepy stuff.

  3. I love how many episodes I listen to and think, “I know all about this because I read a children’s book about it!” Bass Reeves, Annette Kellerman, and more I’m forgetting at the moment.