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31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 23 – 2016 American History for Kids

31daysFor 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

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan


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


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. Great choices. Jennifer L. Holm’s Full of Beans is also superb historical fiction providing a vivid sense of Key West during the Depression.

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      The sole reason I didn’t include it is that I couldn’t figure out exactly what moment in American history it ties into. The revivification of Key West? It didn’t say as much about the Depression as it would if it were a “Depression book”. I think it’s great historical fiction, but if someone’s looking specifically for American history . . . I dunno. Thoughts?

  2. I, too, found Full of Beans to be a wonderful source for a piece of American history I knew nothing about. No, probably not an appropriate choice when seeking information about a specific time or event. This one was more along the lines of “and-look-what-I-also-learned while reading a superb novel” . . . one we had been waiting for since Turtle.

    That aside, your list today includes books I definitely enjoyed or will seek out. Steamboat School meant even more because I lived in St. Louis for 40 years.