11 Great Picture Books for History

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Nearly every time I try to sit on our living room couch, I can’t actually sit. That’s because of the trail of two or three wide-open chapter books left on the cushions by my 11-year-old. She really loves being a bookworm, but she has yet to learn the purpose of a bookmark. Sigh.

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I suppose this is a symptom of her book obsession. She reads all sorts of books — classics, biographies, historical fiction, children’s fantasy, devotions and poetry — and usually has several in progress at once. One book I frequently try not to sit on is The Racketty-Packetty House, which she is in the process of converting into a script for a play she hopes to direct this summer. That seems like such a grown-up endeavor!

To my great delight, though, this dear bookworm has not yet outgrown the ritual of curling up on the couch with me to enjoy a lovely picture book from the library. I really don’t know what I will do with myself if she ever does outgrow such a ritual because I have a serious weakness for picture books.

My favorite read-alouds for this upper elementary age are historical picture books that bring the past to life. It’s always delightful to read well-illustrated, factually accurate books about real people and real events. Here’s a list of books in this genre that we’ve really enjoyed reading together as part of our homeschooling adventures.

1. Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick is the best new book I’ve read in this genre.

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I fell hard for it immediately because it is a sweet, well-told story as well as a beautifully illustrated work. You may have guessed this: it features the real bear who inspired A.A. Milne’s much-loved character Winnie-the-Pooh. But it’s also a great World War I story about Canadian soldier Harry Colebourn. I simply adore it.

2. Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff is another fabulous book I’ve come across in this historical picture book genre.

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The book, which features Ben Franklin and Franz Mesmer, has mesmerized my whole family. The eye-catching typography and magnificent illustrations make it exceptionally fun to read; plus the fascinating story could easily count as a read-aloud for science as well as history, not to mention a tiny French lesson, too!

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3. Lily: The Girl Who Could See by Sally Oxley and Tim Ladwig is a lovely book about English artist Lilias Trotter, who faithfully served the Lord as a missionary in North Africa in the late 1800s. After you read it, consider watching the documentary film about Trotter’s life: Many Beautiful Things, which is available at manybeautifulthings.com.

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4. A Bear in War and its sequel, Bear on the Homefront, both by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat, tell the bittersweet stories of one small stuffed bear, Teddy, and a family’s experiences during World War I and World War II. You can see Teddy at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

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5. A Voyage in the Clouds by Matthew Olshan is about the first international flight by balloon in 1785. It includes fantastic illustrations by Sophie Blackall, who also illustrated Finding Winnie.  The Frenchman and the English-American in this notable crossing of the English channel did not get along, and the author uses that angle to make this telling of the event quite interesting. Disclaimer: A wee bit of what you might categorize as bathroom humor appears in the text and illustrations, but only because it’s a true part of the event. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end to clarify where some liberties were taken.

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6. Fly, Cher Ami, Fly! by Robert Burleigh is about a truly heroic carrier pigeon that helped rescue a lost battalion of soldiers during World War I. The illustrations are quite captivating, and the tale is a memorable piece of American history. This remarkable bird can be seen at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

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7. Stubby: The Dog Soldier by Blake Hoena tells the story of another animal from World War I that’s also on display at D.C.’s National Museum of American History. Stubby braved the battlefields alongside soldiers in the U.S. Army’s 26th Division.

A few other favorites in this genre that we have checked out from the library are:

8. Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan

9. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant

10. Noah Webster and His Words by Jeri Ferris

11. Papa is a Poet: A Story about Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober