Books are a great way to bring history alive! Here are 50+ of the best children’s historical picture book biographies and autobiographies/memoirs for kids.
This list is separated into two parts – American history and world history. Picture books are a great way to bring visuals, stories, and life to the random black and white photos we see in history books. Read about the men and women who helped change the world!
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Picture Book Biographies Series
From activists to presidents to inventors, the “I Am” series is written especially for early elementary students. They make each historical figure relatable to kids. It introduces them to great people in our nation’s history, in a quirky, fun way. This series proudly shows children to dream big, and that ordinary people can change the world!
A Picture Book Of Series by David Adler
David Adler also has a great series of picture book biographies. They have more traditional and formal illustrations, and serve as a great introduction to American icons such as George Washington or Rosa Parks.
Some more of my favorites in this series (that aren’t often included in biographical series) are:
- A Picture Book of Jesse Owens
- A Picture Book of Louis Braille
- A Picture Book of Anne Frank
- A Picture Book of Florence Nightingale
- A Picture Book of Davy Crockett
Picture Book Biographies
Based on the poem of the same name, this story is simply illustrations to Longfellow’s classic poem. Paul Revere was a Patriot during the American Revolutionary War.
George Washington was our very first president. What made him great? Read about his amazing life story in this story. It’s well-rounded, and its simple text and great pictures make it great for early elementary students.
This fun picture book takes place on seven year old George Washington’s birthday! The paragraphs aren’t too long in this fun book, and there’s smaller extra “facts” about Washington on each page.
When Molly Pitcher’s husband went to fight in George Washington’s army, Molly followed him! In one incident, after her husband was shot in battle, Molly took over his job firing a cannon! This is a longer picture book with lengthier text, so it’s best for a read aloud for grades 3+.
So much has changed since Benjamin Franklin was alive! Read about his classic inventions, and how they have shaped modern America.
Johnny Appleseed by Reeve Lindbergh
Meet John Chapman, otherwise known as Johnny Appleseed! This book rhymes and has simple text, great for the youngest of beginning readers. Read about Johnny’s legacy, and what he’s done for us today!
In the 1830s, Elizabeth Blackwell challenged society’s norms, and became America’s first female doctor. She graduated from medical school, and serves as a reminder that you can do anything you put your mind to!
Elizabeth Leads the Way by Tanya Lee Stone
Elizabeth Cady Stanton wasn’t like other women. An early activist for woman’s rights, Stanton wanted to challenge women across the world to vote.
Set during the American Civil War, a young slave named Henry has always imagined what freedom looked like. As an adult, he decides to turn his dreams into reality and mail himself to freedom. Henry’s Freedom Box is a favorite among classrooms, mainly for its introduction to slavery without being too graphic.
Harriet Tubman was known as “Moses” to her people, as she, a freed slave, continued to go back to plantations bringing people to freedom. This book is a Caldecott Honor winner.
Abe Lincoln Remembers by Ann Turner
Abraham Lincoln is one of the better-known presidents in our history. In this book, he is reminiscing on his past. In reality, it is only a few moments before he would later be shot in a theater by John Wilkes Booth. However, this book chooses to celebrate Lincoln’s accomplishments, instead of focusing on his death.
Margaret Knight, known as “the lady Edison,” always loved to invent things. Her most notable invention is the flat-bottomed brown paper bag. She is acknowledged as the first woman to hold a U.S. patent!
Thomas Edison was not a regular kid. At a young age, his mother took him out of public school to begin homeschooling. His inventions went on to help shape American history. This biography is written richly and informatively, and has beautiful images.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
Clara Lemlich was a Ukrainian immigrant in the early 1900s. Working hard, she worked, spend hours studying English, and went to night school. Tired of poor treatment, Clara led a large strike, which fought for better work environments.
Bessie Coleman was the first African American female (and the first person of African-American descent) to earn a pilot’s license! Here is her great story of determination and perseverance.
Immigrants are often faced with a challenging problem. They love their new life in America, but miss their home country. This is the story of the author’s grandfather, who came to America from Japan.
Learn about one of the greatest horse races in history – the race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral! These pages are somewhat dense. I’ve also seen this quirky and fun book which looks perfect and hilarious for younger ages, but I haven’t read it yet.
For the kiddos who love sports, this is the true story of a family in the 1930s who had 16 children, 12 brothers who played on a baseball team together! With a vintage, old-timey feel, this picture book is filled with adventure, and can raise some discussion on the Great Depression.
Dorothea Lange was bullied as a child, because she had polio and it left her with a limp. This never stopped her from becoming an influential photographer, especially during the Great Depression.
Despite being brilliant, Albert Einstein was no ordinary child! Hear his amazing life story, in a picture book explained simply for early elementary students. His story is inspiring, and a great reminder that wonder and curiosity are so important in life! Grab the book guide here.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks by Cynthia Levinson
Meet nine year-old Audrey Hendricks, known as the youngest person to be arrested for protesting during a civil rights rally. Audrey is a great reminder that even kids can make a difference!
Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy had a lot in common, but there were a lot of things that were different about the two! This is a longer picture book, but comparing the two presidents can be fun. Plus, the illustrations are engaging!
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
In this autobiographical story, Patricia Polacco shares her story of overcoming dyslexia in school, and the one teacher who helped her through it. Now, Polacco is a successful children’s author.
This picture book can go with an aviation study, or study about the Wright Brothers/Amelia Earhart. It has an older style and the colors are more muted, but it’s still an interesting look at the man who made the first flight over the English channel in a heavier-than-air aircraft.
In the 1960s, Ruby Bridges was one of the first people to begin breaking racial barriers – she became the first black child to enter an all-white school. (There’s also a Disney movie to go along with Ruby’s story!)
Katherine Johnson was a brilliant mathematician whose skills helped take us on many NASA missions, including the Apollo missions, which took us to the moon! Despite facing much prejudice for being a woman and for being black, Katherine is known as one of the greatest minds of all time. There is also a great movie about Katherine called Hidden Figures. Grab the book guide here!
In this beautiful story, Jessica is a double amputee from the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings. Rescue is her service dog. Together, they grow into a life changing friendship that changes the both of them.
Although his mother wanted him to become a priest, Antonio Vivaldi felt himself drawn towards music and enjoyed composing, performing, and teaching music. Vivaldi is best known for composing “The Four Seasons,” one of the best known classical pieces out there. This picture book works well for giving a visual to Vivaldi’s pieces!
For the Love of Music by Elizabeth Rusch – mid 1700s
Meet Maria Mozart, the older sister of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart! She is not as well known as her brother, but at only 12 years old, she was considered one of the best pianists in Europe at the time. This is a great story for budding musicians and pianists!
Ruth Becker was a little girl on the ill-fated Titanic. The book does a good job of explaining what happened on the Titanic, without getting into any graphic details for younger readers.
Who says math can’t be used creatively? Paul Erdos was a Hungarian mathematician known for his fun and eccentric lifestyle. This book could easily become complicated with mathematical theories. Instead, it focuses on Paul, and his life.
Did you know Winnie the Pooh was inspired by a real bear? One day, Harry Colebourn saw a baby bear for sale at a train station. Harry was a veterinarian and knew he could take care of it, but he was also in training as a soldier. This is one of the sweetest picture books I’ve ever read, and a great story about a classic character!
The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in WWI by Mark Greenwood
Growing up, Jack Simpson always loved giving people donkey rides, for a penny a piece. When he was drafted in WWI, his love of donkeys helped rescue 300 Allied soldiers. The images are simple, but the story is very poignant and memorable!
Duke Ellington had a great musical career that lasted over 50 years. Mainly performing jazz music, he was prominent in the 30s, 40s, and 50s! With a fun whimsical watercolor, this is his story!
Based on a true story, Tucky Jo was a normal kid from Kentucky, who was shipped off to the Pacific during World War II. Through the chaos, he meets a young girl he nicknames Little Heart. Little Heart doesn’t speak English, but the two become friends. The ending has a surprise twist, and it’s great for showing humanity, friendship, and loyalty during wartime without being graphic.
Passage to Freedom by Ken Mochizuki
Passage to Freedom is one of the many picture books that can help teach the Holocaust in a non-graphic way. Told from the perspective of his son, Chiune Sugihara was a Japanese diplomat who saved 6,000 Luithanian Jews by illegally writing out visas for them. Grab the book guide here.
This is one of my favorite picture book biographies! During the Holocaust, many gentiles stayed silent. Irena Sendler was different – she smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and placed them in hiding. Irena and each child she saved survived the war. Although it deals with a heavy subject, this story is not graphic, and appropriate for mid to upper level elementary students, depending on maturity. Grab the book guide here.
Audrey Hepburn is known for her classic style and beauty. But, she was much more than that! As a child, she helped the resistance movement during World War II. Her experience inspired her to use celebrity status to become a humanitarian, and was an active supporter of UNICEF.
For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story by Rebecca Langston-George
Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At just 15 years old, Malala was shot by the Taliban for taking a stand for girl’s education. She survived, and continues to be an activist for human rights and the education of women. The ending includes a glossary of words that may be unfamiliar to beginning readers, such as “ban” or “refugee.”
I hope you enjoyed this list! What are some of your favorite historical picture books or picture book biographies?
More History Resources for Kids