Between Fact and Fiction:
Compiled by Megan Schliesman and Merri V. Lindgren
Selected K-5 Books about History
to Encourage Critical Reading/Thinking
© 2012 Cooperative Children's Book Center; updated annually
We know the importance of informational books for children starting at an early age. Many books for elementary-age children related to history fall into the genre of creative non-fiction--authors and illustrators take some degree of artistic license as they interpret real events and lives for young audiences.
We believe books like these present teachers and librarians with a tremendous opportunity. In today’s web-connected, social media world, children are exposed to information—and misinformation—at a younger and younger age. Teaching them to becoming critical readers and consumers of information has become more important than ever.
For the purpose of this bibliography, we chose books about or based on events in history, or the life of a person who actually lived. Additionally, the book had to include some note from the author (and/or illustrator) talking about their research and/or the facts they worked with, and also about the process of interpreting this information. This may range from a few sentences to a lengthy essay. (Ideally, but not always, a bibliography or list of references is included.)
In some cases, the book creators were dealing with an abundance of “knowns,” but sometimes they also had to navigate things that aren’t known, or about which there is disagreement. As author Tonya Cherie Hegamin writes in the author’s note for her picture book Most Loved in All the World, about a child whose mother helps her escape slavery, “Some historians debate the use of quilts in the Underground Railroad, but I personally believe that enslaved Africans would have used their natural ingenuity to devise any and every method imaginable in their struggle for freedom." Hegamin adds, however, that, "I wanted to use the symbolism of quilting as a device to share information about slavery, not to document quilt use in the Underground Railroad as a fact.”
In other words, there is room for fact, for belief, and for creativity in books for children, and there are lessons to be learned when writers and artists share with young readers how they navigate the spaces between them.
Most of the books we chose are classified as “non-fiction,” but some fall solidly within the realm of the fictional story. Any one of these outstanding, engaging books offers teachers a way to talk about the differences between fact and fiction, and that sometimes with history--and even with events today--we can't always know the absolute truth. All of these books also offer opportunities for lessons in critical reading that students can take beyond books about history into all dimensions of their lives.
Finally, this bibliography is meant to suggest possible ways to think about and use children's literature, and to offer examples, not to provide an exhaustive list.
Looking for books on a specific historical subject or topic? We welcome inquiries from Wisconsin librarians and teachers looking for books to meet specific curricular needs. Email us with your questions.
Click on underlined book titles to see the CCBC review of the book, and/or the cover image.
Complete list of CCBC bibliographies
Asim, Jabari. Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Little, Brown, 2012. 40 pages. Ages 5–9
Bildner, Phil. The Hallelujah Flight. Illustrated by John Holyfield. Putnam, 2010. 32 pages. Ages 6 - 9
Grady, Cynthia. I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery. Illustrated by Michele Wood. Eerdmans, 2012. 32 pages. Age 9 and older
Hill, Laban Carrick. Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Little, Brown and Company, 2010. 40 pages. Ages 6 - 10
Kulling, Monica. Mary Anning's Curiosity. Groundwood, 2017. 115 pages. Ages 7-10
Lyon, George Ella. Which Side Are You On? The Story of a Song. Illustrated by Christopher Cardinale. Cinco Puntos, 2011. 40 pages. Ages 7-11
McCarthy, Meghan. The Incredible Life of Balto. Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 32 pages. Ages 5-8
McCarthy, Meghan. Earmuffs for Everyone! How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs. A Paula Wiseman Book / Simon & Schuster, 2015. 40 pages. Ages 6–9
McCully, Emily Arnold. Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World's Smartest Horse. Henry Holt, 2010. 32 pages. Ages 5 - 8
McNamara, Margaret. George Washington's Birthday: A Mostly True Tale. Illustrated by Barry Blitt. Schwartz & Wade, 2012. 32 pages. Ages 6-10
Miller, Pat. The Hole Story of the Doughnut. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 32 pages. Ages 6-10
Nolan, Janet. The Firehouse Light. Illustrated by Marie Lafrance. Tricycle Press, 2010. 32 pages. Ages 5 - 9
Novesky, Amy. Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Harcourt, 2012. 32 pages. Ages 6-10
Rappaport, Doreen. Lady Liberty: A Biography. Illustrated by Matt Tavares. Candlewick Press, 2008. 40 pages. Ages 10-14
Rockliff, Mara. My Heart Will Not Sit Down. Illustrated by Ann Tanksley. Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 32 pages. Ages 4-8
Uhlberg, Myron. A Storm Called Katrina. Illustrated by Colin Bootman. Peachtree, 2011. 40 pages. Ages 6-10
Van Allsburg, Chris. Queen of the Falls. Houghton Mifflin, 2011. 40 pages. Ages 6-10
This list may be reproduced and distributed by educational and/or nonprofit organizations so long as credit is given to the Cooperative Children's Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison.