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Between Fact and Fiction: Selected Picture Books to Encourage Critical Reading/Thinking

Compiled by Megan Schliesman and Merri V. Lindgren

©2023, 2012 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Many books about 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. Books like these present educators with a tremendous opportunity for teaching children to become critical readers of their sources of information, which is more important than ever in today’s web-connected, social media world where information--and misinformation--is shared so readily.

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.) Sometimes 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. There are lessons to be learned when writers and artists share with young readers how they navigate the spaces between fact and fiction.

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.

Asim, Jabari Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Little, Brown, 2012. 40 pages. Ages 5-9

Bardoe, Cheryl Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain. Illustrated by Barbara McClintock. Little, Brown, 2018. 36 pages. Ages 6-9

Bildner, Phil The Hallelujah Flight. Illustrated by John Holyfield. Putnam, 2010. 32 pages. Ages 6-9

Fletcher, Susan A Bear Far from Home. Illustrated by Rebecca Green. Anne Schwartz Book/Random House, 2022. 32 pages. Ages 6-10

Grady, Cynthia I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery. Illustrated by Michele Wood. Eerdmans, 2012. 32 pages. Age 9 and older

Hegamin, Tonya Cherie Most Loved in All the World. Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. 32 pages. Ages 6-9

Hill, Laban Carrick Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Little, Brown, 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 Earmuffs for Everyone! How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs. Illustrated by Meghan McCarthy. Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, 2015. 40 pages. Ages 6-9

McCarthy, Meghan The Incredible Life of Balto. Illustrated by Meghan McCarthy. Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 32 pages. Ages 5-8

McCully, Emily Arnold Wonder Horse. Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. 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

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, 2008. 40 pages. Ages 8-12

Rockliff, Mara My Heart Will Not Sit Down. Illustrated by Ann Tanksley. Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 32 pages. Ages 4-8

Sage, James Teddy: The Remarkable Tale of a President, a Cartoonist, a Toymaker and a Bear. Illustrated by Lisk Feng. Kids Can, 2019. 40 pages. Ages 6-9

Samuel, Sigal Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World's First Female Rabbi. Illustrated by Vali Mintzi. Levine Querido, 2021. 32 pages. Ages 7-11

Van Allsburg, Chris Queen of the Falls. Illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Houghton Mifflin , 2011. 40 pages. Ages 6-10

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