Historical fiction picture books offer history in a colorful form that even young children can experience, whether it’s about cavemen or the Holocaust. However, not all picture books are made equal. A healthy amount of text, well-drawn illustrations, and a purposeful story rooted in a historical context make it worthy of your child’s or students’ bookshelf.
Here are 3 classic historical fiction picture books that are worth another look. They cover a wide range of topics and reading levels so that any parent or teacher looking for something colorful, engaging, and informative can find something to add to their shelves.
One Small Blue Bead by Byrd Baylor
Byrd Baylor is a lady with critical thinking on her mind because One Small Blue Bead simultaneously encourages higher-level thinking and creates poetry out of simple words. The book takes place from the perspective of Boy, a young member of a tribe of cavepeople who becomes the first of his civilization to wonder if there are other tribes in the world.
The book has the tempo of poetry and the wisdom of old stories. It thus teaches kids to learn and grow based on their instinct to connect with people and to wonder about the world. Both the poetry and illustrations have a rustic, beautiful charm that reads easily and leaves a lasting impression. This book is a must-read for kids interested in fantasy, mythology, dinosaurs, or those just brimming with imagination.
For any good thing
Can happen when
The world is full of
Tribes of men
Who know that they have brothers.
Oxcart Man by Donald Hall
We’re jumping ahead thousands of years here to colonial expansion and the story of a New England Man traveling over the countryside. Oxcart Man has illustrations that feel like pictorial wood paintings. They have blatant, beautiful colors. They are totally honest, just like the book.
The seasons change as the little family pulls its rickety covered wagon across the country. The man sells everything to keep going, even the mittens his daughter knitted him and his beloved ox. Thus, you may have guessed that this is not a cheery tale. However, it’s a well-worn fable that catches your attention and makes a very relevant point. It teaches us about the things that truly matter, and the sacrifices we make to keep going in a hard but beautiful world.
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say
Here’s a deeply personal historical fiction picture book, a true piece of memorabilia. The author Allen Say tells the story of his own grandfather, who traveled from Japan to the United States and thus tried to split his spirit between two homes.
Grandfather’s Journey makes the past live again in a tale of longing, family, and the quest for happiness. The man marries his love, misses his homeland, and also shares his journey between two nations with the children and grandchildren who would grow up and write his story. This is as poignant as historical fiction gets.
Read these 3 historical fiction picture books to move yourself or your kids to a greater understanding of our world. They are all beautiful and insightful in their own way and well worth the journey.