Non-fiction picture books are great because they make history more accessible to children while celebrating the lives and times of historical figures and telling real-life stories. If you’ve been looking for more non-fiction books for children, you’ve come to the right place. On this list, you’ll find a healthy mix of picture book biographies, non-fiction picture books about historical events, stories about nature, and memorable stories based on real-life happenings in the lives of ordinary people.
40 Must-Read Non-Fiction Picture Books
Here are 40 of the best non-fiction picture books:
The Faith of Elijah Cummings
Published: January 11, 2022
We can do better.
When Elijah Cummings was a little boy, he struggled in school. His teachers thought he talked too much and asked too many questions. They said he’d never be able to read or write well.
Despite his difficulties, Elijah never gave up. He persevered, having faith that with hard work, he’d be able to achieve his goals.
Best known as a voice for people of color and an advocate for equal opportunity, Elijah Cummings was a man of faith and dignity, a beacon of justice, and an unrelenting warrior for equality and change.
Carole Boston Weatherford and Laura Freeman marry words and images beautifully in this picture book biography of politician and civil rights champion Elijah Cummings, detailing his inspiring journey–from his humble beginnings as the son of former sharecroppers to his unwavering faith as he became a lawyer, state legislator, and leading congressman. Best known as a voice for people of color and an advocate for equal opportunity, Elijah Cummings was a man of faith and dignity, a beacon of justice, and an unrelenting warrior for equality and change.
Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
Published: April 7, 2020
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000) is known for her poems about “real life.” She wrote about love, loneliness, family, and poverty—showing readers how just about anything could become a beautiful poem. Exquisite follows Gwendolyn from early girlhood into her adult life, showcasing her desire to write poetry from a very young age. This picture-book biography explores the intersections of race, gender, and the ubiquitous poverty of the Great Depression—all with a lyrical touch worthy of the subject. Gwendolyn Brooks was the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize, receiving the award for poetry in 1950. And in 1958, she was named the poet laureate of Illinois. A bold artist who from a very young age dared to dream, Brooks will inspire young readers to create poetry from their own lives.
The Cat Man of Allepo
Published: April 14, 2020
Aleppo’s city center no longer echoes with the rich, exciting sounds of copper-pot pounding and traditional sword sharpening. His neighborhood is empty–except for the many cats left behind.
Alaa loves Aleppo, but when war comes his neighbors flee to safety, leaving their many pets behind. Alaa decides to stay–he can make a difference by driving an ambulance, carrying the sick and wounded to safety. One day he hears hungry cats calling out to him on his way home. They are lonely and scared, just like him. He feeds and pets them to let them know they are loved. The next day more cats come, and then even more! There are too many for Alaa to take care of on his own. Alaa has a big heart, but he will need help from others if he wants to keep all of his new friends safe
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water
Published: November 16, 2021
A young student receives a family tree assignment in school, but she can only trace back three generations. Grandma gathers the whole family, and the student learns that 400 years ago, in 1619, their ancestors were stolen and brought to America by white slave traders.
But before that, they had a home, a land, a language. She learns how the people said to be born on the water survived.
And the people planted dreams and hope,
willed themselves to keep
And the people learned new words
With powerful verse and striking illustrations by Nikkolas Smith, Born on the Water provides a pathway for readers of all ages to reflect on the origins of American identity.
Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mallifera
Published: February 4, 2020
A tiny honeybee emerges through the wax cap of her cell. Driven to protect and take care of her hive, she cleans the nursery and feeds the larvae and the queen. But is she strong enough to fly? Not yet!
Apis builds wax comb to store honey, and transfers pollen from other bees into the storage. She defends the hive from invaders. And finally, she begins her new life as an adventurer.
The confining walls of the hive fall away as Apis takes to the air, finally free, in a brilliant double-gatefold illustration where the clear blue sky is full of promise– and the wings of dozens of honeybees, heading out in search of nectar to bring back to the hive.
Eric Rohmann’s exquisitely detailed illustrations bring the great outdoors into your hands in this poetically written tribute to the hardworking honeybee. Award-winning author Candace Fleming describes the life cycle of the honeybee in accessible, beautiful language. Similar in form and concept to the Sibert and Orbis Pictus award book Giant Squid, Honeybee also features a stunning gatefold and an essay on the plight of honeybees.
The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver
Published: January 14, 2020
When George Washington Carver was just a young child, he had a secret: a garden of his own.
Here, he rolled dirt between his fingers to check if plants needed more rain or sun. He protected roots through harsh winters, so plants could be reborn in the spring. He trimmed flowers, spread soil, studied life cycles. And it was in this very place that George’s love of nature sprouted into something so much more—his future.
Gene Barretta’s moving words and Frank Morrison’s beautiful paintings tell the inspiring life and history of George Washington Carver, from a baby born into slavery to celebrated botanist, scientist, and inventor. His passion and determination are the seeds to this lasting story about triumph over hardship—a tale that begins in a secret garden.
Packs: Strength in Numbers
Published: January 28, 2020
“Showing how different animals benefit from living and working in groups, Salyer’s debut is a great example of the inventiveness possible in a nonfiction picture book.”—New York Times Book Review
Groups, packs, herds of millions, and more—our world teems with animals on land, air, and sea.
Packs is an inspiring celebration of how togetherness helps many creatures thrive, in both nonhuman and human communities.
Hannah Salyer’s stunning selection reminds us that teamwork is universal, there is brilliance in biodiversity, and there is strength in numbers. Includes an author’s note encouraging community engagement and activism, as well as a fun visual index of the animals featured.
Nina: A Story of Nina Somone
Published: September 28, 2021
Cover may vary.
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in small town North Carolina, Nina Simone was a musical child. She sang before she talked and learned to play piano at a very young age. With the support of her family and community, she received music lessons that introduced her to classical composers like Bach who remained with her and influenced her music throughout her life. She loved the way his music began softly and then tumbled to thunder, like her mother’s preaching, and in much the same way as her career. During her first performances under the name of Nina Simone her voice was rich and sweet but as the Civil Rights Movement gained steam, Nina’s voice soon became a thunderous roar as she raised her voice in powerful protest in the fight against racial inequality and discrimination.
Stacey’s Extraordinary Words
Published: December 28, 2021
Stacey is a little girl who loves words more than anything. She loves reading them, sounding them out, and finding comfort in them when things are hard.
But when her teacher chooses her to compete in the local spelling bee, she isn’t as excited as she thought she’d be. What if she messes up? Or worse, if she can’t bring herself to speak up, like sometimes happens when facing bullies at school?
Stacey will learn that win or lose . . . her words are powerful, and sometimes perseverance is the most important word of all.
Love in the Library
Published: February 8, 2022
To fall in love is already a gift. But to fall in love in a place like Minidoka, a place built to make people feel like they weren’t human—that was miraculous.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Tama is sent to live in a War Relocation Center in the desert. All Japanese Americans from the West Coast—elderly people, children, babies—now live in prison camps like Minidoka. To be who she is has become a crime, it seems, and Tama doesn’t know when or if she will ever leave. Trying not to think of the life she once had, she works in the camp’s tiny library, taking solace in pages bursting with color and light, love and fairness. And she isn’t the only one.
George waits each morning by the door, his arms piled with books checked out the day before. As their friendship grows, Tama wonders: Can anyone possibly read so much? Is she the reason George comes to the library every day? Beautifully illustrated and complete with an afterword, back matter, and a photo of the real Tama and George—the author’s grandparents—Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s elegant love story for readers of all ages sheds light on a shameful chapter of American history.
Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman’s Dreams Took Flight
Published: December 1, 2020
Before Bessie Coleman blazed a high trail with her plane . . . Before she performed in death-defying flying shows that would earn her fame as “Queen Bess” . . . Before she traveled the country speaking out against discrimination, Bessie was a little girl with a big imagination that took her to the sky, through the clouds, and past the birds.
Knocking down barriers one by one, Bessie endured racism and grueling training to become the first black female pilot and an inspiration to Mae Jemison, Josephine Baker, and many more influential people of color for years to come.
We Wait for the Sun
Published: February 9, 2021
In the hour before dawn, Dovey Mae and Grandma Rachel step into the cool, damp night on a secret mission: to find the sweetest, ripest blackberries that grow deep in the woods.
But the nighttime holds a thousand sounds―and a thousand shadows―and Dovey Mae is frightened of the dark. But with the fierce and fearless Grandma Rachel at her side, the woods turn magical, and berry picking becomes an enchanting adventure that ends with the beauty and power of the sunrise.
A cherished memory from Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s childhood, this magical experience speaks to the joy that pulsed through her life, even under the shadow of Jim Crow. With Grandma Rachel’s lessons as her guiding light, Dovey Mae would go on to become a trailblazer of the civil rights movement―fighting for justice and equality in the military, the courtroom, and the church. With warm, vibrant illustrations from Raissa Figueroa, We Wait for the Sun is a resonant, beautiful story told through one exquisite page turn after another.
Published: March 2, 2021
Mary Golda Ross designed classified airplanes and spacecraft as Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s first female engineer. Find out how her passion for math and the Cherokee values she was raised with shaped her life and work.
Cherokee author Traci Sorell and Métis illustrator Natasha Donovan trace Ross’s journey from being the only girl in a high school math class to becoming a teacher to pursuing an engineering degree, joining the top-secret Skunk Works division of Lockheed, and being a mentor for Native Americans and young women interested in engineering. In addition, the narrative highlights Cherokee values including education, working cooperatively, remaining humble, and helping ensure equal opportunity and education for all.
Published: September 4, 2018
We are resilience. We are hope. We are dreamers.
Yuyi Morales brought her hopes, her passion, her strength, and her stories with her, when she came to the United States in 1994 with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn’t come empty-handed.
Dreamers is a celebration of making your home with the things you always carry: your resilience, your dreams, your hopes and history. It’s the story of finding your way in a new place, of navigating an unfamiliar world and finding the best parts of it. In dark times, it’s a promise that you can make better tomorrows.
This lovingly-illustrated picture book memoir looks at the myriad gifts migrantes bring with them when they leave their homes. It’s a story about family. And it’s a story to remind us that we are all dreamers, bringing our own strengths wherever we roam. Beautiful and powerful at any time but given particular urgency as the status of our own Dreamers becomes uncertain, this is a story that is both topical and timeless.
Sharice’s Big Voice
Published: June 1, 2021
When Sharice Davids was young, she never thought she’d be in Congress. And she never thought she’d be one of the first Native American women in Congress. During her campaign, she heard from a lot of doubters. They said she couldn’t win because of how she looked, who she loved, and where she came from. But here’s the thing: Everyone’s path looks different and everyone’s path has obstacles. And this is the remarkable story of Sharice Davids’ path to Congress.
Beautifully illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley, an Ojibwe Woodland artist, this powerful autobiographical picture book teaches readers to use their big voice and that everyone deserves to be seen—and heard!
The back matter includes information about the Ho-Chunk written by former Ho-Chunk President Jon Greendeer, an artist note, and an inspiring letter to children from Sharice Davids.
The Great Stink
Published: August 31, 2021
It’s the summer of 1858, and London’s River Thames STINKS. What is creating this revolting smell? The answer is gross: the river is full of poop.
But the smell isn’t the worst problem. Every few years, cholera breaks out, and thousands of people die. Could there be a connection between the foul water and the deadly disease?
One engineer dreams of making London a cleaner, healthier place. His name is Joseph Bazalgette. His grand plan to create a new sewer system to clean the river is an engineering marvel. And his sewers will save lives. Nothing stinky about that.
With tips for how to prevent pollution today, this fascinating look at science, history, and what one person can do to create change will impress and astound readers who want to help make their planet a cleaner, happier place to live.
Published: April 27, 2021
Everyone knows about animals that hibernate in the winter. But it’s time to discover animals that sleep all summer long!
All science classrooms discuss animals that hibernate during winter months, but few know about animals that estivate–a prolonged sleep during hot or dry periods. Dual layers of text awaken readers to the reasons estivating animals become dormant–whether it’s because warm weather threatens food supply or to avoid increased body temperatures. From the ladybug to the salamander, from the lungfish to the desert hedgehog, twelve estivating animals and their habits–both when sleeping and awake–are explained through clear text and elegant watercolor illustrations that create a scrapbook feel.
Published: February 12, 2021
Keeping vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery, are the sentinel guards, whose every step, every turn, honors and remembers America’s fallen. They protect fellow soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, making sure they are never alone. To stand there—with absolute precision, in every type of weather, at every moment of the day, one in a line uninterrupted since midnight July 2, 1937—is the ultimate privilege and the most difficult post to earn in the army. Everything these men and women do is in service to the Unknowns. Their standard is perfection.
Exactly how the unnamed men came to be entombed at Arlington, and exactly how their fellow soldiers have come to keep vigil over them, is a sobering and powerful tale, told by Jeff Gottesfeld and luminously illustrated by Matt Tavares—a tale that honors the soldiers who honor the fallen.
This Very Tree
Published: May 11, 2021
In the 1970s, nestled between the newly completed Twin Towers in New York City, a Callery pear tree was planted. Over the years, the tree provided shade for people looking for a place to rest and a home for birds, along with the first blooms of spring.
On September 11, 2001, everything changed. The tree’s home was destroyed, and it was buried under the rubble. But a month after tragedy struck, a shocking discovery was made at Ground Zero: the tree had survived.
Dubbed the “Survivor Tree,” it was moved to the Bronx to recover. And in the thoughtful care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the Callery pear was nursed back to health. Almost a decade later, the Survivor Tree returned home and was planted in the 9/11 Memorial to provide beauty and comfort…and also hope.
Nicky & Vera
Published: January 26, 2021
In December 1938, a young Englishman canceled a ski vacation and went instead to Prague to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Nazis who were crowded into the city. Setting up a makeshift headquarters in his hotel room, Nicholas Winton took names and photographs from parents desperate to get their children out of danger. He raised money, found foster families in England, arranged travel and visas, and, when necessary, bribed officials and forged documents. In the frantic spring and summer of 1939, as the Nazi shadow fell over Europe, he organized the transportation of almost 700 children to safety.
Then, when the war began and no more children could be rescued, he put away his records and told no one. It was only fifty years later that a chance discovery and a famous television appearance brought Winton’s actions to light.
Peter Sís weaves Winton’s experiences and the story of one of the children he saved, Vera Gissing. Nicky & Vera is a tale of decency, action, and courage told in luminous, poetic images by an internationally renowned artist.
We Are Water Protectors
Published: March 17, 2020
Water is the first medicine.
It affects and connects us all . . .
When a black snake threatens to destroy the Earth
And poison her people’s water, one young water protector
Takes a stand to defend Earth’s most sacred resource.
Published: June 8, 2021
Judith Scott was born with Down syndrome. She was deaf, and never learned to speak. She was also a talented artist. Judith was institutionalized until her sister Joyce reunited with her and enrolled her in an art class. Judith went on to become an artist of renown with her work displayed in museums and galleries around the world.
Poignantly told by Joyce Scott in collaboration with Brie Spangler and Melissa Sweet and beautifully illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist, Melissa Sweet, Unbound is inspiring and warm, showing us that we can soar beyond our perceived limitations and accomplish something extraordinary.
Published: August 31, 2021
One September day, the perfect blue sky exploded. Dust billowed. Buildings crumbled. And underneath it all, a tree sprouted green leaves in its distress. Pulled from the wreckage, the tree saw many seasons pass as it slowly recovered far away from home. Until one day, forever scarred and forever stronger, it was replanted at the 9/11 Memorial.
This story of the real Survivor Tree uses nature’s cycle of colors to reflect on the hope and healing that come after a tragedy—and assures readers of their own remarkable resilience.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre
Published: February 1, 2021
Celebrated author Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Floyd Cooper provide a powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our nation’s history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community.
News of what happened was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years. This picture book sensitively introduces young readers to this tragedy and concludes with a call for a better future.
Jump at the Sun
Published: January 12, 2021
Zora was a girl who hankered for tales like bees for honey. Now, her mama always told her that if she wanted something, “to jump at de sun”, because even though you might not land quite that high, at least you’d get off the ground. So Zora jumped from place to place, from the porch of the general store where she listened to folktales, to Howard University, to Harlem. And everywhere she jumped, she shined sunlight on the tales most people hadn’t been bothered to listen to until Zora. The tales no one had written down until Zora. Tales on a whole culture of literature overlooked…until Zora. Until Zora jumped.
Published: January 12, 2021
In 1956, Frieda Caplan started working at the Seventh Street Produce Market in Los Angeles. Instead of competing with the men in the business with their apples, potatoes, and tomatoes, Frieda thought, why not try something new? Staring with mushrooms, Frieda began introducing fresh and unusual foods to her customers—snap peas, seedless watermelon, mangos, and more!
This groundbreaking woman brought a whole world of delicious foods to the United States, forever changing the way we eat. Frieda Caplan was always willing to try something new—are you?
Keeping the City Going
Published: April 27, 2021
We are here at home now, watching the world through our windows. Outside we see the city we know, but not as we’ve seen it before. The once hustling and bustling streets are empty. Well, almost empty. Around the city there are still people, some, out and about. These are the people keeping us safe. Keeping us healthy. Keeping our mail and our food delivered. Keeping our grocery stores stocked. Keeping the whole city going. Brian Floca speaks for us all in this stirring homage to all the essential workers who keep the essentials operating so the rest of us can do our part by sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Leaf Detective
Published: February 9, 2021
Meg Lowman was always fascinated by the natural world above her head — the colors, the branches, and, most of all, the leaves and mysterious organisms living there. Meg set out to climb up and investigate the rain forest tree canopies — and to be the first scientist to do so. But she encountered challenge after challenge. Male teachers would not let her into their classrooms, the high canopy was difficult to get to, and worst of all, people were logging and clearing the forests. Meg never gave up or gave in. She studied, invented, and persevered, not only creating a future for herself as a scientist, but making sure that the rainforests had a future as well. Working closely with Meg Lowman, author Heather Lang and artist Jana Christy beautifully capture Meg’s world in the treetops.
Crossings: Extraordinary Structures of Extraordinary Animals
Published: October 13, 2020
Around the world, bridges, tunnels, and highways are constantly being built to help people get from one place to another. But what happens when construction spreads over, under, across, and through animal habitats? Thankfully, groups of concerned citizens, scientists, engineers, and construction crews have come together to create wildlife crossings to help keep animals safe.
From elk traversing a wildlife bridge across a Canadian interstate to titi monkeys using rope bridges over a Costa Rican road to salamanders creeping through tiny tunnels beneath a Massachusetts street, young readers are certain to be delighted and inspired by these ingenious solutions that are saving the lives of countless wild animals.
Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots
Published: February 11, 2020
Do you know the difference between a fact and an opinion? It can be a hard thing to understand. Some things are facts–like the number of robots in this book. Other things are opinions–like which robot would make the best friend, or which robot dances best. And sometimes to tell the difference between a fact and an opinion, you need to wait to get more information–that’s because facts can be proven true or false, and opinions are things you feel and believe–but that you can’t prove.
Mike Rex introduces young readers to the very important distinction between facts and opinions, and he reminds us that it is nice to listen to one another’s opinions, and to stand up for the facts!
What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo?
Published: April 28, 2020
Going to the zoo is so exciting! You might see penguins swimming underwater, snakes sunning in the reptile house, or giraffes eating leaves out of high trees. You might even see people at the zoo, ones just like you! But what do those people do?
Caldecott Honor–winning team Steve Jenkins and Robin Page introduce young readers to the people who keep zoo animals safe, healthy, and happy, even though they aren’t in the wild habitats they’ve evolved for. From cuddling a baby kangaroo to trimming elephant toenails to playing soccer with a rhino, zookeepers work hard and do some pretty wacky things to take care of the incredible animals we see.
So, what would you do if you were in the zookeeper’s shoes? Turn the page and find out!
Fauja Singh Keeps Going
Published: August 25, 2020
Every step forward is a victory.
Fauja Singh was born determined. He was also born with legs that wouldn’t allow him to play cricket with his friends or carry him to school miles from his village in Punjab. But that didn’t stop him. Working on his family’s farm, Fauja grew stronger to meet his own full potential.
He never stopped striving. At the age of 81, after a lifetime of making his body, mind, and heart stronger, Fauja decided to run his first marathon. He went on to break records all around the world and became the first person over 100 to complete the grueling long-distance race.
The Boo-Boos That Changed the World
Published: February 13, 2018
1920s cotton buyer Earle Dickson worked for Johnson & Johnson and had a klutzy wife who often cut herself. The son of a doctor, Earle set out to create an easier way for her to bandage her injuries. Band-Aids were born, but Earle’s bosses at the pharmaceutical giant weren’t convinced, and it wasn’t until the Boy Scouts of America tested Earle’s prototype that this ubiquitous household staple was made available to the public. Soon Band-Aids were selling like hotcakes, and the rest is boo-boo history.
Published: July 3, 2018
Venus and Serena Williams are two of the greatest tennis players of all time. Some say they’re two of the greatest athletes of all time. Before they were world famous, they were little girls with big dreams.
Venus and Serena Williams. Two peas in a pod. Best friends. Sisters.
Six days a week they awoke before the sun came up to practice their serves and returns, to learn to run faster and hit harder. They were unstoppable. At age fourteen, Venus played her first professional match. Three years later, it was Serena’s turn. It wasn’t easy. Some tennis fans cheered for these two fresh faces, while those who were unhappy to see two black girls competing in a nearly all-white sport booed and taunted them. But they didn’t let it stop them.
With vibrant mixed media art, nonfiction superstars Lesa Cline-Ransome and Coretta Scott King Honor winner James E. Ransome share the inspirational story of two tennis legends who were fierce competitors on the courts, but close sisters above all.
The Crayon Man
Published: March 19, 2019
purple mountains’ majesty, mauvelous, jungle green, razzmatazz…
What child doesn’t love to hold a crayon in their hands? But children didn’t always have such magical boxes of crayons. Before Edwin Binney set out to change things, children couldn’t really even draw in color.
Here’s the true story of an inventor who so loved nature’s vibrant colors that he found a way to bring the outside world to children – in a bright green box for only a nickel! With experimentation, and a special knack for listening, Edwin Binney and his dynamic team at Crayola created one of the world’s most enduring, best-loved childhood toys – empowering children to dream in COLOR!
Published: February 5, 2019
When spring arrives, flowers of all kinds sprout and grow buds and bloom. Sometimes, they bloom a few at a time. But other times, many will bloom at once in a colorful flower boom! This photographic exploration of flowers goes from the desert to the woodlands and beyond, celebrating their beautiful variety and the science behind these colorful displays.
Published: March 26, 2019
Hey, water! I know you! You’re all around. Join a young girl as she explores her surroundings and sees that water is everywhere. But water doesn’t always look the same, it doesn’t always feel the same, and it shows up in lots of different shapes. Water can be a lake, it can be steam, it can be a tear, or it can even be a snowman. As the girl discovers water in nature, in weather, in her home, and even inside her own body, water comes to life, and kids will find excitement and joy in water and its many forms. This book is conversational in tone and good to read aloud, but full of scientific facts narrated from a child’s perspective. The artwork is bold and striking, with beautiful design make this attractive to pick up and handle. There is added backmatter on the water cycle, water conservation, and more.
There they are: 40 of the best non-fiction picture books to read! Which of these have you read? What did I miss?
Miriam Falk says
These look like fun! I liked “Six Dots” (about Louis Braille) and “The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read.”