You’ll want to bookmark this post to use all year long. Send it to your librarian. Share it with your students’ parents. Because nothing gets kids jazzed about reading like learning about real life. Here are 50 nonfiction picture books you can share with kids of any age to spark a new passion or engage them in their own writing.
Books about important people
1. Red Cloud: A Lakota Story of War and Surrender by S.D. Nelson
A leader among the Lakota during the 1860s, Chief Red Cloud deeply opposed white expansion into Native American territory. He rejected treaties from the U.S. government and instead united the warriors of the Lakota and nearby tribes, becoming the only Native American to win a war against the U.S. Army.
2. Bravo!: Poems About Amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle
Musician, botanist, baseball player, pilot―the Latinos featured in this collection, Bravo!, come from many different countries and from many different backgrounds. Celebrate their accomplishments and their contributions to a collective history and a community that continues to evolve and thrive today!
3. Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! by Andrea J. Loney
James Van Der Zee was just a young boy when he saved enough money to buy his first camera. He took photos of his family, classmates, and anyone who would sit still for a portrait. By the fifth grade, James was the school photographer and unofficial town photographer. Eventually he outgrew his small town and moved to the exciting, fast-paced world of New York City. After being told by his boss that no one would want his or her photo taken -by a black man, – James opened his own portrait studio in Harlem. He took photographs of legendary figures of the Harlem Renaissance–politicians such as Marcus Garvey, performers including Florence Mills, Bill -Bojangles- Robinson, and Mamie Smith–and ordinary folks in the neighborhood too.
4. The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter
Zaha Hadid grew up in Baghdad, Iraq, and dreamed of designing her own cities. After studying architecture in London, she opened her own studio and started designing buildings. But as a Muslim woman, Hadid faced many obstacles.
5. Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford
Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro–Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny), he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division.
6. She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton
Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what’s right, even when they have to fight to be heard. In early 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to be silenced in the Senate inspired a spontaneous celebration of women who persevered in the face of adversity. In this book, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. They all certainly persisted.
7. Trudy’s Big Swim: How Gertrude Ederle Swam the English Channel and Took the World by Storm by Sue Macy
On the morning of August 6, 1926, Gertrude Ederle stood in her bathing suit on the beach at Cape Gris-Nez, France, and faced the churning waves of the English Channel. Twenty-one miles across the perilous waterway, the English coastline beckoned.
8. Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression by Carole Boston Weatherford
Before she raised her lens to take her most iconic photo, Dorothea Lange took photos of the downtrodden from bankers in once-fine suits waiting in breadlines, to former slaves, to the homeless sleeping on sidewalks. A case of polio had left her with a limp and sympathetic to those less fortunate. Traveling across the United States, documenting with her camera and her fieldbook those most affected by the stock market crash, she found the face of the Great Depression
9. Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay Haring
This one-of-a-kind book explores the life and art of Keith Haring from his childhood through his meteoric rise to fame. It sheds light on this important artist’s great humanity, his concern for children, and his disregard for the establishment art world.
10. What’s the Big Deal About First Ladies by Ruby Shamir
Did you know that Mary Todd Lincoln hated slavery and helped to end it in America? Or that Edith Wilson helped decode secret messages during World War I? How about that Sarah Polk didn’t let anyone dance in the White House while she was first lady?
11. Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio
The audience was completely silent the first time Billie Holiday performed a song called “Strange Fruit.” In the 1930s, Billie was known as a performer of jazz and blues music, but this song wasn’t either of those things. It was a song about injustice, and it would change her life forever.
12. Becoming Bach by Tom Leonard
For Johann Sebastian there was always music. His family had been musicians, or bachs as they were called in Germany, for 200 years. He always wanted to be a bach. As he grew, he saw patterns in everything. Patterns he would turn into melodies and song, eventually growing into one of the most important and celebrated musical composers of all time.
13. Mickey Mantle: The Commerce Comet by Jonah Winter
He could run from home plate to first base in 2.9 seconds and hit a ball 540 feet. Mickey Mantle was the greatest switch hitter ever to play the game. And he did it all despite broken bones, pulled muscles, strains, and sprains, from his shoulders to his feet. How did a poor country boy from Commerce, Oklahoma, become one of the greatest and most beloved baseball players of all time?
14. Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History by Walter Dean Myers
Frederick Douglass was a self-educated slave in the South who grew up to become an icon. He was a leader of the abolitionist movement, a celebrated writer, an esteemed speaker, and a social reformer, proving that, as he said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
15. Martin’s Dream Day by Kitty Kelley
Martin Luther King Jr. was nervous. Standing at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, he was about to address 250,000 people with what would become known as his “I Have a Dream Speech”—the most famous speech of his life.
16. The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson
Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks intended to go places and do things like anybody else. So when she heard grown-ups talk about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws, she spoke up. As she listened to the preacher’s words, smooth as glass, she sat up tall. And when she heard the plan—picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails!—she stepped right up and said, I’ll do it! She was going to j-a-a-il!
17. Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal
As soon as Ann Cole Lowe could walk, her momma and grandma taught her to sew. She worked near her momma in their Alabama family shop in the early 1900s, making glorious dresses for women who went to fancy parties. When Ann was 16, her momma died, and Ann continued sewing dresses. It wasn’t easy, especially when she went to design school and had to learn alone, segregated from the rest of the class. But the work she did set her spirit soaring, as evidenced in the clothes she made, including Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress and Olivia de Havilland’s dress at the Oscars when she won for Best Actress in To Each His Own.
18. Muhammad Ali: A Champion Is Born by Gene Barretta
The Louisville Lip. The Greatest. The People’s Champion. Muhammad Ali had many nicknames. But before he became one of the most recognizable faces in the world, before the nicknames and the championships, before he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, he was twelve-year-old Cassius Clay riding a brand-new red-and-white bicycle through the streets of Louisville, Kentucky. One fateful day, this proud and bold young boy had that bike stolen, his prized possession, and he wouldn’t let it go. Not without a fight.
19. I am Gandhi by Brad Meltzer
As a young man in India, Gandhi saw firsthand how people were treated unfairly. Refusing to accept injustice, he came up with a brilliant way to fight back through quiet, peaceful protest. He took his methods with him from South Africa back to India, where he led a nonviolent revolution that freed his country from British rule. Through his calm, steady heroism, Gandhi changed everything for India and inspired civil rights movements all over the world, proving that the smallest of us can be the most powerful.
20. Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez
While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school! When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious Komodo dragons.
21. Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith
Behold the story of Sophie Blanchard, an extraordinary woman who is largely forgotten despite her claim to being the very first female pilot in history. In eighteenth-century France, “balloonomania” has fiercely gripped the nation . . . but all of the pioneering aeronauts are men. The job of shattering that myth falls to a most unlikely figure: a shy girl from a seaside village, entirely devoted to her dream of flight. Sophie is not the first woman to ascend in a balloon, nor the first woman to accompany an aeronaut on a trip, but she will become the first woman to climb to the clouds and steer her own course
22. Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure: A Woman and a Dog Walk to the North Pole by Sally Isaacs
Take a trip with Helen Thayer and her dog, Charlie, as they walk from Canada to the magnetic North Pole.
23. Stand Up and Sing!: Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich
Pete Seeger was born with music in his bones. Coming of age during the Great Depression, Pete saw poverty and adversity that would forever shape his worldview, but it wasn’t until he received his first banjo that he found his way to change the world. It was plucking banjo strings and singing folk songs that showed Pete how music had the incredible power to bring people together.
24. Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating
Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks from the first moment she saw them at the aquarium. She couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than studying these graceful creatures. But Eugenie quickly discovered that many people believed sharks to be ugly and scary―and they didn’t think women should be scientists.
25. Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders
Trace the life of the Gay Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 with social activist Harvey Milk and designer Gilbert Baker to its spanning of the globe and its role in today’’s world.
26. Caroline’s Comets: A True Story by Emily Arnold McCully
Caroline Herschel (1750–1848) was not only one of the greatest astronomers who ever lived but also the first woman to be paid for her scientific work. Born the youngest daughter of a poor family in Hanover, Germany, she was scarred from smallpox, stunted from typhus and used by her parents as a scullery maid. But when her favorite brother, William, left for England, he took her with him. The siblings shared a passion for stars, and together they built the greatest telescope of their age, working tirelessly on star charts. Using their telescope, Caroline discovered fourteen nebulae and two galaxies, was the first woman to discover a comet, and became the first woman officially employed as a scientist―by no less than the King of England!
27. Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark
Who was Grace Hopper? A software tester, workplace jester, cherished mentor, ace inventor, avid reader, naval leader—AND rule breaker, chance taker, and troublemaker.
Books about fascinating animals
28. Birds Make Nests by Michael Garland
Birds make many kinds of nests in many kinds of places―to keep their eggs safe and to keep chicks safe.
29. Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz
When an Iraqi family is forced to flee their home, they can’t bear to leave their beloved cat, Kunkush, behind. So they carry him with them from Iraq to Greece, keeping their secret passenger hidden away. But during the crowded boat crossing to Greece, his carrier breaks and the frightened cat runs from the chaos. In one moment, he is gone. After an unsuccessful search, his family has to continue their journey, leaving brokenhearted.
30. Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Animals by Gabrielle Balkan
Ten record-breaking animal bones are introduced through a series of superlatives set up as a guessing game with clues. Readers examine animals’ skeletons and guess to whom they belong; the answers are revealed in vibrant, full-color scenic habitats, with easily understood — and humorous — explanations.
31. Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero by Patricia McCormick
When a group of US Marines fighting in the Korean War found a bedraggled little mare, they wondered if she could be trained to as a packhorse. They had no idea that the skinny, underfed horse had one of the biggest and bravest hearts they’d ever known. And one of the biggest appetites!
32. What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating
Some people think monsters are the stuff of nightmares—the stuff of scary movies and Halloween. But monsters can also be found right in your backyard. Animals like aye-ayes, goblin sharks and vampire bats may look scary, but they pose no threat to humans. Others, such as the prairie dog, seem innocent—cute, even—yet their behavior could give you goose bumps.
33. Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation by Kyo Mclear
When it comes to birds, Kyo Maclear isn’t seeking the exotic. Rather she discovers joy in the seasonal birds that find their way into view in city parks and harbors, along eaves and on wires.
34. The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America’s Largest Mammal by Sy Montgomery
If you’ve never seen a lowland tapir, you’re not alone. Most of the people who live near tapir habitat in Brazil’s vast Pantanal (“the Everglades on steroids”) haven’t seen the elusive snorkel-snouted mammal, either.
35. Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart
Can an aardvark bark? No, but it can grunt. Lots of other animals grunt too…Barks, grunts, squeals—animals make all kinds of sounds to communicate and express themselves.
36. Trickiest!: 19 Sneaky Animals by Steve Jenkins
The Extreme Animals reader series explores nature’s truly superlative animals with the help of illustrations, infographics, facts, and figures while detailing the astounding abilities of critters as small as a frog or as big as a whale.
37. Animals of a Bygone Era: An Illustrated Compendium by Maja Säfström
In the past, amazing and strange animals roamed the earth, including giant sea scorpions, tiny horses, enormous sloths, and fierce “terror birds.”
38. Penguin Day by Nic Bishop
Rockhopper penguins live by the sea, but in many ways their families are just like ours. Penguin parents take good care of their children. Mama penguin fishes for food, while papa stays home and watches the baby. But even little ones get tired of waiting for breakfast, and sometimes they wander off… Luckily, penguin parents always save the day!
39. Apex Predators: The World’s Deadliest Hunters, Past and Present by Steve Jenkins
Apex predators are the animals at the top of their food chains and have no natural enemies.
Books about science, social studies, and math
40. Counting on Snow by Maxwell Newhouse
Maxwell Newhouse, folk artist extraordinaire, has created a unique counting book. The premise is simple. He invites children to count with him from ten crunching caribou down to one lonely moose, by finding other northern animals – from seals to wolves to snowy owls – as they turn the pages. But as the animals appear, so does the snow, until it’s a character too, obliterating light and dark, sky and earth.
41. Secrets of the Sea by Kate Baker
From the rock pools along the shoreline to the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean, breathtaking illustrations reveal the sea’s creatures—from the microscopic and the bizarre to the fragile and the deadly—in all their startling beauty.
42. Water by Seymour Simon
Learn all about the water cycle, the effect on our planet of rising ocean temperatures, how essential clean water is around the world, and more!
43. Transportation by Gail Gibbons
From cars and trains to plains and boats, people all around the world have developed diverse means and methods of travel.
44. Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth by Molly Bang
In this brightly illustrated narrative, readers will learn about the constant movement of water as it flows around the Earth and the sun’s important role as water changes between liquid, vapor, and ice. From sea to sky, the sun both heats and cools water, ensuring that life can exist on Earth. How does the sun keep ocean currents moving, and lift fresh water from the seas? And what can we do to conserve one of our planet’s most precious resources?
45. Magnets Push, Magnets Pull by David A. Adler
We can’t see magnetism, but it’s everywhere around us―even the Earth is a giant magnet!
46. A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman
Did you know that the earth is covered in three trillion trees? And that seven billion people weigh about the same as ten quadrillion ants? Our world is full of constantly changing numbers, from a hundred billion trillion stars in space to thirty-seven billion rabbits on Earth. Can you imagine that many of anything?
47. If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas
What would you do if you were the moon? Do you think you would rest quietly in the night sky? Oh, no. The moon does so much more than you might imagine! It spins like a twilight ballerina, plays tug-of-war with the ocean, and lights a pathway for baby sea turtles.
48. Round by Joyce Sidman
If you look closely, you will find that the world is bursting, swelling, budding, and ripening with round things awaiting discovery—like eggs about to hatch, sunflowers stretching toward the sun, or planets slowly spinning together for billions of years.
49. This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe
Follow the real lives of seven kids from Italy, Japan, Iran, India, Peru, Uganda, and Russia for a single day! In Japan Kei plays Freeze Tag, while in Uganda Daphine likes to jump rope. But while the way they play may differ, the shared rhythm of their days—and this one world we all share—unites them.
50. Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
Rivers wind through earth, cutting down and eroding the soil for millions of years, creating a cavity in the ground 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and more than a mile deep known as the Grand Canyon.