The best children’s books about little-known US history (from a former teacher)

Why am I passionate about this?

I taught for more than 26 years in classes ranging from first grade through college. No matter the age of the students, I used children’s books to introduce topics in history. I never shied away from using a picture book with older students and often found they were more engaged in a picture book than in an article. I also used historical fiction as a hook to lure students into picking up a related non-fiction book. In fact, historical fiction was the gateway that taught this writer of 13 nonfiction children’s books to love non-fiction history. 


I wrote...

The Booth Brothers: Drama, Fame, and the Death of President Lincoln

By Rebecca Langston-George,

Book cover of The Booth Brothers: Drama, Fame, and the Death of President Lincoln

What is my book about?

The Civil War divided a country and pitted neighbor against neighbor, family member against family member. Few of those taking sides were as famous or as far apart in their beliefs as John Wilkes Booth and his brother Edwin. The Booth brothers were both stars on the stage. Edwin was older and better known, while John had won praise for his bold, raging performances. The brothers disagreed about slavery, the war, and President Lincoln. Finally, they parted ways and agreed to stay out of each other’s footlights. John Wilkes Booth, however, would not be satisfied expressing himself on stage. After the South had been defeated and Lincoln re-elected, he plotted to kill the president. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Eternal Soldier: The True Story of How a Dog Became a Civil War Hero

Rebecca Langston-George Why did I love this book?

Allison Crotzer Kimmel’s touching book is a 2023 Pennsylvania Young Reader Choice Award Winner for Grades 3-6. This book is a favorite of mine not only because it covers a little-known bit of Civil War history, but because the author humanizes the difficult topic of war, using a beloved dog.

Sallie, a brindle bull terrier, marched with the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry as their mascot during the Civil War. The dog was so well-liked even President Lincoln tipped his hat to her when reviewing the troops. At the battle of Gettysburg, she guarded the wounded, nearly dying herself from hunger. After the war her men erected a statue to their loyal Sallie that still stands today.

By Allison Crotzer Kimmel, Rotem Teplow (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Eternal Soldier as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

This is the untold story of Sallie, a dog whose life as a soldier began in a basket and ended as a Civil War hero.

The pup barked and nearly tumbled out of the basket. We laughed, and immediately we knew--she was one of us already.

Brindle fur with streaks of brown and black swirled all over her like a patchwork quilt. She was as pretty as an apple tree in full bloom. We called her Sallie.

During the Civil War, Sallie came to the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry as a gift from a townsperson, but she quickly became a…


Book cover of Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp

Rebecca Langston-George Why did I love this book?

This nonfiction book is not only dear to my heart, I can also honestly say it changed my life.

It’s about the only Federal Emergency School ever created. Built for the children of farm workers displaced by the Dust Bowl in 1940, it tells of School Superintendent Leo B. Hart’s ingenuity and steadfast devotion to children who faced seemingly insurmountable hardships and discrimination as occupants of the migrant camp outside Bakersfield, California that inspired John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

I taught at this school, now known as Sunset, for many years, and I kept a note in my lesson planner that read What would Leo B. Hart do? 

By Jerry Stanley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Children of the Dust Bowl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Illus. with photographs from the Dust Bowl era. This true story took place at the emergency farm-labor camp immortalized in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Ostracized as "dumb Okies," the children of Dust Bowl migrant laborers went without school--until Superintendent Leo Hart and 50 Okie kids built their own school in a nearby field.


Book cover of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Rebecca Langston-George Why did I love this book?

Weatherford depicts a vibrant and thriving Black Wall Street in Tulsa until one elevator ride brings it all crashing down.

Unspeakable has received numerous starred reviews and awards—all richly deserved for shining a light on this horrifying history and reminding us at the book’s conclusion that it is the responsibility of us all to reject hatred and choose hope. It’s a stunning work from a powerhouse author and illustrator team.

Don’t let its picture book format keep you from sharing this important book with teens and adults. The format makes the difficult subject both more accessible and more relatable.  

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Floyd Cooper (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Unspeakable as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards for Author and Illustrator

A Caldecott Honor Book

A Sibert Honor Book

Longlisted for the National Book Award

A Kirkus Prize Finalist

A Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book

"A must-have"―Booklist (starred review)

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…


Book cover of The Green Glass Sea

Rebecca Langston-George Why did I love this book?

This Scott O’Dell Award winner is historical fiction for middle grade readers.

Set in the New Mexico desert during World War II, Dewey and Suze become unlikely friends when their parents work on the top secret “gadget.” The gadget’s scheduled test lights up the pre-dawn sky for miles around but is explained away as an explosion at a munitions outpost.

A few weeks later Suze’s family takes Dewey with them to visit the green glass sea of Trinitite, a new mineral created as a result of the atomic bomb’s test. Readers will feel the humanity of how war affects us all. Readers who prefer fiction over nonfiction might find this a gateway to interest them in picking up a nonfiction title on WWII or the atomic bomb. 

By Ellen Klages,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Green Glass Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

A heartfelt story of a budding friendship in the thick of the war--winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction

It's 1943, and eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan is en route to New Mexico to live with her mathematician father. Soon she arrives at a town that, officially, doesn't exist. It is called Los Alamos, and it is abuzz with activity, as scientists and mathematicians from all over America and Europe work on the biggest secret of all--"the gadget." None of them--not J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project; not the mathematicians and scientists; and least of all, Dewey--know…


Book cover of Farewell to Manzanar

Rebecca Langston-George Why did I love this book?

At the age of eleven I had never heard of internment camps in my own state of California until I came across this book, and I remember being astonished such a thing happened in the United States.

Though this title has been around for many years, Wakatsuki Houston’s autobiography book is still relevant and gently but factually introduces young readers to the unjust discrimination inflicted on innocent civilians/citizens. She tells of her family’s life before Manzanar, at the camp, and her pre-teen/teen struggle to fit in at school when returning from internment.  

By Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Farewell to Manzanar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 11, 12, 13, and 14.

What is this book about?

Its purpose was to house thousands of Japanese Americans. Among them was the Wakatsuki family, who were ordered to leave their fishing business in Long Beach and take with them only the belongings they could carry. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, who was seven years old when she arrived at Manzanar in 1942, recalls life in the camp through the eyes of the child she was. First published in 1973, this new edition of the classic memoir of a devastating Japanese American experience includes an inspiring afterword by the authors.


You might also like...

Touching the Surface

By Kimberly Sabatini,

Book cover of Touching the Surface

Kimberly Sabatini Author Of Touching the Surface

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Reader Mom Coach Chocolate connoisseur HSP

Kimberly's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she can't remember her past, is getting the cold shoulder from her best friend, and has no idea why she keeps repeating the same mistakes across her previous lives. Elliot just wants to move on, but first, she'll be forced to look at her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. She'll also have to face the person she’s killed.

As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of her previous lives, Elliot must find a way to earn the forgiveness of the person she’s hurt most…

Touching the Surface

By Kimberly Sabatini,

What is this book about?

Experience the afterlife in this lyrical, paranormal debut novel that will send your heart soaring.

When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she knows she must have messed up, big-time. She doesn't remember how she landed in the afterlife again, but she knows this is her last chance to get things right.

Elliot just wants to move on, but first she will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she'd rather keep buried. Memories of people she's hurt, people she's betrayed...and people she's killed.

As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japanese Americans, violence, and the Manhattan Project?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Japanese Americans, violence, and the Manhattan Project.

Japanese Americans Explore 51 books about Japanese Americans
Violence Explore 93 books about violence
The Manhattan Project Explore 19 books about the Manhattan Project