Monday, July 4

10 Nonfiction Books for Kids About the United States of America (with giveaway!)

Happy 4th of July! Being in a thoroughly patriotic mood and with the opportunity for a fun little giveaway, I decided to compile a list of some of my favorite nonfiction books involving the USA and its history. These are ten books for kids of all ages, ranging from picture books to in-depth accounts. See if one strikes your fancy! And see below for the giveaway of Awesome America, a book that just about sums itself up with just the title.

The 50 States: Explore the USA with 50 fact-filled maps!
Written by Gabrielle Balkan, illustrated by Sol Linero
Wide Eyed Editions (October 1, 2015) 978-1847807113

An atlas that goes beyond the usual state maps and facts, this book is packed with timelines, inspiring people, regional attractions, and celebrations about America. I spent hours pouring over this book—there's so much to learn. Plus the colorful, retro style of illustration makes it gorgeous and easy to love. It's an awesome reference book to read and explore cover to cover.

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass
Written by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko
Orchard Books (January 5, 2016) 978-0545399968

"Some people had rights, while others had none. Why shouldn’t they have them, too?" Okay, so yes, I'm sharing a picture book that is actually rather simplistic in its text. There's not a whole lot of delving into individual pasts or motivations, nor a long-winded exploration of civil rights. What it does present is a carefully and beautifully illustrated representation of two friends who asked that simple but powerful question. Definitely worth the (short but poignant) read.

Bomb! The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
By Steve Sheinkin
Flash Point (September 4, 2012) 978-1596434875

This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world’s most formidable weapon. From the work at Los Alamos to commando attacks in Germany to the infiltration of Soviet spies, this is three continents’ fight for the atomic bomb. While this has been a popular read and consists of more than just some American history, I have to include it in this list because it is one of my favorite favorites. The gripping storyline reads like an action-packed spy novel and yet, is totally true. It makes history come alive.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
By Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press (September 22, 2015) 9781596439528

Daniel Ellsberg, an obscure government analyst, becomes “the most dangerous man in America” after releasing to the public The Pentagon Papers, the top-secret true history of the Vietnam War. Revealing a pattern of deceit spanning 20 years and four presidents, the relationship between the American citizens and their politicians was forever changed. So yes, really, any book by Steve Sheinkin makes for a good nonfiction on some aspect of American history, and yes, I already talked about Bomb! but I also wanted to highlight this one, his most recent, because it takes quite a different tone. It’s an accurate, exciting, dark reflection of America’s failure in Vietnam. It’s not pretty, but man is it well written. Great book to expand one’s view of US history.

Gingerbread for Liberty! How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution
Written by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
HMH Books (January 27, 2015) 9780544130012

Christopher Ludwick was a German-born American patriot with a big heart and a talent for baking the best gingerbread in Philadelphia. When the cries for revolution began, Ludwick helped the best way he could. This book, yes, is a simple picture book story. But it’s amazing for two reasons: it shares a little-known true story about the American Revolution, and the illustrations are downright tasty. This is a must read (while munching on gingerbread) for any American Revolution enthusiast.

“The President Has Been Shot!”: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
By James L. Swanson
Scholastic (September 24, 2013) 978-0545490078

A well-known tragic and terrifying event that punctuates America’s history, this is another novelized nonfiction account that matches drama with historical accuracy. I’ll admit that this book is still in my to-read pile, but I’m anxious to get to it. The historical impact of the assassination, combined with riveting drama and fast-paced action of the events that took place, makes this book another exciting read.

Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans
By Martin W. Sandler
Walker Childrens (August 27, 2013) 978-0802722775

Even as America fought for freedom and democracy abroad, fear and suspicion of the Japanese Americans at home led to the relocation and imprisonment of thousands of citizens. With first-hand accounts and interviews, Sandler gives an in-depth account of life for Pacific Coast Japanese Americans who were forced to move inland to internment camps during the war and their lives afterwards. Another book that shares a blight on the history of America, the "in their words" accounts and rich photos provide a very human look into this abuse of power. The overall irony is cruel, but the book is fantastic.

Written and illustrated by Brian Floca
Atheneum (September 3, 2013) 978-1416994152

It’s the summer of 1869 and crews, travelers, and families enjoy America’s brand-new transcontinental railroad; the sounds, speed, and strength of the trains provide a thrill for all from mountain to plain to ocean. Yes, another picture book, but let’s be honest. Besides being the Caldecott winner (yes, the illustrations are amazing), this book immerses the reader with pages that come alive with the hiss of the steam or the heat of the engine. Kids of all ages can get a engrossing glimpse of the impact of the locomotive on American history.

Kid Presidents: True Tales of Childhood from America’s Presidents
Written by David Stabler, illustrations by Doogie Horner
Quirk Books (October 28, 2014) 978-1594747311

The kids who grew up to be president were like a lot of other children, whether struggling with school, pranking teachers, or taking dance lessons (yes, Taft took dance lessons). These 20 true stories about American presidents’ childhoods are hilarious and punctuated with lots of cartoon illustrations to keep things even more interesting (as if Teddy Roosevelt’s bedroom full of dead animals wasn’t enough). This is great for kids who want a bit more fun in their nonfiction. Plus, it being a collection means one can jump around to whatever stories please one’s fancy. A true pleaser all around.

Awesome America: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the History, People, and Culture
By Katy Steinmetz
Time for Kids (May 31, 2016) 978-1618931498

Do you want a culmination of all of these topics and more? This book is a comprehensive timeline (starting pre-Columbus!) and photographic overview highlighting milestones, events, people, places, and all things America. While it may come off a bit like a textbook (don't let that scare you!) it actually is formatted rather usefully—you can either read it cover to cover, or, since each page spread highlights a different topic, you can casually peruse or read for reference. Each spread, while bite-sized, is still fact-filled and well-written, with plenty of photos, sidebar highlights, graphics and other such things to encourage understanding. Being so broad in its topic (pre-Columbus to today, sea to shining sea), expect only highlights with some missing details, but hey—this may be just the book to get kids doing some more research in a particular aspect of American history. Or reading more books like the ones above. An "awesome" book to have on hand.

And! You can enter to win a copy of Awesome America here! Just click below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Open to the US only, ends 7/14/2016. No purchase is necessary. Void where prohibited. We and the publisher/publicity department are not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged items. If you are under 13, please get a parent or guardian's permission to enter. Winner will be chosen randomly via Rafflecopter after the contest ends. Winner will have 48 hours to respond to to the email, otherwise we will pick a new winner. 

If you have any questions, feel free to email me emily{at}literaryhoots{dot}com


  1. Great list! Great books! Thank you!

  2. Just found your site. Very excited to explore other posts! America is wonderful because it is full of opportunity.