We all can learn so so much from picture books (I know I do!). So here’s a list of 18 standout non-fiction picture books that illuminate historical figures, events, science, nature, culture, math, art, and more! I hope you get to check out some of these because all of them will speak of our world and inspire kids (and you) to know more, to care more, to experience more.
Nina: A Story of Nina Simone words by Traci N. Todd pictures by Christian Robinson (2021). This treasure of a book pops and sings and draws you in. “Nina was done with being polite. As far as she could tell, politeness had gotten her people nothing.”
One Sun and Countless Stars by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (2022) is part of a wonderful series, and in this newest installment, Mehrdokht Amini’s illustrations struck me even more—particularly the ones whose compositions zoom in so the rich colors and textures come alive.
Mambo Mucho Mambo: The Dance That Crossed Color Lines by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (2021) is a wonderful account that takes you back in time and makes you want to dance.
Where the Wee Ones Go by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Zosienka (2022) is soothing and illuminating (and just the right amount of sad and hopeful) about the “vulnerable animal babies” the author and illustrator capture in this bedtime book.
The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi and Loveis Wise (2021) is an extraordinary illustrated poem that’s also an expansive history of the African diaspora while illuminating the principles of Kwanzaa. It’s about the past, but also about the present and future and the myriad ways Black Americans have shaped the world.
Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! by Art Coulson, illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight (2021). A story that fabulously incorporates interactive math as Bo searches for just the right container to display his marbles at his family’s booth at Cherokee National Holiday. You can learn some Cherokee words in the back as well!
Circle Under Berry by Carter Higgins (2021) is an imaginative, spatial exploration of shapes, of prepositions, of how we see, what we see, and the relationships of things. And it is deeply smart and satisfying.
Art of Protest: Creating, Discovering, and Activating Art for Your Revolution by De Nichols, illustrated by Diana Dagadita, Oliva Twist, Molly Mendoza, Diana Ejaita (2021). A fabulous protest primer, art workshop, history all in one. “…my hope is that this book will encourage and equip you to use art as a language and instrument that can help you champion your chosen cause,” De Nichols.
A Shape Shifting Adventure in Hawai’i written by Daniel Frates, illustrated by Jamie Meckel Tablason (2021) is the tale of a line who takes many exciting shapes while traveling around their Hawai’i home.
Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Gold Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. (2021). A story of an innovating woman in engineering and the way both a love of math and her Cherokee values shaped her journey and contributions.
The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith (2021) starts with a genealogical school assignment that leads to an honoring history of the main character’s African ancestors. It celebrates African cultures and peoples, unflinchingly describes being stolen and enslaved, and praises Black resistance, joy, and pride.
Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper (2021) speaks the unspeakable and doesn’t turn away from the truth of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in a truly incredible book.
Hear My Voice: The Testimonials of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States complied by Warren Binford for Project Amplify. A bilingual picture book that’s harrowing and heartbreaking: the true stories of children at Border Patrol facilities— in their own words, powerfully illustrated by different Latinx artists.
Pura’s Cuentos: How Pure Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories written by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Magaly Morales (2021) is an ode to this legendary children’s librarian (and first Latina librarian in NYC) from Puerto Rico who enchanted children with her stories of home told in Harlem.
Stitch by Stitch: Elizabeth Hobbs Keckly Sews her Way to Freedom by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (2021) is a fascinating true story of a remarkable woman that has stunning artwork that builds along with the biography, layer by layer, stitch by stitch.
Moth and Butterfly Ta-Da written by Dev Petty, illustrated by Ana Aranda (2021) has vibrant, whimsical art capturing two friends who celebrate their differences as they transform—ta-da!
The Angel of Santo Tomas: The Story of Fe Del Mundo by Tammy Lee (2022) is the marvelous biography of a woman who demonstrated intellect, courage, and kindness for her community even in the direst of circumstances.
How to Make a Mountain: from Geologic Formation to Thriving Habitat in Just 9 Simple Steps and Only 100 Million Years! by Amy Huntington, illustrated by Nancy Lemon (2022) is the science of mountain formation in an inventive, DIY package.