Picture Books About Being American
America has always had a difficult and complicated relationship with its people, and no two people or groups have had the same experience in this country. Some of those experiences were good, some were bad, and some were both. Explaining that history to little ones can be hard, but knowing our history and understanding its truths is important. Here is a list of picture books about what it means to be an American seen through the eyes of different people at different times in history.
Her Name Was Mary Katharine
by Ella Schwartz
Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
In school, we learn the names of men who signed the Declaration of Independence, but many don’t know that there was another name on it: the name of a woman, who helped create it and wrote herself into it. And Her Name Was Mary Katharine.
Born in 1738, Mary Katharine Goddard came of age in colonial Connecticut as the burgeoning nation prepared for the American Revolution. As a businesswoman and a newspaper publisher, Goddard paved the way for influential Revolutionary media. Her remarkable accomplishments as a woman defied societal norms and set the stage for a free and open press. When the Continental Congress decreed that the Declaration of Independence be widely distributed, one person rose to the occasion and printed the document—boldly inserting her name at the bottom with a printing credit: Mary Katharine Goddard.
Here is an important biography of a groundbreaking woman who had the courage to write herself into the history she helped create.
I Am an American
by Martha Brockenbrough
by Grace Lin
Illustrated by Julia Kuo
Sometimes it’s hard to fight for yourself when others are trying to keep you down. This heartfelt book tells the story of Wong Kim Ark, a man who was told he wasn’t American because of the way he looked and where his family was from. This is the story of the time he challenged the Supreme Court on his right to be called citizen—and won.
When American-born Wong Kim Ark returns home to San Francisco after a visit to China, he’s stopped and told he cannot enter: he isn’t American. What happens next would forever change the national conversation on who is and isn’t American. After being imprisoned on a ship for months, Wong Kim Ark takes his case to the Supreme Court and argues any person born in America is an American citizen.
I am an American: The Wong Kim Ark Story is an important picture book that introduces young readers to the young man who challenged the Supreme Court for his right to be an American citizen and won, confirming birthright citizenship for all Americans.
Leave It to Abigail!
by Barb Rosenstock
Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Everyone knew Abigail was different.
Instead of keeping quiet, she blurted out questions. Instead of settling down with a wealthy minister, she married a poor country lawyer named John Adams. Instead of running from the Revolutionary War, she managed a farm and fed hungry soldiers. Instead of leaving the governing to men, she insisted they “Remember the Ladies.” Instead of fearing Europe’s kings and queens, she boldly crossed the sea to represent her new country. And when John become President of the United States, Abigail became First Lady, and a powerful advisor.
Leave it to Abigail–an extraordinary woman who surprised the world.
The Proudest Blue
by Ibtihaj Muhammad
Illustrated by Hatem Aly
With S. K. Ali
Paired with Hatem Aly’s beautiful, whimsical art, Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and Morris Award finalist S.K. Ali bring readers an uplifting, universal story of new experiences, the unbreakable bond between siblings, and of being proud of who you are.
H Is for Harlem
by Dinah Johnson
Illustrated by April Harrison
If you live in New York City, you know that Harlem is a place that proudly stands out and has a culture uniquely its own. And if you aren’t from the city, don’t worry: we have a gorgeous picture book that explains that places in America just as alive as its people.
A is for Apollo Theatre
L is for Liberation Bookstore
U is for Uptown
Discover the Harlem icons that have defined generations of American culture. Harlem is full of remarkable treasures, including museums, performance spaces, community centers, and more—all of which come to life in this lavish celebration of Harlem as an epicenter of African American history and a vibrant neighborhood that continues to shape our world. At once a love letter and a rich alphabetical archive, H Is for Harlem highlights communities and traditions that connect our past and present.
Abe's Honest Words
by Doreen Rappaport
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
There is nothing more American than fighting for change when everyone else tells you that you are wrong. Sometimes the change you want to see starts with you and the truth. Told in Doreen Rappaport’s accessible, absorbing prose, and brought to life in powerful illustrations by Kadir Nelson, Abe’s Honest Words is an epic portrait of a truly great American president.
From the time he was a young boy roaming the forests of the unsettled Midwest, Abraham Lincoln knew in his heart that slavery was deeply wrong. A voracious reader, Lincoln spent every spare moment of his days filling his mind with knowledge, from history to literature to mathematics, preparing himself to one day lead the country he loved towards greater equality and prosperity. Despite the obstacles he faced as a self-educated man from the back woods, Lincoln persevered in his political career, and his compassion and honesty gradually earned him the trust of many Americans. As president, he guided the nation through a long and bitter civil war and penned the document that would lead to the end of slavery in the United States.
The passion for humanity that defined Lincoln’s life shines through in this momentous follow-up to Martin’s Big Words and John’s Secret Dreams.
by Doreen Rappaport
Illustrated by London Ladd
Cover design or artwork by London Ladd
Some of America’s history is horrible and hard to talk about, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from it. It’s important for kids to know the powerful story of human-rights activist Frederick Douglass, a man born a slave who grew up to be a leader for change and a voice of the people.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave. He was taken from his mother as a baby, and separated from his grandparents when he was six. He suffered hunger and abuse, but miraculously, he learned how to read. Frederick read newspapers left in the street, and secretly collected spellings from neighborhood children. Words, he knew, would set him free. When Frederick was twenty, he escaped to the North, where he spread his abolitionist beliefs through newspaper articles, autobiographies, and speeches. He believed that all people-regardless of color or gender-were entitled to equal rights. It is Douglass’s words, as well as his life, that still provide hope and inspiration across generations.
In this installment of the critically acclaimed Big Words series, Doreen Rappaport captures Frederick’s journey from boy to man, from slavery to freedom, by weaving Frederick’s powerful words with her own. London Ladd’s strong and evocative illustrations combine with the text to create a moving portrait of an extraordinary life.
by Sarah Jane Marsh
Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
We know John Hancock and Samuel Adams signed the Declaration of Independence, but this picture book tells the tale of who they were before that moment and shows what led to their revolutionary signatures.
When the British army began marching toward Lexington and Concord, sending Hancock and Adams fleeing into the woods, the two men couldn’t help but worry–this time, had they gone too far?
Rich with historical detail and primary sources, this spirited tale takes readers through ten years of taxes and tea-tossing, tyranny and town hall meetings. The team behind Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word reunites for a lively look at the origins of the American Revolution told through the powerful partnership of two legendary founders.
by Jyoti Rajan Gopal
Illustrated by Supriya Kelkar
Being American isn’t about being the same as everyone else. Who we are and the places our family comes from is just as important as where we are. This poetic story filled with expressive art empowers South Asian children living in the United States and celebrates being bicultural.
Pavadais in bright gold colors
Jersey shirts and faded jeans
Swapping, changing, feeling seen…
Which is the color of me?
A young girl longs to know where she fits in: Is she American? Or is she Indian? Does she have to pick or can she be both? With bright, joyful rhyme, and paired with an immersive art style using American and Indian fabrics, American Desi celebrates the experiences of young children growing up first and second generation Indian American: straddling the two cultural worlds they belong to, embracing all they love of both worlds and refusing to be limited by either.
This story is a powerful tribute to the joy of being South Asian and for every reader who aspires to bridge their worlds with grace, grit, and confidence.
An American Story
by Kwame Alexander
Illustrated by Dare Coulter
This powerful picture book that tells the story of American slavery through the voice of a teacher struggling to help her students understand its harrowing history.
From the fireside tales in an African village, through the unspeakable passage across the Atlantic, to the backbreaking work in the fields of the South, this is a story of a people’s struggle and strength, horror and hope. This is the story of American slavery, a story that needs to be told and understood by all of us. A testament to the resilience of the African American community, this book honors what has been and envisions what is to be.
This is a book for those who want to speak the truth.