When a writer tells a story that keeps kids hanging on every word, you know you’ve found a winning book. And if that story teachings history, you’ve pretty much won the lottery. That’s why I love great books about history, and not history textbooks. Over my years of homeschooling, I’vefound some favorites that we return to again and again, so I’m sharing my top six great children’s authors on history.
And as a bonus, I’ll also recommend some great book sets that feature multiple authors.
For these authors to make my list, they must include:
- Excellent story writing – We’ve read some books that both the kids and I had to give up because the writing or storytelling was just BO-RING. We felt like our time was being wasted. So we remember the good stuff and look for more of the same.
- Historic facts – I don’t want a made-up tale of historic people and places. I want to know the author did their research and drew the story from actual events, eyewitness accounts, and personal writings.
- The whole story – I don’t need all of our books to be “Christian books” but if the events or the people in the real story were actually Christians, I want that to be included. If they were not, that’s okay with me, because I do want the whole story.
Six Great Children’s Authors for History
Sutcliff lived from 1920-1992 and wrote historical fiction that focuses mainly on ancient times and the Dark Ages. She brings the Greeks and the Romans alive through adventure stories that are unforgettable, and explores myths and legends of old, such as Robin Hood, Beowulf, and King Arthur.
Sutcliff’s books are suitable for middle-to-high school readers, but are great for reading aloud to all ages.
Holling Clancy Holling
With his seemingly-simple picture books, Holling is able to tell a story that mixes history and geography in the most imaginative way. In fact, it’s why a complete geography curriculum has been written around his books! Each book is short in comparison to most “history books” but the detail in each chapter is astounding. Holling blends historic fact with diagrams, maps, and beautiful illustrations to weave a story that kids love.
We have enjoyed the Beautiful Feet curriculum guide and maps for these books, but they also make great reading all on their own. My kids want to visit the Great Lakes after reading Paddle to the Sea! I think my kids’ favorite is A Tree in the Trail, which is about the Santa Fe trail, but so much more.
Holling’s books are perfect for elementary and middle school readers, but even a preschooler who enjoys good read-alouds will enjoy them, because they are filled with incredible illustrations. Holling lived from 1900-1973.
G. A. Henty
Oh, how I could go on about Henty’s historical novels! He was a prolific writer, and his target audience was the young boys of the late 19th century. But his books have seen a resurrection of popularity in the last 20 years thanks to the homeschooling movement. He covered the historic timeline from Ancient Egypt to the Victoria era of England. As a British author, he wrote each story from the perspective of British youths, but his stories travel the globe.
I couldn’t name a favorite Henty novel for you, because they are all equally great. But a few that I have read recently include Beric the Briton, Wulf the Saxon, and In the Reign of Terror. My experience has been with kids from 4th grade to 12th grade and they all find these stories exciting. Henty lived from 1832-1902.
Henty’s novels are perfect for middle school to high school readers, and great for read alouds to all ages.
Read my outline of history combining Henty with Winston Churchill here (includes some of my free study guides!)
Colorful imaginative illustrations combine with history and legend in every book that Ingri and Edgar D’aulaire wrote. Their Greek Myths are a classic in children’s literature, but the goodness doesn’t stop there. They wrote beautiful picture-biographies of several famous people which are widely used as part of many homeschool curricula.
Ingri was Norwegian and lived from 1904-1980. Edgar was Swiss/German and lived from 1898-1986.
Foster once wrote “History is drama, with men and nations as the actors. Why not present it with all the players who belong together on the stage at once rather than only one character on the stage at a time?”
And boy, did she do a great job. I love her books for exactly this reason. Books like “George Washington’s World” tell the story of Washington, from childhood to his death, alongside the many other important world events of the 18th century. Each book she wrote does this and it makes so. much. sense.
We use her books as the spine of our history studies wherever we can. They are wonderful springboards to rabbit trails and historical novels. And these are about as close to a history textbook we ever venture, because they’re actually one long story.
Foster lived from 1893-1979.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
No list of children’s book authors on history would be complete without Laura. She has given the world a definitive look at 19th century American pioneers. I hope I don’t need to tell you to go out and get the 9-book Little House set. Ignore what the Library Association says, and preserve this classic piece of American literature for your family.
Did you notice a similarity between all of these authors? They are not modern writers. Most of them were born in the 19th century. That’s one of the key elements for me when searching for good books. The more antique, the better. This helps me to avoid wasting time on revisionist history.
This doesn’t mean that newer authors are not great. Not by a long shot. But in the 21st century it’s becoming trickier to find great books on history that don’t have a modern agenda. Don’t believe me? Read my post on becoming History Keepers, or about revising the story of the pilgrims. This is why I’m super-picky about good books for my kids.
Besides a few stand-out authors, I want to share with you some of the book sets that we use and love in our home.
These were first introduced to me as a child when I was homeschooled. I read most of these growing up, and now we read them in our history curriculum. If you need a biography for your kids for any time period, check out one of these FIRST.
I read them aloud to all of my kids at all ages, but for independent reading they are suitable for middle school and up.
These are a gem from your parent’s or grandparent’s day, and the originals are hard to find now. Stacey at Pics N Papers says, “Well-researched non-fiction history is so often dry, especially when it’s in textbook or encyclopedia form, written by a committee (barf). Landmark books are non-fiction history books; however, they were almost all written by talented authors whose passion it was to make history exciting and tell real stories as if they were novels.” She is absolutely right.
We have a few of the original hardbacks (and I get them CHEAP at library book sales). They are awesome. Highly recommended.
Childhood of Famous Americans
I started collecting these (also from library book sales) in the original hardback version and using them in our homeschool. There are now reprints in affordable paperback editions. I do *not* know if the newer editions are revised. I am researching that info right now and will update this post. ThriftBooks has a nice listing that shows you want the old and new editions look like.
Note: I have not found that all of the old books were reprinted. Case in point: Patrick Henry. You can still search for an old hardback original, but I couldn’t find the same title in reprint form. Same withe Nathan Hale, John Hancock, William Penn, and other (important) figures.
Does your family enjoy audiobooks? I have a post on 5 Ways to Use Audible in Your Homeschool, and it just might be the thing to get your kids reading (and listening) to more of the authors in this article!
If you enjoyed this list and want to order the books you see here, I appreciate your clicking through my links to purchase. I write to help support my family and use affiliate links as income. Thank you!
While you’re here, visit my Knowledge Keepers Bookstore! I publish old, out-of-print history books in convenient and affordable paperbacks for the preservation of printed history. These are all firsthand accounts of history, and perfect supplements for your homeschool studies!