Picture Books Make History Come Alive: Reading Stories to Kids Builds Background Knowledge & Excitement for Learning

Please be aware that some historic events – like war, slavery, and the Holocaust – might be better read to older children. Know your history, know the story, and know your children.


Picture Books about Brave Escapes Build Background Knowledge

High-quality picture books make history come alive for kids and, at the same time, the story and illustrations build background knowledge on important subjects.  Stories about brave escapes will excite kids to learn about periods of history – slavery, World War II, and the Cold War (Berlin Wall), for example. Through the characters, kids will be immersed into an historic period. When they learn about these events in school, the new information builds on the background that was established by hearing these stories. All teachers start a new unit by “activating or building background knowledge” so kids have a reference point for learning new topics. High-quality picture books can be used as mentor texts in learning Social Studies.

Arouse Excitement for Learning by Asking Questions

Reading to kids and then talking about the stories together improves comprehension as children learn vicariously through story characters. Stop every now and then to talk about the story. Ask questions that get kids involved in the story and excited to learn more:

  • How bad could life have been that children risked their lives by skating to freedom?
  • What dangers do you think there are in ice skating in the canals?
  • Do you think it was safe to flee in a hot air balloon?
  • How did they know where to go?
  • What would happen if they were caught?
  • Why was there a goat living in the White House?
  • What is important about the White House?
  • What would it be like to be transported in a wooden crate?
  • How would the story be different if … ?
  • If you were in the story, what would you do?
  • What would have happened if they didn’t escape?
  • How did these people feel?
  • How is this like … ?
For P-3, No Lexile Level available
  • Henry’s Freedom Box (P-3 Lexile 490). Henry escapes from slavery by mailing himself on a long journey North in a crate.
  • The Greatest Skating Race (Gr 4-7 Lexile 750). This thrilling true story follows the daring escape of children who skate their way to freedom during WWII.
  • 8.Flight for Freedom (K-3, Lexile 21010). In this story, a family escapes from East Germany in a handmade hot air balloon.
  • Old Whiskers Escapes! brings a bit of historic fun to the reading. It chronicles the escape of a White House goat during the Harrison administration.

Boys Like This Story

For K-2 Lexile Level 550
Baseball Saved Us is an historic picture book about Japanese Internment camps during World War II following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Please read it first so you can appropriately introduce the topic to your children.  A free downloadable Read-Aloud guide is attached here Baseball Saved Us.

This story can be used to teach:

  • Character Traits
  • Character Motivation
  • Problem and Solution

The story is based on true events and what could have occurred in one of these camps. It is important because it personalizes events in history for a better understanding. Boys, in particular, like this story. Here is an archived Blog that you might enjoy.  When Boys Hate to Read

Reading Aloud Versus Independent Reading

It is my belief that reading high-quality picture books aloud is far better than handing over a book for a child to read alone.

  • First, read-aloud stories give kids background knowledge of the period in history being portrayed in the stories.
  • Next, historic events can be difficult for youngsters to understand on their own, so hearing a story and then talking about it with an adult, helps understanding and clears up confusion.
  • Finally, when adults read aloud, they become models of how good readers think when they read.  This happens as the reader stops to “think out loud” about tricky or unknown words and navigating through difficult text to find hidden meanings.

These are the skills we want our children to be good at so they become “Smart-thinking” readers on their own. Detailed read-aloud guides for many good picture books are available for a free download from the above Menu Downloadable Read-Aloud Guides.

So Many Good Historic Picture Books


By reading these good historic picture book stories to kids – at all ages – we can introduce different people, vocabulary, and events that will be studied in school. Children will learn about the time period and “feel” what it was like to live there through the eyes of the characters – some real and others fictional. Before reading to your children, please read them first to be aware of events that might be disturbing to some kids so you can talk about them first.

  • The Silent Witness (P-3 Lexile 950) is told from the point of view of a doll in the Civil War.
  • They Called Her Molly Pitcher (P-2 Lexile 930) is about a real woman who was helpful to soldiers during the American Revolution. A Read-aloud Guide can be downloaded free along with many others using the top Menu. They Called Her Molly Pitcher
  • Boxes for Katje ( K-2 Lexile 460) is a real story about how American children helped cold and starving Dutch children during WWII.
  • Luba the Angel of Bergen-Belsen (Gr 1-4 Lexile 750) is a real story of how one imprisoned woman saved many children during the Holocaust. This story and illustrations are absolutely NOT appropriate for very young children. Please read it first.
  • The Wall follows a man and his son as they visit the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Please be aware that some historic events – like war, slavery, and the Holocaust – might be better read to older children. Although they are advertised for children often as young as Pre-school to third grade, these topics are complicated and intense. Very young children will not be able to understand them on their own. Some of these eras in history may not be appropriate for your child.  Know your history, know the story, and know your children. Picture books can be appropriate for all grades. They have been the basis of my lessons in grades 1 through 12 – of course, depending on the book, the grade, and the curriculum.

Segregation for Older Kids

Segregation is not studied in my school until the middle grades.  These read-aloud picture book stories can set the stage – by building background knowledge – for learning about the events during this period in history. Events become real, children have many questions, and are eager to learn more.

  • White Socks Only (P-3 Lexile 560)
  • Freedom Summer (P-3 Lexile 600)
  • Freedom on the Menu (P-3 Lexile 660)

A Word about Lexiles

Lexile levels are reading levels of books by grade. They are suggested for average readers in the grades listed. Please note that picture books are often misunderstood by adults.  Since they are advertised for very young kids and there are “pictures” on the covers, it is the general opinion that kids can take them and go read and understand them on their own. If you check the discrepancies between many grades and Lexile levels using the chart to the right, you will notice that they are not always good for the youngsters for which they are marketed. Also, the topics may not be appropriate for your children.

When you read to kids and talk about story events – especially tough topics in history – you can help them understand what is happening, why it is important, and the connections between different time periods in history. Children can understand stories read to them that are 2 years above their own reading level.

Picture Book Power

There are many valuable benefits of reading picture books to children. This is a link to a list.  Why Picture Books?. I hope you and your children get a glimpse into the past by reading these stories together.  I would love to hear about your experiences.

Please subscribe to this Blog (link on the right) and I will notify you every time there is a new posting. “Happy Reading!”

Picture Books make kids smart-thinking about books.




Picture Books about Flight: Read-Aloud Tips that Make Comprehension Soar

And, the best of all is when you stop to point out something awesome in the story, you are showing your kids that it’s okay to stop and notice things of wonder.

Picture Books Kids Will Love

These delightful picture books about Flight will make your child’s reading comprehension soar if you read them in a special way to get your kids excited to do some thinking. I’ll show you some tips and tricks as a Reading Specialist. Try these three high-quality picture books to start.

  • Flight School (P-3 Lexile 490) Read-aloud Guide is attached here. Flight School
  • Goggles The Bear Who Dreamed of Flying (All ages, no Lexile available)
  • Penguin Flies Home (P-3 Lexile 620)
  • Mingo the Flamingo (P-3 no Lexile available) A Read-aloud guide is on the top Menu.

I will be reading all four of these stories on my You Tube channel, Creating Smart Readers. A direct link to my channel is here.  You Tube Stories  

Before You Read

Get the kids excited and curious before you read – make paper airplanes together. Also, talk about the cover illustrations and titles and ask kids to make predictions on what the stories will be about. Ask kids what they think about animals flying. Boys, especially will be motivated to read about aviation if they make planes and get to move around by flying them. When Boys Hate to Read

During the Read-Aloud

When you read aloud to kids, you become the model of how good readers think while reading because, after all, reading is all about thinking. So you will “think out loud” during the reading.  This will also get your children engaged in the story by guiding them to look at words and illustrations and to ask questions.  And, the best of all is when you stop to point out something awesome in the story, you are showing your kids that it’s okay to stop and notice things of wonder.

Picture books are often overlooked as great mentor texts that give examples of parts of speech, use of language, hidden meaning, and a call to initiate change in the world. For example, the author of Flight School uses onomatopoeia (sound effects) during the story. This story also shows kids that they should keep working to find a solution to a problem and never give up on your dreams. Ask kids what advice they would give Little Penguin to solve the problem. There are more ideas in the Read-aloud guide.

After-Reading Fun and Learning

It’s what you do after reading a story that cements the information into the minds of young learners. These activities also encourages kids to learn more about a topic and to have fun with what they learned. These are just a few ideas for the flight books listed above:

  • Compare and Contrast 2 or 3 of these picture books
  • Research penguins and flamingos
  • Create a flying invention for an animal
  • Write a new ending to one or more of these stories
  • Write a story that shows problem and solution and use sound effect words
  • Find out more about airplanes and flying
  • Make and fly a kite
  • Take a Virtual (or real) Tour of an airport
  • Build and create with blocks or Legos
  • Have races with your hand-made paper airplanes. Measure the distance for a Math connection.

The Power of the Picture Book

Kids love airplanes and making paper airplanes too.  Use this interest to teach them all about how good readers think smart when they read. You are their guide when you use picture book read-alouds in this interactive way. It has always been my feeling that most picture books are too hard for kids to read on their own – to get the deep meaning and understanding of the stories. That is why I stress the importance of reading picture books aloud to your children and talking about them as you read. In the top Menu, you will find Read-Aloud Guides for for many of the stories I feature.

A Word About Lexile Levels

A Lexile level is the range of numbers that matches a book’s reading level with a grade. Please note that Flight School is recommended for kids in P-3 with a Lexile level of 490.  A 490 level is at the end of  Grade 2. These levels are for kids who read in the normal grade-level range. Penguin Flies Home, however, is rated 620 in Lexile level which is at the beginning of Grade 4. It is targeted at kids P-3. Please know your child’s reading level.

Children should practice reading with books close to their own reading level for best success and to build confidence.  However, kids can understand books read aloud to them that are 2 years above their own grade level reading scores.

There are many great picture books available to read aloud to kids on aviation-related topics. Get them excited; get them engaged, and get them busy learning more!

“Happy Reading!”

Picture Books make kids smart-thinking about books.
The secret to reading success!


Picture Books and Food: How to Jump Start Reading Comprehension at Home

What interesting and vital creatures the honey bees are – yet most of us know little about them.

P-2, Lexile 520

A Taco Tuesday Picture Book?

Parents can jump start reading comprehension at home with a mix of food and high-quality read-aloud picture books – and, it’s easier than you think! When picture books are read out loud and discussed in a certain way, they become “lessons in disguise” that entice kids into the wonderful world of thinking smart about books. Here are some reading lessons they promote:

  1. Make Predictions
  2. Make Inferences
  3. Ask Questions
  4. Motivate and Excite Kids to Learn More
  5. Build Word Knowledge

Let’s connect reading to that topic we all love – food! Does your family have Taco Tuesday or Pizza Friday? Much of our traditions and family time center around food so I think it will be fun to highlight some picture books about food.  Some are cute stories where food is referenced in the titles. This kind of “inference” is fun to talk about and actually gets kids thinking (and laughing) about the titles and content of the stories. Don’t forget, that there are two reasons to read:  for information and for enjoyment. Stories for kids about food serve up both purposes. And, since just about every classroom has a sign somewhere that says, “Reading is Thinking,” parents can get kids thinking at home in fun ways that don’t even seem like they are learning.

Talk about the Titles and Pictures

Although there are hundreds of good reading programs for kids, parents are the first teachers. There is much to do easily and quickly at home. The first step in successful reading comprehension is to think. For example, why on earth did the author choose dragons and not alligators for the featured book? Why was the story called, Enemy Pie (P-7, Lexile 550) and not Enemy Cookie? Kids will also have fun writing their own stories about foods they choose. Most of us are familiar with the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie ()-3, Lexile 410) a series of adorable stories for kids – but, do we know why the author chose the foods in these stories? Fun to think about.  How would the stories be different if the authors used different foods?  The Good Egg (P-3, Lexile 510) leads to all kinds of discussions and lessons about idioms. There is a Read-Aloud guide in the top menu for Dragons Love Tacos.

Most of the kids books I buy come from amazon.com.  I like that online bookstore because it gives so much quick information about each book, including the cover picture, description, ratings, and reading levels (Lexile levels).

Enjoy the Many Food-Related Titles of Picture Books

I went on an amazon.com search for kids books with titles that reference food. They will be fun to read and talk about with your children. The secret to helping at home is to get the conversation going to arouse curiosity and excitement in your child. Do some further research about the origin of the your favorite foods or you can also do an author study about particular books that you like.  Children are home right now with plenty of time.  So, why not get them excited about research and literary analysis about food-related stories?  Here are a few stories for kids that you and your children might like.  Remember, always read a book first before reading it to your children to avoid surprises.  Read it together and talk about it as you go (here’s more thinking). Then do some great after-reading activities to keep the thinking alive and dig deeper, like:

  • Research and write a report
  • Draw pictures of the story in Sequential Order
  • Write a new ending to the story
  • Write and perform a play about food
  • Do some cooking
  • Plan and prepare for a family party, including handmade invitations.

These are a few kids books that I found that look interesting:

  • Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast (K-2, Lexile 760)
  • Escargot (P-1, Lexile 520)
  • Pizza Day (P-1, no Lexile available)
  • Stone Soup (P-3, Lexile 560)
L=3 Lexile 480

Picture Books Explore the World

The Water Princess is about the water shortage in Africa and the great lengths people there go to in order to get daily water.

Do a search about where water comes from where you live.  You might be able to find a Virtual Tour of a water treatment plant. You are thinking about the topic now in the broader, global sense.


Learn about Honey Bees

What interesting and vital creatures the honey bees are – yet most of us know little about them.  Here are some picture books that might be well received by your family.

  • The Honeybee Man (P-3, Lexile 660)
  • The Honey Makers (K-3, Lexile 770)
  • The King of Bees (P-2, Lexile 600).

I’ll be reading The King of Bees on my You Tube Channel, Creating Smart Readers coming up soon (link in top menu). I bought this fabulous children’s book after attending a lecture by the author, Lester Laminack, at a Literacy Conference in New York City. He is responsible for my love of and extensive use of high-quality picture books. My eyes were opened to a new of using wonderful picture books – reading lessons for teachers when using them as mentor texts and “lessons-in-disguise” for parents when using as read-alouds.

Yes, there are adorable children’s books for toddlers and very young kids, but be on the lookout for the overlooked treasures hidden in the pages of high- quality picture books that are loaded with information, illustrations, hidden meaning, life lessons, and colorful vocabulary. It is so much easier to get your kids interested in reading – and, thinking about the stories – when you practice with these beautiful and captivating books.

Check out some short You Tube videos by National Geographic showing kids tending to bees. Always read or view a book or video first.

Kids Books for Young Chefs and Bakers

Let’s end up with some cookbooks for kids.  Most kids enjoy baking and cooking, so I’m including a few children’s books on the subject.  When cooking or baking, kids need to learn to follow directions and the sequence needed to successfully complete a recipe. You can also find great instructional videos and other books online or in the library. Have fun!

  • Kid Chef Junior (P-2 no Lexile available)
  • The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs ((Gr 4-8, Lexile 1040)
  • The Vegetarian Cookbook (Gr 4-7, no Lexile available)
  • The Big, Fun Kids Cookbook (Gr 3-7, no Lexile available)

Here is a link to the Food Network site for cooking with kids. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/packages/recipes-for-kids/cooking-with-kids

A Word about Lexiles

Please check the Lexile level (reading level) of the children’s books you want your kids to read on their own.  As you can see from the chart on the upper right, Lexile levels do not always jive with the grades that are targeted for these books. Please know your child’s reading level.  If a book is too hard, your children will not read it or they will “fake read” it.  Read more challenging books to and with your children so they don’t miss out on grade-leveled stories for kids that appeal to them and their friends.  Children can understand stories that are 2 years above their reading level. For independent practice, kids should always read at their own level. Start there and then slowly move up once their confidence and skills improve.

Finally, whether your family hosts Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday or anything in between, I hope you will enjoy mixing these fabulous picture books with the foods you love. I am always happy to hear from you with concerns or questions about Reading.

Please subscribe to this Blog (and to my You Tube channel) and you will receive a notice when a new Blog post or read-aloud story is available.  I never ever use your information for anything else.

“Happy Reading!” (and Happy Eating)!

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