Great Picture Books to Teach Social Studies for Grade K-3
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
To kindle my students' interest in social studies, I launch each unit by reading a picture book that introduces skills, concepts, and historical eras. The following books are a selection of titles for students in grades K 3, taken from a list of books evaluated and selected by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children's Book Council (CBC). I have added a teaching tip of my own for each book.
A Key to Social Studies Standards
Each book featured below has a numeral, following the book's publisher, that represents the social studies standard the title's content supports.
II. Time, Continuity, and Change
III. People, Places, and Environments
IV. Individual Development and Identity
V. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
VI. Power, Authority, and Governance
VII. Production, Distribution, and Consumption
VIII. Science, Technology, and Society
IX. Global Connections
X. Civic Ideals and Practice
The standards were published by the National Council for the Social Studies in Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies.
Picture Books and Teaching Tips
Nobody Owns the Sky: The Story of Brave Bessie Coleman by Reeve Lindbergh (Candlewick; IV, III)
Reeve Lindbergh, daughter of the pioneer aviator, honors the memory of a young African American woman named Bessie who refused to let her flying dreams die despite obstacles.
Activity: Have kids draw a picture of Bessie flying in her plane, cut it out, and glue it onto blue construction paper. Then have kids paste a white-paper thought bubble to the drawing and write what Bessie is feeling.
The Story of Little Babaji by Helen Bannerman (HarperCollins; III, I )
This sensitive retelling of Little Black Sambo features authentic East Indian names and lively, humorous illustrations. The book redeems an old story.
Activity: Ask students, What happened first? Next? After that? Have kids sequence the events in the story on a basic timeline.
Sam and the Tigers by Julius Lester (Dial; IV, X)
Magical illustrations accompany Lester's brilliant version of Little Black Sambo. Charm is retained without the historical baggage.
Activity: Compare with The Story of Little Babaji.
Market! by Ted Lewin (Lothrop; VII, III, I)
Vibrant paintings support an informative text that transports readers to six bustling outdoor markets where traders buy and sell products.
Activity: Have the class make a market quilt, drawing goods sold or traded on tag-board squares. Paper-punch two holes on each side and tie the squares together with yarn.
The Flag We Love by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Charlesbridge; X, II, VI)
This exciting book teaches young people the meaning of the stars and stripes through patriotic verse and dazzling illustrations.
Activity: Invite kids to redesign the flag using red, white, and blue construction paper stripes and stars.
The Fiddler of the Northern Lights by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock (Cobblehill; I, III)
Grandpa Pepin tells the story of the fiddler who plays and makes the northern lights dance.
Activity: Have students create their own dancing northern lights by using the flat side of colored chalk on black construction paper.
A Symphony for the Sheep by C. M. Millen (Houghton; III, VII, I)
Hand-colored woodcuts enhance this lilting narrative poem about rural Irish sheep-farming culture.
Activity: Have kids create their own rhymes.
Coming to America: The Story of Immigration by Betsy Maestro (Scholastic; I, V, II)
This fascinating saga depicts the past and present diversity of the American people.
Activity: Have children use flesh-tone crayons to draw their families. Cut out the pictures and tack them to a bulletin board. Add "hello" in as many languages as children in your class speak.