It's easy to think that picture books are simple stories for young children. Once readers reach certain reading milestones they're expected to abandon picture books for the more complex stories found in chapter books and novels.
But ignoring an entire sector of publishing could be detrimental to your students' understandings of history. Think about what they could learn if you took fifteen to twenty minutes to read an historical fiction picture book to them. Besides, who doesn't love to be read to?
Here are just a few that I enjoy.
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco. Although it's a picture book, the characters are teenagers. Both boys are soldiers in the Union Army, but Pink is African American while Say is white. The two form a powerful friendship and the story has a devastatingly heartbreaking ending. Fair warning: I can never read this book without crying, so have tissues on hand for your students.
Tim Tingle's Crossing Bok Chitto is another glorious story that would work perfectly in a middle school classroom. It's about a young Choctaw girl who befriends a slave family on a nearby plantation. When the family learns the mother will soon be sold away, they plan an escape and receive help from the Choctaws.
Finally, The Bicycle Man by Allen Say is set in occupied Japan after World War II. Two American soldiers and the tricks they can do on a borrowed bicycle impress the main character, an elementary student who has never seen Americans before. Reading this to your students can help impart a sense of wonder about the meeting of two different cultures.
There are a world of beautiful, inspiring and well-written historical fiction picture books out there. When you're trying to introduce history to your students, don't rule them out as a method to teach.
Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes. She is also a librarian.