Picture Books for Social Studies

Social studies is my absolute favorite subject to teach.   Telling stories from the past, and finding connections to the present and future, is such a great way to reach the students and help to create scholars.  One way that I have found to effectively reach the kids in my room when it comes to social studies is through picture books.  Using text with a historical background that is written at my students' reading level is perfect for grabbing (and holding) their interest.  So I thought I would bring you 5 different books that I have found successful in my classroom for teaching social studies concepts.

(The pink links are affiliate links and will take you to to Amazon to purchase the books!)

The Gift of the Sacred Dog (Reading Rainbow Books) by Paul Goble
Native Americans

This is a great myth that tells about how the arrival of horses in North America (when European settlers came) impacted the tribes living here.  While this is a myth (and not nonfiction) it still offers a great glimpse into how Native American tribes lived, their culture, and how myths played a central role in storytelling.  It also lends itself to a great discussion about how horses changed the way Native American peoples, the Sioux in particular, lived. 

Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl (Scholastic Bookshelf) by Kate Waters
Colonial Times

When I teach the students about the original 13 Colonies, and the settlers who came from England to establish the new lands, I love using Sarah Morton's Day by Kate Waters.  It is a photo-journal written in first person point of view, that shows a typical day in the life of a Plymouth Colony girl.  Reading through this book, the students are able to see what hard work it was to settle these new lands in the early 1600s....and realize that even the kids had to work!  (There are two other companion books, Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy and Tapenum's Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy In Pilgrim Times that show life through the eyes of a Pilgrim boy and a Native American living at the time.)  I then like to have my students create their own "photo-journal" from the point of view of a Pilgrim boy or girl living around the same time.  Using details from the text, as well as our social studies books and other resources, the students follow the same pattern as the Sarah Morton text and describe life from sun up to sunset.

The Boston Tea Party (Graphic History) by Matt Doeden
American Revolution

Using this graphic novel, which tells the basic story of the events causing and leading up to the famous Boston Tea Party, is a great way to hook my reluctant historians.  Seeing the true details of the event come to life with comic book drawings and speech bubbles is enough to make each of my kids eager to learn more about this piece of history.  I then am able to transfer that curiosity into learning about the various battles of the revolution and the students creating their own comics about the historical events.

Betsy Ross by Alexandra Wallner
American Revolution

Ok...I know I already wrote one suggested book about the American Revolution, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE this time period.  There are so many different "American Heroes" that came out of this time, that I usually do my biography unit in conjunction with this social studies topic.  A nice book to use is this one about Betsy Ross.  It is a very accessible book for all students to read, contains a lot of history, and even addresses some historical myths surrounding this prominent lady.  Using this book, we are able to see just what life was like for Besty growing up, as well as delve into the genre of biography.  From here, I am able to branch off and do many different projects surrounding Mrs. Ross.  Two of my favorites are creating our own American flags and biography reports of other notable people during this time period.  I love creating both hanger people and Magazine biography reports.  They just come out so awesome...and all stem from this little picture book.  (click the links to access the files I use on TpT.)

If You Traveled West In A Covered Wagon by Ellen Levine
Westward Expansion

This is a nonfiction book with lots of little tidbits about what it was like to travel west along the various trails that cropped up after the Louisiana Purchase.  There is a great deal of information included in this book, all written at a level that the students can understand.  I love using this one as we are discussing various parts of the Westward Expansion movement.  It is useful for the entire unit!

So there you have it.  A few books that you can use to enhance your social studies curriculum.  What books have you used that you have found particularly useful in teaching social studies standards?



  1. LOVE your new blog template! Great recommendations for social studies books! Social studies is my very favorite to teach!

  2. I am new to 5th grade, and I'm getting so much social studies inspiration from you! Can you explain a little bit about HOW you use picture books in your units? ( I am coming from Kindergarten and I need to adapt to teaching 5th graders!) Thank you!


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