by Maria Salvadore and Reneé Critcher Lyons

Following is a select list of fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults about the presidents and American History during and after the Civil War. Click a category to jump ahead or just scroll down to review the titles in each one

Fiction Books About the Era of Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War
Nonfiction Books About the Era of Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War
Books About the Era of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Books About the Era of Dwight Eisenhower
Books About the Era of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson

Fiction Books About the Era of Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War

Fiction can allow readers to experience what it must have felt like to have families literally torn apart either through enslavement or through fighting each other.

For Readers High School to Adult
It’s interesting to note that each of the books below have been adapted into film.

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (Vintage, 1998)

The odyssey of a Confederate soldier who deserts his unit to return to the woman he loves.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (Scribner, 1936)

The classic tale of the Civil War introduces characters who have become literary icons.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (Modern Library, 2004 ed)

This affecting novel, imbued with history, brings the Battle of Gettysburg to life.

For Readers in Grades 5 to 8

Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt (Berkeley, 1986 ed)

The sons of one family fight on different sides while the youngest tries to make sense of the war.

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic, 2007)

Elijah was born into freedom in a Canadian settlement but he sees the horrors of slavery first hand when he meets escaped slaves and ventures into the United States.

A Light in the Storm: the Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1999)

A lighthouse keeper’s daughter on Fenwick Island, Delaware, chronicles the confusion brought on by the War.

Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells (Viking, 2007)

A girl from the Shenandoah Mountains witnesses the devastation of war as a daughter and emerging scientist.

For Readers in Grades 3 to 7

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic, 2012)

Elijah’s friend has saved money for years in an attempt to buy his family’s freedom.  Trouble is, someone has stolen the stash, and Elijah must track down the thief—becoming the community’s hero.

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick (Scholastic, 2011)

Twelve-year-old orphan Homer P. Figg runs away from his orphanage with one goal in mind, finding his brother, who has been sold into the Union Army.  Homer uses all his wits as he heads South and to Gettysburg.

For Readers in Grades 2 to 4

Just in Time, Abraham Lincoln by Patricia Polacco (Puffin, 2014)

When two boys visit a Civil War Museum on a trip with their grandmother, they don’t expect to meet Abraham Lincoln face-to-face!

Nonfiction Books About the Era of Abraham Lincoln, Slavery, and the Civil War

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind a Friendship by Russell Freedman (Clarion, 2012)
Ages 10-12, Grades 5-7

Read about the similarities of these two men who helped abolish slavery and guide the nation through the Civil War, both poor, self-taught, and voracious readers.

The Brothers’ War: Civil War Voices in Verse by J. Patrick Lewis with photographs from the Civil War (National Geographic, 2007)
Readers grade 7 to adult (ages 12 +).

With speeches of Civil War leaders, this book shows the human toll in verse and photographs.

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson (Scholastic, 2009)
Ages 12 and up, Grades 7 and up

This historical thriller whose subject is the aftermath of Lincoln’s death, i.e. John Wilkes Booth, uses all primary source dialogue.

Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty by Tonya Bolden (Abrams, 2013)
Ages 8-12, Grades 5-9

Written in scrapbook style, the pages of this title are rich in primary sources detailing Lincoln’s reasoning behind, writing, and delivery of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad by Joyce Hansen (Cricket Books, 2003)
Readers grade 6 to adult (ages 11+)

Before the Civil War ended, enslaved African Americans sought ways north to freedom; explores how historians continue to dig up and learn more about the difficult trek to freedom.

Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth by James Cross Giblin (Clarion, 2005)
Readers grade 7 to adult (ages 12 +)

Find out about the assassin of Abraham Lincoln and his brother in this book by noted nonfiction author Giblin.

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson  (Balzer and Bray, 2011)
Ages 6-10, Grades 1-5

Written in the voice of “Everywoman,” Nelson transports the reader from colonial times to the end of the Civil Right movement, all the while revealing the incredible tenacity of African Americans as well as their contributions to the cause of liberty.

Lincoln Tells A Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (and the Country) by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer (HMH Books, 2016)
Ages 6-9, Grades 1-4

Co-authored, this books explores the humorous side of President Lincoln and the manner in which jokes and laughter helped this great leader endure the sorrows associated with the Civil War and politics in general.

Mr. Lincoln’s Camera Man: Matthew B. Brady (Dover, 1974 ed.)
Readers from high school to adult.

Over 300 photographs by the man who captured the war on film (with written commentary) shows the figures and the horror of the period.

Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War by Thomas B. Allen (National Geographic, 2009)
Ages 10 and up, Grades 5 and up

During Lincoln’s presidency, the term “commander-in-chief” took on greater meaning; our preeminent leader was in charge of surveillance balloons, ironclads, telegraphs, and railroads!

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss (Abrams, 2016)
Ages 6-9, Grades 1-4

Discover the intriguing story of the only woman who fought in the Civil War, disguising herself to join the Union Army, also serving as a spy.

A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery by Albert Marrin (Knopf, 2014)
Ages 12-17, Grades 8-12

Read about the “volcanic” man who inspired a generation of abolitionists, and became the only person ever who attempted to capture the federal armory, his firebrand behavior leading the nation into the Civil War.

When Johnny Went Marching: Young Americans Fight the Civil War by Clifton Wisler (HarperCollins, 2001) Readers from grade 6 to adult (ages 11+)

Personal accounts and photographs of boys too young to fight but who enlisted as drummers, hospital aides, and more.

Books About the Era of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency was unique in many ways. Not only did FDR change the role of the presidency, his wife also helped change the role of First Lady; meanwhile, the Great Depression changed the country while a war raged in Europe.

Bomb: The Race to Save – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (Flash Point, 2012)
Ages 10-14, Grades 5-9

Receiving multiple awards and raving reviews, Sheinkin explores both the science behind and people involved in the development of the atomic bomb.

Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (Knopf, 2006)
High school to adult

Death is the character who narrates this multilayered World War II story that begins with a girl’s move to a foster home in Germany where she collects books, people, and memories.

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Delacorte, 1999)
Ages 9-12, grades 4-8

Bud, a young African-American orphan, discovers jazz and his family in Depression-era Michigan.

Eleanor and Amelia Go for a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 1999)
Ages 7-10, grades 2-5

This fictionalized account of a plane ride by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and aviatrix adventurer Amelia Earhart was inspired by primary sources.

Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery by Russell Freedman (Clarion, 1993)
Ages 12 +, grades 7 to adult

Though unhappy as a child, Eleanor Roosevelt grew up to become an outspoken, highly-regarded First Lady and activist. Her public accomplishments and personal challenges are revealed in this lucid, well-documented text which uses primary sources.

Freedman has also written a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Clarion, 1992).

Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World by Douglas Wood (Candlewick, 2011)
Ages 6-9, Grades 1-4

This title looks at the Christmas Holiday visit between the two world leaders who grew to respect and befriend one another while (most importantly) strategizing the course of (and aftermath) of World War II.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1999 ed)
Ages 11 +; grades 6 +

In spare but evocative language, a 14-year-old narrator reveals the harsh farm life in Oklahoman in the Dust Bowl.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 1989)
Ages 9-12, grades 4-7

A Danish girl and her family help her best friend and her parents escape to Sweden. The novel is based on actual events of Danes helping Jews avoid Nazi capture and certain death.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial Books, 2015)
Ages 9-12, Grades 4-7

Ada is kept to a one-room bedroom by her mother due to a deformed foot, but when Ada and her brother are shipped out of London to safety during WWII, will they find a new home and family?

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Resistance Movement Which Defied Adolf Hilter by Russell Freedman (Clarion, 2016)
Ages 10-12, Grades 5-7

“There is such a thing as justice.  I am proud of you,” the father of young pamphleteers resisting Hitler told his children.  Award-winning author Russell Freedman proves him correct, sharing Hans and Sophie Scholl’s story with the world.

Books About the Era of Dwight Eisenhower

D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, 1944 by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt and Co., 2014)
Ages 11-14, Grades 6-9

This title captures the spirit of the June 6, 1944, the day Allied troops insured the perpetuation of liberty by reclaiming Western Europe from the occupying Nazis.

A Little Peace by Barbara Kerley (National Geographic, 2007)
All ages

President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address was a prayer for peace. Barbara Kerley’s brilliant photoessay shows that peace begins with people.

Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic, 2008)
High school to adult

Readers will go to the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom with a unit of modern soldiers.

Books About the Era of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson

Kennedy’s Camelot ended with his assassination in 1963 after which Lyndon Johnson became president. This era was marked by the Civil Rights movement, civil unrest, nuclear threat, and the war in Vietnam.

The Brothers Kennedy: John, Robert, Edward by Kathleen Krull (Simon & Schuster, 2010)
Ages 4-8, Grades Pre-K-3

Learn how a political dynasty, the Kennedy brothers, grew up by, and learned to love, the seashore, fondly remembering their time by the ocean during the tragic political existence of their adult years.

The Civil Rights Movement Through the Eyes of Lyndon Baines Johnson by Moira Rose Donohue (Core Library, 2016)
Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7

During a most crucial time in our nation’s history, the Civil Rights Era, how did President Johnson face almost insurmountable challenges?

Cracker: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata
Ages 10-14, Grades 5-10

Cracker, a German Shephard, drafted to sniff out booby traps in Vietnam, is separated from Rick, his comrade.  Will the combat soldiers, pet and handler, ever be reunited?

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings, A Memoir by Margarita Engle (Atheneum, 2015)
Ages 12 and up, Grades 7 and up

Winner of the Pura Belpre, Newbery Honor, and YALSA Non-Fiction Honor, Margarita Engle recounts her story of growing up in America during the Cold War and the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  How could the two countries she loves be at such odds with one another?  Will Margarita ever be able to return “home?”

Fail Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler (Ecco Press, 1999 ed., 1962c)
High school to adult

When American bombers armed with nuclear warheads mistakenly go beyond the point of no return, what will the U.S. President do to avoid all-out nuclear holocaust? Written during the time of the Cuban Missile crisis, this novel remains disquieting.

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic, 1988)
High school to adult

17-year old Richie Perry learns that survival is more than just staying alive in this powerful novel set on the front lines in Viet Nam.

Lincoln and Kennedy: A Pair to Compare by Gene Baretta (Henry Holt, 2016)
Ages 6-10, Grades 1-4

Lincoln and Kennedy grew up very differently, but what did they have in common? Lots, as Gene Baretta relates in this text, complete with lively and humorous illustrations.

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Jump at the Sun, 2001)
Ages 7+; grades 2 +

Martin Luther King’s words are juxtaposed with luminous illustrations to chronicle the man’s life and impact.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Book Press, 2014)
Ages 12 and up, Grades 7 and up

Sheinkin examines the unfair treatment African American soldiers received at “Port Chicago” during the summer of 1944.  When these soldiers refused to load dangerous ammunition, they were tried and convicted of mutiny!

The Race for Space: The United States and the Soviet Union Compete for the New Frontier by Betsy Kuhn (Twenty-first Century Books, 2006)
Ages 11-14, grades 6-9

The rivalry between the former U.S.S.R. and the U.S. began with Sputnik but continued for decades. The fear, excitement, and influence of this decades-long enmity are presented in an informal text and many period photographs.

Sit-In:  How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down, by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney (Little-Brown, 2010)
Ages 7 and up, Grades 1 and up

How would you feel if you walked into a lunch counter and were refused “a doughnut and coffee with cream on the side?”  Find out how four brave young men in Greensboro, NC “sit-in” at such a discriminatory business in order to insure everyone in America is provided equal services.

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges (Scholastic, 1999)
Ages 9+, grades 4 +

The woman who as a child became the first black student to attend an all-white school in New Orleans recalls her experience. The touching narrative, black-and-white photographs, and additional accounts create a moving portrait of a difficult time.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford (Candlewick, 2015)
Ages 9-12, Grades 4-7

Winner of a Sibert Informational Book Award (Honor) and a Caldecott (Honor), the text of Weatherford’s excellent work introduces the reader to the woman who spoke to the 1964 Democratic Convention, asking delegates to support civil rights proponents, the “Freedom Democrats.”

The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (Delacorte, 1995)
Ages 11-14, grades 6-9

Byron Watson narrates the story of his family’s trip to Birmingham with humor and pathos. There they witness events that change them and the country, and set into motion unstoppable events.