I love the 4th of July. I love spending the day with my family and friends, often spending the whole day outside. I love swimming, be it in a pool, lake, river, or ocean. I love baseball games and Cracker Jack boxes. I love grilling (or barbequing, depending what part of the country you’re in…), hot dogs, and apple pies. I love fireworks. And I love celebrating our country and our independence, because despite our historical and current mistakes, America is a pretty great place to live.
Now that I’m a parent, it’s important to me that my children understand the historical context for Independence Day as well as enjoy the celebrations and traditions that take place on the 4th of July. So, as usual, I turn to books! Below, you’ll find a mix of books to help your family or classrooms prepare to celebrate Independence Day. Some of these books are very July 4th-specific, other provide some historical context to Independence Day, and others are beautiful celebrations of America. Whatever you’re looking for, I hope you find some good seasonal and patriotic reading!
Our Favorite Books for the 4th of July
Good Night America by Adam Gamble, illustrated by Suwin Chan — For your youngest listeners, use this board book as an introduction to some of America’s most famous and important landmarks and sites. This is a great alternative for younger readers to the two “America the Beautiful” books or The Star-Spangled Banner book on my list. Recommended for ages 0-3.
Pie is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrated by Jason Chin — Do you love apple pie? Books that help your children develop generous, sharing hearts? Gentle, warm diversity? Definitely check this one out! The 4th of July celebration is present, but subtle, as the focus of this book is more on community, play, and affection. We picked this one up last summer, and my girls asked for it on repeat! Recommended for ages 2-6, but I think you could take it slightly older, too.
Red, White, and Boom! by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Huy Voun Lee — With minimal rhyming text, Wardlaw walks his readers through a day of celebrating the 4th of July, starting with watching the parade, then playing at the beach, and finally watching fireworks. Lee’s cut-paper collages will catch little ones attention and may inspire some really neat summer art projects! Recommended for ages 3-7. I’d go even younger and stick with the younger end of that age range.
Apple Pie 4th of July by Janet S. Wong, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine — Published in 2002, Apple Pie 4th of July is a wonderful celebration of diversity in America, and a timeless reminder that acclimating to life and traditions in a new country can be tricky for families. The simplicity of the illustrations allow us to focus our attention on the main character’s feelings, which start heavy and lighten over the course of the book. I love having a children’s book that reminds us all that American holidays can be complicated for some Americans, though they seem “normal” to many of us. Recommended for ages 3-7.
America the Beautiful: A Pop-Up Book by Robert Sabuda — The first book on my list set to the text of Katharine Lee Bates’s poem, this may also be the only pop-up book I’ve felt like spending my own money on to share with my girls. Sabuda pairs intricate pop-ups of American landmarks with verses to the poem– the windmill depicting the Great Plains actually spins! The pop-ups are mostly white, with pops of color and foil accentuating details, and you’re definitely going to want to check out the mini pop-up book on the last page, where Sabuda gives subsequent verses appropriately paired with more mini pop-ups (you just might get chills looking at the Twin Towers paired with “Oh beautiful / for heroes proved…”). Recommended for ages 4-10, but also good for all older ages.
Our Flag Was Still There: The True Story of Mary Pickersgill and the Star-Spangled Banner by Jessie Hartland — Published in May 2019, this tells the story of the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that eventually our National Anthem (check out The Star-Spangled Banner below for a book about the writing of the poem). While I knew the story of Key’s inspiration, I didn’t know anything about the actual flag that he saw, nor did I realize that I’ve seen it myself, in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Recommended for ages 4-8.
My Fourth of July by Jerry Spinelli, illustrated by Larry Day — While I firmly believe in helping my children understand why we celebrate on July 4th, I also love the celebrations enough that I want my girls to be excited about the events of the day itself… My Fourth of July is a wonderfully exciting tribute to celebrations and traditions that are often seen on Independence Day– parades, pies, picnics, parks, and more! Recommended for ages 4-8.
John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith — I discovered this one as a teacher, and I loved reading it with my 3rd graders. Prepare yourself, though– this isn’t exactly a biographical introduction to these founding fathers, nor is it overly historically accurate. But, it’s fun and humorous and does touch on personality traits that made these men successful, so it serves as a great supplement to a study of our nation’s fight for independence for readers who already have some context and knowledge of the time period. There is a page that says, “Please shut your BIG YAP!” so if you’re wary of your children repeating that, you may want to steer clear for a few years, until they understand the humor a little more (learn from my lesson trying to read this with my oldest a few years ago…). Definitely check out the “ye olde True or False” section for bits of factual, historical information. Recommended for ages 5 and up.
The Star-Spangled Banner by Peter Spier — Do you know the words to our National Athem? Did you know there are 4 verses? And do you know the historical context in which Francis Scott Key first penned these words as lines to a poem? If not, this may be a perfect book for you to share with your children! Be sure to check out the endpages, as they’re interesting visual tributes to the history of flags of America, our government, and our armed forces. Recommended for ages 5-9 (it’s long, so you’d need the right toddler or preschooler to go younger, but you can definitely go older!).
We the People: The Constitution of the United States of America by Peter Spier — Our copy of this book is actually my childhood copy, which my parents saved and brought to my first classroom as a teacher. I loved the intricate and detailed illustrations as a child, and as a teacher, I appreciated having a relatable way to introduce the Preamble to the Constitution to my students. Spier includes full text of the Constitution and all Amendments, though only the Preamble is illustrated. Recommended for ages 5-9, but would also make a wonderful addition to a Constitution lesson for learners of all ages.
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris — You may be wondering why this book is on my 4th of July list– did you know the Statue of Liberty was a gift to our country to celebrate our 100th birthday? And, y’all, this one is so good! I’ll go ahead and admit that my knowledge about the Statue of Liberty is limited, and I found this one so interesting. And, I absolutely have never paid attention to the Statue’s feet before. Have you? Recommended for ages 6-9, but could definitely go older. It’s lengthy, but you could go younger with an attentive listener.
Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and the Girls of the American Revolution by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner — Admittedly, there is a LOT going on in this book. Each page has both a story and a timeline, and many pages have dialogue balloons as well as informational text ovals about the women on the page. Your older readers may be able to take all of that in one sitting, but I’d suggest breaking it into pieces for younger audiences (i.e. just read the story the first time through, and then layer in the other information on subsequent readings). That said, I love the information this provides about lesser-known freedom fighters in the American Revolution! Recommended for ages 6-10.
George vs. George: The American Revolution as Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer — Ok, this one is definitely the most in-depth of any of the books on my list, so it’s perfect for your older readers or listeners who are ready to really dig into the history of the American Revolution and our fight for freedom. I love George vs. George because Halse does an admirable job of actually presenting the American Revolution from both the British and American perspectives, something that can be hard to find in children’s literature. Recommended for ages 8-10.
America the Beautiful: Together We Stand by Katharine Lee Bates, illustrated by multiple amazing illustrators — The second book on my list that pairs verses of Bates’s poem with images of America, but in this one, each image and verse is also paired with a quote from a famous American. The images will remind you of all the people and places that make our nation amazing, and the quotes will inspire hope for our collective and diverse future. If you’re not sold, then find a list of the illustrators who contributed to this gem… The group can’t be beat! You can find small blurbs about each landmark/symbol, Bates and her poem, and our democracy at the back of the book. Recommended for all ages.
Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus, illustrated by Kadir Nelson — Kadir Nelson illustrated this one, so you know it’s going to be stunning! Recommended for ages 3-7, but great for older readers, too. Naberhaus and Nelson pair patriotic symbols and images, mostly centered around the American flag, with diverse images of the landscapes and people of our country, and coordinate text to match, too (for example, “Blue sky white stars” is the text for both a nighttime image of the Statue of Liberty and the white stars on blue on our flag, and “Sew together, won nation” is paired with “So together, one nation”). Many of Nelson’s paintings will serve as wonderful starting points for conversations about our country and our history. Recommended for ages 4 and up.
What about you? What is your favorite thing about the 4th of July? And what books are you reading with your children to prepare them for this celebration?