Best Children's Books on
the Discovery of America
 & Christopher Columbus voyages

discovery of america books

Units on Native Americans and the discovery of America are usually the first units in a year of studying American History at the elementary school level. When most of us were students, we were taught that Columbus came, said hi to the 'Indians', and discovered America. Perhaps a few of us

raised our hands, perplexed at how he could have discovered it if others were already there. But for the most part, the story was quite simply told with Columbus as our hero.

Times have changed and a little more balance is required when teaching about the discovery of America...like who really 'discovered' America, and how did the arrival of the Europeans impact Native Americans? These questions must be addressed if we are to teach a truthful, balanced history. But the truth is brutal, and thus must be approached delicately. It's a challenge to be sure.

Hopefully the books below can help as you tackle the discovery of America, including the various Christopher Columbus voyages, other famous explorers, and the European discovery of America. These books are great to read around Columbus Day or during units on early American history.




Who Really Discovered America
Unraveling the Mystery and Solving the Puzzle
Who Really Discovered America


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What it's about
This title by Avery Hart and Michael Kline not only teaches about the discovery of America, but also uses this historic era to teach that history isn't simply 'known', but must be unraveled and deciphered from small bits of information. The book presents 10 theories about the 'discovery' of the Americas, and does not make any final pronouce- ments on the question, instead encouraging readers to decide for themselves which theory sounds 'most true.' 

Reading levels
Interest Level: Gr. 5-7        DRA Level:  n/a
Difficulty Level: age 9-12    Lexile Measure:  830L

Awards and Rating
Average Amazon Rating:5 stars (2 reviews)






Who Was First? Discovering the Americas
by Russell Freedman
Who Was First?


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What it's about
If your children are ready to move beyond the simple 'Columbus discovery story, this is a fantastic title to use, as it engagingly discusses the many theories on who really discovered America (Vikings, Europeans, Chinese...) "Freedman has done it again...well- organized, lucid, and engaging." (Horn Book, Starred)

Reading levels
Interest Level:  Gr. 5-8       DRA Level:  n/a
Difficulty Level:  age 9-12   Lexile Measure:  1030L

Awards and Rating
American Library Ass. Notable Children's Book 2008
Horn Book Magazine Fanfare Award  2007
Nat'l Council for Social Studies Notable Book 2008
School Library Journal Best Book of 2007
Avg Amazon Customer Rating: 4.5 stars (2 reviews)






The World in 1492
by Jean Fritz and more; illustrated by Stefano Vitale
The World in 1492


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What it's about
If you are looking for a book to put the discovery of America in a larger, 'what was happening in the world' context, this is a good choice. It's a lot of information on other world regions, so reading this book aloud during a unit on the discovery of America would likely take you way off your objectives. Instead, why not read the book on your own, then gather your students around and retell the stories in your own words, using the FABULOUS Stefano Vitale illustrations to keep them engaged and reinforce your retelling.

This book was written by a team of well-know children's book authors, like Katherine Paterson, Jamake Highwater (writing from the perspective of a Native American!), Jean Fritz, the MicKissacks, and Margaret Mahy. As you would imagine, it is very well written. You will enjoy the read, and if you teach students who are a bit older, they will as well!


Average Amazon Rating:3.5 stars (2 reviews)






The Discovery of the Americas
and Exploration and Conquest
Maestro books


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These two non-fiction titles are fact-filled, well-written, beautifully illustrated accounts of the discovery of America and the subsequent exploration and conquest. If you purchase these books, they will likely quickly become invaluable resources for teaching early American history. School Library Journal agrees, ending their review by saying, "The dazzlingly clean and accurate prose and the exhilarating beauty of the pictures combine for an extraordinary achievement in both history and art."

The Discovery of the Americas:
Starting with the crossing of the Bering Land Bridge 20,000 years ago, this title discusses the many possible or probable theories on the discovery of America, all the way up to the arrival of Europeans.

Interest Level: Gr. 3-6        DRA Level:  n/a
Difficulty Level: age 9-12    Lexile Measure: AD1110L


Average Amazon Rating: 4 stars (5 reviews)
----------------------

Exploration and Conquest:
Picking up where The Discovery of the Americas takes off, this title covers 130 years of European exploration in the Americas, including a discussion of how '"the great gain of one people was the great loss of another."  As with it's companion book, this title is "beautifully illustrated with lush watercolor and colored-pencil drawings." (School Library Journal)

Interest Level: Gr. 3-6        DRA Level:  n/a
Difficulty Level: age 9-12    Lexile Measure: 1030L


Average Amazon Rating: 4.5 stars (5 reviews)






Explorers Who Got Lost
by Diane Sansevere Dreher; illustrated by Ed Renfro
Explorers Who Got Lost


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What it's about
This book offers a clever alternative to the glorious portrayals of famous explorers found in most text books. For example, most children do not know that many key discoveries of the Age of Exploration were actually the result of explorers getting dreadfully lost and 'stumbling upon' new lands! This book provides biographies of eight important explorers, and includes their errors as well as their successes. If you are teaching about the discovery of America, please note that this book is not confined specifically to North America. Explorations of other world regions are also discussed. (Explorers include: de Gama, Columbus, Cabot, Magellan, Verrazano, Cartier, and Hudson.)

Reading levels
Interest Level: Gr. 3-6        DRA Level:  n/a
Difficulty Level: age 9-12    Lexile Measure:  n/a

Awards and Rating
Average Amazon Rating:4.5 stars (5 reviews)






Pedro's Journal: A Voyage with Christopher Columbus
by Pam Conrad
Pedro's Journal


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activity related activities / lessons
What it's about
Pedro is a ship's boy on Columbus' first voyage to the Americas. He records his experiences in a journal which brings to life the emotions and hardships that gripped the crew as days turned into weeks and living conditions grew more dire. He describes life aboard the great ship, including his duties, the duties of other sailors, his interactions with Columbus, thus providing a window into who the man was and what motivated him on his great voyages. ">Pedro's shame over how the natives were treated is particularly effective. Interspersed drawings enhance the book. Don't let the dated cover turn you away. This is "one of the most pleasing Columbus offerings." (SLJ) Pedro reads like a real boy of his age, and his account has just the right amount of historical details. Well done!

Reading levels
Interest Level: Gr. 3-6       DRA Level:  40
Difficulty Level: age 9-12   Lexile Measure: 1030L  

Awards and Rating
Average Amazon Rating: 4.5 stars (15 reviews)






Encounter
by Jane Yolen; illustrated by David Shannon
Encounter


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What it's about
If you'd like to present the arrival of Columbus through the eyes of the Native Americans, this is a great pick!  Yolen imagines the first meeting between the people of San Salvador and Columbus' men, as seen thru the eyes of a native boy. Shannon's illustrations perfectly capture the emotions and drama. This book will raise questions so save time for discussion! SLJ promises "readers weary of materials celebrating Columbus and his voyages will be refreshed and intrigued by this thought-provoking picture book." And PW said "the message is blunt... the language in which it is couched is vintage Yolen, lyrical and impassioned."

Reading levels
Interest Level: Gr. 2-5       DRA Level: 30-34
Difficulty Level: age 4-8     Lexile Measure: 680L

Awards and Rating
Average Amazon Rating:4 stars (22 reviews)






Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus
by Peter Sis
Follow the Drea: The story of Christopher Columbus by Peter SIs


 
What it's about
Another intricately detailed, highly illustrated title from Caldecott winner Peter Sis. Follow the Dream artistically portrays the life and travels of Christopher Columbus with brief text and illustrations done in a variety of media, many with the feel of old navigation charts/maps. Great for read aloud and individual rdg.

Reading levels
Interest Level:  Gr. 2-4      DRA Level:  n/a
Difficulty Level:  age 4-8    Lexile Measure: n/a

Awards and Rating
Horn Book Fanfare 1991
New York Times Best Illustrated Book 1991
New York Times Notable Book 1991
Library of Congress Children's Books of 1991
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year 1991
Average Amazon Rating:4.5 stars (5 reviews)






In 1492
by Jean Marzollo; illustrated by Steve Bjorkman

In 1492



What it's about
If you teach young ones and are looking for a simple account to read aloud on Columbus Day, this is a perfect choice! Bouncy rhyming text and "fetching illustrations" (NYTimes Book Review) present a clear and engaging account of Columbus's journey and arrival in the Americas, with just the right amount of historical details for this age group.

In their review, Publisher's Weekly said "Bjorkman's lighthearted illustrations are top-notch" and summed up the book as an "engrossing introduction to history for young children...a standout."

Reading levels
Interest Level: PreS-Gr.1      DRA Level: 20
Difficulty Level: age 4+         Lexile Measure:  

Awards and Rating
Average Amazon Rating:3.5 stars (9 reviews)






Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus?
by Jean Fritz; illustrated by Margot Tomes
Where Do You Think You Are Going

Reading levels
Interest: Grade 3+     Difficulty: age 8+


What it's about
We love Jean Fritz's books!  Her writing is so clever, full of funny phrasing and content choices that ensure that kids stay interested. This title covers Columbus's life and voyages, presenting him as very human, full of vanities and flaws. Be sure to get the newer edition, as the updated illustrations are much better!

One note: We wish this book covered the terrible impact of Columbus' arrival on the Native Americans. We definitely recommend this funny and engaging book, but because of this serious omission, we highly recommend that you pair it with books that present his arrival from the POV of Native Americans.

Awards and Rating
ALA Notable Children's Book
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year List
Booklist Notable Children's Book
American Booksellers Pick of the Lists
Average Amazon Rating:3.5 stars (7 reviews)





Other related lists:

Where would you like to go now? We have hundreds of lists of the best children's books. To see more, just click one of the topics below, or to see all the lists we have on American history, click this link: --FROM-- Discovery of America  --TO-- all American History book lists


See books on Colonial America
(American History)
See books on the Age of Discovery
(World History)
books on colonial America Age of Exploration Books
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