Picture Books for Ancient History

Picture Books for Ancient History

This is still incomplete, but I have been meaning to publish it for ages (it’s been sitting in my drafts folder for over a year) and I keep getting distracted and not finishing it. So, here it is with most of the Roman books still needing to be added.

I was compiling a list for a friend and realized I had never posted a comprehensive list of picture books we use to supplement our history studies. So here we go, handy for future reference. Some of these are out of print, but we’ve had luck finding them at the library.

Ancient Egypt

1. Senefer: A Young Genius in Old Egypt by Beatrice Lumpkin illustrated by Linda Nickens

A story of a young boy with a talent for mathematics who accompanies his mother and little brother to the marketplace and is invited to go to scribe school. My kids loved learning how to write Egyptian numbers.

2. Egyptian Diary by Richard Platt

Written in diary form it follows the adventures of a boy who is learning to be a scribe through a whole Egyptian year. He travels with his father, sees a hippo hunt, meets traders, investigates a crime in a pyramid. Really good for getting a bit of the flavor of daily life for a child in Egypt.

3. David McCaulay’s Pyramid is a classic that explores how a pyramid was built. Love the detailed archaeological drawings and the drawings of tools and such. This series has been reissued in color editions, but I prefer the black and white originals. They have much better detail.

4. The Orchard Book of Egyptian Gods and Pharaohs by Robert Swindells

Beautifully illustrated picture book that tells various Egyptian myths and legends.

5. Pharaoh’s Boat by David L. Weitzman

Tells the story of the excavation and reconstruction of one of the boats found near the great pyramid.

6. Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs by James Rumford

About the cracking of the mystery of the Rosetta Stone, focusing on the life and work of Jean-Francois Champollion. I liked it because it focused on him as a child as well as an adult. A nice introduction to the challenges of translating ancient languages.

7. The 5,000-Year-Old Puzzle: Solving a Mystery of Ancient Egypt by Claudia Logan

Invites children to think like an archaeologist as they try to unravel the mystery of who the tomb belongs to.


1. Gilgamesh the King, (The Gilgamesh Trilogy Book 1) by Ludmila Zeman

These are beautifully illustrated retellings of the Gilgamesh story. Perfect for introducing children to the oldest known epic poem.

2. The Revenge of Ishtar (The Gilgamesh Trilogy Book 2) by Ludmila Zeman

3. The Last Quest of Gilgamesh (The Gilgamesh Trilogy Book 3) by Ludmilla Zeman

4. Gilgamesh the Hero by Geraldine McCaughrean

Another very nice retelling of the Gilgamesh story, a little longer and more aimed at slightly older readers.

5. Lugalbanda: The Boy Who Got Caught Up in a War: An Epic Tale From Ancient Iraq by Kathy Henderson illustrated by Jane Ray

An ancient Sumerian tale that may pre-date Gilgamesh, the hero may be Gilgamesh’s father. It’s an odd tale, but I rather like how it gives the reader a feeling for the strangeness of this very old culture.

Ancient Greece

1. Greek Town (Metropolis) by John Malam

A beautiful illustrated book that takes you on a guided tour through a sort of idealized Greek town that has elements from various Greek cities.

2. The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky

The story of the Greek philosopher and mathematician Eratosthenes, tutor to the son of King Ptolemy III of Egypt, who eventually became the head of the library of Alexandria and wrote the first geography book and measured the earth’s circumference.

3. Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates by M.D. Usher

A somewhat silly and lighthearted look at Socrates, it uses humor to engage the reader, but also introduces one to Socrates’ serious philosophical endeavors. A good portrait of a philosopher for children.

4. What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras? by Julie Ellis

Introduction to the Greek mathematician Pythagoras and to his famous Pythagorean Theorem.

5. D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire.

Simply the best book of Greek mythology for kids. I love the illustrations, the simple yet elegant the D’Aulaires tell the stories while staying true to the spirit of the original but simplifying them for a child reader.

Ancient Rome

1. City: A Story of Ancient Roman Planning and Construction by David Macaulay

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1 comment
  • Thanks! I am glad you pulled this post out of the drafts. My 9yo. is studying Greeks in his history this year. I have the Myths and Librarian book, so the other suggestions look useful.