Teachers and Parents:
Recently I was stunned to read an article by Sam Dillon in the New York Times entitled, “Nation’s Students Flunk U.S. History.” Recent tests suggest our students are less proficient in history than any other subject. Most fourth graders did not know why Abraham Lincoln was important!
I’m not here to get on a soap box about the crisis in education, although I could, but to point out that perhaps books are one of the best ways to make our history come alive and have meaning. Nonfiction today is written in a narrative form that reads like a good story and historical fiction must be so carefully researched, so although the names may be imagined, the time and place and events surrounding the characters can teach us volumes about that period in history. Johnny Tremain taught me about the risk and courage it took to be a patriot in the Revolutionary War and Caddie Woodlawn showed me the fears and challenges of living on the frontier. Main characters in good books are driven by internal conflict and struggle with many of the same questions our kids face today. So visit some historical sites, connect our past to the present in conversations over the dinner table, and encourage your children to read good books about our history.
It is also a great way to learn about other cultures, their histories, and build a bridge of understanding between people throughout the world.
I love to read, but have focused on books that include the past, showcasing our rich history as a backdrop to a great story. I have listed some of these middle grade and YA books that make history come alive in Goodreads.
There are also many great picture books, beginning readers, and early chapter books that focus on history. Books like Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride beautifully illustrated by Ted Rand, and Rip Van Winkle retold by John Howe. Biographies like Emily by Michael Bedard and Farmer George Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas and books about events like the western expansion told in Going West by Jean Van Leeuwen and the Depression described in Leah’s Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich. Many Magic Treehouse Books step into history as do The American Girl Series.