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Must have American history read alouds?


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Based on Hive recommendations, I chose The Complete Guide to US History for our spine & now I'm combing the internet for read alouds. I know this topic has been covered before :) but I thought I'd get some fresh answers. What are your favorite read alouds (and activities) for American history? The kiddos will be in 2nd & Kindergarten.

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Ben and Me - about Benjamin Franklin and Amos his mouse friend.  Amos tells all about how he helps Ben with various feats of history.  Very cute, quick, and fun.


The Courage of Sarah Noble - Being Native, I greatly appreciate the take this book has on Native people.  It address ignorance and fear of the unknown if very great young child language, talks about trusting those who you know have your best interests, and recognizing when you might need to step out of your comfort zone in order to give someone a fair shake.  Again, short, and really approachable.  Not cute, but definitely one with life applicability.


Little House series is a classic.  Not such great discussion of Native people in these.  In fact we waited until 4th grade just because of it.  The part where Laura's parents refuse to allow her to be a "hotel girl" was also a place I as glad we waited a bit.  Trying to explain the concept of prostitution was delicate enough, I would definitely not have wanted to do that when Ds was younger.  It might have flown over his head at that age, but he was highly confused at why working at a hotel was a bad thing by the age of 9.  However, they are delightful and a time honored tradition.  I mean, who hasn't had a Nellie Olsen in their life?!

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For some unknown reason, my shelves are full of historical fiction about Jews, despite us being... not... Jewish.... (Older Kiddo the other day: Well, what if I *want* to be Jewish? Me: Well, right now, you're not. You'd have to convert. Can we get back to math?)


So just to take a random sampling of quality books that are American history...  Books that you may think are more suited for older kids are italicized, as I don't know how many years you're going to be doing American history and want read-alouds. These are all chapter books.


All-of-a-Kind Family

Dave at Night

Out of Many Waters and the companion novel, the name of which escapes me - takes place during the Inquisition, and there are mentions of past child abuse

Journey to America

Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself (if you ask me, THE indispensible post-war fiction - I think the age range is about right, but the main character does sign her letters "love and other indoor sports", a joke she admits in the text that she doesn't understand because she isn't old enough)

Strawberry Hill

A Pickpocket's Tale (starts with the death of the main character's mother)


Not all our historical fiction features Jews :) You could also try



Primrose Day

Esperanza Rising (Set in the aftermath of the Mexico Revolution)

Celeste's Harlem Renaissance

One Crazy Summer (starts with them visiting the mother who abandoned them)

The Birchbark House (technically Canadian, but there are few enough books like this - involves the death of two characters at the end, starts with a baby (the main character) abandoned on an island. I read this to my girls at that age)

Apple is My Sign

Al Capone Does My Shirts

A Long Way From Chicago

Understood Betsy

Penny from Heaven (main character ends up in the hospital with a severe injury, and I think - don't quote me - a friend she makes there dies)

Turtle in Paradise

Bo at Ballard Creek (another one I think is right at the age range, however, it does mention that the main character (aged about 5)'s birth mother was a "good time girl", though the text is really cagey about what that means and gives the impression that they're just, like, dancers.)

Bud, Not Buddy

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Mighty Miss Malone

Year of the Dog (well, if you consider the 1980s "historical" enough... and if you do, might as well add Ramona to the list! I remember my girls getting a kick of 1950s Ramona walking to kindergarten by herself.)

Dash by Kirby Larson

The Amy and Laura books, which overlap with Veronica Ganz

The Betsy-Tacy books

The Great Brain (nothing that could be construed as inappropriate, my kids just couldn't get into these at that age, but ymmv)


I'm really looking forward to Under a Painted Sky, but I haven't read it, so I can't speak to how appropriate I'll find it for second grade, much less kindergarten. As always, my ideas of appropriate and yours might not match up, so you should use your best judgment.



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Here's a list of mostly picture books I like for American history:


American Girl series 

Encounter by Jane Yolan

Henry's Freedom Box

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

The Yankee at Seder by Elka Weber

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmunds

Who Say Women Can't Be Doctors?

Little House Series

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike

Rough, Tough Charley

When Esther Morris Headed West

Liberty's Voice: The Emma Lazarus Story

My Uncle Emily

When Harriet Met Sojourner

Soujourner Truth's Step-Stomp-Stride

Elizabeth Stanton Leads the Way

You Forgot Your Skirt Amelia Bloomer

Jazz Age Josephine

Players in Pigtails

Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride

Eleanor, Quiet No More

Coretta Scott by Shange

Freedom on the Menu

As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Towards Freedom

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I love picture books and Freedom River and Liberty Street are two I've read and enjoy about the Underground Railroad. Pink an Say is another great book. Lastly, I really love Revolutionary Friends (about Washington and Lafayette) and The Worst of Friends (Adams and Jefferson). We're currently reading Justin Morgan Had a Horse and it's very enjoyable with short chapters. The kids and I are having fun with the characters' voices and dialects.

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The Courage of Sarah Noble

Ben and Me

Farmer Boy

All-of-a-Kind Family

Understood Betsy

Thimble Summer (set in the 30s)

Ramona the Pest or Ramona the Brave (Ramona's kindergarten and first grade years, respectively)

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler 

The Cricket in Times Square


We read a bunch of the American Girl and Betsy Maestro books, though the Maestro books weren't historical fiction, but a good supplement to The Complete Book.

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First grade and kindy? Seconding Ben and Me. And you can find the Disney movie online easily. It's cute and short.


I think mostly at this age, it's all about the picture books. And there are soooooooo many for American history. My head isn't in it, so I'm afraid to start suggesting. But if you can think beyond fiction, we loved all the Jean Fritz books.


For longer chapter books, Little House is possible. And depending on the kids, they might enjoy the Great Brain books. The Cabin Faced West is okay. There's a lot out there, but I'd want to save most of them for a year or two at least to get more out of them.


I'll also take a different tact and recommend that at those ages, it's a great time to read a lot of American tall tales and legends. So I would definitely do the stories in The People Could Fly. And I would read lots of Native American stories. There are some good compilations. And I would get things like Paul Bunyan and so forth. Mary Pope Osborne has a nice collection of them.

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I did American history with my oldest in 1st and 2nd grade. We just loved it!


Our absolute favorite chapter book read-aloud was The Lewis and Clark Expedition by Richard Neuberger, an old Landmark book. Many of the Landmarks are wonderful, although some are more dry and not as appropriate. Our favorite books in general were the old Signature biographies. My youngest, who was wee when we were doing the study, now reads through them for fun. 


I am planning our next run through American history right now, and I have been sorting through all my American books, so I'll be back with more recommendations. But what I really wanted to say right now is that, hands down, my favorite part of doing American history with this age was cooking through history and singing through history. We learned (at least) one new song every week, scheduled to correlate with history. I've got some great vintage books, but I highly recommend The Great Family Songbook as a newer version. I bought so many individual songs through iTunes. We would listen and sing along. (Adding music is SOOOO great, especially if anyone there plays piano or guitar. This time through, I've got musicians, and I'm assigning them the music to learn.)


Also, poetry. Always a favorite read-aloud for my kids. The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems is a good one book volume, although the Poetry for Young People series has many American poets represented as well as a single volume with just American poetry

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Am now reading Under a Painted Sky. Good book. Starts with the main character killing the man who tried to rape her. NOT appropriate for kindergarteners.


As someone who read "Julie of the Wolves"(attempted rape and child abandonment) and "Stawberry Girl"(poor, alcoholism) to my DS as a 3yo... I appreciate the warning.


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