Saturday, October 31, 2009

History & Culture, Colonial Times through the Revolutionary War

I can hardly believe another month is gone already. For October's history and culture we read books from colonial times through (and including) the American Revolution.

Tattered Sails by Verla Kay and illustrated by Dan Andreasen. This poem, with beautiful illustrations, is lovely. It has few words on each page but follows the story of one family's journey to the New World (on a ship traveling later than the Mayflower). I love it, but the kids were only mildly interested. I probably should have read it a bit later, but I was waiting on books from the library so we read it first without any larger context for the poem.

We then read three books by Kate Waters, all illustrated by photographs of children at Plimoth Plantation (one of my favorite living history museums!): Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy, Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl, and Tapenum's Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy In Pilgrim Times. I thought these were fascinating peeks at the real lives of Pilgrims and the Native Americans who lived near-by. The children were not as interested as I hoped. First Daughter liked best when Sarah had to chase the chickens. First Son seemed to like Tapenum's story the most. (Thanks to Tiffany for suggesting Books to Build On where I found these.)

Across the Wide Dark Sea: The Mayflower Journey by Jean Van Leeuwen, illustrated by Thomas B. Allen. I love this portrayal of the Mayflower journey. It doesn't hide the difficult parts, like infants that were buried at sea, but it is beautifully written and illustrated. The kids, especially First Son, preferred Pilgrim's First Thanksgiving by Ann McGovern, illustrated by Elroy Freem. I found the illustrations more mundane and the writing wasn't as poetic, but it did an adequate job conveying what the journey and first year were like for the Pilgrims.

Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac and illustrated by Greg Shed. I mentioned last month that we enjoyed some stories by Joseph Bruchac. This is one of the books I found by looking for more from him and it's worth your time. In it, we follow Squanto as he is kidnapped, taken to Spain and makes his way back to the Americas. I think this is one of the few books to tell of the first Thanksgiving from the Native American point of view in a positive way. The illustrations are also wonderful, warm and realistic.

Thy Friend, Obadiah written and illustrated by Brinton Turkle. This is exactly the kind of lovely picture book around which we're building our history & culture story times. The story is about a young boy who is befriended by a seagull. Though he is annoyed and teased early on, he misses the seagull when it stops visiting and helps it when it returns with a need. We learn a bit about the life of Quakers in colonial Nantucket, but we also learn about friendship and kindness. There are, in fact, a few books following Obadiah and his family. I'm requesting them over time, rather than in a bunch, but so far we've read Rachel and Obadiah, which I loved. It's a delightful tale of perseverance set against the backdrop of ships returning to Nantucket after long voyages, and the wives they left behind.

Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Ted Rand. First Son was enthralled. He loved it! He especially loved tracing the routes on the map on the opening pages. We've looked through the illustrations in a few different picture books of this poem and many of them are wonderful.

They Called Her Molly Pitcher by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Cynthia von Buhler. I was afraid the battle depicted in this book might disturb the children, but Kansas Dad thought they'd be fine. First Daughter didn't actually listen much. (She often doesn't.) First Son was mainly interested because of the battle. The design of the book is wonderful with illustrations crackled and burnished to appear as if they were period paintings. The text is printed on a linen background as well. I also appreciated the brief notes at the end on Molly Hayes and a list of important dates of the Revolutionary War. (I didn't read these to First Son, but they gave me a few ideas when he asked questions.) The story is quite enjoyable and informative, just as a biography should be. I was a little worried the kids would want to know more when we read "The only fault her employers ever found with her was that she swore like a soldier." After all, they don't really know what swearing is. They didn't mention it, though, so neither did I.

Johnny Appleseed a Tall Tale retold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg. We intend to read a few of Mr. Kellogg's tale tales. In fact, First Son's love of Paul Bunyan was one of the inspirations for our history and culture story times. Whatever the benefits of reading such stories to create a common culture for our children may be, they're just good stories and worthy of our time.

The 18 Penny Goose by Sally M. Walker, pictures by Ellen Beier. This easy reader (Level 3) tells the story of a young girl's worries for her goose when she and her family hide as British soldiers approach their New Jersey farm during the Revolutionary War. My mom found it at a resale shop and I'm in favor of using what you have. This happens to be a story the kids enjoyed, too.

George Washington: A Holiday House Reader by David A. Adler. He has a large list of books, including many in the Picture Book Biographies series. I read through many of these (around 25) and considered them for our history and culture study, but eventually decided against using any this month. All the Revolutionary War ones contained a great amount of details on the Sons of Liberty, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. We will, of course, study all of these in later years, but I didn't want quite so much information quite yet. This easy reader gave enough of George Washington's life to be pertinent without being overwhelming. Plus, First Son could read it himself, though he didn't. (Incidentally, the picture books I liked best were A Picture Book of Sojourner Truth, A Picture Book of Dwight David Eisenhower, and A Picture Book of Thomas Alva Edison (his poor parents: he was kicked out of school and burned down the barn, not to mention the chemistry lab he set up in the basement). We might read some of these later. Outside the Americas, my favorite ones were A Picture Book of Louis Braille and A Picture Book of Florence Nightingale.)

I had intended to read The Courage of Sarah Noble, right up until we didn't. I decided at the last minute it was too long. I couldn't read it in one session and I didn't want to add another book to our more extended readings. I still think it's a wonderful book and know we'll read it eventually.

In the next two months we'll be reading all the way through the end of the Civil War.


  1. This is a great list, by the way. I've read good things about Thy Friend, Obadiah, so we'll have to check that out, along with a couple of the others we haven't read.
    There is an audio book by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre on the Journey of Squanto that I think we're going to try for our Thanksgiving travels.

  2. Let me know if the girls like Journey of Squanto, though I do think you should try to get a copy of the book, too. The illustrations are worth it.


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