Monday, March 31, 2014

American History Picture Books in 2012-2013 Post 4 of 5: The Great Depression and World War II

This is the fourth post in a series on the picture books we read along with our American History studies in 2012-2013 when First Son was in  third grade, First Daughter was in kindergarten, Second Daughter was four and Second Son wasn't paying attention.

Leah's Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich, illustrated by Michael Garland, is the sweet story of a girl's sacrifice for her family. There are a number of picture books featuring "penny auctions," but this one is my favorite.

Angels in the Dust by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Roger Essley, is based on a true story of a woman growing up in Oklahoma during the worst of the dust storms. It's description of the daily lives of people living through in the Dust Bowl is real, including the death of her mother from dust pneumonia. The girl and her sister create a dust angel, like a snow angel, to remember her mother. The times were hard, but the family was together and there are examples of how all the people helped each other live.

Hannah and the Perfect Picture Pony: A Story of the Great Depression by Sara Goodman Zimet, illustrations by Sandy Ferguson Fuller, is (I think) based on a true story of the author's grandmother of one day when a photographer with a pony came to the neighborhood, offering to take pictures for a small fee. The illustration at the end showing a grandmother holding a real photograph of a sweet little girl on a pony. It's a fine story but the illustrations were just alright and there were so many books to read! So I didn't read it aloud, but I did put it in the book basket because I thought the girls would like to see the pony.

Born and Bred in the Great Depression by Jonah Winter and Kimberly Bulcken Root is about growing up in East Texas during the Great Depression. It is full of information about what life was like for the large family without indoor plumbing and electricity. There's one scene in which the mother cries, "Oh Lord, we're all gonna die!" while a storm rages above the family huddled in the storm cellar that seemed a little scary for my kids who do have to huddle in a storm shelter sometimes, so I decided to leave this one in the book basket. It's a really nice book, though, for people with older kids or ones that won't remember that particular phrase the once every year or so they have to run to the storm shelter. The last page is especially good - the text and the illustration.

Uncle Jed's Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell, illustrated by James Ransome, is one of my favorite picture books. Uncle Jed saves for many years for his own barbershop before he loses everything during the Great Depression. Undaunted, he begins saving again. It's a wonderful book of perseverance and good stewardship, including the important truth that the people we love are always more important than money.

Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan, pictures by Brian Selznick, is just a fun story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart and a crazy ride they took together. It's fictionalized, but based on a true story. Little girls will love it because it's crazy and fun, but the women were also strong and courageous (though that doesn't play into this story quite as much).

Eleanor story and pictures by Barbara Cooney is a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, whose young life was not a very pleasant one, though quite inspiring. I decided against reading it aloud, though I think I will the next time we come around to this time in American history. I left it in the book basket for the kids to look through.

Mr. Williams by Karen Barbour is one of my favorite picture books. It's about a simple man with a hard life, but one lived fully and appreciated.

A new book I've discovered is Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, which is now one of my favorite pictures books. Set in the 1930s, it shows an era of adventure and discovery when most of the focus was on poverty, hunger, and dust.

Across the Blue Pacific: A World War II Story by Louise Borden, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker, was my first choice of a World War II story to share with the children. Told from the perspective of a young girl at home who connects with a single Naval officer in a way that made the far away war more real, it's a book that was still focused on the war experience of children. It is a little sad, but nothing I thought the children would not appreciate. Sadly, it was checked out during our study.

Lisette's Angel by Amy Littlesugar, paintings by Max Ginsburg, is a book set in Normandy. The arrival of World War II has shrouded Lisette's world in shadows and fear of the soldiers. Her family is relatively safe, though they face hardship, but a friend is arrested and shown held at gunpoint by soldiers. The arrival of an angel, though, changes everything: an American paratrooper who floats down into their yard. Lisette and her brother help him, becoming a part of the D-Day invasion. This could be a difficult book to read to young children, but my girls were entranced, especially by the beautiful illustrations.

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot: A True Story of the Berlin Airlift and the Candy that Dropped from the Sky by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, is another great book connecting a European child with American servicemen. Unfortunately, our library has only one copy and it seems there are always people waiting for it so I didn't request it for our studies.

The Farm Summer 1942 by Donald Hall, pictures by Barry Moser, is the quiet story of a young boy who lives with his grandparents on a farm in New Hampshire while his father was on a destroyer in the Navy and his mother worked for the government. It shows clearly what life was like for the farm families at that intersection of modern and more traditional farm life. I love this book, but it is a little slow for young children, with lots of text. The illustrations are lovely, though, and it is a nice way to counteract a lot of the scarier stories of World War II. There was still sunshine and family and quiet somewhere during that time of war.

Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Loren Long, tells the true story of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II. It focuses more on the joy of one man (the narrator's uncle) when he flies rather than the harshness of the war. It's a great book to share, incorporating history, aviation, racism, but most of all, the celebration of the achievement of a dream.

Mama Played Baseball by David A. Adler, illustrated by Christ O'Leary, tells of Amy's mother who becomes a professional baseball player during World War II. It's a sweet little story and one my girls enjoyed. The illustrations are done in a style reminiscent of 1940s war posters.

So Far from the Sea by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet, tells of a visit to Manzanar by a family whose parents had lived in the camp during World War II. In the end, I didn't cover the Japanese internship camps with the children this time through American History, but this would be a wonderfully illustrated poignant book to accompany that discussion. It manages to convey the isolation, fear, confusion, and anger of the Japanese-Americans without being too overwhelming for children.

Another book that touches on the Japanese internment camps is The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida, illustrated by Joanna Yardley. This story focuses on the confusion and anxiety of a family as they are being moved to the internment camps, but also highlights a special friendship between Emi, a young Japanese girl, and her white friend. The book ends soon after they arrive at the camp, so it doesn't talk about what life was like there, but it does show the strength and courage of the Japanese people who lived there as well as a good lesson on the importance of our relationships rather than connections to material belongings.

The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter, illustrated by Julia Miner, is the fascinating true story of the Navajo code talkers that risked their lives in the Pacific in World War II. I put this in the book basket for First Son to read on his own because I didn't think the girls would be very interested.

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II written and illustrated by Lita Judge is a sweet tale of reaching out to people in a war-ravaged Europe after World War II. I put it in our book basket for them to look through.

Posts in This Series - I'll update this list with links to all the others after they post.
#1: Slavery and the Civil War
#2: Progressive Era and Immigration
#3: World War I, Women's Suffrage, and the 1920s
#4: The Great Depression and World War II (this post)
#5: Civil Rights, Hawai'i, Alaska, and Space Exploration

Some of the books we've read set during the Great Depression are here and some post-1930s picture  books are here. In addition, you can find links to all the picture books we read through American history in 2009-2010, when First Son was in kindergarten.


  1. I am so blown away by your picture book lists. I wish I had unlimited funds to buy them all! Thankfully we have a good library system while I build up my own library at home. Thanks again for sharing!

    1. Kelly, almost all of these are from the library. I do own a few of them now, but most of those came after long waits at PaperBackSwap. One of my goals for the picture books we read is to not purchase any of them.

    2. That's great! I am hoping some day to have a homeschool lending library, so I love getting books from the public library first to peruse before putting them on my wish list to purchase.

    3. I like to preview as much as possible, too.


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