Homeschooling

Diverse US History Books for Kids

I’m frequently asked for recommendations on diverse US history books for kids, especially to supplement American history curriculum.

There’s only so many books you can read about George Washington, know what I mean? And honestly — why would you keep reading about the same handful of people over and over, when there’s a whole wonderful world to embrace?

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Diverse Kids’ Books to Expand Your View of American History

American history is problematic, to say the least. It’s hard to find children’s books, since the accurate accounts are generally quite brutal, and the kid-friendly accounts are often inaccurate. But here and there, some literary gems stand out. These are a few of my favorite diverse picture books and chapter books, set in various US history eras from the 1700s colonies to 1900s south Florida. There are countless more delightful books, of course, but this list should jumpstart your next library trip. (I’ve also listed all the books on my Amazon Influencer Storefront.)

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood
by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve


A memorable tale about a young Sioux girl whose father is an Episcopal priest in a small South Dakota town. Picture book.

What Are You Figuring Now? A Story About Benjamin Banneker
by Jeri Ferris


As a young boy, Benjamin Banneker’s curiosity and desire to learn was insatiable, leading him to later achievements in math, astronomy, and of course, his famous wooden clock. A captivating book, sure to keep a reader or listener’s attention. Chapter book.

American Lives: Benjamin Banneker
by Rick Burke


Illustrated with photographs, art, and maps, this factual children’s biography gives a great overview of Banneker’s life and accomplishments. Chapter book.

Coolies
by Yin


Shek and Wong, recently arrived in California from China, face danger and opportunity — as well as discrimination — as workers on the Central Pacific Railroad. The brothers’ stories unfold through rich, light-filled paintings and a strong narrative. A tremendous look at the sometimes-overlooked lives of Chinese laborers in mid-1800s America. Picture book.

Brick by Brick
by Charles R. Smith, Jr.


When the original White House was under construction, the US government paid slave owners five dollars a month to send slaves to work. Of course, it was the slave owners, not the slaves, who received the money. This rhythmic, lyrical picture book pays tribute to those whose labor built the White House. A Coretta Scott King Award winner. Picture book.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
by Carole Boston Weatherford


Profoundly moving, Harriet Tubman’s journey to freedom is retold in poetic prose and soulful images, speaking to the very heart of adult and child alike. Spiritual and heart-wrenching, yet indescribably uplifting. “How far, Lord? As far as you can walk with Me, My child, and I can carry you…Use your gifts to break the chains.” Picture book.

With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School
by Suzanne Slade


Most of us know Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute in 1881, but we may not realize the depth of sheer determination and back-breaking work which got him to that point. From teaching himself to read, to eventually building bricks and kilns to create a school building himself, Booker T. Washington’s life is retold in compelling prose and ethereal illustrations which will especially appeal to book-loving kids. Picture book.

Coming to America: The Story of Immigration
by Betsy Maestro

FDR famously said, “Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” This excellent book is a great choice to give an overview of, and set the stage for, the study of American history. Touching and informative, with heartwarming illustrations. Picture book.

The Story of the Statue of Liberty
by Betsy and Giulio Maestro

While it’s not specifically a diverse biography, this book tells the story of Emma Lazarus’ poem (“Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”) Full-page illustrations — and fascinating factual narrative — bring the construction of Lady Liberty to life in this oversized book. Picture book.

Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty
by Linda Glaser

Jewish author Emma Lazarus is well-known for the lines she penned, which are inscribed on the Statute of Liberty. But who was she? And what was happening in America during the time she wrote the famed poem “The New Colossus”? Beautifully illustrated, and written in lilting prose. Picture book.

Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story
by Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney


The stories of freed slaves-turned-cowboys is an oft-overlooked part of American history. In this adrenaline-packed picture book, cowboy Bob Lemmons and his horse Warrior face the exhilarating dangers of the wild desert as they corral a herd of horses. Picture book.

Bill Pickett: Rodeo-Ridin’ Cowboy
by Andrea D. Pinkney


More detailed than “Black Cowboy, Wild Horses”, this picture book takes a closer look at the escapades of African-American rodeo star Bill Pickett, who was known for his daredevil bull-wrestling feats in the late 1800s. Picture book.

I Have Heard of a Land
by Joyce Carol Thomas


A poetic picture book from the perspective of a single African American woman staking a claim in the Oklahoma territory during the great land rush of 1889. Based on true stories from the author’s ancestry. Lovely! Picture book.

Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing
by James Rumford


Before Sequoyah, the Cherokee language was only spoken, never written.This bilingual picture book also contains Cherokee text, the distinctive curls of the Cherokee alphabet a beautiful contrast to the tall woodcut illustrations on each page. Picture book.

Shoes for Everyone: A Story About Jan Matzeliger
by Barbara Mitchell


Matzeliger’s invention changed the cobbling industry, but the prejudice he faced as an African-American in Philadelphia nearly kept his invention from seeing the light of day. An excellent biography for children. Chapter book.

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills
by Renee Watson


With bold retro-style illustrations which bring Mills to life, this recent picture book is a lovely tribute to the African-American woman who was both a stunning performer and a champion of equal rights. Picture book.

The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend
by Ann Ingalls


This hauntingly beautiful book illustrates the power of music to counteract heartache, and follows Mary Lou’s journey across America. Tremendously written; through the words, you can feel connection to the music. Picture book.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone
by Katheryn Russell-Brown


Destined to be a classic for its art alone, this book captures the rhythm — and childhood! — of Melba Liston, African American jazz star. Picture book.

Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song
by Andrea Davis Pinkney


I grew up on Mahalia Jackson’s music. Her songs were the soundtrack to almost every childhood roadtrip. I can still close my eyes and hear the voice of the Queen of Gospel — a one-in-a-million kind of a voice — singing about heaven’s glory overcoming earthly struggles. Don’t miss this vibrant book about Jackson and about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech”; it’s truly a gift. (And don’t miss this live recording of Mahalia Jackson singing “How I Got Over”.) Picture book.

The Story of Ruby Bridges
by Robert Coles


Day after day, first-grader Ruby Bridges, the first African American student to attend an all-white school, walks through angry, shouting mobs just to get to her classroom. But one day, Ruby stops in the middle of the crowd and prays for everyone around her. Picture book.

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song
by Debbie Levy


I’m not sure I could love illustrations more than I do the ones in this picture book! Every single face has so much personality and expression. This excellent book spans the history of not just the “We Shall Overcome” song itself, but the movement and the spirit behind it — from slavery to the Civil Rights movement to modern day, beyond the United States. Picture book.

I Too, Am America
by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier


Hughes’ iconic poem is fleshed out here in picture book form, the famous phrases set alongside fractured collage images of a young African American porter at work on a train. In the afterward, illustrator Collier explains the symbolism used in the illustrations. This book is bit more on the abstract side, perhaps, but both the book and the afterward make a terrific read-aloud, and will definitely spur discussion not only of the power of poetry and art to communicate, but of Hughes’ powerful message as well. Picture book.

Kunu’s Basket: A Story From Indian Island
by Lee DeCora Francis


A young Penobscot boy in Maine learns a traditional craft — and a lesson in perseverance — from his grandfather. Picture book.

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving
by Joseph Bruchac


With empathy and strength, author Joseph Bruchac tells Squanto’s story in the first person, beginning not with the First Thanksgiving or with planting corn, but with Squanto’s first journey from North America to England. Squanto is portrayed as a man of courage, and Bruchac — who himself is of Native American Heritage — masterfully writes of Squanto’s difficult role in Patuxet-turned-Plymouth.  Picture book.

Konnichiwa Florida Moon: The Story of George Morikami, Pineapple Pioneer
by Virginia Aronson


The story of Japanese immigration to South Florida is not widely known. “Konichiwa Florida Moon” follows the life of Japanese immigrant George Morikami, who arrived in South Florida in 1906 and continued to live off the land until his death in 1976. Chapter book.

What books have been your favorite for teaching the broader, more complete, story of American history? I’d love to hear!

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books, Homeschooling, How To

A Guide to Jean Fritz Books

Jean Fritz’ living history books are a terrific way to incorporate a narrative, storytelling approach into to your homeschool history lessons.  You probably know about her popular U.S. history books, but did you know she was a missionary kid who also wrote books about her time in China?

A few weeks ago, I went through my entire Jean Fritz collection — over half of the books she’s ever written — and put together a guide for the iHomeschool Network blog called How to Choose the Perfect Jean Fritz History Book.  In this topical guide, I list the themes, geographical area, time in history, and suggested reading level for each book, so you can grab the title which best matches where you are right now in your history studies. You’ll see your favorites there, of course, but you just might discover some unknown gems as well, like books about Chinese history, a picture book with saturated 1950s art, and a number of longer novels for the middle grades.

What’s your absolute favorite Jean Fritz book? Mine — no surprise here — is Homesick. Click through to see the rest!

How to Choose the Perfect Jean Fritz History Book

Homeschooling

Finding Accurate Thanksgiving History Books for Kids

Finding Accurate Thanksgiving History Books for Kids

Finding Accurate Thanksgiving History Books for Kids

Looking for accurate Thanksgiving history books for children can be difficult. So many of them have been romanticized to the point of falsehood. Stories about the Pilgrims and the colonial times overall  are often problematic anyway. Many of the books which do provide a truly accurate account contain content unsuitable for sensitive children. Child-friendly volumes, on the other hand, often take liberties with history, since the true story of the colonies’ tragedies and trials isn’t a child-friendly topic. And of course (and this is a biggie) many books about Pilgrims depict Native Americans in a incredibly offensive way. (I’ve written more about the way Native Americans are depicted in children’s literature.)

[We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

Thankfully, Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving is one of those rare early American history books. It’s accurate and compelling while still being child-friendly. In fact, it’s the only picture book about the first Thanksgiving I recommend. With empathy and strength, the author — who is of Native American ancestry himself — tells Squanto’s story in the first person.  I love how he begins not with the First Thanksgiving or with planting corn, but with Squanto’s first difficult journey away from North America to England. Squanto is portrayed as a man of courage, and Bruchac masterfully writes of Squanto’s difficult role in Patuxet-turned-Plymouth. With a book as solid, factual, and beautiful as this, there’s no reason to turn instead to watered-down inaccurate stories about this misunderstood man. Definitely add it to your library request queue or your bookstore wishlist if you haven’t already.

Another book which handles this difficult time period fairly tastefully, but not perfectly, is Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness.  This is a good choice to give children a broad overview over of the Pilgrim perspective during the early colonial years,  since it shows various trials, hardships, and joys the Pilgrims experienced while adjusting to the New World during and after arrival.  Kids will love the large, illustrated primer format, and the wealth of hand-lettered facts incorporated into the rich, brooding illustrations. But there’s a caveat: the author admits in the foreword that Three Young Pilgrims only tells “part of the story”,  and hopes it will “lead the reader to study further”.  I agree. It’s beautiful and touching, but glosses over a few details and romanticizes a bit, so definitely read it alongside Bruchac’s book.

And talk to your kids! Like Cheryl Harness said, that any book we read only tells “part of the story”.  As children take in the folklore surrounding the holiday this Thanksgiving, let’s begin conversations to help kids sort out legend from historical fact. I’ve created a series of discussion prompts to help you talk about real Thanksgiving history with your kids.

Click here to read 10 Thanksgiving History Conversation-Starters for Kids on the iHomeschool Network blog

What resources are you using to delve into Thanksgiving history this year?

 

books, Homeschooling

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

If you’re teaching your kids Mandarin Chinese and are looking for a hands-on way to supplement the lessons, or if you’re searching for summer kids’ craft projects which are also culturally and historically relevant, you’ll love this book. Now that Chinese school is out for the summer, we’re looking forward to creating shadow puppets, lanterns, traditional knots, banners, and even a floating dragon boat — all from the instructions and templates in the “Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts”!

Author Jennifer DeCristoforo has provided clear, illustrated, step-by-step instructions for each project; she also explains how the craft relates to Chinese culture. Throughout the book, “Did You Know?” sidebars entertain and inform, and photographs and art provide insight into traditional art forms.

Each craft is given a Level 1 through Level 4 designation to mark the difficulty. Level 1 crafts can be attempted by 3- to 6-year-olds, while a Level 4 activity is ideal for 12- to 15-year olds. Regardless of complexity, the directions remain simple and engaging, with  illustrations and icons to aid the crafter. Where intricate designs — or Chinese characters — are required to complete a project, the book’s appendix contains all the reproducible templates needed (this is a huge plus!)

And the book lends itself well to actual, practical use, because the practical spiral-binding means the book easily stays open and lies flat, and the hardcover and thick, glossy pages hold up against heavy wear.

This book really is a celebration. Jennifer DeCristoforo’s daughter was adopted from China in 2003, and “Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture” is a beautiful tribute to her heritage.

You can purchase the “Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts” on Amazon, or order directly from Jennifer, so more of the proceeds go to the author and not to Amazon. ;)

If you want to see even more book recommendations, follow my Instagram account, @oaxacaborn, and watch for the #oaxacabornreads hashtag. To receive an update in your inbox each time I publish a post, click here.

Happy summer of crafting!

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

WEB_13_Oaxacaborn_Lucky-Bamboo-Book-of-Crafts_Chinese-Crafts

WEB_4_Oaxacaborn_Lucky-Bamboo-Book-of-Crafts_Chinese-Crafts

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

WEB_20_Oaxacaborn_Lucky-Bamboo-Book-of-Crafts_Chinese-Crafts

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

#OAXACABORNREADS // The Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts: Over 100 Projects and Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture

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Learning

Handmade

HANDMADE :: Kitchen Linens with Charles Dickens Quotes

I was raised in a home where Charles Dickens was quoted often — not the beautiful literary passages, but the little phrases uttered by quirky characters. These lines have been woven into our family throughout the years and pop up at the most hilarious times. So when I wanted to embroider some tea towels for my mom recently, I knew I had to start with a quote from Mr. Smallweed in Bleak House.

Smallweed Quote from Bleak House -Shake me up, Judy- Embroidered onto Striped Linen Kitchen Towels via Oaxacaborn
Charles Dickens Quotes Embroidered onto Striped Linen Kitchen Towels via Oaxacaborn
Joe Gargery Quote from Great Expectations -What Larks- Embroidered onto Striped Linen Kitchen Towels via Oaxacaborn
Quotes from Books Embroidered onto Striped Linen Kitchen Towels via Oaxacaborn

I’d love to make more of these. There’s no end to phrases from great books I could envision stitched out like this. And couldn’t we all use a little beauty infused into everyday chores?

What sort of words would you like to see on a linen towel?