February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

American History Comes Alive | Series Made Simple

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American history can be a tough sell. It’s yesterday’s news, people dressed in funny, old-fashioned clothes, a hodge-podge of dates, wars, and obsolete politics. Right? Not necessarily. It’s all in the presentation. Well-designed titles make it much easier to engage young people in the meaningful study of history. Many of the series reviewed here offer fresh, attractive takes on history that will draw in readers, all while maintaining the academic substance and quality educators expect.

Preschool to Grade 4

Belton, Blair. Abigail Adams in Her Own Words. ISBN 9781433998706; ISBN 9781482465389; ISBN 9781482404210.

Kennon, Caroline. Anne Frank in Her Own Words. ISBN 9781433998720; ISBN 9781482465006; ISBN 9781477731956.

Levy, Jane. Lewis and Clark in Their Own Words. ISBN 9781433999291; ISBN 9781482465082; ISBN 9781477728536.

Nagelhout, Ryan. Martin Luther King Jr. in His Own Words. ISBN 9781482401479; ISBN 9781482465099; ISBN 9781477732236.

Shea, John M. Thomas Jefferson in His Own Words. ISBN 9781433998737; ISBN 9781433999345; ISBN 9781477732311.

Shea, Nicole. Frederick Douglass in His Own Words. ISBN 9781433998980; ISBN 9781433998997; ISBN 9781482465167.

ea vol: 32p. (Eyewitness to History Series). bibliog. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. Gareth Stevens. 2014. lib. ed. $26.60. pap. $19.90. ebk. $26.60.

Gr 3-5 –With the use of an appealing scrapbook style format, this series pairs primary source documents with concise, accessible writing for a winning combination. Throughout each title, the narrative is threaded with diary and letter entries written by the person being featured. Quotations appear in a color that contrasts with the color of the main narrative, giving the quotations visual prominence. The quotes deal with major historical issues and every-day concerns. For instance, the volume about Abigail Adams features several quotes concerning the war and independence, as well as more domestic concerns such as the happiness felt by the family upon receiving letters from the long-absent John. Photographs, maps, drawings, and other ephemera are tinted in sepia, underscoring the archival tone of the books. Attractive and substantive.

Berry, Carrie. Diary of Carrie Berry: A Confederate Girl. ISBN 9781476541921; ISBN 9781476551357.

Bircher, William. Diary of William Bircher: A Civil War Drummer. ISBN 9781476541952; ISBN 9781476551388.

Forten, Charlotte. Diary of Charlotte Forten: A Free Black Girl Before the Civil War. ISBN 9781476541969; ISBN 9781476551395.

Gillespie, Sarah. Diary of Sarah Gillespie: A Pioneer Farm Girl. ISBN 9781476541945; ISBN 9781476551371.

Hester, Sallie. Diary of Sallie Hester: A Covered Wagon Girl. ISBN 9781476541938; ISBN 9781476551364.

Wister, Sally. Diary of Sally Wister: A Colonial Quaker Girl. ISBN 9781476541914; ISBN 9781476551340.

ea vol: 32p. (First-Person Histories Series). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. illus. index. reprods. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $26.65. pap. $7.95.

Gr 3-5 –In this lively collection, pivotal historical periods are told in the words of young people who lived through them. Each book begins with a two-page introduction that places the diary and its author in a broader historical context. The youthful perspective is refreshing and, at times, unexpected. The bulk of the content is made up of the diary excerpts, while editorial sidebars expand on things mentioned in the diaries. For instance, Sally Wister mentions “Hessians” in a diary entry, while an adjacent sidebar explains who the Hessians were and what they did. The illustrations are made up of well-reproduced photographs, drawings, and maps. A useful and new take on history.

Bolte, Marissa. Arrested for Witchcraft!: Nickolas Flux and the Salem Witch Trials. ISBN 9781476539478; ISBN 9781476551517.

Collins, Terry. Stake a Claim!: Nickolas Flux and the California Gold Rush. ISBN 9781476539447; ISBN 9781476551487.

Yomtov, Nel. Defend Until Death!: Nickolas Flux and the Battle of the Alamo. ISBN 9781476539454; ISBN 9781476551494.

––––. Night of Rebellion!: Nickolas Flux and the Boston Tea Party. ISBN 9781476539461; ISBN 9781476551500.

ea vol: illus. by Dante Ginevra. 40p. (Nickolas Flux History Chronicles). further reading. glossary. illus. index. notes. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $29.99. pap. $7.95.

Gr 3-5 –A promising premise yields mixed results in this time-travel series. Without warning or explanation, 15-year-old Nickolas Flux is swept back in time to various pivotal moments in American history. Once on the scene, Nickolas learns about the specific situation at hand, such as the Boston Tea Party or the Battle of the Alamo. The illustrations suggest cartoon realism, while the panels are packed with action. A switch from full color to sepia tones help shift the reader from the present to the past and back again. However, the time-travel aspect comes across as contrived and artificial; Nickolas meets all the key players and asks all of the right questions from the get-go, and major historical figures such as Sam Adams have no problem revealing sensitive information to a teenager clad in blue jeans and a sweatshirt whom they have just met. Appropriate for educators seeking supplemental materials for reluctant readers.

Cane, Ella. The U.S. House of Representatives. ISBN 9781476542010; ISBN 9781476551456. LC 2013032202.

––––. The U.S. Presidency. ISBN 9781476542003; ISBN 9781476551449. LC 2013028544.

––––. The U.S. Senate. ISBN 9781476542027; ISBN 9781476551463. LC 2013032209.

––––. The U.S. Supreme Court. ISBN 9781476542034; ISBN 9781476551470. LC 2013034221.

ea vol: 24p. (Our Government Series). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. photos. reprods. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $24.65. pap. $6.95.

Gr 2-4 –Written clearly and concisely, this series is similar in scope to Scholastic’s “True Books.” Each title is made up of short, two-page long chapters that contain a brief but substantive paragraph and a full-color, high-resolution photograph of people and places. Occasional “Fact” sidebars add an assortment of tangential information, such as “One President, Grover Cleveland, served two terms that were four years apart.” The writing style is straightforward and on target for young readers, while the design is done in an attractive stars and stripes theme. An ideal introduction to the ins and outs of the U.S. government.

Gabriel, Luke. The Hoover Dam. ISBN 9781623239565. LC 2013947391.

––––. Mount Rushmore. ISBN 9781623239558. LC 2013947301.

Gilmore, Frederic. The Lincoln Memorial. ISBN 9781623239572. LC 2013947399.

––––. The Washington Monument. ISBN 9781623239596. LC 2013947398.

Temple, Bob. Arlington National Cemetery. ISBN 9781623239534. LC 2013947297.

––––. Ellis Island. ISBN 9781623239541. LC 2013947300.

Wilson, Jon. The Statue of Liberty. ISBN 9781623239589. LC 2013947400.

––––. The White House. ISBN 9781623239602. LC 2013947397.

ea vol: 24p. (United States Landmarks Series). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. 2013. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 3-5 –An attractive, organized, and informative series. Each title consists of two-to-four page chapters of concise, engaging text. The authors keep the information age appropriate without oversimplifying. Captioned illustrations mostly consist of archival and modern-day photographs, many of which show the monuments from a variety of perspectives—during construction, from above, inside, and outside. A period drawing, for instance, shows what the White House looked like following its destruction by the British in 1814. Real winners.

Hinson, Rebecca. Emancipation. ISBN 9781938360343. LC 2013915362.

––––. Liberty. ISBN 9781938360374. LC 2013915363.

––––. Native American. ISBN 9781938360480. LC 2013916552.

––––. Quilting. ISBN 9781938360510. LC 2013916553.

––––. Statue of Liberty. ISBN 9781938360541. LC 2013913561.

––––. United States Capitol. ISBN 9781938360572. LC 2013907660.

ea vol: 24p. (Art of the United States of America Series). photos. reprods. Rebecca Hinson. 2014. lib. ed. $16.

Gr 3-5 –According to the publisher’s website, this series “addresses reading achievement gaps between English Language Learners (ELLs) and non-ELLs.” In an effort to fulfill its mission, the series describes American history through various pieces of art, with one short paragraph and one illustration per page. However, details are spotty, and the quality of the illustrations is poor. For instance, in the book about the Capitol, a photo of a fancy door is said to have friezes depicting scenes of Columbus’s adventures on it, but this fact cannot be confirmed through the image. The illustrations are not captioned, nor are they credited. There are no chapter divisions, table of contents, or index. Not recommended.

Otfinoski, Steven. The Hindenburg Explosion: Core Events of a Disaster in the Air. ISBN 9781476541846; ISBN 9781476551333. LC 2013024119.

––––. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: Core Events of an Industrial Disaster. ISBN 9781476541839; ISBN 9781476551326. LC 2013025109.

Radomski, Kassandra. The Apollo 13 Mission: Core Events of a Crisis in Space. ISBN 9781476541815; ISBN 9781476551302. LC 2013023913.

Richards, Marlee. The Johnstown Flood: Core Events of a Deadly Disaster. ISBN 9781476541822; ISBN 9781476551319. LC 2013024122.

ea vol: 32p. (What Went Wrong? Series). chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $26.65. pap. $7.95.

Gr 3-5 –This series is perfect. Not only does each title explain clearly and concisely a specific crisis in American history, but it also details how each was resolved and how it impacted people and places for generations to come. In the Johnstown Flood title, for instance, the author explains how the social hierarchy and industrial importance of Johnstown influenced how the 1889 disaster was remedied. In addition, the author links those issues to future Johnstown floods and the 2005 flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Colorful time lines and sidebars are used throughout each title and complement the accompanying text. Quotes from eyewitnesses are used liberally and add drama and immediacy to the narrative. At least one illustration appears on every page. Most of the images consist of archival photographs, all of which complement the text. A bonus is that new or challenging words are defined on the page as well as in the glossary.


Grades 5 & Up

Fromowitz, Lori. World War I and Modern America: 1890–1930. ISBN 9781624031779. LC 2013945677.

Hamen, Susan E. The Great Depression and World War II: 1929–1945. ISBN 9781624031786. LC 2013945674.

Krieg, Katherine. The Postwar Era: 1945–Early 1970s. ISBN 9781624031793. LC 2013945673.

––––. The United States Today: 1968–Present. ISBN 9781624031809. LC 2013945675.

McCarthy, Pat. Colonization and Settlement in the New World: 1585–1763. ISBN 9781624031724. LC 2013913121.

Sepahban, Lois. A Nation is Born: 1754–1820s. ISBN 9781624031731. LC 2013945665.

Terp, Gail. Worlds Collide in Early America: Beginnings Through 1620. ISBN 9781624031717. LC 2013945900.

Van Zee, Amy. The Civil War and Reconstruction: 1850–1877. ISBN 9781624031755. LC 2013945672.

––––. The Rise of Industry: 1870–1900. ISBN 9781624031762. LC 2013945669.

Yasuda, Anita. Westward Expansion of the United States: 1801–1861. ISBN 9781624031748. LC 2013945667.

ea vol: 48p. (The Story of the United States Series). bibliog. chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $22.95.

Gr 4-6 –The authors distill history down to its essentials, explaining the key players, events, causes, and effects in a way that is accessible to young students. Sidebars highlight key people, places, movements, and primary source documents. The primary source documents are accompanied by questions that prompt students to think in greater depth (“Read this excerpt closely. How would you change it for a different audience, such as your parents or younger friends?”). Each chapter ends with “Further Evidence,” a sidebar that provides discussion questions and a publisher affiliated web address for more research, and the well-curated illustrations consist of archival photographs, drawings, and maps. A solid series.

Samuels, Charlie. The Attack on Fort Sumter. ISBN 9781482404012; ISBN 9781482404036.

––––. The Attack on Pearl Harbor. ISBN 9781482404098; ISBN 9781482465303.

––––. The Battles of Lexington and Concord. ISBN 9781482404173; ISBN 9781482465365.

––––. The Cuban Missile Crisis. ISBN 9781482404319; ISBN 9781482465372.

––––. D-Day. ISBN 9781482404326; ISBN 9781482404340.

––––. The Tet Offensive. ISBN 9781482404357; ISBN 9781482404371.

ea vol: 48p. (Turning Points in U.S. Military History Series). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. maps. notes. Gareth Stevens. 2014. lib. ed. $31.95. pap. $23.95.

Gr 6-8 –Each volume in this series begins with a two or three page introduction that sets the scene by describing in brief the conflict or war at large and how the titular turning points played into that. The content is organized carefully into blocks. The same layout is used in each chapter, with liberal use of sidebars to round out the books. The progression of each military campaign is explained in a logical, straightforward way, and the politics and key figures behind each campaign are integrated seamlessly into the text. Illustrations are captioned clearly and consist of a well-curated selection of archival photos, drawings, and maps.

The best of these series possess one or more qualities emphasized in Common Core, traits that keep learning fresh and relevant. “What Went Wrong” encourages critical thinking by comparing and contrasting the lessons learned from past disasters. “First Person Histories,” “The Story of the United States,” and “Eyewitness to History” integrate riveting first-person accounts to make their subjects immediate and personal, while “Our Government” and “United States Landmarks” use stellar illustrations and clear writing to make content attractive and accessible. History is alive and well in these books.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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