February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

America the Beautiful: U.S. History | Series Nonfiction

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When Thomas Wolfe returned from a two-week trip out West in which he and a couple of companions drove 4,632 miles, he wrote to friend and editor Ed Aswell back in New York: “It has been a wonderful trip and at last I feel I know something about my country.” Wolfe and his buddies might just as well have stayed at home if they had had these series at their beck and call. With their attention-grabbing graphics, dynamic layouts, and fact-filled, fun content, these are ideal purchases.

Preschool to Grade 4

Allen, Nancy. The Underground Railroad. ISBN 9781634300438.

Greve, Tom. Angel Island. ISBN 9781634300445.

––––. World Trade Center. ISBN 9781 634300421.

Mattern, Joanne. Fort Sumter. ISBN 9781634300469.

––––. The Freedom Trail. ISBN 9781634300452.

Sipperley, Keli. The Old Fort at St. Augustine. ISBN 9781634300414.

ea vol: 32p. (Symbols of Freedom). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Rourke Educational Media. 2015. lib. ed. $20.95.

Gr 3-5 –A fun, informative venue for learning about significant places in U.S. history. Clear, engaging writing and a dynamic, easy-to-follow layout go far to explain the significance of each symbol and its place in American history. Occasional “Freedom Fact!” sidebars call readers’ attention to incidental details (for instance, the first public school in America, the Boston Latin School, “admitted only boys for more than 300 years. Girls couldn’t attend the school until 1972!”). The inclusion of the fort at St. Augustine and Angel Island is especially useful, as typically these important landmarks receive scant coverage in children’s literature. Star-spangled borders and neatly framed illustrations prettify the presentation. “Before Reading” and “After Reading” questions and activities in each title make these natural choices for use in the classroom. Though the content is strong, the series title is misleading; some readers may find “Symbols of Freedom” an odd or even inappropriate label for locations such as the World Trade Center or Angel Island. VERDICT Solid options.

Goddu, Krystyna Poray. A Primary Source History of U.S. Independence. ISBN 9781491418420.

Kimmel, Allison Crotzer. A Primary Source History of Slavery in the United States. ISBN 9781491418390.

Langston-George, Rebecca. A Primary Source History of the Dust Bowl. ISBN 9781491418406.

Otfinoski, Steven. A Primary Source History of Westward Expansion. ISBN 9781491418413.

ea vol: 32p. (Primary Source History). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Capstone. 2015. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 3-6 –Well designed and informative, these books are ideal for those new to primary source documents. The fonts—large, plain, and bold—are offset by plain backgrounds. An apt and clearly captioned photograph appears on each page. “Critical Thinking” sidebars feature inquiries that encourage deeper consideration. In Dust Bowl, one sidebar describes how a period advertisement called the Midwest “‘that garden of the world,’” then asks readers, “How might merchants and land developers have benefited by calling the area a garden?” The incorporation of primary sources adds not only academic value but a sense of immediacy as well, such as a quote in Slavery that provides a chilling account of what happened on a slave ship (“the slaves in the night were often heard making…a howling noise, something expressive of extreme anguish”). VERDICT Strong options for introducing the concept of primary source analysis.

Gregory, Josh. Abraham Lincoln: The 16th President. ISBN 9781627245548; ISBN 9781627246392.

––––. Andrew Jackson: The 7th President. ISBN 9781627245562; ISBN 9781627246415.

––––. Franklin D. Roosevelt: The 32nd President. ISBN 9781627245555; ISBN 9781627246408.

––––. George Washington: The 1st President. ISBN 9781627245524; ISBN 9781627246378.

––––. James Madison: The 4th President. ISBN 9781627245593; ISBN 9781627246446.

––––. John Adams: The 2nd President. ISBN 9781627245586; ISBN 9781627246439.

––––. Theodore Roosevelt: The 26th President. ISBN 9781627245579; ISBN 9781627246422.

––––. Thomas Jefferson: The 3rd President. ISBN 9781627245531; ISBN 9781627246385.

ea vol: 24p. (Little Bits: A First Look at America’s Presidents). further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. reprods. websites. Bearport. 2015. lib. ed. $23.93. ebk. $30.60.

K-Gr 2 –Reminiscent of Scholastic’s “True Books,” these titles are ideal introductions to the most studied presidents. Each spread features an apt illustration with a few sentences about the subject, while the opposite page is designed to look like a bulletin board, with full-color maps, paintings, and drawings “attached” with pushpins. Despite the brevity, the sentences are informative, with not a word wasted. VERDICT Though these are sanitized biographies, they’re suitable for the audience.

Harasymiw, Mark. The Apache People. ISBN 9781482419757.

Machajewski, Sarah. The Cherokee People. ISBN 9781482419795.

Nagelhout, Ryan. The Mohawk People. ISBN 9781482419917.

Rajczak, Kristen. The Shoshone People. ISBN 9781482419955.

Saxena, Shalini. The Cheyenne People. ISBN 9781482419832.

Shea, Therese. The Hopi People. ISBN 9781482419870.

ea vol: 32p. (Native American Cultures). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. 2015. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 2-5 –Written for a slightly older audience than ABDO’s “Native Americans,” this series describes the traditional housing, food, language, clothes, and other attributes of various Native American tribes. Though the layouts are colorful and well organized, the illustrations, while large and well reproduced, inadequately suit their purpose. For instance, the caption of a photo of a Hopi baby and his mother reads, “Hopi women carried children on a ‘cradleboard’ on their back,” but the accompanying photo shows a woman with a baby on her back, the baby wrapped in a blanket, with no cradleboard in sight. The writing is accessible, if at times vague (“Many Apache children were forced to go to schools far away.”). VERDICT There is much to admire about this set, but there are missed opportunities as well.

Higgins, Nadia. Defending the Land: Causes and Effects of Red Cloud’s War. ISBN 9781491420355.

––––. Last Stand: Causes and Effects of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. ISBN 9781491420331.

Schwartz, Heather E. Forced Removal: Causes and Effects of the Trail of Tears. ISBN 9781491420362.

––––. Seeking Freedom: Causes and Effects of the Flight of the Nez Perce. ISBN 9781491420348.

ea vol: 32p. (Cause and Effect: American Indian History). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Capstone. 2015. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 3-6 –After a broad overview at the outset, a historical event is examined more thoroughly using a cause-and-effect framework. Each cause is numbered, and headings are in bold, giving the content an easy-to-follow structure. For instance, Last Stand explores several factors that eventually resulted in the Battle of Little Bighorn, covers the event, and examines its impact. Quotes from major players are incorporated, adding gripping human drama; Last Stand includes a quote from a Native American man who was present at the defeat of General Custer. The maps and images, all of which are remarkably crisp (particularly one of Chief Joseph in Seeking Freedom), are used both as the focal point of a page and as background for text. VERDICT Informative and attractive.

Tieck, Sarah. Aztec. ISBN 9781624035760; ISBN 9781629691466. LC 2014028398.

––––. Blackfoot. ISBN 9781624035777; ISBN 9781629691473. LC 2014029812.

––––. Chumash. ISBN 9781624035784; ISBN 9781629691480. LC 2014029806.

––––. Creek. ISBN 9781624035791; ISBN 9781629691497. LC 2014030604.

––––. Hopi. ISBN 9781624035807; ISBN 9781629691503. LC 2014028399.

––––. Maya. ISBN 9781624035814; ISBN 9781629691510. LC 2014028400.

––––. Nez Perce. ISBN 9781624035821; ISBN 9781629691527. LC 2014029818.

––––. Shawnee. ISBN 9781624035838; ISBN 9781629691534. LC 2014030603.

ea vol: 32p. (Native Americans Set 2). glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. ABDO. 2015. lib. ed. $28.50. ebk. $28.50.

K-Gr 2 –Similar to Children’s Press’s “True Books” titles, this series offers the very basics. Each title is divided into about a dozen spreads, each of which focuses on a single subject (where a tribe lived, what it ate, gender roles, and so on). The verso contains the text while the recto features a captioned illustration. The text is rendered in a plain font and reads in short, declarative sentences. Occasional “Did You Know?” sidebars offer tidbits: “During stomp dances, women wore turtle shell rattles on their legs. Their movements helped set the beat.” Unfortunately, for the most part, all of the important dates appear at the end of each title, so it is not immediately clear when these tribes first originated. Stunning, high-resolution photographs marry well with the text and make each title instantly attention-grabbing. VERDICT Simple and solid introductions.

Grades 5 & Up

Adamson, Thomas K. The American Revolution. ISBN 9781631437076.

––––. The Civil War. ISBN 9781631437069.

––––. World War I. ISBN 9781631437083.

––––. World War II. ISBN 9781631437090.

Streissguth, Tom. The Korean War. ISBN 9781631437106.

––––. The Vietnam War. ISBN 9781631437113.

Winter, Max. The Afghanistan War. ISBN 9781631437120.

Yasuda, Anita. The Gulf War. ISBN 9781631437137.

ea vol: 32p. (Wars in U.S. History). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. 2015. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 4-8 –This set takes a look at various U.S. wars and conflicts. Each title begins with a description of a real-life battle, going on to examine the beginning of the conflict and detailing political, social, and military aspects, as well as causes and outcomes of each. Though the writing is on the stiff side, the presentation is straightforward and free of bias. The books present examples where the United States showed heroism as well as its mistakes. Vietnam War, for example, discusses how the decision to order air strikes on Laos and Cambodia in order to destroy Vietcong camps led to death in these neutral countries. Occasional “Another View” sidebars encourage empathy and critical thinking, asking readers to consider an issue from different perspectives, such as that of the president or an enemy combatant. VERDICT Useful additions.

Burgan, Michael. Shadow Catcher: How Edward S. Curtis Documented American Indian Dignity and Beauty. ISBN 9780756549923; ISBN 9780756552718.

Nardo, Don. The Golden Spike: How a Photograph Celebrated the Transcontinental Railroad. ISBN 9780756549916; ISBN 9780756552701.

ea vol: 64p. (Captured History). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Compass Point. 2015. lib. ed. $33.99. ebk. $8.95.

Gr 6 Up –These latest additions in this series are every bit as excellent as their predecessors. With The Golden Spike, Nardo explores the work of photographer Andrew J. Russell during the building of the transcontinental railroad. In addition to describing the mind-boggling obstacles faced by Russell and his team (toting equipment that was expensive, delicate, and cumbersome; the effects of the elements), Nardo frames the narrative within the wider story of Manifest Destiny, the destruction of nature, and the displacement of Native Americans. With Shadow Catcher, Burgan chronicles ethnologist and photographer Edward S. Curtis’s commitment to chronicling the daily life of several Native American tribes for his massive book The North American Indian. Both books feature well-written and accessible text, but it is the stunning photography that will keep readers entranced. VERDICT Informative and downright gorgeous.

Garstecki, Julia. Life During the Industrial Revolution. ISBN 9781624036279; ISBN 9781629692531. LC 2014944211.

––––. Life in Colonial America. ISBN 9781624036309; ISBN 9781629692562. LC 2014944195.

Halls, Kelly Milner. Life During the Civil War. ISBN 9781624036255; ISBN 9781629692517. LC 2014944228.

Hinman, Bonnie. Life During the Revolutionary War. ISBN 9781624036286; ISBN 9781629692548. LC 2014944212.

Lanier, Wendy H. Life During the Great Depression. ISBN 9781624036262; ISBN 9781629692524. LC 2014944229.

––––. Life During World War II. ISBN 9781624036293; ISBN 9781629692555. LC 2014944230.

Onsgard, Bethany. Life During the California Gold Rush. ISBN 9781624036248; ISBN 9781629692500. LC 2014944227.

––––. Life on the Frontier. ISBN 9781624036316; ISBN 9781629692579. LC 2014944206.

ea vol: 48p. (Daily Life in US History). charts. further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. websites. ABDO. 2015. lib. ed. $32.79. ebk. $32.79.

Gr 3-6 –This series humanizes seminal events and movements in U.S. history through the exploration of the lives of men, women, and children. The authors do a terrific job of including a variety of viewpoints, such as those of slaves and child laborers. Sidebars highlight key ideas, including the Homestead Act and the mystery at Roanoke. Passages from primary source documents are included as well. A “Stop and Think” section concludes each title with provocative discussion questions that encourage readers to put themselves in the shoes of people from the featured era. The illustrations are made up of photos, maps, drawings, and charts. The most effecting images are those depicting children—the photo of the little boy selling metal for a World War II scrap drive is a particularly memorable addition. VERDICT Concise and well organized, with a broad perspective, this series is first-rate.

George, Enzo. The American Revolution. ISBN 9781502602503.

––––. The Civil War. ISBN 9781502602510.

––––. Colonial America. ISBN 9781502602565.

––––. The Expanding Frontier. ISBN 9781502602480.

––––. World War I. ISBN 9781502602527.

ea vol: 48p. (Primary Sources in U.S. History). bibliog. further reading. glossary. illus. maps. photos. reprods. websites. Cavendish Square. 2015. lib. ed. $31.36.

Gr 6-8 –Attractive and enlightening, this set breaks down each topic into various subcategories. Each verso contains a couple of paragraphs that describe the historical event in question, while the recto features primary sources that complement the main text. The primary sources consist of photos of and excerpts from diaries, letters, drawings, paintings, maps, and even photographs of clothes and buildings. “Source Explore” sidebars explain the importance of the images. “As They Saw It” sidebars contain apt and dramatic quotes from people of the period, adding immediacy. Students will get a much richer sense of the famine at Valley Forge from the well-chosen quotes (“A general cry thro’ the Camp this Evening among the Soldiers, ‘No Meat! No Meat!’”). VERDICT Well organized and delightfully presented, this series is a strong addition.

Guillain, Charlotte. Stories of Women’s Suffrage: Votes for Women! ISBN 9781484608647.

Hubbard, Ben. Stories of Women During the Industrial Revolution: Changing Roles, Changing Lives. ISBN 9781484608630.

Langley, Andrew. Stories of Women in World War II: We Can Do It! ISBN 9781484608654.

Senker, Cath. Stories of Women in the 1960s: Fighting for Freedom. ISBN 9781484608661.

ea vol: 112p. (Women’s Stories from History). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2015. lib. ed. $31.32.

Gr 4-6 –These titles are filled with the stories of extraordinary women who by dint of their courage, intellect, creativity, and tenacity revolutionized their professions or other realms of influence. However, the women’s histories, while significant, are given inadequate treatment. The design will be off-putting to students: the books include long blocks of texts with illustrations that appear only every few pages and no headings. Most of the images are awkward-looking modern-day paintings or collages, with few period photos. VERDICT Skip these volumes.

Nolan, Frederick. Gunslingers and Cowboys. ISBN 9781784040789.

––––. Native Peoples. ISBN 9781784040796.

––––. Outlaws and Rebels. ISBN 9781784040802.

––––. Trailblazing the Way West. ISBN 9781784040819.

ea vol: 64p. (The Wild West). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Black Rabbit/Arcturus. 2015. lib. ed. $39.95.

Gr 4-6 –When it comes to learning about the Wild West, sorting fact from fiction can be tricky, but the authors of this series pull it off with aplomb. Well-known names and topics, like Jesse James, the Alamo, and Tombstone, AZ, are here, as are lesser-known but equally fascinating histories of the emblematic Johnston County War and Hugh Glass, the formidable mountain man who trekked 200 miles for help after being left for dead following a bear attack. The authors provide plenty of context for the events. For instance, in Gunslingers, readers learn that the population explosion in the West was brought about in part because of the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad. Sources are not cited, but content is organized, well written, and illustrated liberally with sepia-toned photos. VERDICT Good choices for those looking to bulk up their Wild West collections.

Rowell, Rebecca. The 12 Most Amazing American Cities. ISBN 9781632350077.

––––. The 12 Most Amazing American Inventions. ISBN 9781632350084.

––––. The 12 Most Amazing American Natural Wonders. ISBN 9781632350114.

Yasuda, Anita. The 12 Most Amazing American Battles. ISBN 9781632350060.

––––. The 12 Most Amazing American Monuments & Symbols. ISBN 9781632350091.

––––. The 12 Most Amazing American Myths and Legends. ISBN 9781632350107.

ea vol: 32p. (Amazing America). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Amicus/12-Story. 2015. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 4-6 –Amazing America indeed! From Paul Revere to Paul Bunyan, from Yorktown to New York City—all are here in this treasure trove of Americana. The books are divided into spreads, each with a few illustrations and lines of text. Every aspect of the layout is designed with burgeoning readers in mind—clean lines and shapes, sans serif fonts, and a subdued palette of blue and orange. The writing is informative and, like the layout, plain and unaffected. Sidebars feature statistics and thumbnail bios. Yet given the name of the series, the inclusion of World War II battles that took place in Europe seems slightly incongruous. VERDICT Overall, this unique series is attractive and informative—a sound purchase.

Roxburgh, Ellis. Adolf Hitler vs. Winston Churchill: Foes of World War II. ISBN 9781482422054.

––––. Al Capone vs. Eliot Ness: Opposite Sides of the Law. ISBN 9781482422092.

––––. Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaron Burr: Duel to the Death. ISBN 9781482422139.

––––. The Founding Fathers vs. King George III: The Fight for a New Nation. ISBN 9781482422177.

––––. John F. Kennedy vs. Nikita Khrushchev: Cold War Adversaries. ISBN 9781482422214.

––––. Ulysses S. Grant vs. Robert E. Lee: Civil War Rivals. ISBN 9781482422252.

ea vol: 48p. (History’s Greatest Rivals). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. 2015. lib. ed. $31.95.

Gr 6-8 –Accessible writing and a beckoning page layout betoken this unique and riveting series. Over the course of each book, Roxburgh weaves in traits—social, ideological, and physical—of each figure, emphasizing the contrast between the rivals. For example, the privileged upbringing of Robert E. Lee stands in vivid contrast to the hardscrabble upbringing of Ulysses S. Grant. Readers will learn about the personalities and the specific conflicts between these individuals, as well as the social and political climate of an era. For example, Roxburgh illustrates how the rivalry between gangster Al Capone and lawman Eliot Ness was rooted in festering issues involving the increase of organized crime due in large part to Prohibition. Well-placed sidebars feature evocative, on-point quotes from key players. The emotional, sometimes eye-opening quotes animate these historical characters. Clear, complementary photos and drawings round out the collection. VERDICT Creative choices for history collections.

Featuring stars-and-stripes themed illustrations and positive, upbeat perspectives, “Amazing America” (Amicus/12-Story), “A First Look at America’s Presidents” (Bearport), and the “Symbols of Freedom” (Rourke) are strong introductions to major places and people in the United States. “Captured History” (Capstone), “Cause and Effect: American History” (Capstone), “Wars in U.S. History” (Child’s World), “Daily Life in US History” (ABDO), and “Primary Source History” (Capstone) use primary source documents, stunning imagery, and thought-provoking queries to provide a panoramic, inclusive approach to American History.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Thanks for the information. Learning about US history should be fun and exciting. That’s why I think it’s awesome that there are so many apps out there for that very purpose. I’m going to make sure my children are playing with the best app. I’ll make sure that it’s both entertaining and informative.