February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Our Land: U.S. History | Series Nonfiction

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1604SMS-US-HistoryWith the recent furor over the publication of Ramin Ganeshram’s A Birthday Cake for George Washington, discussion about how history is presented to children gained national attention. Authors and illustrators of children’s history books have a tough job. They have to work with a complex equation in which the values of x, y, and z change. Is their audience preschoolers or high school students? Is their audience likely to have any existing knowledge of the topic? Is the subject so fraught with tragedy that it must, in some way, be tempered to suit a young person’s maturity level? If so, how? Every series reviewed here aims to achieve the balance of quality content on timely issues, in an appropriate form.


Arnez, Lynda. My Journey on the Underground Railroad. ISBN 9781482439977; ISBN 9781482440102; ISBN 9781482439984.

––––. My Journey Through Ellis Island. ISBN 9781482440003; ISBN 9781482440096; ISBN 9781482440010.

––––. My Life as a Pioneer. ISBN 9781482439908; ISBN 9781482439885; ISBN 9781482439915.

––––. My Life in an Algonquian Village. ISBN 9781482439861; ISBN 9781482439847; ISBN 9781482439878.

––––. My Life in the American Colonies. ISBN 9781482439946; ISBN 9781482439922; ISBN 9781482439953.

––––. My Wagon Train Adventure. ISBN 9781482440041; ISBN 9781482440027; ISBN 9781482440058.

ea vol: 24p. (My Place in History). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. Gareth Stevens. 2016. lib. ed. $22.60. pap. $8.15. ebk. $22.60.

Gr 1-3 –Using a first-person diary perspective, each title in this series aims to expand young readers’ understanding of life in the past. Chapters (diary entries) are dated to correspond with real history. The unaffected and uncomplicated syntax of the main entries helps carry the illusion that they were written by children. In keeping with this premise, information in the main entries is age appropriate, with more advanced material appearing in sidebars called “Notes from History.” For instance, in Ellis Island, the child writes about his hunger while on the ship and the medical inspection on Ellis Island, while the “Notes from History” on those same pages describe the role of Ellis Island, its years of operation, and procedures for dealing with immigrants who arrived in bad health. VERDICT Simple, but not simplistic, this series provides fascinating springboards for the youngest historians.

Buellis, Linda. Pueblo. ISBN 9781 508141228; ISBN 9781508141204; ISBN 9781508141235.

George, Gale. Seminole. ISBN 9781508141587; ISBN 9781508141556; ISBN 9781508141594.

Harrison, Lorraine. Sioux. ISBN 9781508141631; ISBN 9781508141600; ISBN 9781508141648.

––––. Ute. ISBN 9781508141334; ISBN 9781508141297; ISBN 9781508141341.

Jones, Kadeem. Shawnee. ISBN 9781508141273; ISBN 9781508141242; ISBN 9781508141280.

Lee, David. Comanche. ISBN 9781508141433; ISBN 9781508141402; ISBN 9781508141440.

Long, Erin. Aztec. ISBN 9781508141389; ISBN 9781508141358; ISBN 9781 508141396.

Quinlivan, Ada. Choctaw. ISBN 9781508141136; ISBN 9781508141105; ISBN 9781508141143.

Rhodes, Wendell. Iroquois (Haudenosaunee). ISBN 9781508141532; ISBN 9781508141501; ISBN 9781508141549.

Stanley, Joseph. Delaware (Lenape). ISBN 9781508141181; ISBN 9781508141150; ISBN 9781508141198.

––––. Wampanoag. ISBN 9781508141488; ISBN 9781508141457; ISBN 9781 508141495.

Stone, Omar. Chickasaw. ISBN 9781 508141082; ISBN 9781508141051; ISBN 9781508141099.

ea vol: 32p. (Spotlight on Native Americans). further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2016. lib. ed. $26.25. pap. $11.75. ebk. $26.50.

Gr 2-4 –This series uses full-color imagery and concise writing to create vibrant, engaging introductions to the native peoples of North America. Each chapter covers a key concept: tribe origin, daily life, gender roles, religious beliefs, and ceremonies. The illustrations are a mix of photographs, maps, and drawings, all of which are suitably captioned. Challenging or topical words such as migrate and sovereignty appear in bold font in the text and are defined in the glossary. Because the authors focus mainly on the rich histories and accomplishments of the tribes, the overall tone is one of optimism. However, the authors do include facts that touch on more somber aspects of tribal history and life, such as poverty on the reservations and forced assimilation. In some of the titles, the mention of specific organizations and movements dedicated to improving life for native people is a refreshing addition. VERDICT These comprehensive introductions are highly recommended for purchase.

Canfield, Michael. America’s Oddest Hobbies. ISBN 9781482440171; ISBN 9781482440157; ISBN 9781482440188.

––––. America’s Oddest Laws. ISBN 9781482440294; ISBN 9781482440270; ISBN 9781482440300.

Edwards, Erika. America’s Oddest Holidays. ISBN 9781482440218; ISBN 9781482440195; ISBN 9781482440225.

Machajewski, Sarah. America’s Oddest Landmarks. ISBN 9781482440256; ISBN 9781482440232; ISBN 9781482440263.

McAneney, Caitie. America’s Oddest Legends. ISBN 9781482440331; ISBN 9781482440317; ISBN 9781482440348.

Yerdon, Joe. America’s Oddest Foods. ISBN 9781482440133; ISBN 9781482440126; ISBN 9781482440140.

ea vol: 32p. (Weird America). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. 2016. lib. ed. $26.60. pap. $10.50. ebk. $26.60.

Gr 3-5 –Ranging in subject from strange holidays like National Sandwich Day to the spooky supernatural cryptids of North America, these books are sure to help readers discover the oddest parts of our culture. With enticing front covers and a topic that lends itself to conversational, lighthearted writing, this series is an easy sell. The illustrations consist of large, colorful photographs, all of which are accentuated with neon fonts and borders. The least weird is Foods, which mainly features regional delicacies such as Frito pie and gelatin salad. VERDICT Consider for collections in need of fun, browsable materials.

Clay, Kathryn. The Pledge of Allegiance. ISBN 9781491482278; ISBN 9781491486115.

––––. The U.S. Constitution. ISBN 9781491482254; ISBN 9781491486092.

––––. The U.S. Flag. ISBN 9781491482223; ISBN 9781491486061.

Orr, Tamra B. The Liberty Bell. ISBN 9781491482247; ISBN 9781491486085.

––––. The Star-Spangled Banner. ISBN 9781491482261; ISBN 9781491486108.

––––. The Statue of Liberty. ISBN 9781491482230; ISBN 9781491486078.

ea vol: 32p. (Introducing Primary Sources). chart. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2016. lib. ed. $20.49. pap. $6.95.

K-Gr 2 –This series does a crackerjack job of exploring the back stories of some of America’s most beloved documents and monuments. Most kids know the Pledge of Allegiance by heart, but here they learn that originally the pledge was published in a children’s magazine in order to honor Columbus Day. Similarly, most kids recognize the Statue of Liberty by sight, but here they discover how the statue’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, raised the money to build it. With one concise paragraph and a few illustrations per page, these titles are ideally suited for early fluent readers. Illustrations consist of paintings and photographs, all of which enrich the text. For example, in Star-Spangled Banner, one 1873 photo shows a soldier standing in front of the threadbare flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814. By focusing on the passage of time, the author draws readers’ attention to the concept that the flag has been honored and appreciated throughout the years. VERDICT While not a must-purchase, this series does offer a colorful, engaging presentation.

Conley, Kate. World War II Through the Eyes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. ISBN 9781680780369; ISBN 9781680772531.

Donohue, Moira Rose. Civil Rights Movement Through the Eyes of Lyndon B. Johnson. ISBN 9781680780291; ISBN 9781680772463.

Hamen, Susan E. Cuban Missile Crisis Through the Eyes of John F. Kennedy. ISBN 9781680780314; ISBN 9781680772487.

Kneib, Martha. Civil War Through the Eyes of Abraham Lincoln. ISBN 9781680780307; ISBN 9781680772470.

Lanser, Amanda. World War I Through the Eyes of Woodrow Wilson. ISBN 9781680780352; ISBN 9781680772524.

O’Keefe, Emily. September 11 Through the Eyes of George W. Bush. ISBN 9781680780345; ISBN 9781680772517.

Yasuda, Anita. Louisiana Purchase Through the Eyes of Thomas Jefferson. ISBN 9781680780321; ISBN 9781680772494.

––––. New Nation Through the Eyes of George Washington. ISBN 9781680780338; ISBN 9781680772500.

ea vol: 48p. (Presidential Perspectives). glossary. index. maps. photos. ABDO. 2016. lib. ed. $22.95. ebk. $35.95.

Gr 2-4 –In these concise titles, historical events are examined through the related actions and beliefs of the then–sitting president. The book uses quotes from the presidents’ letters and speeches with relevant personal details about their daily lives: a premise that proves to be an effective way to add an otherwise uncommon intimacy to historical events. These insights are not limited to the presidents. In Cuban Missile Crisis, a sidebar provides a poignant glimpse into the public response in Russia with a quote from Khrushchev’s son, Sergei. Primary source documents help convey the political and emotional climate of the time. VERDICT Interesting and insightful complements to American history units.

Edwards, Sue Bradford. 12 Incredible Facts About the Cuban Missile Crisis. ISBN 9781632351272; ISBN 9781621432227.

Grayson, Robert. 12 Incredible Facts About the U.S. Civil War. ISBN 9781632351333; ISBN 9781621432289.

Marciniak, Kristin. 12 Incredible Facts About the Boston Tea Party. ISBN 9781632351265; ISBN 9781621432210.

Sepahban, Lois. 12 Incredible Facts About the D-Day Invasion. ISBN 9781632351289; ISBN 9781621432234.

––––. 12 Incredible Facts About the Montgomery Bus Boycott. ISBN 9781632351326; ISBN 9781621432272.

Smibert, Angie. 12 Incredible Facts About the Dropping of the Atomic Bombs. ISBN 9781632351296; ISBN 9781621432241.

––––. 12 Incredible Facts About the First Moon Landing. ISBN 9781632351302; ISBN 9781621432258.

Yasuda, Anita. 12 Incredible Facts About the Louisiana Purchase. ISBN 9781632351319; ISBN 9781621432265.

ea vol: 32p. (Turning Points in U.S. History). further reading. glossary. index. Amicus. 2016. lib. ed. $19.95. ebk. $28.50.

Gr 3-5 –The volumes in this series are not limited to 12 facts; rather, they include 12 chapters containing a multitude of facts, presented in a traditional paragraph-by-paragraph format. If readers can make peace with a series name that does not fit, they will go on to discover content that is meaningful and nuanced. For instance, The Boston Tea Party not only describes the actual tea dump but explains why tea itself was so important, a good lesson for helping readers understand the many influences that go into political events. Most of the illustrations in the series are in black-and-white. Sidebars and illustrations are lined and/or shaded in green and orange. VERDICT The title is a misfit, but the content is top-notch.

Keller, Susanna. The Age of Exploration. ISBN 9781680482676; ISBN 9781508100324.

Klar, Jeremy. The Louisiana Purchase and Westward Expansion. ISBN 9781680482713; ISBN 9781508100362.

Lowery, Zoe. The American Revolution. ISBN 9781680482690; ISBN 9781508100348.

Shattuck, Jason. The Civil War. ISBN 9781680482720; ISBN 9781508100379.

Wolfe, James. The Colonial Period. ISBN 9781680482683; ISBN 9781508100331.

Wolny, Philip. The New Nation. ISBN 9781680482706; ISBN 9781508100355.

ea vol: 80p. (Early American History). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Britannica. 2016. lib. ed. $32.90. ebk. $32.90.

Gr 3-5 –Britannica stays true to its roots with this earnest, well-researched series. There are plenty of details, but thanks to the straightforward tone and a museum’s curatorial approach to image selection and placement, the content is never cramped or overwhelming. Content is comprehensive, covering as it does religion, politics, social mores, geography, and more. Using a kid-friendly economy of words, the author takes great care to explain the social and political differences among the southern, middle, and New England colonies. There is some overlapping of material between The Colonial Period and The American Revolution but not so much that it should deter buyers. VERDICT A worthwhile purchase for most libraries.

Mavrikis, Peter. Battleships. ISBN 9781 508146056; ISBN 9781508146032; ISBN 9781508146063.

––––. Classic Warships. ISBN 9781 508146094; ISBN 9781508146070; ISBN 9781508146100.

––––. Tanks. ISBN 9781508146216; ISBN 9781508146193; ISBN 9781508146223.

Murray, Aaron. Aircraft of World War II. ISBN 9781508146018; ISBN 9781508145998; ISBN 9781508146025.

––––. Modern Military Aircraft. ISBN 9781508146131; ISBN 9781508146117; ISBN 9781508146148.

Murray, Stuart. Submarines. ISBN 9781 508146179; ISBN 9781508146155; ISBN 9781508146186.

ea vol: 48p. (What’s Inside?). diag. glossary. index. photos. PowerKids. 2016. lib. ed. $30.25. pap. $11.75. ebk. $30.25.

Gr 3-5 –A fascinating exploration of various U.S. and foreign military crafts, this series should satisfy both history and engineering enthusiasts. The vehicles explored within each title are chronologically ordered, providing a cohesive look at how each one has evolved over the years. The language is technical but concise. Full-color cross-sections help readers visualize the inner workings of these large crafts, although the lack of a scale to demonstrate the relative size of these crafts is disappointing. VERDICT These are sound choices for kids who are not quite ready for the level of detail in the Stephen Biesty books.

Middle to High School

Cooke, Tim. Go West with Cowboys and Ranchers. ISBN 9780778723226; ISBN 9780778723356; ISBN 9781427117328.

O’Brien, Cynthia. First Contact with Native Nations. ISBN 9780778723318; ISBN 9780778723486; ISBN 9781427117373.

––––. Go West with Merchants and Traders. ISBN 9780778723264; ISBN 9780 778723387; ISBN 9781427117342.

––––. Go West with Miners, Prospectors, and Loggers. ISBN 9780778723288; ISBN 9780778723462; ISBN 9781427117359.

Stuckey, Rachel. Go West with Famous Trailblazers. ISBN 9780778723240; ISBN 9780778723370; ISBN 9781427117335.

––––. Go West with Settlers and Farmers. ISBN 9780778723301; ISBN 9780778723479; ISBN 9781427117366.

ea vol: 32p. (Go West! Travel to the Wild Frontier). Crabtree. 2016. lib. ed. $27.60. pap. $8.95. ebk. $41.40.

Gr 4-8 –Old-timey fonts and star-spangled borders lure readers to the mother lode of information regarding every aspect of American frontier life: buffalo hunting, mining and prospecting, trading, building a home, running a business, and more. The text is full of newsy, engaging facts that entertain and enlighten. Students will be interested to learn the origin of blue jeans in Miners and the first transcontinental telephone line in Trailblazers. It is refreshing to see that the stories of often marginalized peoples are not relegated to one section or title. The rich and storied roles of Native Americans, African Americans, Latin Americans, and women as cowboys, hunters, explorers, scouts, politicians, entertainers, and more are integral to the series. VERDICT The bright layout and well-researched content make this series a top pick.

DeMocker, Michael. The Lenape. ISBN 9781624691621; ISBN 9781624691638.

Orr, Tamra. The Navajo. ISBN 9781 624691645; ISBN 9781624691652.

Rice, Earle, Jr. The Cheyenne. ISBN 9781 624691669; ISBN 9781624691676.

Roberts, Russell. The Cherokee. ISBN 9781 624691560; ISBN 9781624691577.

––––. The Comanche. ISBN 9781624691607; ISBN 9781624691614.

ea vol: 48p. (We Were Here First: The Native Americans). photos. Purple Toad. 2016. lib. ed. $29.95. ebk. $29.95.

Gr 4-8 –Here are detailed books on various Native American tribes and their traditions, gender roles, pastimes, foods, shelters, and more. The works are full of drama and action, with a colorful and organized design. However, the series has faults. For example, Comanche opens from the perspective of the white Parker family and uses the kidnapping of Cynthia Parker as a narrative thread, failing to provide an alternative to harmful stereotypes. In Cheyenne, amid a discussion about unemployment, the author comments, “Ironically, their reservation sits atop rich coal deposits that could be exploited and provide a profusion of much-needed jobs.” This comes across as insensitive, as this is not a viable option for the Cheyenne people. VERDICT Though well documented and compelling, this series is marred by racial insensitivity.

Hyde, Natalie. The Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. ISBN 9780778725701; ISBN 9780778725725; ISBN 9781427117601.

Peppas, Lynn. The Displacement of Native Peoples. ISBN 9780778725718; ISBN 9780778725732; ISBN 9781427117618.

ea vol: 48p. (Uncovering the Past: Analyzing Primary Sources). glossary. index. photos. Crabtree. 2016. lib. ed. $31.32. pap. $10.95. ebk. $46.98.

Gr 6-8 –These series additions continue to underline the importance of primary source materials in researching and understanding history. Key concepts such as primary source, secondary source, and bias are defined in general terms. Each title goes on to explore these concepts in greater detail using a specific time period or event as an illustrative framework. In addition to the standard-issue captions, many illustrations are shown with one or both of these additional sidebars: “Evidence Record Card” and “Analyze This.” The first lists the provenance of the illustration. The latter points out details and poses questions designed to encourage critical thinking. VERDICT Those who serve middle grade readers and can afford only one series this year should make it this one.

Leavitt, Amie Jane. Going Underground. ISBN 9781624692192.

O’Neal, Claire. Free at Last? ISBN 9781624692154.

––––. The Need for Flight. ISBN 9781624692178.

Wilson, Wayne L. Famous Fighters. ISBN 9781624692130.

ea vol: 48p. (Footsteps to Freedom: The Underground Railroad). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. illus. index. notes. photos. websites. Purple Toad. 2016. lib. ed. $29.95.

Gr 4-8 –This series focuses on the people who actively worked to undermine and abolish the institution of American slavery. Each title begins with a true, gripping narrative concerning a pivotal event in a slave or abolitionist’s life and goes on to describe various aspects of slavery: how it started in America, why it proliferated in the South more than in the North, what daily life was like for slaves, and the role of abolitionists. The highlight of this series is the use of citations throughout each volume. It is essential for young readers to become familiar with proper research methods. Because the authors provide citations and sources, readers can follow in their footsteps—a great opportunity for further learning. However, there are occasional missteps in word choice; references to “kind” masters throughout the text are unnecessary. VERDICT Well researched, though at times lacking appropriate word choices.

Marriott, Emma. Did Anything Good Come Out of the Great Depression? ISBN 9781508170723; ISBN 9781508170730.

––––. Did Anything Good Come Out of World War II? ISBN 9781508170709; ISBN 9781508170716.

Mason, Paul. Did Anything Good Come Out of the Cold War? ISBN 9781508170662; ISBN 9781508170679.

Steele, Philip. Did Anything Good Come Out of the Civil War? ISBN 9781508170747; ISBN 9781508170754.

––––. Did Anything Good Come Out of the Vietnam War? ISBN 9781508170761; ISBN 9781508170778.

––––. Did Anything Good Come Out of World War I? ISBN 9781508170686; ISBN 9781508170693.

ea vol: 48p. (Innovation Through Adversity). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Rosen YA. 2016. lib. ed. $30.25. ebk. $30.25.

Gr 4-8 –Each title begins with a focused crash course, allowing readers to dive in without much prior knowledge of the featured epoch. The remainder of each volume describes innovations that occurred in the days and decades following. Though the series’ title suggests otherwise, not all of the changes were favorable. Without minimizing relevant horrors, the authors point out how tragedy inspired revolutions in arts and the media and led to positive change (in most cases) via new technologies and the reworking of government policies. Each volume is packed with illustrations. VERDICT Solid purchases.

Crabtree’s “Uncovering the Past” is a top pick for sources cited, emphasizing that quality research and responsible use of materials are hallmarks of great nonfiction. Gareth Stevens’s “My Place in History” and Powerkids’ “Spotlight on Native Americans” make history accessible to very young readers. Rosen YA’s “Innovation Through Adversity” excels at looking at issues from more than one viewpoint.

Jennifer Prince, Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.