My husband loves history. He becomes animated about any historical topic. We discuss links between fiction and history, and we cover a lot of history while homeschooling (this year’s focus is the American Revolution).
However, most children’s books about historical topics are not that much fun to read. They don’t engage the audience, and they either have so much text that it is overwhelming, or so little that there really isn’t much point in reading it. We recently found two great books about historical topics which presented them in a way that was fun for everyone – the audience AND the reader.
Sleds on Boston Common: A Story from the American Revolution, by Louise Borden, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker is a fictionalization of a true story during the American Revolution. This book is a bit heavy on the text, but it gives you the background about just how many British soldiers were in Boston in the winter of 1774-5 (1 soldier for ever 5 citizens). The main character is Henry, a young boy who just received a homemade sled for his birthday. At lunch, he and his brothers and sister go to Boston Common to use his new sled on the sled run before classes resume. However, when they arrive at the Common, they find that the troops have broken the ice on the ponds (so no ice skating), broken down the snow forts, and pitched tents and placed cooking fires on the sled run.
“For over a hundred years the Common belonged to everyone in Boston. Now it was covered by the barracks of General Gage’s troops.” General Thomas Gage was the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, and he was not well loved – he was enforcing a blockade on the harbor, and there were tough times during that winter. Henry and his siblings walked through the tents, keeping track of what they saw and heard for the Sons of Liberty. As they walk, they see General Gage, and he is speaking kindly to the troops, he “looked like a man who would listen, a good man, a man like my father.”
Henry goes up to General Gage, and requests that he listen to a town boy’s complaint. He explains the problem, and General Gage says that his children are in England, but they would also want to sled and skate if they were there. He instructs his troops to let the children sled (and move things from the sledding run) and leave the ice unbroken on one of the ponds for sledding.
The illustrations of this book match perfectly with the time period depicted, and the last pictures of the children sledding are wonderful, and evoke memories from anyone who has ever gone down a hill on a sled! The book finishes with a description of the beginning of the American Revolution, and has an Author’s note about what is true and what is fictionalized.
The Bus Ride that Changed History: The Story of Rosa Parks, by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Danny Shanahan is a book written in a completely different style. This book is written in a rhyming, repetitive form, so each page builds on the next (as in “the house that Jack built” or “there was an old woman who swallowed a fly”). However, in this book there are modern-day children asking and answering questions about Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights movement that unfolded because of her bravery.
The book starts with:
This is a law forbidding
black people to sit next to white people on buses
which was overturned because one woman was brave
The book continues as it describes the segregation, and the inequality and bullying that were a part of the segregation laws. The modern-day children who are discussing the laws (in little speech bubbles outside of the rhyming pattern), ask and answer the questions that most children would have while reading the book (which is lovely, because otherwise the designated reader would have to find the answers somewhere!).
This is Rosa Parks, who said “No!” to
the driver who told her to move for the white man
left standing near the seats of black passengers riding
the bus in Montgomery,
where they enforced a law forbidding
blacks to sit next to whites on buses
which was overturned because one woman was brave
The book then explains the bus boycott, the beginning of the civil rights movement and Dr. Marting Luther King, Jr., and the Supreme Court overturning the segregation laws. It gives children information without overwhelming them, nor by dumbing it down. There is also a time line at the end of the book which outlines Rosa Parks’ life. The pictures are perfect for the text – detailed, but almost cartoonish so they are not intimidating for the children.
We recommend Sleds on Boston Common: A Story from the American Revolution for boys and girls ages 6-11 or so, our 3 year old was not interested in the longer sections of text, but the older two were fascinated by the look into the lives of children in history.
We would recommend The Bus Ride that Changed History: The Story of Rosa Parks for boys and girls ages 3-10 or so. When I was writing up this review, my 3 year old came over and said, “will you read me the story of the woman who was brave?” It’s a wonderful book for beginning or continuing the discussion on civil rights.