Now, for historical fiction and nonfiction

I’m not done with the science fiction list yet–I’m afraid I’ve been sidetracked by actual work, which is a good thing!–but Quimby over at Feminist Mormon Housewives has a particular question which I thought we could help out with. She asks:

I have this kind of wonky idea that I’d like to introduce my children to some of the more difficult historical themes (racism, slavery, indigenous issues) through good children’s literature. But since I don’t really know what constitutes good children’s literature (my children are, after all, still in the board book stage) I thought I’d ask you for some suggestions.

In addition to books with historical themes, I’m also interested in books with themes that address indigenous religions or mythology. (Hey, all you Aussie lurkers, this is for you: Do any of you know a good children’s book about Dreamtime?%

Note that Quimby is an American (USian) living in Australia, so books about pretty much all over the world work for her, but I imagine books involving Australian history and American history would be of most pertinence.

My list is completely incomplete, but I love historical fiction and there’s a lot of great historical nonfiction out there for kids and young adults, too. Let’s break up the list, so as not to completely overwhelm, but feel free to mention any books of a proven quality that fit her need.

Here’s my own very partial list. I’ll have to add to it later when I have time to sit down and look at the excellent nonfiction sitting on my shelf. I wish I had the time to do an annotated bibliography, but for that, you’ll have to look to your local librarian, the many great children’s book lists out there, and others.

Here’s the list I started over there:

One book that I love is by Jacqueline Woodson, a picture book call The Other Side. It’s about a girl who sees another girl on the other side of the fence who is of a different race, and it’s a very quiet picture book about how these two girls become friends. She’s got a lot of really great books, illustrated by award-winning illustrators like Jon J. Muth (who illustrated several GREAT picture books like Zen Shorts and Stone Soup and Come on Rain!).

Then there’s Remember by Toni Morrison, which has some GREAT historical pictures about school segregation and the process of desegregation

Allen Say, Grandfather’s Journey–Japanese man immigrates to the U.S.

Walter Dean Myers, Blues Journey–Caldecott Honor about the history of the blues. Amazing illustrations

In fact there are a lot of great picture books out there on race, but you have to be choosy. There are some really bad picture books out there on Rosa Parks, for example, that perpetuate the myth that she was tired instead of actively working as a part of the bus strikes, etc.

Oh, and there’s Remembering Manzanar, which might be a little controversial because it’s a memoir.

Then there are books for much older readers which Quimby should read just because they’re really good books, and will still be classics when her kids are old enough to read them:

When My Name Was Keoko, Linda Sue Park—a Korean sister and brother are forced to change their names, when the Japanese forced the country to give up their Korean identities (WWII)

A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park—Newbery Medal—Tree-ear is an orphan boy in a 12th-century Korean potters’ village

Blue Willow, Doris Gates. An itinerant farm worker family struggle to adapt to the Great Depression.

A Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck—Newbery Honor—a brother and sister travel from their home in Chicago to stay with their eccentric grandmother for a Depression summer. And just dang funny.
A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck—Newbery Medal—sequel to A Long Way from Chicago

My Brother Sam Is Dead, James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier—Newbery Honor.
Revolutionary War about a young boy whose family gets involved in the war.

The Devil’s Arithmetic, Jane Yolen. Part time travel, part historical fiction–modern girl gets sucked back into the Holocaust. Mature subject, obviously, but handled in a way that is sensitive to a middle-grade reader.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare. Witchcraft in pilgrim-era Massachusetts. Don’t think it’s actually Salem, but it’s been a few years.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor. In Depression-era Mississippi, Cassie and her family struggle as a land-holding black family.

Those books above are ones I regularly recommend, so it was nice to have them explained already in a handout I already had put together!

Some authors to look for–pretty much anything by them will be good. Most are nonfiction for children and young adults:

  • Susan Campbell Bartoletti (books include Black Potatoes–great book on the Irish potato famine that sticks with me today; Kids on Strike! about child workers; Growing Up in Coal Country)
  • Jim Murphy (An American Plague, Across America on an Emigrant Train, A Young Patriot (Rev. War), Pick and Shovel Poet, The Boys’ War (Civil War))
  • Russell Freedman (great books include Newbery Award-winning Lincoln: A Photobiography)
  • Elizabeth Partridge (wonderful biography of Woody Guthrie called This Land Is Your Land: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie)
  • James Cross Giblin (Sibert award-winning Life and Death of Adolf Hitler)
  • Candace Fleming (Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Remarkable Life)
  • Joyce Hansen and Gary McGowan (Freedom Roads: Searching for the Underground Railroad)

Well, that’s all I got for tonight. Good night! Feel free to add to this haphazard list.