If you’ve been watching the news recently, you’ve realized that sometimes even American leaders don’t understand American history. As we’re raising the next generation of American leaders, it’s important to make sure that we do better.
Memorial Day is a wonderful time to do that. It’s a day reserved to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by fighting and dying for their country. Since everyone has off school, it’s also a good day to sit down with a good book before you fire up that grill.
Here are some of our favorite books for teaching young children about American history. You can find all of them on Jet.com, where the more you buy, the more you save.
Colonial Times and Revolutionary War Books for Children
Before you can explain the plot, conflict and resolution of any story, you have to establish the setting. Because the United States, like our children, is so young, we’ll establish our setting as the 1700s, though there was definitely prior history that contributed to our nation’s birth.
The Sign of the Beaver
This Elizabeth George Speare novel examines the relationship between white settles and American Indians in the 18th century through the lens of an adventure novel. If you child needs to learn this history, they’re probably not native. Neither is the protagonist. But along his journey, his eyes are opened to another cultural viewpoint than his own—something your child is likely to experience along the way.
Unfortunately, slavery was embedded in American culture since before our nation’s inception. This novel tackles the situation with an empowering female lead. Isabel, a slave, turns rebel spy against her owners in an attempt to secure her own freedom. Inspiring, informative and page-turning, Chains was a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.
When Washington Crossed the Delaware
Historical non-fiction, this read covers the fateful and infamous winter battle at the tail end of 1776. Through hardship and seemingly unbeatable odds, these men fought for the independence and freedom from tyranny that they so ardently believed in, and that the majority of Americans still believe in today.
Civil War Books for Children
Don’t let anyone tell you the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. It was. The morality of the practice was questioned from the time of our nation’s birth, and finally came to a head in the mid 1800’s.
If you want to argue that it was a war over economics, that’s fine, but it is indisputable that the economy of the South was entirely and cripplingly dependent on the existence of slavery. Whichever way you look at it, it all comes back to the question: Do we have the right to own other human beings?
The answer is an unequivocal no.
If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad
The bravery and initiative of those that established, facilitated and ran the Underground Railroad is awe-inspiring. In the face of dire consequences, people risked their lives to provide freedom to others—in many cases, even after they themselves had escaped. If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad is a great primer to this sector of history, even for the youngest of children.
Behind Rebel Lines
This piece of historical non-fiction follows the story of Emma Edmonds—a young girl who joined the Union army disguised as a boy. She went on to serve as a spy behind Confederate lines using a myriad of disguises and identities.
20th Century Books for Children
So much happened in the 1900s that we can’t possibly highlight features for every last war. We have picked two of our favorites, though we encourage you to search for more covering WWI, The Great Depression, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and all of the Cold War conflicts that continue to this day. There were also many important and relevant political and social movements during this time period that deserve a spot in your child’s education.
The Hope Chest
Violet, a young girl growing up in New York City, decides to follow her older sister to Tennessee where she is active in the suffragette movement. The path of the two girls is troubling to their parents, whose beliefs and social views are in conflict with Women’s Rights. This novel not only has an interesting plot line based around an extremely critical issue, but it also explores the cognitive dissonance that we all must eventually face as we grow up to realize that not every single one of our parents’ beliefs and viewpoints were infallible.
What Was D-Day?
D-Day led to the Allied victory in Europe in World War II. This books explores how the battle was planned and how it unfolded as American troops struck the first domino that spelled the end of the Nazi regime.