Kids' American History Reads

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Kids' American History Reads

In coordination with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Read about America with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History! These picture and chapter books are wonderful family reads and are a great tool to help your family develop a sense of home and aspiration for the future of the country. Whether you're a history buff or just avoiding summer slide, these picks will move you, inspire you, and wrap you up in a world that was, so that you can help to decide what the world will become. 

Picture Books

We Came to America
by Faith Ringgold
Visionary American artist Faith Ringgold provides an easy to understand history of American immigration for young children. Perfect for a story time or for family discussion on the development of a nation over time, this picture book is an excellent addition to your summer list.

Her Right Foot
by Dave Eggers
Her Right Foot features the unique construction paper collages of Shawn Harris to tell the story of the Statue of Liberty and why her right foot is important. Eggers' stylistic humor runs throughout to help families learn about the statue's past and to make a guess at where she is going.

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Sylvia Mendez moved to Westminster, California in 1944 when her father bought a farm there. Even though her family lived close to a beautiful and well performing school, the school told Sylvia's family that she had to go to the Westminster Mexican school that was farther away and not as nice. Sylvia's family knew that this wasn't fair, so they fought the school in court. Tonatiuh's book is a great tool for talking with kids about social injustices in American history.

The Case for Loving
by Selina Alko
In 1958, Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving got married. They had to travel to Washington, D.C. for their wedding because interracial marriage was not allowed in their home state of Virginia. When they moved back to their home, the state decided that their marriage license didn't count and arrested them. After living in D.C. for a long time, the Loving family decided to challenge the laws of Virginia and their case went all the way to the supreme court, paving the way for many other loving families. 

Side by Side/Lado a Lado
by Monica Brown
This warmly illustrated bilingual picture book follows the lives and work of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, including their work to bring justice to farmworkers and the immigration act of 1986. Dolores and Cesar both spent their growing up years in California. Dolores became a teacher and Cesar became a farmer. Together they worked for 30 years to make sure that the people who worked on farms would be treated fairly. 

Yo Soy Muslim: A Father's Letter to His Daughter
by Mark Gonzales
Today's young American children are making tomorrow's history. Mark Gonzales' poetic message to his daughter brilliantly illustrates themes that America has faced time and again throughout its history and today. Multicultural identity, family, and adversity are all topics that America continually encounters on its path to the future. 

Chapter Books

Makoons
By Louise Erdrich
Are you concerned about Laura Ingalls Wilder no longer having her name on an award? Are you wondering how you will now teach your children about Westward expansion without the Little House books? Fear not! You can immerse yourself in book five of Louise Erdrich's Birchbark series! Makoons and his twin brother Chickadee are growing up in the plains during the 1860s. Makoons wants to become a great buffalo hunter, but the bison seem to be disappearing, and there is talk of moving even further west. Over the course of the 1800s America continuously broke the treaties it had made with Native Nations like the Ojibwe, and sent pioneers into their land. The forced displacement and the rise of the fur trade led to American bison being hunted almost to extinction by the 1880s. 

Esperanza Rising
by Pam Muñoz Ryan
When Esperanza's father dies, she and her mother must move from their beautiful ranch in Aguascalientes, Mexico to the United States to find work. Based on the true experiences of migrant workers in the 1920s and 1930s, and recounted stories from Ryan's grandmother, this poetic work is a great example of Pam Muñoz Ryan's insights and observations on unsung aspects of American history. 

Bird in a Box
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Set in the Great Depression during the lead up to Joe Louis' 1937 match to become heavyweight champion of the world, this children's novel touches upon day to day life in the late 1930s. Louis' victories brought hope to people who struggled while living through job loss, a lack of safety net, and a confusion about the direction of the county. Follow the intertwined stories of Hibernia, Willie, and Otis as they grow up in this complex era. 

The Watsons go to Birmingham 1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis
This Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor book lyrically reveals Kenny Watson's summer of 1963, when his older brother Byron began getting in so much trouble that the family decided to drop him off at Grandma's house in Birmingham, Alabama. Making their way down to the heat of the south and staying with their grandmother, the Watsons encounter new experiences that will change their lives. On September 15, 1963 four KKK members planted dynamite in the basement of Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four girls and injuring 22 others. The bombing was a turning point in the direction of the 1960's civil rights movement. 

One Crazy Summer
by Rita Williams-Garcia
This spectacular novel set in 1968 won the Coretta Scott King Award and is also a Newbery Honor book. Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are off to Oakland to visit their mother Cecile for the first time in years. Cecile is not quite what they expected. She writes poetry and socializes with the Black Panthers, who the girls have heard about in the news. When the Black Panther Party started in 1966, its original goal was to challenge police brutality in Oakland. By 1969, the goals of the party had expanded to focus on community social programs, like free community breakfasts for children and community health clinics nationwide.

Inside Out & Back Again
by Thanhha Lai
Based on Lai's own experience moving to America during the Vietnam War, this award winning work is made up of poems. Lai tells the story of Hà, who moves with her family to Alabama as refugees in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. During the Spring of 1975, over 125,000 Vietnamese refugees began their journeys to America. In order to reduce the impacts on individual American communities, the U.S. dispersed these refugees throughout the country. This often left refugees feeling isolated, since they were located far from people who could relate to their lived experiences.

I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005
by Lauren Tarshis
Barry’s family is trying to get out of town since a massive hurricane is headed their way, but traffic is awful and Barry’s little sister Cleo isn’t feeling well, so they decide to wait out the storm at their house in New Orleans' lower ninth ward. Lauren Tarshis’ “I Survived” series follows historical disasters on a level that reaches even reluctant readers. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina decimated the city of New Orleans, leaving 1,500 deaths and vast destruction in its wake. By examining how America responded to Katrina, young Americans have a chance to build their own vision of how the country can compassionately and efficiently approach natural disasters.

These are just starter books! Visit your local DC public library for more historical family reads.