Getting Back to American History

We are resuming our study of American history finally.  We’ll be diving into a lot of good fiction that will cover the Civil War, Western expansion and general American nostalgia.  First up, I’ve been convinced we have to read Farmer Boy.  Longtime readers of this blog may remember that I’m not much of a Little House lover, but we’re going to give it a shot.

However, we began by reading the first few chapters in Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans by Kadir Nelson.

The book covers the arrival of the first Africans in America through the Civil Rights movement and I’m sure we’ll return to it and read the subsequent chapters as well as we reach the topics.  It’s a well-designed book, with illustrations worthy of the National Portrait Gallery, which is no surprise since the author’s background is as an illustrator.  The text, while still a history book, is in the voice of an African-American storyteller, including some dialect and many personal references.  The strong voice appealed to me as an innovative technique in a children’s history book and I was thrilled that it was narrative instead of blurby, but I wasn’t sure how well it would work with my kids.  After reading the preface, we talked a little bit about voice and the style of the book before reading on.  Quickly, I realized it was perfectly suited for young audiences.  Mushroom and BalletBoy immediately gravitated to the storyteller’s personal details, especially the grandfather called “Pap” in the first chapter on slavery.  These aspects of the narrative grounded the story in reality for them.

I strongly recommend this book for any family with elementary school children who are studying American history or simply for anyone who wants a resource to explore African-American history.  It’s not a terribly in depth resource, but it gives such a good overview in such a compelling way.

7 thoughts on “Getting Back to American History

  1. I love Kadir Nelson’s illustrations too.

    I am glad you’ve been convinced to read Farmer Boy. It’s much more interesting to me than all those Little House books. Maybe because it’s only ONE book instead of a million. Plus the family isn’t starving all the time.

  2. Farmer Boy is OK: lots of good food description. I edited out the bit where the ‘big boys’ at the school beat the school teacher to death though.

  3. Yes! My main memory of Farmer Boy is DOUGHNUTS. And growing the pumpkin. Good stuff in there.

    Spinoff/related followup no one ever listens to me about: Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. 🙂

  4. We have Heart and Soul – such a great book. Thanks for reminding me about it! I’m starting to think about next year and I’m going to pull it out now. 🙂

  5. We just started Heart and Soul. The boys were so depressed by the chapters in SOTW that covered slavery. What a hard topic for hopeful minds.

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