Historical Fiction Overload

We’ve been a little overloaded with historical fiction read alouds for American history this year.  In the middle of the last book, both kids gave me a pleading look and declared that they were done.  They wanted something different so we’re reading Harriet the Spy followed by The Hobbit.  Still, it was a nice run while it lasted.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
Unlike the rest of these, which we read more of less back to back, we read this gem earlier in the year.  It’s the story of a young Objiwa girl and her family in the mid-1800’s.  Seven year-old Omakayas sees both beauty and tragedy in this story, which is one of the most beautifully written books we’ve read in our homeschool.

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I’m not personally a huge fan of the Little House books.  If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you may even remember a bit of a rant about how I do not get the fanaticism over them.  However, people convinced me to read this volume aloud, about the early years of Wilder’s husband Almanzo in New York.  It has lovely descriptions of food and farm chores.  While it’s lacking in much plot, my boys enjoyed the anecdotal quality of the story.  It was hit.

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
This recent book about the Civil War won a Newbery Honor.  In Homer’s funny voice, it tells the rollicking adventures of a young boy from Maine on a quest to save his older brother from the battlefield by chasing the Union Army all the way to Gettysburg.  On the way, he meets with some tragic and many amusing adventures and tells numerous lies.  While we enjoyed it (and I really loved it), this was the book that broke the camel’s back for the kids, who are clearly done with historical fiction for awhile.  The kids laughed at Homer’s adventures, but they also asked to finish quick.

Bull Run by Paul Fleischman
This is a short volume about the Civil War battle of Bull Run.  Paul Fleischman tells the story in more than a dozen voices, from an elderly southern lady to a Union general to a young Georgia boy in the Confederate army band.  It’s very different from most of the historical fiction for children, but the writing in the different voices is so strong and the tiny chapters worked well for me to occasionally pass the book to the kids to hear them read aloud as well.

The Great Brain and the rest of the series by John Fitzgerald
We tore through these books about a Catholic family in a small Utah town near the turn of the century.  Younger brother JD tells the story of his con-artist brother Tom’s wild exploits and rescues. Sometimes there is genuine drama and tension, such as when a murderer kidnaps a young boy, but most of the stories are much more lighthearted and a lot less tragic than some of the other historical fiction books we read, which probably explains why we read so many of them.  These gave us a great opportunity to talk about how narrators don’t always give the whole picture, as JD is often fooled by Tom in ways obvious to the reader.

Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm
This is the story of a tomboy girl in an isolated Finnish immigrant community in the Pacific Northwest around the turn of the century.  May Amelia has such a strong, funny voice, told in an interesting dialect that my kids found her very compelling.  This book swings from very funny to extremely sad in places, comparable with The Birchbark House in terms of tragedy and death.  Still, understanding that death was so much more common in the past seems like an essential part of history and I hope my boys have been benefiting from reading so much cathartic literature.

The Saturdays and the rest of the Melendy series by Elizabeth Enright
This charming series of four books about a set of four siblings was not historical fiction when it first came out.  However, the themes of buying bonds and planting Victory Gardens make it such.  Even just the old cars and the descriptions of New York before the war are great for historical setting.  In fact, all the descriptions in this series are beautifully written and richly detailed.  These books are often compared to the Penderwicks series, and the comparison is justified.  My kids enjoyed them greatly.

5 thoughts on “Historical Fiction Overload

  1. Did you know that there are two sequels to The Birch Bark House? They are The Game of Silence and The Porcupine Year. We also did The Birch Bark House as a read aloud and I plan to do these two this year. My kids love books with sequels.

    Yes, I would say that was quite a run on historical fiction! We do try to tie our read alouds to our history but sometimes we diverge as well. I think that sometimes the kids just want something different and since our read aloud is our break during school it’s nice to get lost in something that you’re not knee deep in. But of course maps, vocab, reading comprehension, etc. gets thrown in informally that it’s school anyways–just off topic. There are just too many great books to read that limiting read alouds to the history time period is just, well, too limiting!

    Love your blog.

  2. Woohoo! I am so glad you finally read Farmer Boy! I agree, not much of an overall plot. I read random chapters as free standing short stories because that’s how they “feel” to me. Thanks for sharing your list.

  3. Hi There,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, which I found noodling around while researching homeschooling (recently started!). I love reading and reading aloud and look forward your reviews.
    Louise Erdrich is a favorite of mine, but I hadn’t heard of The Birch Bark House so that will be a treat to look forward to.
    Farmer Boy on the other hand, recently finished as a read aloud to my daughter, I found pure drudgery; endless descriptions of tools and machinery (which I can’t visualize depute the excruciating detail), the one-dimensional portrayal of the adults in the book and near complete lack of plot all drove me to distraction. Farmer Boy induced the same mixture of dread and ennui I felt when my daughter wanted me to read Harold and the Purple Crayon over and over again.
    I’d recommend ‘Caddie Woodlawn’ as a superior read for the time period.
    Thanks for your terrific reviews,
    Heather

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