Did I mention that we’re drowning in the colonial and revolutionary books? Well, we really, really are. I felt like we managed to read all the things I wanted to read about Jamestown and Plymouth, as well as books about the beginnings of the colonies, but once we got into the colonial period, the biographies began to pile up. There’s not time for them all! Yet there’s so many good ones. I’m sure this only even scratches the surface. Here’s what we’ve done so far.
First of all, the series books:
A Picture Book of… by David Adler
This series of biographies covers many figures throughout history, not just during this time period, however there were a number of good people covered, including John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Hancock and others. Most of the older entries in the series have cartoon style drawings, but a few of the newer ones have different illustrators. One of the nice things about this series is that all the books focus on the youth of the figure, which makes them easy to relate to for children. They’re easy to read and not too long. They’re also really succinct without being too detailed.
Jean Fritz’s Books
These are the classic books for this time period. Jean Fritz wrote wonderful, readable books about nearly every major figure in the Revolutionary War, from Sam Adams to John Hancock. We’re slowly working our way through them. They have a sense of humor and nice, light illustrations, but are also filled with solid information told in a way kids want to hear. They make good independent reads as well, though Mushroom isn’t quite up to these yet, so we’ve mostly been reading everything aloud.
Betsey Maestro’s Books
The entries for this time period are The Struggle for a Continent, about the French and Indian Wars and Liberty or Death about the Revolutionary War. Each book is detailed; we usually try not to read it all in one sitting. There may have been too much detail about the French and Indian Wars. They’re a sadly forgotten set of conflicts considering their importance, but in the end, I just want my boys to get the outline and I think they got a bit bogged down by this telling, especially in the complete absence of any other resources on the topic. Our library literally had nothing else of note about the wars that so greatly shaped our continent. However, overall, this is our spine for this time period. I appreciate the beautiful illustrations as well.
Stand alone titles we’ve really enjoyed:
Ben and Me by Robert Lawson
This classic short chapter book has had such an effect on the kids and how they see Ben Franklin that they keep telling me Amos the mouse and narrator of the story is actually hiding in Franklin’s hat whenever they see him in a picture or on Liberty’s Kids. Despite the bizarre premise that a mouse was really responsible for all of Franklin’s greatest triumphs, it’s an oddly sweet book as Amos and Ben reach old age having accomplished so much. You can also find the short Disney film here.
George Washington’s Teeth by Deborah Chandra
This was so short and funny that it was hard to believe it was true. However, as a timeline in the back details, Washington’s dental troubles were ongoing throughout the Revolution and he indeed helped design his own false teeth. We laughed (and cringed!) about this one and read it again. The illustrations are also lighthearted to go with the text and there’s a nice, clean look to the pages.
Take the Lead, George Washington by Judith St. George
This biography was detailed but focused entirely on how Washington grew up into the man he later became. The storytelling style really appealed to Mushroom and BalletBoy, who were much more riveted by this one than the others. The illustrations are bold and colorful and it makes Washington’s life into much more a story and less of a set of dry facts. I think they really connected to him here.
Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak by Kay Winters
We alternated reading this book, which has several different tradesmen in Boston on the eve of the Boston Tea Party, all going about their business and preparing for protest. Each page has a different voice told in free form poetry. I liked the illustrations and the emphasis on how ordinary people, as opposed to the “great men” we often hear about, helped begin the Revolution.
Let It Begin Here! by Dennis Brindell Fradin
Would you believe we read two children’s picture books about the first battles of the Revolution with the same title? Well, we liked this slightly shorter one, which had more detailed illustrations better. Be warned though, it had some gruesome bits. People are bayoneted and both the text and the pictures make it clear that people died in some sad ways.
John, Paul, George and Ben by Lane Smith
This book is obviously a lighthearted take, not to be taken too seriously, but you have to have a little of that, don’t you? It’s a silly look at the childhoods of our founding fathers, imagining that the traits that made them famous as adults were an annoyance in their childhood. For example, Paul Revere is shown shouting everything loudly in class as a child, only to find a good use when he has to warn everyone the Regulars are coming. It’s one of those books that’s funnier when you know the back stories.
George vs. George by Rosalyn Schanzer
This book is from National Geographic, who have been issuing more and more quality narrative picture books in the last decade about science and history. There are several good ones from them about the founding of the colonies as well, mostly using beautifully done photographic illustrations. This book is a little shorter (though still a long read aloud) by their standards and uses nice cartoonish illustrations. It alternates perspectives and gives a clearer picture for kids as to why the British did what they did without painting them as one-dimensional “bad guys.”