Great Children's Books for Young History Buffs

Posted by Cybil on August 07, 2017


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Laurel Snyder is the author of six novels for children including Bigger than a Bread Box, Penny Dreadful, and Orphan Island. She's also written many picture books, including Charlie and Mouse and Swan, the Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Snyder is also an occasional commentator for NPR's All Things Considered.

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When I was a kid, I didn't like history. History was boring. History meant textbooks. So I was surprised when my kids first began reading on their own, and immediately gravitated to history.

That was when I discovered how much "history" has changed. Historical books today are written with kids in mind, incorporating innovative forms, dramatic content, humor, and a much more kid-friendly tone. A reader obsessed with, say, Legos, can learn about their creation. Likewise superheroes, chocolate, or ballerinas.

Maybe the best illustration of this is the current craze for the founding fathers, spurred by the hit smash musical Hamilton. Kids determined not to throw away their shots are reaching for library books about the American revolution, and Martha Brockenbrough's Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary is about to be their new favorite.

At my own house, where WWI is a regular dinner conversation topic (I'm still not sure exactly how that happened), Nathan Hale's graphic novel Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood was a huge discovery, and it opened the door to other chapters in American history, as my kids worked their way through Hale's Alamo All Stars and Donner Dinner Party, among others. And of course, because we happen to live in Atlanta, (we're proud to be residents of John Lewis' congressional district), all of the incredible March books are worn from countless rereadings.

I volunteer at our school library, and can't help but notice that kids also seem to adore books that view history through a quirky or surprising lens. Great examples of this are Sarah Albee's Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up, Bugged: How Insects Changed History, and Why'd They Wear That?

Even for fiction lovers, history is front and center. Kate Messner's popular Ranger in Time series follows a time-traveling golden retriever back to a vast array of historical moments, from ancient Rome to the Oregon Trail.

And for younger readers, picture books now approach a crazy array of topics kids can't help but love, from Chris Barton and Don Tate's Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions to The Secret Subway by Shana Corey and Red Nose Studio, or The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller and Vincent X. Kirsch.

Of course, kids will always love the imaginary world—full of wizarding schools and demigods. But it's been wonderful for me to see how kids today can relate to historical books, which is—it seems—no less surprising or dramatic or funny than fiction.

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary
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Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood
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Bugged: How Insects Changed History
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March: Book One
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Rescue on the Oregon Trail
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Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Alamo All-Stars
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Why'd They Wear That?
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Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions
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You can find all of Laurel Snyder's books here. Have a young history buff in your life? Be sure to add some of Snyder's recommendations to your Want to Read shelf.

Check out more of our back-to-school coverage:
Rick Riordan's Books to Hook Middle School Readers
How to Encourage Kids to Read (Plus Some Modern Children's Classics)
As Diverse Kids' Books Increase, A Chance for More Muslim Stories

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Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by James (new)

James Hartley Interesting, Laura - I´ve always liked history, even as a child, and now write books based on Shakespeare´s plays for young teenagers which take in a lot of aspects of time travel and visiting past times (see attached book).

Years ago I read a book about an oak tree and I´ve never been able to track it down. It was about an oak and the book was basically about all the events which happened under the tree, or around it. I really think it was called The Oak (!!). Not sure if anyone else has ever read it or has a copy? I don´t remember the book being great, but I always loved the idea.
The Invisible Hand: Shakespeare's Moon, Act I


message 2: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale Why aren't books like the Little House series here?


message 3: by Sandi (new)

Sandi Gill James wrote: "Interesting, Laura - I´ve always liked history, even as a child, and now write books based on Shakespeare´s plays for young teenagers which take in a lot of aspects of time travel and visiting past..."

Would this be Solomon's Oak by Jo Ann Mapson?


message 4: by James (new)

James Hartley Sandi wrote: "James wrote: "Interesting, Laura - I´ve always liked history, even as a child, and now write books based on Shakespeare´s plays for young teenagers which take in a lot of aspects of time travel and..."

Nope, Sandi - published in 2010. I read this book when I was about 15, so 1988-ish. I get the feeling it was published well before that - think it was a Puffin book, which was a Penguin imprint for children.

Thanks, though!


message 5: by SLoMoe (new)

SLoMoe James wrote: "Interesting, Laura - I´ve always liked history, even as a child, and now write books based on Shakespeare´s plays for young teenagers which take in a lot of aspects of time travel and visiting past..."

The Oak by Geoffrey Patterson? This review of the book seems like what you were describing. https://www.google.com/amp/s/inlandin...


message 6: by James (new)

James Hartley Wow, Stephanie - think that´s it - although I don´t remember so many pictures!! Thank you - will keep looking just in case (my search has shown me there have been a fair few variations on the theme). The one I remember had a medieval knight resting under the tree - can´t tell from that review if it was that one!

Closest yet, though!

Thanks!


message 7: by Cathy (new)

Cathy Russo I agree reading is wonderful thing. I tell my boys read read theres nothing like reading books they help be better . kids now a days rather being on cell phones, playing games and is okay for a little bit but better dive into a great book. Is great


message 8: by Rosemary (new)

Rosemary Rosemary Your article reminds me why I write historical fiction:
The Wampum Exchange, a multicultural novella about an early settler, Daniel, and a Corchaug native in colonial America and their lives.
Captain Henry Green, a Whaler, set in the 1800's during the whaling industry.
Both entertain while informing children and adults of our past history.


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