Successful historical fiction books are books which have characters who become quite real to the readers. Pleasant Company produces the American Girl series. These books select a particular time in our country’s history and presents that era through the eyes of a young girl.
When I first introduced the Felicity series to my third graders I started from the back of the book, introducing the “A Peek Into The Past” section. In this section factual information, photos and maps captured the attention of my students, especially the boys in the class. Many of the boys were not interested in a “girl’s book”, however, when they realized that Felicity was living through the Revolutionary War…they were hooked. My students wanted more information about the lives of the people who really existed in those times, people such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Sybil Ludington. A terrific book by David Catrow entitled We The Kids The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, explains the meaning of the words through comical and informative illustrations.
The Addy books introduce an African American girl seeking freedom during the Civil War. The back of the book with its factual photos and information draws the students into the horrors of slavery. The facts are always presented in age appropriate fashion. This book led to Patricia Polacco’s outstanding book, Pink and Say. This book is a true story about Patricia Polacco’s ancestor, Sheldon Russell Curtis and his story about Pinkus Aylee. Pink finds Say wounded in the battlefield and takes him home to his mother to rest and heal. It is a powerful story which always leaves me crying as I complete the final page. The last quotation, “This is the hand, that has touched the hand, that has touched the hand, that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln.”is quite powerful!
The character representing 1854 and the life of pioneers and immigrants is Kirsten. Kirsten’s Swedish family moves to Minnesota and finds the society so very different from their homeland. This excellent series led to wonderful discussions about immigrants. Each student would need to go home and find information about their own ancestors and learn about their history. Two books which successfully presented the adjustments immigrants needed to make when they came to America are Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen and Hitty’s Travels …Ellis Island Days written by Ellen Weiss. Many students returned to class and shared their family’s experiences when they first visited Ellis Island. We even concluded this unit of study with parents bringing in tasty foods from the home of their ancestors for us all to share in an international luncheon.
All of the books I mentioned were used by my third graders with great success. Learning historical facts through the eyes of boys and girls their own age, helped my students better understand how America was formed and why it is such a wonderful country.