Living Books on the Revolutionary War

Dear Reader,

We have almost finished studying the American Revolution and so I thought I would give a list of what books we have used. I am pleased to say that there have been very few duds in this section.

To let you know where I am coming from — I am homeschooling four kids, ages 9, 10, 12 and 14. We take a Charlotte Mason approach to our schooling. We read “spine” books together which give an overview of the era and then each child has his or her own reading on the same time period, often more specific books which might just cover the life of one person or the details of one event. They also at times read historical fiction which I do not usually make them narrate. When we can, we also listen to audio books in the car that relate to the period we are studying and watch DVDs on it too.

Booklist for the Revolutionary War

Spine books:

This Country of Ours by H.E. Marshall — We began this book last year when we studied the colonization of America and are continuing through it this year. I continue to love this book. The chapters usually make a good reading in one sitting, though occasionally I have split them in two or combined two in one. Marshall does an excellent job of making history a story covering all the big events with just the right amount of detail.

George Washington’s World by Genevieve Foster — Foster’s books are also real treasures. Heritage History which we have used in the past recommends using two spines on any given period and I have found this to be helpful. I know the CM way is to read things once and expect kids to get them but the truth is different authors have different perspectives and I find it helpful to get a couple of looks at the period we are studying. We had been through American history once before when the kids were littler; this time I am trying to give more of the global perspective while still concentrating on America. Foster’s book is perfect for this. If I were using it alone, I would find its treatment of the important events in America like the Boston Tea Party and the Shot Heard Round the World too brief. Since we have already covered those with Marshall’s volume, Foster’s approach which spends a good deal of time on what was happening in other countries as well is the perfect complement. She does a great job of focusing on individual characters and of drawing together all the many strands of narrative she has so that what seems like a lot of loose ends in the beginning of the book all comes together by the end.

Stories of Massachusetts by Mara L. Pratt — Since we live in MA and a lot of the events of the revolution happened here, I decided this would be good time to try to delve a little deeper and read portions of this book on our home state specifically. My high schooler is exempt from this one as he has other work he needs to get done without his siblings. The style of this book is easy and conversational. The content is a bit of a mixed bag. The author has some really good stories to tell but at other times talks a lot about historic houses in the various towns of MA and tends to lose my kids’ interest. We are using the Kindle edition of this book which makes it hard to skip around and just select the best parts. It is also quite poorly edited and occasionally I can’t even figure out what it means to say.

Books for ym 9th grader:

Story of the Revolution by Albert Marrin — We had used one of Marrin’s books in the past, one on oil of all things, and I thought that he made what could have been a dry subject very interesting and informative. So I was excited to find that he had a book on the Revolution. My high schooler did not seem thrilled with this book (that is rare with books they know are for school anyway) but he did  a great job narrating it, which I consider a good test of a book, ad he learned a lot of details that we did not get in our other reading so I was pleased with this choice.

Year of the Hangman by Gary Blackwood We had also done a couple of Blackwood’s Shakespeare books as read alouds and I was pleased with them so I thought this would be good choice for my high schooler to give him a bit of historical fiction on the era. I do not have them narrate these books so I get less feedback but he says he likes the book (again, they hate to praise anything they know is schoolwork so this is a pretty glowing recommendation). It does not apparently have much to do with hangmen but the year 1777 was considered the year of the hangman because all the 7s in it look like nooses.


Books for the middle schooler:

Story of the Thirteen Colonies by Helene A. Guerber — This is another older book that we were able to get for free in the Kindle edition. It was really a bit on the easy side for my 8th grader but I couldn’t find much else to fill the gap. At times she seemed to have little to narrate. I think really she could have read Marrin’s book as her older brother did and this one would be better for a slightly younger child.

Toliver’s Secret by Esther Wood Brady– This was her historical fiction so again I got no narrations. Even my very contrary daughter says that “it is good for a shcool book.” It is the story fo a girl who disguises herself as boy to carry a secret message to General Washington. The whole girl disguised as boy thing seems a very common theme in books about this era.

Books for the upper elementary students:

American History Stories by Mara L. Pratt — This book seems to have a lot of chapters but each on is pretty brief so it really goes more quickly than one might expect on first inspection. I think the level was good for my 5th grader. I like the short chunks at this age even if he ends up doing two of them in a day. It seems to have been done a bit better than Pratt’s book on Massachusetts (see above). If it had editing errors, I think I would have heard about it and he never complained the book was unintelligible. It also seems to be better in terms of the content, I think because there is really more to say and it was hard to come up with enough to say on MA alone.

Arrow over the Door by Joseph Bruchac — This was my 5th grader’s historical fiction. It is the story of a Quaker boy in the year 1777. It seems just about right for his reading level and he says it is a good book.


Trouble at Otter Creek by Wilma Pitchford Hayes — This was an added book for my 5th grader. Though no otters seem to actually figure into the story, he loves otters and one of the characters shares his name so I thought I would make him read it. It is the story of a family who moves to Vermont and meets Ethan Allen. It was not a hard book for him and could be done by a child a year or two younger. It seemed like a good story though.


A Namesake for Nathan by Monjo – Yet another book for my 5th grader to fill in some gaps in our schedule (it is hard to keep everyone on the same reading schedule so we are all doing the same topics at roughly the same time!). Monjo is a favorite author who makes a good story of everything he writes. We used one of his books on the Pilgrims too. This one is about Nathan Hale.

King George’s Head was Made of Lead by Monjo — Another one by Monjo; this one is easier and shorter. I had my 4th grader read a number of smaller, shorter books. This one is really about a statue of King George but along the way it tells what happened to the actual King George III when his colonies rebelled. It is a clever little book and would be good for slightly younger kids too.

Phoebe the Spy by Judith Griffin — The story of a girl who saves George Washington from poisoning. My daughter is a sucker for stories of girls who do things. She really seemed to like this one and to appreciate the mystery involved in figuring out who was trying to poison General Washington. When Phoebe’s dad was mentioned in other books we read, she got quite excited so I know she connected with this book.

Carolina’s Courage by Elizabeth Yates — As I write this, my daughter has yet to read this book so I can’t say too much about it but we have liked Yates’ books in the past.

Secret Soldier by Ann McGovern — This is the story of Deborah Sampson who dresses as a man and fights in the war. She is from the town adjacent to us and there is a statue of her there so it seemed like a good one to read. And it is a good story. My daughter enjoyed it too.

Oodles of books by Jean Fritz — If you don’t know Jean fritz, check her out. She seems to have been quite prolific, especially on this period of American history. Each of her books focuses on a particular character. They are all the same length (about 44 pages of reading) and yet she is not overly formulaic. She makes a good story of each one. Some of the books available, many of which my 4th grader read, are:

What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?

Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams?

And then What Happened, Paul Revere?

Can’t You make them Behave, King George?

Will You Sign here, John Hancock?

Where was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?


Books we listened to:

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes — We listened to this classic years ago but no list of books on the Revolution would be complete without it so here it is. For reading level, it would be middle or high school.

Mr. Revere and I by Robert Lawson — This is Paul Revere’s story told from the point of view of his horse. It is a clever idea and I thought it was not a bad story. My kids found it too homeschool-y.

War Comes to Willy Freeman by James Lincoln Collier — A free African-American girl loses her parents and travels around Connecticut and New York searching for her mother disguised as a boy (yet another girl in boy’s clothes story). My children stated out opposed to this one as being educational but I think they were won over by the story in the end. It does start a bit slow then grow on you. My own caution would be that the girl is groped by soldiers early on and later almost assaulted by one; this might be something you wouldn’t want your kids to hear.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson — Like all of Anderson’s books, this one is unusual. The story is an odd one. It takes a bit to figure out what is going on and I don’t want to be a spoiler. It is the story of a boy and his mother who live in a house with a society of scientists who do weird experiments that often seem quite inhumane. It is set just before and during the revolution in and around Boston.  This was a hard book for my younger kids to understand. I would say it is definitely high school level,. There are bits that have mature themes, for instance the main character is asked to read some porn to his roommate. I didn’t think it went too far but one would need to be careful with younger kids.

The Rifle by Gary Paulsen — I had heard this book recommended in the context of the Revolutionary War and we have listened to and liked a number of Paulsen’s books, including his Mr. Tucket series which I would recommend, so I was optimistic about this one. I was disappointed. The book starts with a very long section describing the making of the rifle which is really the main character of the story. This really bored my kids (and me). The rifle itself is used in the Revolution, but this is a fairly small part of its history. Much of the story happens in modern times, and here the book veers into anti-NRA propaganda. The author seems pretty clearly (to me) to be saying in the end that despite what people say (“guns don’t kill people; people kill people”), guns do kill people. I am not a rabid pro-gun person. I have never used one or lived in a house with one. But I was really irritated by the tone and message of this book anyway. It doesn’t help that the one context in which religion is mentioned is to refer to one particularly deranged gun-toter as also a believer in Jesus. I have no doubt this character is an accurate depiction of how some people are, but I do think there are also more level-headed, intelligent pro-gun people and I know there are more level-headed Christians. I would recommend you skip this book.

Videos we watched:

The Crossing — Already reviewed here

Felicity — This is the American Girl movie. I was optimistic about it because we had seen and liked the one set during the Depression. This one was a disappointment. Read this post to get the specifics.

Schoolhouse Rock — The old classic from my childhood has a few segments that relate to this period. They are brief and perhaps not overly informative but always fun.

Soldiering Through History: Revolutionary War— This video and accompanying book were made by a group of homeschooling brothers. They are reenactors themselves and the main focus is on how to reenact being a Revolutionary war soldier. The video itself is only about 25 minutes long. They do cover things like how the soldiers dressed and it was informative but my kids didn’t find it thrilling. They also have videos on other wars America has been involved in If you child is more into soldiering than mine are, this might appeal to them. The book lists other resources but I found its activities too workbook-y for my tastes.

Liberty’s Kids — If you have never seen this TV show, it is worth a look. It was a series of cartoons set during the Revolutionary War. The premise is that there is a group of kids who work with Benjamin Franklin in his printing shop and find themselves in the midst of all the big events of the time. It is very entertaining. Though we had watched it all probably a couple of times previously and own the DVDs, I had never noticed the historical inaccuracies before, and there are a number of them. For this reason, I would recommend studying the war first and then watching the videos. For instance, in the first episode, “The Boston Tea Party,” the throwing of the tea happens as soon as the ship carrying it has docked whereas in reality there were a number of days in between. Also the tea was in barrels in the show while we, having been recently to the Tea Party Ship Museum, know it was in wooden chests. My kids noticed these discrepancies too which I suppose is a good sign.

Obviously there is a lot more out there on the American Revolution to read and see. This is all we had time for. Are there any favorites of yours we missed?




3 responses to this post.

  1. […] « Living Books on the Revolutionary War […]


  2. […] and informative. When we later watched Liberty’s Kids (a cartoon set in the Revolution; see this post), the kids were able to point out what was […]


  3. […] here, here, and here). This turned out to be a particularly good choice since we had studied both the American and French Revolutions in our homeschool this […]


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