As we work out way through American history, my kids and I are up to the time of Thomas Jefferson. Not too surprisingly, since it seems to be a hot topic for children’s authors, quite a lot of what we read for this time period was on the Lewis and Clark expedition. You can find my master list of history books here.
Living Books on Thomas Jefferson’s Time
As we have been, we used our two spine books to keep us all on the same page, so to speak. They are This Country of Ours
by H.E. Marshall and Story of the Great Republic by Helene Guerber. I find both a bit sparse on this time period which is why I am using them both in the hopes that they will be sparse in different ways. They are good books though a little light for my older kids but that is why, at least in part, I have them reading other things on their own as well.
He has one an each president as well as books on artists and composers. They are silly fun and are even a bit young for my younger kids but we enjoy them.
We also read a couple of long picture books together:
A Big Cheese for the White House by Candace Fleming is the story of, well, a big cheese that was given to Mr. Jefferson. It lasted and was served at the White House for years. The book is a bit silly and clearly not 100% true but the basic story is factual.
Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis Fradin does a good job of telling of the famous and fatal rivalry. I liked that it didn’t make Aaron Burr into the only bad guy. In fact, one could feel rather sorry for him. From what I’ve read of him in this book and elsewhere, Alexander Hamilton sounds like a pretty unpleasant, snooty person to have been around.
I had my 8th grader read Streams to the River, River to the Sea: A Novel of Sacagawea by Scott O’Dell. You may know him from Island of the Blue Dolphins. He has a number of novels about historical things and we have found them good. We liked the bit where they wanted Sacagawea to leave her baby behind but she ended up getting her way and being able to bring him.
My 9th grader read Bold Journey: West with Lewis and Clark by Charles Bohner. This was about the same difficulty as the O’Dell book. Both would be good for 7th-9th grades I think. He seemed to enjoy it and it seemed like a pretty decent telling of the story. It was interesting to see what different pieces the kids picked up from their different books. When one was giving an oral narration, another might interrupt with “hey, that was in my book, but in my book it happened this way . . . ” I don’t think it is so much a matter of any particular book being inaccurate as the fact that the authors are piecing together a story from fragmented records and using a tiny bit of poetic license.
Speaking of which, my 5th grader read Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale by Laurie Myers. As its title suggests, this one is told from the dog’s point of view. He is not the best reader and narrator but he did decently with this story. There were exciting bits about battling buffaloes and bears to keep his attention. I would call it 4th-6th grade level.
We didn’t actually read The Sea Rovers by Albert Marrin due to a lack of time, but this book on pirates and the like ends with a chapter on the Barbary pirates of Thomas Jefferson’s time. Marrin is a favorite author of ours so if you have more time than we did, you might want to check it out.
Lastly, I’ll mention Miss Jefferson in Paris by Regina Zimmerman Kelly. My 8th grader read this one when we were studying the French Revolution since it is set in France at that period of time. But it is about Jefferson’s daughter so if you get a chance you might want to include it as well.
Next time: Napoleon!