Historical Nonfiction – Middle Grade

History Is Inventive

History Is Inventive

Have you seen Honest History pop up on your Instagram feed? Their tagline is, "a magazine for young historians." I know that if this had existed when I was a kid, I would have read every issue cover to cover!

When I saw that a book had been released by Honest History I immediately requested a preview. History is Inventive does a deeper dive into the stories of several of the famous inventors and really lays out the complexity of that invention. (Spoiler ______ invented the _______ is never the whole story.) Knight pulls from a wide breadth of history and picks topics that will interest a wide variety of children. Surgery? Makeup? The telescope? Alternating current? All are discussed and each passage includes unique details that I've not seen elsewhere. If anything, this book will make kids want to know more about many of the topics, and do some more investigation on their own!

I'm also a sucker for well done graphic design and the layout of this book is quite appealing also. This book is perfect for a curious kid.

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In the Shadow of Liberty

In the Shadow of Liberty

This book traces the stories of the enslaved Africans who were owned by four of our founding fathers – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson. I really enjoyed the stories in this book. Davis brings humanity to the people who surrounded our founding fathers. He includes fantastic details within those stories that really remove the barriers surrounding those men. Did you know that Dolly Madison didn’t really save George Washington’s painting (which was a replica anyway)? A White House slave named Paul Jennings is that forgotten hero of that story.  He would go on to be a co-conspirator in an attempted slave rebellion in the nation’s capital.

There are dozens of stories like this in Davis’s book. They really caused me to reframe my understanding of the United States at that moment in history. Each story could be combined with any general discussion of the founding fathers.

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Leaders and Thinkers in American History

Leaders and Thinkers in American History

Meghan's book is perfect for kids in the middle-grade level who might be curious about these individuals. It's also great for a teacher to utilize sections in the classroom. My favorite part of this book is that it was written by an actual middle school History teacher. Meghan has taught at this level for many years, and this book is written in a clever and engaging style that reflects that experience. There are many short biographies of famous Americans floating around the internet, however, Meghan's shines through the stack. The research she put into each biography and her experience teaching are reflected on every page.⁠

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Refugee

Refugee

(Middle-Grade Reading Level - Real-life depiction of the refugee experience - there is death, desperation, and peril)

This book is extremely popular with middle school teachers, and after taking time to read it myself, I'd have to agree. Instead of writing a traditional review, I thought I'd write a list of 5 reasons why this book is a great resource.⁠

1. Gratz chose three stories that showcase disparate religions and cultures. In each case, he makes realistic connections between religious practice and daily life. ⁠

2. Each story demonstrates how unfortunately easy it is for people to divide themselves into groups without real cause. ⁠

3. The story of the Syrian refugee, Mahmoud, stands out because of its recency. Mahmoud's life deteriorates so quickly and allows students to see that the dividing line between a middle-class life and refugee status is actually quite fragile. ⁠

4. Gratz writes for middle schoolers. Each character portrayed a story that students can connect to despite the differences in culture or time. ⁠

5. Gratz ties the three stories together at the end to showcase the humanity of every refugee.⁠

There is no doubt that this should be included in every classroom library. Also considering utilizing this book as a class read-aloud, or for a full class read. ⁠

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She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman

She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman

(Middle Grade reading level - No real content concerns, although it does discuss the trauma of slavery)

This book chronicles the life of Harriet Tubman. It includes details about her early life, her work on the Underground Railroad, her service in the Civil War, and her circumstances after the war. Dunbar takes the biographic information about Tubman and combines it with a more informal narrative to imbue humanity into the details of Tubman's life. Tubman's life is so incredible and unimaginable, and Dunbar made her seem human and vulnerable.

This book really demonstrated how biographies should be written for middle-grade readers. Students at that level need to have a connection to historical characters. The emotions and the inner monologue of a person like Tubman makes the story of her life seem much more recent and modern. I flew through this book as it read much more like a novel than a historical biography.

Truly, this is an excellent book. It's a must-have for your classroom library.

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King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the American Revolution

King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the American Revolution

(Middle Grade reading level - no concent concerns)

This book takes the history of the Revolutionary War and rewrites that history in a conversational tone that's more engaging for students. While I might quibble with the title (I know I at least taught a lot of the details from this book), I did enjoy the historical anecdotes and the depth of detail. (For instance, while I knew that John Malcolm was tarred and feathered, I did not know that he mailed the bits of tar and feathers back to the British government. His skin was attached in some places!) Even if teachers don't use this book with their classes, it provides fun details for classroom discussions.

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History is Delicious

History is Delicious

History is Delicious is the second book in a series by Honest History. It contains a wealth of knowledge about types of food from around the world including simple recipes for kids, cultural connections, and historical contexts for each area. The main component of the book includes descriptions of popular recipes from around the world.  The book is broken into four major categories, Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and there are a multitude of recipe descriptions for each location. This book would be great for a World Cultures class and could provide a starting point for conversations with students. I know that my students are probably unfamiliar with 95% of the recipes mentioned in this book, and I could easily assign them a particular recipe for a group discussion. Teachers could utilize the historical context sections for the introduction to a lesson, as that text is written at more of a YA level.

Fair warning, however, you absolutely cannot pick up this book if you are in any way hungry. In the absence of any Korean barbecue or Dim Sum, I ended up snarfing down several vanilla wafers from my kitchen. (It's very helpful that Door Dash doesn't deliver to my country farmhouse.)

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The King’s Broad Arrow

The King’s Broad Arrow

(Upper Middle Grade to YA reading level - no content concerns besides the violence of war)

There was so much to enjoy about this novel that it’s almost hard to know where to start!  Readers who think that Sam’s story in The King’s Broad Arrow is just another example of the classic “Hero’s Journey” shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Kathryn Goodwin Tone’s debut novel. She did such a wonderful job of worldbuilding, from the challenges of growing up on the frontier of colonial American society and the feelings of injustice as early Americans struggled against British mercantilism, that it was easy to become engrossed in Sam’s adventures! This would be a wonderful novel for readers who need a dash of adventure to keep them engaged as they learn about the beginnings of the American Revolution from the eyes of someone not that different from themselves.

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Answering the Cry of Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution

Answering the Cry of Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution

Answering the Cry of Freedom profiles 13 African Americans who fought for freedom in some form during the Revolutionary Era. Some established their own settlements in Africa or Nova Scotia, others fought for the freedom of their family members, and others fought either with the Patriots or the British. The stories were compelling and many were new to me, even though I've been teaching this subject for many years. (This again speaks to why the narrative of U.S. History needs to be rewritten.) Teachers could use this book in a multitude of ways with students. Please pick up a copy for your classroom.

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History Smashers: The American Revolution

History Smashers: The American Revolution

I was so excited to see that there was a History Smashers book about the American Revolution. These books take history and write it with a hybrid of text, images, and cartoons that allow students to SEE this history they're reading about. Further, these books often point out important information that traditional textbooks leave out. For instance, with this book, Messner starts right out with a land acknowledgement. Within the first chapter, she points to the hypocrisy of the Boston Tea Party, where the colonists dressed up as Native Americans to argue for their liberty... while also on land that colonists had taken from Native Americans. She then goes on to discuss the problems with Longfellow's poem regarding Paul Revere. Still, the text is not weighed down by this information, rather, it makes for a much more engaging read. Altogether, History Smashers: The American Revolution, includes a plethora of information dispelling myths about the Revolution while also conveying a more accurate version of the history

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Terrible Typhoid Mary

Terrible Typhoid Mary

(Middle Grade reading level - No content concerns - if you have a student who's VERY squeamish, this book might not be the book for them.)

So, a biography of "Typhoid Mary" turned out WAY more relevant than it should be in the "panda" era of 2021.?⁠ ⁠ If you don't know that backstory of Typhoid Mary, basically, she was a carrier of Typhoid, but she didn't show any symptoms herself, and never remembered having the disease. She was a transient Irish immigrant in the early 1900s, and she made her living as a cook, so she kept reinfecting people as she transferred from job to job. ⁠ ⁠ Mary was eventually tracked down by the rudimentary health inspectors of the day, but she was in complete denial that she could be a carrier. She was then confined to an island off the coast of New York City so that she could be tested for typhoid. ⁠Mary's reaction to these events proved most relevant. She fought against any accusations, and once she was released, she would go onto take more jobs (one in a hospital!) and infect more people. She also refused surgery to remove her gallbladder, which may have cured her of the disease. ⁠Still, she had reasons to feel the way she did, and as an immigrant woman, she was just lambasted by the press. Her story represented why confusion and pushback against what might be CLEAR medical decisions are so deeply connected to one's understanding of the world. ⁠This book would certainly generate some great conversations in the classroom. ⁠

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Major Events in American History

Major Events in American History

I was delighted when I was asked to review Megan's new book, Major Events in American History. I know that Megan's work is always researched based and her point of view on history is one that I trust. Major Events in American History provides the perfect concise introductory text for students and teachers. Forbes' writing is crisp and grade-appropriate, however, she often goes beyond the standard narrative to include enlightening and thought-provoking detail.

I could see this book in many classrooms across the country, particularly when the teacher finds it necessary to introduce a new topic. I was particularly delighted to see that Forbes' often recommended further middle-grade historical fiction titles at the end of many topics for students to conduct a further investigation.

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