HUGE List of Great Living Books About American History For Elementary Kids

Once upon a time as a new homeschooling mom, I bought a textbook to teach my new kindergartner daughter American history. Each day at history time, I would get the book out and read a lesson. Every day. The same thing.

Living books for American history

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To her credit, Kathryne usually enjoyed the lesson. She was a great reader and could read the little lesson- written on a K5-1st grade level- on her own easily. She loved school, and was pretty much game to do anything I suggested.

But as time went on, both of us were a little bored with the whole thing. The lessons were just little disconnected snippets of American history. And the authors had tried to make the book readable to most young elementary aged children. So it definitely wasn’t a very appealing book from a literary perspective. And, new homeschooling mom that I was, I thought there must be a better way to learn history.

And then I learned of Charlotte Mason. And I found out that I didn’t have to buy textbooks! Instead, I could buy real books, books that were well-written and interesting. I could read these books out loud to the kids until they were old enough to read them for themselves, so I didn’t have to look for books that were “on grade level.” Instead I could read books that would give the kids something to think about, a story line to get excited about, and exciting elements that we could discuss after reading.

Over the years, we’ve found many great living books. Most of them are fictional books that absorb us into a story, while we hardly realize that we’re also learning about history or science. Occasionally we’ve also read nonfiction books that fit this description. They are much more than a textbook with disjointed information presented in a way that is supposed to be easy for children to read. Instead they present information in a way that excites the kids- and me- and causes us to want to know more and more about the subject.

I realize that some homeschooling families love textbooks and are very content to use them to teach most subjects. It’s great that, as homeschoolers, we have the flexibility to do what works for us. But, if you are like me, and you think you’ll just go out of your mind if you have to listen to another first grade textbook lesson all about the American Indians, here are some living books you can use to teach American history instead.

I’ve divided the books into some common American history time periods that are covered in elementary school, realizing that I’m sure I’m not covering everything. What I like to do is find a good “spine” book- like this Children’s Encyclopedia of American History. We can read through the spine book and hit the highlights. Then, as we come to certain time periods, I’ll find some great living books that go with that time period, and we’ll move away from the spine book and read those. Using a spine book in this way will help you to plan out the time periods you want to spend more time on and help you find living books to fit. You can also use a resource like this awesome timeline from Animated Atlas to look at the highlights in American history and what else was happening in the world at the time.

Living Books About Pilgrims and American Indians

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac

The Story of the Pilgrims by Katharine Ross and Carolyn Croll

The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dalgliesh

Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh

Living Books About the Revolutionary War

Let It Begin Here!: Lexington and Concord: First Battles of the American Revolution by Dennis Brindell Fradin

Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (a picture book of the famous poem)

George vs George: The American Revolution As Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer

Did It All Start With a Snowball Fight and Other Questions About the American Revolution by Mary Kay Carson

Living Books About the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and George Washington

A More Perfect Union: The Story of Our Constitution by Betsy Maestro

Who Was George Washington by Roberta Edwards

George Washington’s Birthday: A Mostly True Tale by Margaret MacNamara

George Washington’s Breakfast by Jean Fritz

George Washington’s World by Joanna and Genevieve Foster

Living Books About Western Expansion

How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark by Rosalyn Schanzer

Lewis and Clark and Me: A Dog’s Tale by Laurie Myers

A Picture Book of Sacagawea by David A. Adler

Living Books About Pioneers

Bound for Oregon by Jean Van Leeuwen

Daily Life in a Covered Wagon by Paul Erickson

A Pioneer Sampler: The Daily Life of a Pioneer Family by Barbara Greenwood

Rachel’s Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl by Marissa Moss

Living books for American history

Living Books About Cowboys, American Indians, and the Gold Rush

Cowboys and Cowgirls: Yippie Yay! by Gail Gibbons

The Legend of the Blue Bonnet by Tomie dePaola

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble

If You Lived With the Indians of the Northwest Coast by Anna Kamma

Gold Rush Fever: A Story of the Klondike 1898 by Barbara Greenwood

Living Books About Slavery and the Civil War

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story From the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine

The Last Brother: a Civil War Tale by Trinka Hakes Noble

Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Doreen Rappaport

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford

Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeannette Winter

Living Books About World Wars and the Depression

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon

Rags: Hero Dog of WW1 by Margot Theis Raven

Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression by Kate Lied

Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp by Jerry Stanley

Rose’s Journal: The Story of a Girl in the Great Depression by Marissa Moss

Where Poppies Grow: A World War 1 Companion by Linda Granfield

The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco

Star of Fear, Star of Hope by Jo Hoestlandt

Living Books About Civil Rights

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiah

Freedom on the Menu by Carole Boston Weatherford

If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks by Faith Ringgold

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles

My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Christine King Farris

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles