History Reading for Middle Grade Girls - No Textbook Needed- Using Great Children's Books From Candlewick Press

If you’ve been around the blog, it’s no secret that I love- really love- literature-based curricula. I would much rather use real books over textbooks any day. But every once in a while I seem to forget this myself and need a little reminder.

This year, in an effort to save myself time, I decided to buy and use a history textbook for my middle grade girls. Why? I don’t even know. Can you see me shaking my head here? It looks as if I would’ve learned a thing or two in fourteen years of homeschooling. So, we started off the year with this textbook. Soon, not only were the girls bored with history and not retaining anything, but I was bored trying to read and discuss history with them. So after Christmas, I chucked the textbook and set about looking up some real books to use for history for the remainder of our year.
One of the reasons that homeschool moms sometimes hesitate to just use good literature for history is that they just don’t know where to begin. Some of us- me included in the early days of my homeschooling- have been so trained to use a structured curriculum that we don’t know how else to go about giving kids information. In this post I’m sharing a very simple way to get started using real books for your history curriculum, and I’m sharing five great books that I recently had the opportunity to use with my middle grade girls for history.

American history with great kids' books
I received compensation and free books in exchange for this post. All opinions are entirely my own.
We received five great books- a combination of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry- from Candlewick Press.  We’ve enjoyed reading these and learning about various periods of American history. 

How to Use Real Books as Your Homeschool History Curriculum

Step 1- Use a spine to guide your reading.

I typically use either a textbook covering a specific time period or a timeline of the period to guide my choices of books and to help my kids see the big picture of the time period we’re studying. For example, a few years ago we used an ancient history textbook to guide our study of ancient times. I would read short sections from the textbook and then we would go further in depth by reading a fiction or nonfiction book about the same period or topic. When we studied the Renaissance and Reformation time period, we used a timeline to see major events of the time and then read books about some events and people involved.

Step 2- Choose a combination of fiction and nonfiction books.

It’s great to find nonfiction books that cover people and topics in the time period you’re studying- books about the pyramids when you’re studying ancient Egypt, books about gladiators when you’re studying the Roman Empire- but it’s also valuable to read historical fiction. Good historical fiction presents information about the time period in the context of a story that readers can really relate to. Often reading a story about a child growing up during the Civil War can give kids as much information about the Civil War as a nonfiction book, and kids may actually understand and retain more because they relate to the story. If you’re looking for books to fit specific time periods, I have a list here of 100 books that relate to the time periods covered in a Classical history cycle.

Step 3- Add notebooking and hands-on activities to round out learning.

There are times that we get so engrossed in a book that we’re reading together that we just want to read. And we do. But I often try to incorporate other things along with our reading to help us understand and assimilate the information we’re reading about. Notebooking is a great way to do this. Kids can write summaries, draw pictures, create charts or graphs with information, make maps of places in the story and keep all of this information in a binder as a visual representation of the time period or subject they’re reading about. 
In addition to this, you can find hands-on activities that go along with the time period. Pinterest is a great resource for this. We’ve made recipes from countries that we’re reading about, created covered wagons when we read about pioneers, dressed up in ancient Egyptian costumes, and more. These hands-on activities allow kids to relate even more to the books they’re reading.

American history with great kids' books

Great History Reads from Candlewick Press

My middle school girls and I have been taking a look at American history and reading these awesome books.
Siege: How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution by Roxane Orgill– In 1775 the British occupied Boston. George Washington began to lead small skirmishes that would ultimately lead to the American war for independence. This book uses verse to focus on specific people and happenings of the time.

We’ve enjoyed this unique approach to reading about the early events in the Revolutionary War. The sections are short enough that the girls and I have been taking turns reading them. The poetry of the book gives the reader a picture of what’s happening as the war begins.

Dolls of Hope by Shirley Parenteau- This book- and two others in this series- is based on a real historical event. In 1926 a teacher-missionary helped American school children send dolls to children in Japan as a sign of peace and hope of preventing war. This book is written from the perspective of Chiyo, a young Japanese girl who is in a school that receives one of the dolls. She’s assigned to be the doll’s protector, but a jealous classmate wants her to fail.

My middle daughter snatched up this entire book series as soon as it arrived. She’s truly enjoyed them so far. This is a great book to read as you focus on the time between the two world wars and what was going on among the world powers at the time.

A Tyranny of Petticoats:15 Stories of Belles, Bank Robbers & Other Badass Girls, a collection of short stories by various authors- This book is a little different. It’s a collection of short stories, all historical fiction about the lives of American girls. From early American history to more modern times, the stories cover a wide range of characters and historical time periods. But they all feature strong female protagonists. 

This book has content that is more young adult. It’s fine for my middle school and almost high school aged girls. You might want to pre-read for younger girls. We’re really enjoying it! I especially like that after each story there’s a short section that gives some historical context, explaining what parts of the story are true and the time period or characters that the story is based on.

The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet– Set in 1941, this is the story of eleven-year-old Gusta. Her father is a foreign born laborer and has to flee the country when Americans begin to distrust and fear foreigners. Gusta is sent to live with her grandmother who runs an orphanage. She only has a French horn as a memento of her father. But when the family needs money, she finds herself trying to keep her French horn from being sold.
This book has truly been a favorite. We’re reading it aloud, and all of us are enjoying it immensely. It’s a great book to read as you discuss World War 2 because it gives the perspective of Americans as the country teeters on the brink of entering the war.

Voices from the Second World War Stories of War as Told to Children of TodayThis unique book is filled with stories from those who lived through World War 2. Many years after the war, children interviewed their family members and people from their communities and wrote down their first-hand stories of their experiences. There are a variety of stories- from soldiers who fought to Holocaust survivors to resistance fighters to those who were evacuated as children and many more. Along with the stories are some great photographs.

It’s always great to hear first hand stories from people who have lived through an momentous event. Many of those people who lived through World War 2 aren’t around anymore, and it’s awesome to have their stories and experiences recorded, especially as interviewed by children. This is a great book that will help kids to really see how the war affected real people. It’s easy to read about the war as just another historical event, but this book reminds us that the people who were there were real people with real feelings, real hopes, real dreams.

American history with great kids' books

We are truly enjoying American history through reading real books, books that are alive and interesting instead of dry and dusty like some textbooks. If you want to help history come alive for your kids, check out some of these books.

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