I love to read non-fiction. Something that is well written and informative can tell a story as captivating as fiction. There are some fabulous authors that have written informative texts for children. This summer I have been primarily focusing my reading on these books. And in my continued quest to read all of the Newbery Award titles, I realized that in the early days of the award many of those receiving the medal were non-fiction. Many of these are sadly now out of print, but so worth digging around to find, or locating at your local library. This also causes me to realize that non-fiction, primarily history, was something that was enjoyed and read by children of yesteryear.
An author who has written a trove of great non-fiction, and is all easily still in print, is Russell Freedman. He has covered many aspects of American History. He writes in a clear, and easily understand language for children, yet it is fascinating to read even as an adult. He utilizes multiple photographs and drawing to clearly illustrate his subject, as well as primary sources for detailed eyewitness accounts.
The list of books he has written is extensive, and I would recommend them all. Here are a few I've read this summer.
Children of the Wild West
This is a fascinating account of pioneer and Indian children growing up in the American West during the late 1800's. It discusses the long journey by wagon train, and what life was like for early settlers.
It even discusses the amount of mice you would have inside of your sod house (something I have often suspected, and continue to realize I would have been a horrible settler).
An Indian Winter
This is the account of the 1833 travels of German Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian and the Swiss painter, Karl Bodmer, who traveled up the wild Missouri River and stayed with the Mandan tribes in what would now be North Dakota. It is full of wonderful primary sources and richly relays the eyewitness accounts of the life and culture of these Indian tribes.
This also lists places to visit if you find yourself in North Dakota.
Give Me Liberty! The Story of the Declaration of Independence
I know that everyone thinks they know all the events of the American Revolution, but have you ever thought how intolerable we would today find "the Intolerable Acts"? This book incorporates paintings, engravings and advertisements from the period to add an extra dimension. Freedman continues to focus on key people and events, and not just portraying everything with a broad brush stroke of "textbook", but to make these events and characters come to life.
Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor
Some children don't even want to make their bed, or put their laundry away (in my home) but they may not recall learning that at one time children worked real jobs. Real jobs, in real factories and mines and life was not easy! This book uses many of Lewis Hine's photographs that so stunned America that child labor laws were enacted. This is a fascinating account, and reminder of how different life is today for children.
Another author who has been holding me enthralled with her non-fiction accounts is Susan Campbell Bartoletti. I've just finished these two books and they are highly recommended.
Growing Up In Coal Country
Continuing in the same vein as the Lewis Hine book above, this takes a deep look into life of the coal mines, primarily for the children that worked there. The area of Northeastern Pennsylvania, filled with coal mines, lured new immigrants to the area. These jobs required long hours in dangerous conditions for very little money. This retells many of their experiences. Having had one side of my family, Eastern European immigrants, living and working in these same mines, I felt these stores were very significant and profound.
Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850
In 1845 a blight attacked the potato crop of Ireland. Potatoes were the main food source for the majority of the people, thus causing a devastating famine. The blight attacked again and again. Over one million people died, and over two million people fled Ireland. This account, filled with first hand stories and drawings was fascinating for me. I did not really know the whole story of the Irish Famine, and how it subsequently changed America via immigration. This is a compelling read of a not as well-known aspect of history.
The Story of the Negro
by Arna Bontemps (Newbery Award 1949)
This begins with the history of Ghana and Mandingo Empires in Africa. It continues through the Atlantic slave trade, slavery in America, the Haitian Slave Revolt and on through the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.
There are also some biographical account of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and W. E. B. DuBois.
Old and out of print, but such a fascinating read. Definitely try to get your hands on a copy!