History books for 5th graders
Joan of Arc (1998)
by: Diane Stanley - (Morrow Junior Books, 1998) 48 pages.
The amazing and tragic story of the 13-year-old peasant girl who was inspired by spiritual voices and visions to lead the French army in the Hundred Years War, until she was captured and burned at the stake as a heretic. Her complex and epic life is exquisitely illustrated with medieval-style images.
Perfect for: Born leaders.
Find Joan of Arc at your local library.
Kate Shelley: Bound for Legend
by: Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by: Max Ginsburg - (Dial Books for Young Readers, 1995) 32 pages.
In 1881, a ferocious storm destroyed the Honey Creek railroad bridge in Iowa. Kate Shelley, 15 years old, risked her life to warn the Chicago midnight express train. Her crawl across a narrow, windy, dark, splintered, 700-foot trestle is especially terrifying. Realist oil illustrations skillfully depict the raging elements — and one teen’s heroism.
Perfect for: Kids who like historical fiction.
Find Kate Shelley: Bound for Legend at your local library.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
by: Eleanor Coerr, illustrated by: Ronald Himler - (Putnam, 1977) 80 pages.
This is a book to teach your child about the horrors of war and illness, but most importantly about hope. Based on a true story set in World War II Japan, Sadako attempts to carry out the legend that the crafting of 1,000 paper cranes would heal her disease. Young readers learn indelible lessons that will stay with them for life. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a stunning portrait of life, death and the power of courage.
Perfect for: Kids who like classic stories.
Find Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes at your local library.
by: Captain William Lubber, Dugald A. Steer (Editor), illustrated by: Anne Yvonne Gilbert, Ian Andrew and Helen Ward - (Candlewick Press, 2006) 32 pages.
The richly detailed Pirateology (the latest of the popular ‘Ology books) is a standout among pirate merchandise, and a treat for both children and adults. This hefty volume centers on the search for treasure left by the “notorious” (i.e., fictional) pirate Arabella Drummond and comes with a host of pirate gear: a compass, maps and scraps of flags, among others. Pirateology is loaded with envelopes to be opened, journals and letters to pore over, and codes to be deciphered. Along the way, children learn about navigation, history, zoology and more. Real pirate lore is seamlessly blended with fictional narrative (even the publishing credits are disguised so as not to break the mood), and the old-fashioned illustrations are top notch. Another notable feature is that the pirate pursued here is female, making this book appeal to readers of both genders.
Perfect for: Kids who like adventure stories.
Find Pirateology at your local library.
Vikings: Raiders and Explorers
by: Aileen Weintraub - (Children’s Press, 2005) 48 pages.
For 300 years, the merciless Vikings terrorized Europe, attacking cities, killing their inhabitants, and hauling away treasure and slaves. Famed as warriors, the “Northmen” were also skilled boat builders, navigators, farmers, fishermen, and traders. Biographies of Eric the Red, Leif the Lucky, and other famed Vikings are presented with color and black-and-white photographs and art reproductions, plus information on Viking weapons, clothing, battle tactics, religion, society, explorations, and recent archeological research.
Perfect for: Kids interested in Scandinavian history or notorious warriors.
Find Vikings: Raiders and Explorers at your local library.
The Roman Empire
by: Don Nardo - (Lucent Books, 2005) 96 pages.
Emperors ruled Rome for 500 years, from Augustus in 27 BCE until the barbarian overthrow of 476 CE. Stories of military conquests, court intrigue, Christianity, Coliseum games, and civilizing achievements fill this scholarly, richly detailed book. The everyday life of all Roman classes — patricians, plebeians, and slaves — is also examined. The book includes fascinating facts on notorious Caesars, such as Caligula, and grim witticisms from inside observers. (“Anyone who goes out to dinner without making a will is a fool,” said the Roman poet Juvenal). Numerous quotations and footnotes plus an index and bibliography make this a useful reference book.
Perfect for: Kids interested in Roman civilization.
Find The Roman Empire at your local library.
The Orphan of Ellis Island
by: Elvira Woodruff - (Time Travel Adventures, 1997) 192 pages.
Dominic Cantori, a lonely fifth-grade orphan, is accidentally left behind on a school trip to Ellis Island. In the middle of the night, he is transported back in time to 1908, to a small village in southern Italy. There he joins three orphan brothers, Francesco, Salvatore, and Antonio Candiano, who are seeking sponsors for their passage to America. Dominic finds friendship with his new companions as well as an understanding of his heritage. This readable, emotionally complex page-turner delivers superb plot twists, deep characterizations, and historical information.
Perfect for: Italian-Americans, immigrants, and foster children.
Find The Orphan of Ellis Island at your local library.
The History of Counting
by: Denise Schmandt-Besserat, illustrated by: Michael Hays - (HarperCollins, 1999) 48 pages.
How did numbers originate and evolve around the world? This book is a fascinating historical and anthropological presentation of the different ways people count. For instance, in the Highlands of New Guinea, there are no words for numbers. Instead, “body counting” is used; pointing at your right eye means 15. The ancient Greeks used alphabet letters as numerals (alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). And the Arabs invented zero. The book includes a glossary and is illustrated by paintings that explain mathematical concepts.
Perfect for: Math fans and would-be anthropologists.
Find The History of Counting at your local library.
The American Indian Wars
by: Edward Dolan - (Milkbrook Press, 2003) 112 pages.
Here you’ll find a chronicle of 400 years of violent conflict between Native Americans and white intruders, from Columbus’ genocide and enslavement of the Taino in the Caribbean to the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre of the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota. Multiple reasons for the strife are explained and presented in photographs, drawings, and painting. Impactful events (Seminole Wars, Trail of Tears, Little Big Horn) and prominent war chiefs (Tecumseh, Cochise, Crazy Horse) are given special focus. Broken treaties and resettlements on reservations are also addressed. The book includes a bibliography.
Perfect for: Kids interested in a comprehensive look at this dark chapter of U.S. history.
Find The American Indian Wars at your local library.
Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards, Dahlhart, Texas 1935
by: Katelan Janke - (Scholastic Inc., 2002) 190 pages.
Author Katelan Janke was just 14 when she wrote this fictionalized diary in the Dear America Series. The narrator Grace, a 12-year-old farm girl living in the Texas Panhandle, describes her family’s struggle to survive the terrible drought and ferocious winds that devastated the Great Plains in the mid-1930s. Grace’s tale is a touching and historically accurate portrayal of agricultural ruin, deadly dust pneumonia, jackrabbit plagues, bankruptcy, breathing through handkerchiefs, and starvation. Young readers will find this book to be emotionally nuanced, with moments of joy and humor amidst tragedy.
Perfect for: Kids who are inspired by stories by young authors.
Find Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards, Dahlhart, Texas 1935 at your local library.
by: Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by: Bryan Collier - (Square Fish, 2007) 40 pages.
Rosa Parks sparked the civil rights movement in 1955 when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama. This biography details some of the lesser-known aspects of her earlier life, including that she cared for her elderly mother, married the “best barber in the county,” worked as a seamstress in a department store, and was a stalwart participant in the local NAACP. This book includes full-page color illustrations and information on other civil rights era events, including the murder of Emmitt Til and the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Perfect for: Kids who are interested in social justice, the civil rights movement, and African-American history.
Find Rosa at your local library.
Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation
by: Deborah M. Prum - (Core Knowledge Foundation, 1999) 106 pages.
In this witty, exciting chronicle of the Renaissance period from about 1340 to 1640, Europe’s astonishing cultural leap is explored. Galileo’s trial, the Black Plague, Martin Luther, and Leonardo Da Vinci are all part of this fascinating story, as are many other intellectual and artistic highlights. Amusing anecdotes, color illustrations, and vivid character sketches make the book as entertaining as it is informative.
Perfect for: Kids interested in how art and invention can change the world.
Find Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation at your local library.
Little Green: A Memoir of Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution
by: Chun Yu - (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2015) 128 pages.
These eloquent remembrances of the Great Cultural Revolution from a 10-year-old girl’s viewpoint are engrossing. Born in the midst of Mao Tse-tung’s anti-bourgeoisie purge, the narrator witnesses rampaging Red Guards, fanatic indoctrination at workplaces, slogan-covered walls, and persecuted families terrorized by public humiliation and imprisonment. Chun Yu’s father is exiled to the countryside for “re-education” and her mother is targeted as a “counter-revolutionary.” The text includes both poetry and prose with black-and-white photos and an explanatory epilogue.
Perfect for: Chinese-Americans and readers interested in Chinese culture and history.
Find Little Green: A Memoir of Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution at your local library.
Letters from Rifka
by: Karen Hesse - (Henry Holt & Company, 1992) 176 pages.
In 1919, a Jewish family leaves Ukraine to escape the Russian Civil War, journeying first to Poland, then Belgium, and finally the United States. The adventure is told in the form of letters home written by plucky 12-year-old Rifka Nebrot in the margins of her favorite book of poetry. Rifka is an enormously appealing narrator as she faces dangers and obstacles including anti-Semitic soldiers, humiliating medical exams, hunger, typhus, storms, ringworm, theft, and quarantine. Short poems by Russian writer Alexander Pushkin preface each of Rifka’s letters.
Perfect for: Immigrants, Jewish tweens, and readers who love courageous young characters.
Find Letters from Rifka at your local library.
King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the American Revolution
by: Steve Sheinkin, illustrated by: Tim Robinson - (Square Fish, 2015) 224 pages.
Irreverent, incredible details populate this entertaining account of the Revolutionary War. (For example, how General George Washington broke up a 1,000-man snowball fight between Massachusetts and Virginia soldiers, and how the Battle of Eutaw Springs was fought by soldiers who were “as naked as they were born.”) With biographies of the principal participants (such as George Washington and John Hancock) this is a humorous, highly readable tell-all with cartoon illustrations, maps and a bibliography. Although breezy in tone, the story it tells is extensively researched and morally nuanced.
Perfect for: Kids who love learning interesting, little-known facts about American history.
Find King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the American Revolution at your local library.
Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall
by: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by: R. Gregory Christie - (Carolrhoda Books, 2009) 40 pages.
Bass Reeves was a real Wild West hero. This African-American lawman was clever, honest, fearless, skilled at disguises, a fast draw and a crack shot with his Colt .45 pistols and Winchester rifle. He was also an escaped slave from Texas. This biography tells of his exploits during 30 years of duty, including arresting 3,000 horse thieves, train robbers, cattle rustlers, bandits, and gunslingers in the Indian territories. Parents should note that several of the book’s illustrations depict violent scenes.
Perfect for: Kids interested in law and order, the Old West, and African-American history.
Find Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall at your local library.
Attack on Pearl Harbor: The True Story of the Day America Entered World War II
by: Shelley Tanaka, illustrated by: David Craig - (Scholastic Inc., 2002) 64 pages.
Four narrators provide riveting accounts of the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when more than 350 Japanese warplanes attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet. An American seventh grade boy; a seaman on the USS Oklahoma, which was sunk by torpedoes; a Japanese submarine crewman, who was the first prisoner of war; and the commander of the Japanese fleet each offer their unique perspectives on the chaos of the event. Spectacular illustrations along with maps, diagrams, and informational sidebars add to the book’s appeal.
Perfect for: World War II buffs.
Find Attack on Pearl Harbor: The True Story of the Day America Entered World War II at your local library.
A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet
by: Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by: Paul Lee - (Candlewick, 2005) 40 pages.
In 1761, a 7-year-old African girl was transported in a slave ship to Boston and sold to Susannah Wheatley, who provided her with an elite education that included geography, mathematics, Latin, Greek, and English literature. In 1773, Phillis Wheatley became the first published African-American poet, writing celebrated verses on Revolutionary War topics. Eventually freed, she struggled in poverty; her children died in infancy and she succumbed herself at the age of 31. This emotionally complex biography of a remarkable life is enriched by powerful paintings that express the emotions and details of the era.
Perfect for: Children interested in poetry, Revolutionary history, and the African-American experience.
Find A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet at your local library.