History books for 6th graders
You Wouldn’t Want to be Cleopatra
by: Jim Pipe and David Salaria, illustrated by: David Antram - (Children’s Press, 2007) 32 pages.
This is a darkly humorous biography of the Egyptian queen who ruled the Nile kingdom in the first century B.C. It covers her girlhood as a princess in the palace at Alexandria, her marriage to her brother, her rise to power, and her incredible wealth, wars, and intelligence. It includes her love affairs with two Roman generals, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, and her eventual suicide by snake. They are all wittily described with hilarious illustrations. Sidebars on Egyptian culture, plus a glossary and index, are included.
Perfect for: Young Egyptologists, those interested in ancient cultures, kingdoms, and rules. Those who like dark humor.
Find You Wouldn’t Want to be Cleopatra at your local library.
by: Jennifer Roy - (Two Lions, 2006) 242 pages.
This is the true story of Sylvia Perlmutter, one of only 12 children in the Lodz ghetto of Poland to survive the Holocaust; originally 250,000 people lived there. For 50 years Ms. Perlmutter refused to talk about her experience, but finally, she narrates the horrific memories to her niece (the author). In five poetic prose vignettes, the gripping story describes her life from ages 4-10, facing Nazi brutality, starvation, illness, and humiliation. While frightening and sad, she manages to provide an excellent characterization of her tenacious, quick-thinking father. The book also includes a timeline and historical notes.
Perfect for: Youth interested in the Holocaust.
Find Yellow Star at your local library.
The President Has Been Shot!
by: Rebecca C. Jones - (Puffin, 1998) 144 pages.
This is a dynamic and comprehensive presentation on the 10 assassination attempts of U.S. presidents (four succeeded, six failed). It includes details on the attacker’s psychological reasons and analysis of the socio-political consequences. Startling quotes are included: Jacqueline Kennedy’s refused to change her clothes, soaked with JFK’s blood, explaining, ”Let them see what they’ve done.” Another fascinating fact: a president died in office every 20 years from 1840-1960 and Reagan was shot, but survived, in 1980. Conspiracy theories are addressed. Numerous black-and-white illustrations and photographs provide added details.
Perfect for: Children interested in U.S. history — unless they’re disturbed by violence. Children interested in politics and socio-political links.
Find The President Has Been Shot! at your local library.
The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue
by: Michael J. Touglas and Casey Sherman - (Scribner, 2010) 224 pages.
On Feb. 18, 1952, two storm-smashed oil tankers split in half in the cold North Atlantic, placing dozens of crewmen in mortal danger. A puny lifeboat with four Coast Guard sailors chugged into the night on what seemed like a suicidal rescue mission,facing the thrashing 70-foot waves of the maelstrom. In these action-packed pages a nail-biting account with visceral detail describes how 32 lives were saved. Captivating characterizations of the Coast Guard team’s heroism, perseverance, and camaraderie.
Perfect for: Adventure readers, those who like boats and the seas, and those who like to read hero stories, and triumph in the face of horrible odds.
Find The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue at your local library.
Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor
by: Russell Freedman photos by Lewis Hine - (HMH Books for Young Readers, 1998) 112 pages.
Do your children think their chores are tough? Get them this eloquent, powerful history book to set them straight. From 1908-1918, schoolteacher Lewis Hine photographed poor children working in conditions so depressing that a public crusade was launched, resulting in Congress passing child labor laws. Children as young as 3 are shown in the haunting photos, working in Texas cotton fields, Maine sardine canneries, New York laundries, Pennsylvania coal mines, and Georgia textile mills. The author’s explanatory text is well-researched and informative and he includes quotes from Hines. The photography, however, is the power of this book
Perfect for: Idealists eager to learn how activists can create social reform via dedicated use of their talents.
Find Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor at your local library.
Julius Caesar: Dictator for Life (A Wicked History)
by: Denise Rinaldo - (Franklin Watts, 2010) 128 pages.
This is a highly entertaining biography of the Roman military genius, cunning politician, Great Roman Civil War victor, and tyrannical monarch who change Rome’s history. Special attention is devoted to Caesar’s rise to power (conquering Gaul, Spain, invading Britain). Not overlooked are details about his resolute personality, his romance with Cleopatra, the complex details of his assassination (54 B.C.), and his destruction of the democracy of the Roman Republic. The book includes set apart information, photos, a timeline, a glossary and a “Wicked Web” of allies and enemies — Et tu, Brute?
Perfect for: Those interested in classic times, Roman history, and ambitious, megalomaniac rulers.
Find Julius Caesar: Dictator for Life (A Wicked History) at your local library.
Japan in the Days of the Samurai (Cultures of the Past)
by: Virginia Schomp - (Cavendish Square Publishing, 1998) 80 pages.
The samurai “warrior class” — prominent in Japan from the medieval Heian Period to the 1860s — was made up of skilled soldiers, spies, assassins, and guards. These warriors also received aesthetic training in poetry, flower-arranging, and the traditional tea ceremony. This appealing presentation describes samurai culture and history and the influence of Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity on their beliefs. It includes sidebars on intriguing subtopics (famous samurai women and World War II kamikaze pilots for example). It’s all complemented by color reproductions, a timeline, glossary, and a reference list of book and websites.
Perfect for: Japanophiles. Boys are especially interested in these feudal, formidable “knights” of East Asia, but girls will like learning that there were samurai women.
Find Japan in the Days of the Samurai (Cultures of the Past) at your local library.
India’s Gupta Dynasty (Cultures of the Past)
by: Kathryn Hinds - (Cavendish Square Publishing, 1996) 80 pages.
The subcontinent’s “Golden Age” (320-550 A.D.) featured military expansion, benevolent rulers, public prosperity, and scientific, literary, artistic, and philosophical achievements. Packed with intriguing facts, this comprehensive volume offers portrayals of the dynasty’s highly respected monarchs (Chandragupta I, Samadragupta, Chandragupta II) and scholars (poet/playwright Kalidasa and mathematician/astronomer Aryabhata). It also exams Buddhist and Hindu influence on society and the role of women. It’s filled with beautifully illustrated with full-color reproductions of Gupta architecture, sculpture, and cave-temple paintings.
Perfect for: Indophiles and those interested in South Asian history and culture.
Find India’s Gupta Dynasty (Cultures of the Past) at your local library.
Children of the Great Depression
by: Russell Freedman - (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2010) 128 pages.
The difficult lives of Depression era youngsters — boxcar children riding the rails, factory kids, sharecroppers, migrant farm laborers, African-Americans — is eloquently communicated via letters, diaries, memoirs, and archival photos. These youths were burdened by stressful conditions that included demoralized, out-of-work parents, starvation, eviction, lack of clothing, ramshackle “Hooverville” settlements, and school closures. Happy times are also depicted, with movies and radio shows. The book captures the challenging realities of the 1930s and manages to be inspiring despite also being grim.
Perfect for: Children curious or concerned about poverty and those interested in this period in U.S. history.
Find Children of the Great Depression at your local library.
The Alamo (A Day That Changed America)
by: Shelley Tanaka, illustrated by: David Craig - (Hyperion, 2003) 48 pages.
Told through the eyes of two survivors, this retelling offers detailed narration and sophisticated analysis of the March 6, 1836, battle in Texas. Outnumbered 20-1 by Mexican opponents, the Alamo’s soldiers fought heroically until all the adult men fighting were killed, or captured and executed. Reasons for the rebellion are objectively noted, with attention given to the Mexican perspective. Myths also are addressed. Readers can expect a vivid account of the violent massacre, discussion of the event’s aftermath, biographical information on famed participants (James Bowie, Santa Anna, Davy Crockett, William Travis), plus colorful maps, battle paintings, diagrams of the fort, old photos, and letters.
Perfect for: Youths interested in Texas, American history, American history with Mexico, and westward expansion.
Find The Alamo (A Day That Changed America) at your local library.
Survivors: True Stories of Children in Holocaust
by: Allan Zullo and Mara Bovsun - (Scholastic Paperbacks, 2005) 208 pages.
The experiences of nine boys and girls who escaped death during the Holocaust are chronicled in this intense, graphic collection. Interviewed as adults, the survivors recount their terrifying, heart-wrenching childhoods. Markus played dead in the snow; Matheis jumped out of a boxcar and fled into the woods; Luncia hid in a tiny trunk; others hid in haystacks or attics, disguised their identities, or survived the concentration camps. Every child possessed moral and physical courage, resolute optimism and the will to keep living — and yet they are scarred for life.
Perfect for: Mature children interested in the Holocaust. Those interested in stories of survival and seeing the will to live in the human spirit.
Find Survivors: True Stories of Children in Holocaust at your local library.
Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps
by: Andrea Warren - (HarperCollins, 2002) 160 pages.
Jack Mandelbaum, a Jewish boy in Poland, is separated from his family when he’s sent to a Nazi concentration camp. This harrowing biography recounts nightmarish conditions there that included fleas, lice, beatings, hard labor, and bread filled with sawdust. He is surrounded by incessant coughing and death. When he’s liberated at 18, he weighs only 80 pounds. Jack survives because of memories of his family, friendship, luck, courage, and a positive outlook.
Perfect for: Mature kids interested in the Holocaust, those interested in stories of survival.
Find Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps at your local library.
Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution
by: Ji-li Jiang - (HarperCollins, 2004) 320 pages.
This is a tragic, honest autobiography of a teenage girl’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution in China. Brainwashing and the cult-worshipping of Mao Tse-tung caused neighbors and friends to betray each other in the chaotic upheaval. The narrator’s family is relentlessly persecuted because her grandfather was a landowner, which made all his descendants guilty of the “Four Olds” — old ideas, old culture, old customs, old habits. This is an expertly written, suspenseful page-turner with a wise assessment of the era’s fanaticism. It is memorable, psychologically complex, and thought provoking.
Perfect for: Anyone intrigued by political upheaval, the dangers of propaganda, this time in Chinese history, or an engrossing family story of survival.
Find Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution at your local library.
Marco Polo and the Medieval Explorers
by: Rebecca Stefoff - (Chelsea House Publication, 1992) 111 pages.
Fascinating facts are revealed about the adventurous merchants and explorers who traveled from Europe to Asia, and vice versa, from 1245-1433. The book describes Marco Polo’s legendary acquaintance with Kublai Khan in Beijing, and the Mongolian Empire’s expansion and interaction with Europe is expounded. Additional portrayals include Cheng Ho, the eunuch explorer of China’s Ming Dynasty, and Ibn Battuta, the Berber traveler who roamed from Timbuktu to Sri Lanka to Beijing to Bulgaria. Maps, paintings, drawings, photographs, and a timeline fill out the book.
Perfect for: Those interested in Medieval times, Asian history, and children who dream of roaming far and wide.
Find Marco Polo and the Medieval Explorers at your local library.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by: Jacqueline Kelly - (Henry Holt and Co., 2009) 352 pages.
A prize-winning book that explores the unconventional life of a brash young naturalist.
She’s a turn-of-the-century Texas girl, but 11-year-old Calpurnia Tate is more interested in becoming a scientist than in knitting or cooking. With the help of her grandfather, an amateur naturalist, and Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, she starts doing fieldwork. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is the critically acclaimed story of an outsider who has to forge her own way in the world as she discovers her unique identity.
Perfect for: Kids who like historical fiction.
Find The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate at your local library.
Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia (A Wicked History)
by: Zu Vincent - (Franklin Watts, 2009) 128 pages.
Fearless, iron-willed, intelligent, and power-hungry, Catherine the Great ruled Russia for 34 years. She expanded her empire’s borders and modernized the citizenry with Enlightenment reforms and by linking her nation politically and culturally to Europe. Part of a series on notorious leaders, readers meet the ruthless Catherine. However, they learn some of her hopes and motivations. But her grand manipulations, including how she took control of the nation and had her spouse assassinated, keep tweens reading. The book includes quotes, photos, etchings, a timeline, glossary, a map of key locations in Catherine’s life, and a “Wicked Web” depicting her allies and enemies.
Perfect for: Those interested in the working of monarchies, the rule of despots, and the goings-on behind castle walls.
Find Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia (A Wicked History) at your local library.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
by: Anne Frank - (Bantam, 1993) 304 pages.
The Nazis occupied Amsterdam in 1942, forcing 13-year-old Anne Frank and her family to hide in the secret annex of a warehouse. Anne memorializes her two years of claustrophobic confinement in this witty, fearful, intimate diary, that concludes when the Gestapo discover the hideout. (Anne died in March 1945, in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.) This is a remarkable coming-of-age classic, set in tragic circumstances. Anne wrote, “I want to go on living even after my death!… Will I ever be able to write anything great?” Her wish has been realized.
Perfect for: Teenagers, wanna-be writers, or children interested in Nazi Germany.
Find Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl at your local library.
Amos Fortune, Free Man
by: Elizabeth Yates - (Puffin Books, 1989) 192 pages.
The true story of 15-year-old Prince At-mun who was captured in Africa in 1725 by slave traders, shipped in chains via the Middle Passage to Boston, and sold as a slave, and renamed Amos Fortune. Maintaining his dignity as the first son of a chief, he learns the tanning trade from a kind master, purchases freedom for himself and his family members, buys land in New Hampshire and builds a house and a barn for himself. Inspirational story of persistence, with historical details of Colonial and early American life.
Perfect for: Tweens interested in slavery, social justice, African-American history, and the Colonial Era.
Find Amos Fortune, Free Man at your local library.
Albert Einstein: Genius of the Twentieth Century
by: Allison Lassieur - (Children’s Press, 2005) 128 pages.
The Nobel prize-winner’s personal life and professional achievements are chronologically examined in this fact-filled, accessible presentation. His problems in school and difficulty finding a job are addressed. Readers also learn how he was affected by his family, his love of music, his Jewishness, the rise of Nazism and his departure from Germany, his marriages and children, and the development of the atomic bomb, using his theories. One-page explanations of his major discoveries in time, gravity, matter, energy, and light are provided, including, of course, his theory E = mc2.
Perfect for: Those interested in science and scientists and how the genius mind works.
Find Albert Einstein: Genius of the Twentieth Century at your local library.
The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History
by: Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by: Roger Roth - (Random House, 2006) 368 pages.
This big, 360-page book tells stories drawn from the archives of American historical events, large and small. Its 100 short tales — each typically one to five pages — recount in cogent and chronological order stories of courage, struggle, discovery and freedom that shaped the American experience, from the 1565 founding of America’s first city to the confounding 2000 presidential election. … Smart and written in a lively fashion featuring clever watercolor illustrations, this book makes history digestible in appetizing bite-size pieces.
Perfect for: Kids who like history.
Find The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History at your local library.