Monday, March 02, 2009

Real Revolution: great books for fun learning

Many times when we're doing history, I use the shot-gun approach for compiling resources. I head to my library's web-site and search for specific event or time in history and see what books, videos, or audiobooks our library might have. The treasure trove of books and videos discovered in this way outdistances the few duds that sound great but are ... well, less than living!

For our recent Revolution study, here are the resources we found particularly useful and fun:

Allen, Thomas B. -- George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War is a great chapter book (or read-aloud) that talks about all the covert activities (on both sides) developed or honed during the American Revolution. Very cool and lots of great rabbit trails for code-making, invisible ink and other fun topics.
Forbes, Esther – Johnny Tremain: A Story of Boston in Revolt is a wonderful glimpse at colonial life just before and during the revolution. Johnny is a silversmith apprentice who gets involved with helping the revolution along.
Fritz, Jean – And then what happened, Paul Revere? (a great short read-aloud about the life of Paul Revere, his famous ride and his last years)
Fritz, Jean – What’s the Big Idea Ben Franklin? (overview of Ben’s life with lots of details about his experiments, eccentricities and environment)
Fritz, Jean – Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? (interesting biography of the most noticeable name on the Declaration of Independence; Hancock is portrayed as being amazingly self-centered and always seeking vainglory)
Fritz, Jean – Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George? (a great short read-aloud about King George III’s life and why he was so tenacious about the colonies)
Fritz, Jean – George Washington’s Breakfast (an inquisitive little boy named after the first President wonders what GW ate for breakfast – interesting linking of facts about GW and the how and why to seek information)
Fritz, Jean – Where was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? (biography of Patrick Henry’s life and what was happening on his birthday throughout American history – very readable and enjoyable)
Fritz, Jean – Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? (biography of Sam Adams who never rode a horse so he could harangue people he met about the Brits and how America needed to stand up to England; very interesting twist for why he finally deigns to ride a horse)
Fritz, Jean – Shhh! We’re Writing the Constitution (drier than most Fritz books, this one covers the in-fighting and arguments leading up to the writing of the Constitution; goes into which states ratified and which didn’t
Harness, Cheryl – George Washington (longer picture book that tells great and interesting facts about the 1st president; lots of great information and details that include his great love for Martha and his duty and honor.)
Harness, Cheryl – The Revolutionary John Adams (longer picture book that tells great and interesting facts about this 2nd president of the United States. Excellent illustrations, information and fun to read!).
Harness, Cheryl – Thomas Jefferson (longer picture book that tells the background of Jefferson’s life from birth to death. Very interesting with great pictures and fun facts on this 3rd president of the United States.
Maestro, Betsy & Giulio – Liberty or Death: The American Revolution 1763-1783 (longer than a picture book, this is a great overview of the skirmishes and battles that added up to the American Revolution … from the “shot heard round the world” to the surrender at Yorktown. This is a great overview with lots of detailed maps and information about all the players in this pivotal world-event.)
Ransom, Candice – Time Spies: Secret in the Tower is a third or fourth grade reading level chapter book that tells the story of three siblings who go back in time to help deliver an important message to George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown. This is a cute story that reads well and gives some great information. At the end of the book, the author encourages the reader to try out invisible ink and code writing. Very fun story!
Schanzer, Rosalyn – George vs George: The American Revolution as seen from both sides (longer-than-a-picture book explanation of the war, and what led up to it and what happened after, from both the British view and the American view. The taxes don’t seem so unreasonable when explained from the British side!)
Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor (A&E original dvd) – points out the problem Arnold had with pride (and a bit of a chip on his shoulder) as the reason for his switching sides during the Revolution. Kelsey Grammer does a great job as George Washington … once Arnold’s mentor then his enemy.
Founding Brothers: Vol 1 and Vol 2 (History Channel dvd) – the wheelings and dealings and personalities of America’s founding fathers featuring Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton and others. Excellent series!
John & Abigail Adams (PBS dvd) – part movie, part documentary, this DVD does a great job of showing the public and private side of the Adamses … from pre-Revolution through the early years of the new Country. Excellent!
Johnny Tremain (Disney) – although not as good as the book, this movie does a good job of showing just what the Sons of Liberty did to help encourage our nation’s independence. This is a classic when Disney was still trying to stay pretty close to the original story. A favorite around here although the “Liberty Tree” song will be on your lips for many weeks after watching!
Liberty Kids (PBS dvd) – series of animated adventures with three kids and a free-Black man who all work for Ben Franklin’s newspaper; they report on all the events leading up to and thru the revolution. Very well done with some amazing voices (incl Walter Cronkite as Franklin and Dustin Hoffman as Benedict Arnold).
National Treasure (Disney dvd) – a fictionalized account using the legend that many of the Nation’s founders were Masons and thus privy to the hiding of the amassed treasure; a great, Indiana Jones-type movie (without the sex and not too much violence) that tells a great story, linking bits of American history of the late 1700s.
Rebels and Redcoats: How Britain Lost America (PBS dvd) – a British military historian (Richard Holmes) gives a very different view of the American Revolution – that from the British view. Many of the “sacred cows” of the Revolution (George Washington, especially) get short shrift during this interesting four-part mini-series. Definitely something to watch to encourage discussion and to debate some of the realities of the Revolution.
Saving the National Treasures (NOVA dvd) – great documentary about the restoration/preserving processes needed to keep the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and the Bill of Rights viewable but safe for centuries. Lots of great historical details of why, how and when these were written.

We've now moved on to the New Nation period -- basically 1787-1850s -- when the Nation quickly grew and experienced the benefits (immigration, expansion, exploration) and pitfalls (labor issues, slave vs free, self-government, international wars). We have found a wonderful book ... one I've never seen mentioned anywhere ... that is really a fun read-along for this period. Book of the New American Nation is short stories, diary excerpts, activities and games and other tidbits of information that help the kids love learning this era.

For instance, we learned about a woman, Elizabeth Trist, a friend of Thomas Jefferson's who traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi from Pittsburgh to Natchez to meet her husband. Excerpts of Mrs. Trist's diary highlight the silly and sometimes scary events that occur along her trip down on a flat-boat. Book of the New American Nation gives directions for making a flat-boat as well as directions for a fun "board" game of taking the trip downriver. The kids now understand the geography of the rivers, the potential hazards and generally "lived" the river trip through this very simple game.

So, now we're off to explore the New Nation ... we'll post the books and other resources we find along our route!

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