31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 American History
You might wonder where I get these list topics. I mean, American History? Why not International History too? Or Women’s History for that matter? The reason in this particular case is that many of these lists are based on the various award committees I serve on. For a couple years I was on the New York Historical Society’s Children’s History Book Prize. It was great fun, and gave me a taste for these particular types of books. Since then, I keep an eye on U.S. History when it crops up, and I count everything! Poetry, comics, fiction, you name it.
Here are the books where it cropped up in the most interesting ways. And if you note some absences, please know that I’m saving the Biographies for the December 26th list.
2018 American History
Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson
This is the new paperback cover, in case you missed it. Released at the beginning of 2018, the book follows Betty Shabazz as a kid, complete with an unhappy home life. The history in this book is very much rooted in Detroit in the 1940s and follows Betty as her lifelong activism starts. We see her join an organization that promotes black-owned businesses, for example, as well as the roots of the American Civil Rights Movement. There’s plenty of history at work here.
The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis
Pre-Civil War America is the time period of Curtis’s latest. In 1858 the Fugitive Slave Act was in full force, and few books drive home its horrors better than this one. Moreover the thrust of the book (tracking down slaves in Canada to kidnap back to the States) involving the pursuit of Sylvanus Demarest is based on true incidents.
Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages
The history of women in professional baseball is explored to such length and depth that I may have to declare this book the most rigorously researched middle grade historical fiction of the year. Set in 1957 San Francisco, Katy Gordon has a killer pitch. But does that mean she can join the Little League? No. Can girls join the Little League today? No. A good title for drumming up a sense of injustice in young readers, as well as teaching them about some of the amazing women that came before.
Two Roads by Joseph Bruchac
Set in 1932, Bruchac isn’t content to settle on a single moment in history, but a slew of them. First, you have Cal Black, a kid that rides the rails with his Pa until he finds out they’re both Creek. Next thing you know Cal’s been sent off to an Indian bording school by his dad. Bruchac takes a deep dive into the complexities and contradictions of the schools. At the same time, the book explains a lot about a moment in history that I certainly had never heard of before. While Cal attends school and learns more about his heritage from his fellow students, his dad partakes in the Bonus Army march on Washington D.C.
Lafayette! by Nathan Hale
You get a fair amount of French history in there on the side, but for the most part this is American Revolution stuff pure and simple. Mr. Hale has done two books in his Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series on that particular war. Hopefully we’ll get that Benedict Arnold one someday as well.
Have Your Heard About Lady Bird? Poems About Our First Ladies by Marilyn Singer, ill. Nancy Carpenter
My general rule is, if you can make a poem about Sarah Childress Polk then you deserve all the things. Ms. Singer is a master at what she does. I still don’t know quite how she pulled this book off. Making a poem about every single First Lady doesn’t feel like a dare, but a curse. Hats off to her for managing it (and making it good!).
Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney, ill. Brian Pinkney
Kids may know who Martin Luther King Jr. was. They may even know that he was assassinated. But do they know exactly what happened leading up to his death? Do they know what happened immediately afterwards? Do you know? Would you like to? Because I happen to know a book that could clarify a whole lot of details for you . . .
Nonfiction Picture Books
Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words by Donna Janell Bowman, ill. S.D. Schindler
Okay, have a seat. I don’t want to shock you too much. Are you ready for me to drop some knowledge on your noggin? Are you? All right. Here goes.
Sometimes our leaders don’t always make the best choices.
I know, I know, it’s hard for me to believe too. But take the case of Lincoln. Before he took office he got into what could only be accurately described as The Stupidest Duel of All Time. Both he and his challenger survived, but it’s gotta go down in history as one of the great, incredibly inane moments in the great man’s life. So why not make a book about it? I’m down with that.
All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem With Stuff by Meghan McCarthy
Many of us may remember Jonah Winter’s Here Comes the Garbage Barge (illustrated by Red Nose Studios). Well, Meghan’s book covers the same topic, but gives you a whole lot more information and background. Plus, check out all the nods to the 1980s she’s worked in there. That’s a Cabbage Patch Doll I spy with my little eye. Garbage is fun. Finding out you can’t put it anywhere? Even better.
An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution by Beth Anderson, ill. Elizabeth Baddeley
Ben Franklin knew all kinds of interesting things and he came up with a wide array of great ideas. But, the man was hardly infallible and so he also came up with a bunch of wackadoodle notions too. Take, for example, his pairing with Noah Webster to make American spelling as distinct from British spelling as possible. He failed and I’m having a hard time seeing that as a bad thing. There are lots of Noah Webster bios out there. This isn’t one of them. Instead, it’s a highly amusing look at a duo that yielded bupkiss together. What’s not to love?
Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan, ill. R. Gregory Christie
This actually pairs magnificently with the aforementioned Martin Rising. At some point during my young adulthood I remember learning that when Martin Luther King was assassinated, it was during a time when he was supporting the Sanitation Strike of 1968. The what now? There’s not a ton of information about that time period for children that explains what precisely this was. In this book Ms. Duncan deftly makes the story comprehensible for the very young by introducing you to a family that’s directly affected by this moment in history. Gratifyingly good.
Pass Go and Collect $200: The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented by Tanya Lee Stone, ill. Steven Salerno
Who invented Monopoly? The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. It was a woman! Or. . . was it? What does it mean when we say someone “invented” this game? In many ways, this is a great book to use with kids if you want to show them how complicated the business of copyright and infringement can be. The book’s title didn’t suck me in right away, but the writing and beautiful art most certainly did. Go get this book. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.
What’s the Big Deal About Elections? by Ruby Shamir, ill. Matt Faulkner
There’s a bit of history here, wrapped up in what I’ve always suspected was a book written to get the parents of kids interested in voting. Then again, that may not be giving the kids enough credit. If we’ve see nothing else in 2018, it’s that young people are getting more involved and more active in voting and politics than ever before. They can’t afford not to be, and that’s the truth.
Capsized! The Forgotten Story of the S.S. Eastland Disaster by Patricia Sutton
Oh, this was so much fun to read, in the way any disaster is fun. Now I’ve lived next to Chicago for about four years now, and I’d never heard of the SS Eastland a.k.a. the boat that managed to capsize in a Chicago harbor. Sutton is very good in how she sets everything up. You meet the characters and get to know them pretty well. Long before you get to the horrifying accident, of course. Who will live and who will die? It’s up in the air until the end. And only books on the Titanic have given me more qualms about how I’d react if the boat I was in was going down. If you have a kid into the Titanic / Donner Party / etc., this is the book for them!
The Eye That Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss, ill. Jeremy Holmes
Though it’s presented in a kind of picture book format, I’d argue that older kids will be the ones that get a kick out of this title in particular. It’s not really a biography per se, anyway, since the focus is less on encapsulating Pinkerton’s life and more on what his detective agency got up to. Love the writing, the length (which is definitely longer than an average picture book) and the killer art style of Jeremy Holmes.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Books for Kids
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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