Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

In the Time of the Drums

Title: In the Time of the Drums

Author: Kim L. Siegelson

Illustrator: Brian Pinkney

Publisher and Year: Hyperion Books for Children 1999

Number of Pages: 30

Tags/Theme: Award Book, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction, K-5, Joe Marras

Genre: Fable

Descriptive Annotation: There is a older woman, Twi, and her grandson, Mentu, and they are on an island near the Teakettle Creek where ships often land to bring slaves to work on the islands plantations.  Mentu was born on the island, but Twi was born in Africa and longs for her home. She teaches Mentu a lot of his culture and to respect and cherish his culture. One day a Spanish ship lands with Ibo people on it and they are singing for their home, and it rings hard with Twi and calls to her.  It urges her to journey home, so she joins hands with the Ibo people and leads them into the Teakettle Creek and walk down and through the water towards their home. They soon disappear in the water and hopefully to their homes.

Classroom Application: This story is good for the class probably during Black History Month, but also any time of the year.  This book can introduce slavery, but also teach about how important it is to hold on to culture and cherish and celebrate it and never let it go no matter how hard things get.  

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: This story is a Gullah tale that has been passed down orally for generations, so this story shows another culture and can introduce slavery to younger kids, and also African cultures, “Because then the old ways will try to grow weak inside of you.  Don’t let ‘em! Takes a mighty strength not to forget who you are. Where you come from. To help others remember it, too.” Twi is telling Mentu that it is important to remember who he is and how important that is and to not forget it no matter how hard things get.  I think this is an important lesson to remember and celebrate cultures.

“ “we are home! We are home!” the people drummed. But they were far from home.”  This helps show that this book has a sad, but real and truthful tone. The author doesn’t dress anything about slavery up, and shows it in its true colors which I think makes the message so much stronger and real.

The Way to Start A Day

Title: The Way to Start A Day

Author:  Byrd Baylor

Illustrator: Peter Parnall

Publication/ Year: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1977

Number of Pages: 27

Tags/ Themes: Award Book, Culture, Historical Fiction, Picture Book, Poetry, K-5

Genre: Non-Fiction

Descriptive Annotation: This book received a Caldecott Honor Award for its stunning simplistic illustrations. This book describes the best way to start off your day, by greeting the sunrise. Every illustration is of a different culture and how they greeted the start of a day, but all the illustrations are in simple line drawings with vivid colors to accentuate them. The story talks about cavemen, Peruvian, Mexican, Egyptian, Conga, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and many other traditions of people and how their cultures welcome the dawn of a new day.  Students may need to know a little bit about some of the cultures or at least have an understanding of how many different cultures there are around the world.

Classroom Application: This book would be really good to use to help inform students that everyone will have different traditions and cultures and that is okay! Because even though cultures are very varied and unique, they all share some similarities if you look hard enough. We are all people under the same sun, and it is important to acknowledge and respect other cultures as different from your own, but still special and wonderful! It could meet some social and emotional learning standards by talking about different cultures which may relate to some of my students’ cultures, which may not get represented in books that much. I would use this book to start a conversation between people. How do you start your day? Is there anything special you do at the start of any day? What about your grandparents? We could turn it into a writing prompt as well by reflecting about what cultures you’ve witnessed and what you participate in.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis:  The language in this book is beautiful. It is very poetic, with phrases such as,

“And everywhere

They knew

To turn

Their faces


As the sun

Came up.”

This style is consistent throughout the book, adding pauses and beauty to the language that we don’t usually see in these books. There are many different cultures represented in this book, as I have mentioned, which is very good because it is important to expose young readers to books with a lot of diversity in them. The way the book is written provokes a calming tone to the reader, soothing and relaxing, almost meditative in a way. This is also important because it associates that calm and relaxed emotion with different cultures.


Our People

Title: Our People

Author:  Angela Shelf Medearis

Illustrator: Michael Bryant

Publication/ Year: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1994

Number of Pages: 25

Tags/ Themes: Culture, Family, Historical Fiction, K-1, 2-3

Genre: Fiction

Descriptive Annotation: This book is written from the perspective of the daughter, telling about what her father has told her about the history of their people. She recounts how they built pyramids in Africa, or were kings or queens or poets or artists in villages. She tells how they came across the ocean to explore the new world—this is only on one page and it is my biggest problem with the book. The way the author writes about this mass migration sounds like it was voluntary and for an adventure, not because of slavery. She does talk about slavery later, which is good, but this one part made me raise my eyebrows. The girl recounts how people were freed of slavery and went on to learn and invent things and get jobs. For each of these parts of her history she shares, she says how she wishes she could have been there to help. The book ends with her father telling her that she has a great future in front of her, and will continue bringing great things for their people.

Classroom Application: I probably would not use this book as a part of a lesson persay, but I think that a lot of the content is good for students to have access to in the classroom. It shares how creative, strong, and resilient people from African descent are. It helps teach students to be proud of their heritage, regardless of if you are the minority or not. While I have a bit of an issue with that one page described above, I think that the lesson of the book (being proud of who you are) is very important.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: The illustrations in this book are beautiful. They take up most of the page, and are realistic and colorful. They both illustrate the history of their people while also showing the little girl and how she dreams of big things. I think that it is really important to have books in the classroom that are about all kinds of different people and cultures, and I think this book does a really good job of showing how much this culture has overcome.


She Persisted

Title: She Persisted

Author:  Chelsea Clinton

Illustrator: Alexandra Boiger

Publication/ Year: 2017, Philomel Books

Number of Pages: 27

Tags/ Themes: Culture, Diversity, Historical Fiction, Non-Fiction, Picture Book, K-5

Genre: historical fiction (maybe even non-fiction)

Descriptive Annotation: This powerful book outlines the story of thirteen different women who persisted through incredibly difficult times, and came out stronger than before. This book is not only a lesson to young readers that women are powerful and capable, but it is also an inspiring message to young girls that even though life can be incredibly difficult and people often discriminate against girls and women and assume we are weaker or inferior to men, we can persist and prove our capability and power to the world! Through real-life examples, the author connects the stories of these historic women and relates it to the modern-day girl. The illustrations are painted with watercolor and depict many different races and ethnicities. Before reading this book, students would need to know what the word “persisted” means.

Classroom Application: I could use this book to supplement a lesson about any one of the women mentioned here. It would be good to use because it would show that even though that woman probably struggled to get what she wanted (or maybe even failed), her efforts were important and there is an army of women fighting for what they believe in. Even if they are not right next to you, they are there and supportive. This book would be very good to use to help social studies lessons. Additionally, it addresses SELS because it teaches students to be confident and determined and encourages them to be themselves despite hardships which may come their way. I would use this book to prompt a text-to-self writing lesson because students could write about a time where they were challenged or doubted because of some part of their identity and how they persisted through it. The only problem with this potential writing exercise is that some of the boys would not have anything good to write about, and some of the girls might not either! This activity might be better suited for upper-level students, but it could potentially be modified for younger kids too.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: The cultural diversity representation in this book is phenomenal. It has characters of all ethnicities and races, and represents a minority and brings power to them. For girls, it is inspirational, relatable, and encouraging. For boys, it allows them to see how strong and capable women are and helps open their eyes to the oppression we have dealt with for centuries. Through the use of real quotes from these historic women, it helps make the book land with a heavier impact; bringing to life these people. With the repetition of the phrase, “she persisted”, it brings forth a theme of determination throughout the book which is very powerful.


One Dead Spy

Title: One Dead Spy

Author: Nathan Hale

Illustrator: Nathan Hale

Publisher/ Year: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012

Number of Pages: 128

Tags/Themes:  Adventure, Chapter Book, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, 4-5, 6-8, Rebecca Cauthorn

Genre: Historical Fiction (Almost non-fiction, but not quite)

Descriptive Annotation: This book begins at the execution of the historical figure Nathan Hale (ironically, also the author’s name). However, before he is hung he gets swallowed by a gigantic history book and suddenly he knows everything that happens in the future of America. Intrigued, the executioner and the guard ask him to tell his story. Both the language used and the illustrations are hilarious, helping the reader stay engaged during the discussion of the revolutionary war. Nathan Hale (the primary narrator) begins telling the story of the war, jumping back and forth between his story and his current conversation with the guard and the executioner.  This book walks through all of the beginning major battles of the war (including Bunker Hill, Winter’s Hill, the siege of Boston, and more) and the recalling of these events are extremely accurate, including exact quotes from some of the major figures involved. The book ends with Hale going to get hung, but he says he knows how the war ends, so they decide not to hang him yet and allow him to continue telling the story (setting it up for a sequel). Before reading this book students would need to know what the Revolutionary War was.

Classroom Application: This would be an excellent text to accompany a history lesson on the Revolutionary War!! It would be a very fun and engaging way to get the kids excited to learn about the battles while also increasing their desire to read and enjoyment of reading. Also, if students had not yet been familiar with graphic novels, this would be a good way to show them that graphic novels are awesome! And a super legit way to read and can be very informative and fun. Another benefit of this book is that because it is so fun while also being very instructional, it could spark curiosity in students and a desire to continue learning more.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: This book represents both the opinions of the Americans and the British during the Revolutionary war, which I think is important. It is common that people teach the Revolutionary War as being just one-sided, when in fact many of the British soldiers were just fighting for what they thought was right! By including the dialogue between Nathan Hale and the British soldier guard, it allows the reader to understand both sides of the story, which both raises the stakes and provides interesting insights to why the war happened.


Real Friends

Title: Real Friends

Author: Shannon Hale

Illustrator: LeUyen Pham artwork by Jane Poole

Publisher and Year: First Second 2017

Number of Pages: 213

Tags/Themes: Chapter book, family, emotion, historical fiction, friendship, graphic novel, 4-5, 6-8, Rebecca Cauthorn

Genre: historical fiction

Descriptive Annotation: This graphic novel tells the very relatable and common story of a girl trying to fit in to a group of friends. She gets bullied at school, and at home by her older sister, who (as it turns out), has had her own trouble finding friends her whole life, too. At the end of this novel is an author’s note which helps to understand the message she is trying to send as well as revealing that the girl the book is about, Shannon, is none other than the author herself. While there are pictures on every page, students need to have a strong vocabulary knowledge and this book would not be appropriate until around the fourth grade.

Classroom Application: This book would be brilliant to share with the class if there was any bullying going on. Even if there was no obvious bullying, it would be good to share if you could clearly see different groups within the classroom. This book helps teach a valuable lesson of kindness and being accepting to everyone. This book would fit in less with the actual curriculum of the class and more into Social and Emotional Learning Standards for the students.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: The girl in this book, Shannon, struggles with anxiety and perhaps depression, and talks about wanting to just disappear. This is a feeling that students may be having in the class and so it would be good to show this book to demonstrate that they are not alone. It also could open the eyes to some students who perhaps didn’t realize they were bullying another student or being mean, but this could shed light on it. This book is also good for students who are struggling with issues with their siblings, because it shows that family tension during these ripe years are normal.


The Dreamer

Title:  The Dreamer

Author: Pam Munoz Ryan

Illustrator: Peter Sis

Publisher/Year: Scholastic Press, 2010

Number of Pages: 355

Tags/Themes:  Adventure, Award Book, Chapter Book, Emotion, Culture, Diversity, Family, Poetry, Historical Fiction, 4-5, Rebecca Cauthorn

 Genre: Historical Fiction

Descriptive Annotation:  This book was based on the famous poet Pablo Neruda’s life, except we don’t know this until the end. This emotional story is for anyone who is an outcast, who feels different than other people, or feels like they are letting their family down. We meet a young boy, Neftali, who is a dreamer. He loves to write, daydream, and imagine. His father thinks he is an absent-minded fanatic, who will amount to nothing. The story begins when Neftali is eight, and ends when he goes off to college. We watch him struggling to find a balance between being himself while pleasing his father, and root for him as he discovers his passion and gift for writing. Illustrations are included at the beginning of the chapter and sporadically throughout the book, accompanied with poetry that Pablo Neruda wrote later in his life (of course, we do not know yet that it is our beloved Neftali’s poetry we are reading). This book also comments on the issues of displacing native peoples for development, and uses little Spanish phrases throughout. This book would be excellent for someone who had a Chilean background, or anyone who felt like their differences were a bad thing. It is easy reading, but very long, so would be most appropriate for a 4th or 5th grade classroom.

Classroom Application: This book would be a great asset to help students recognize that we are all important and smart even if we are good at different things. Neftali wasn’t very good at math, but a very creative writer and thinker. It would also be good to assist a lesson on Native Americans to demonstrate that this displacement is still going on and to raise the question of right versus wrong. Another way to incorporate this book into the curriculum would be to have an entire mini unit devoted to it—for math, we could use leaves and twigs to illustrate multiplication by grouping, for social studies, we could investigate the displacement of Native Americans and native people all over, and for reading/writing we could write poetry that Neftali would have written, and then teach a lesson on Pablo Neruda and his poetry. We could also include art into this lesson by cutting out construction paper into a leaf or a beetle or a swan and write a poem on it and hang them in the classroom.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: This book does an exceptional job of raising awareness of and cultivating discussions about cultural diversity. Within the book, many different viewpoints are discussed about the diversity in the town Neftali is from, and this could raise a very stimulating discussion which could expand the minds of students. The depiction of Neftali as a dreamer who is on the outside is also very beneficial to the classroom to recognize that everyone is unique and awesome in their own way. Overall, this book contains a wide cultural vocabulary, from the Spanish words and the Chilean setting, to the discussion of native people, to the differences of Neftali from other boys and girls.

Wagon Train: A Family Goes West in 1865

Title: Wagon Train: A Family Goes West in 1865

Author(s): Courtni C. Wrights

Illustrator/Photographer: Gershom Griffith

Publisher and Year: Holiday House; 1995

Number of Pages: 30

Tags: Adventure, Culture, Family, Historical Fiction, Picture Book, 2-3, 4-5, Sarah Luce

Genre: Historical Fiction

Descriptive Annotation:

Wagon Train is about an African American family that travels west in a wagon train after being freed from slavery. Along the way, they encounter dangerous animals, brutal weather, and Native Americans. The story ends with the hope that the family will safely make it to California. There is an Author’s Note on the first page talking about the treatment of African Americans and how they too travelled west, despite the lack of records of their experiences. Students would find it helpful to know about the Oregon Trail and the Westward Expansion.

Classroom Application:

This text would be perfect for reinforcing material taught about the Oregon Trail and Westward Expansion. It could be used in the middle of a unit to give students a window into the hardships and experiences these settlers faced. It is also a good text to use to reinforce that not just White people went west, but so did many African Americans after the Civil War.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis:

Wagon Train not only represents the culture of westward settlers and those living in covered wagons as they travelled, but also the culture of African Americans who set out on the same journey. These people had an even worse expedition, because they could not “join one of the big trains leaving Independence, Missouri” (page 8). Being in a smaller train meant less support from others and more danger. Because “few could write diaries to record their experiences,” this book is important in showing students what the journey west was potentially like for African Americans (page 1). If I used this story in the middle of an Oregon Trail unit, I would introduce it as a story about a group of people who were not well documented, but were an important part of the movement nonetheless.


A Different Pond

Title: A Different Pond

Author: Bao Phi

Illustrator: Thi Bui

Publisher and Year: 2017 Capstone Young Readers

Number of pages: 32

Tags/Themes: Award Book, Culture, Diversity, Family, Historical Fiction, Picture Book, K-5, Evan White

Genre: Family, Picture Book, Children’s, Cultural

Descriptive Annotation: A young Vietnamese boy and his father wake up very early one day to go fishing.  The two go to a shop to buy some bait fish.  At the shop, the shop owner asked why they came so early, and the father explained how he got another job, so they needed to fish earlier for food.  Once at the fishing pond, the boys father shares a story how the pond reminds him of a pond in his old home in Vietnam before the “War” (implied Vietnam War).  The father shares how he would go fishing for food with his brother, how they would fight side by side.  After his brother died, the father went to America.  The young boy feels proud of himself for catching a big fish to eat later that day with his family.  When they arrive home, the mother starts cooking the fish, while the father goes to work. The authors note explains how the authors parents were refuges from the Vietnam War, and wanted to write a book similar to his experiences.  From the story, it is not clear the family are refugees until the reader reads the author’s note.  It might be helpful for students to know there was war in Vietnam, and possibly what a refuge is to explain why the father needed multiple jobs.

Classroom Application: This book can be used to reinforce content from history or social sciences.  The book can be used to demonstrate how families have had to leave their home country because of war, but also how those families can still keep their family tradition, in this case, fishing.  This book can stretch students thinking about reasons why people need to work multiple jobs.  Thereir can be numerous reasons, and the students can be open to different reasons people need to work multiple jobs and fund ways to save money to make a living.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: This book represents Vietnamese American culture, especially those who are refugees. It teaches how refugees work very hard to survive in America. “ “You’re here early today,” the bait man says.  “I got a second job,” my dad explains. “I have to work this morning.” “On a Saturday?” the bait man asks. My dad nods.” (7).  From the bait, they caught a few fish. “Dad smiles, his teeth broken and white in the dark, because we have a few fish and he knows we will eat tonight.” (18).  This quote shows how this family have to be creative to get food showing the creativity and hard work of refuges to make a living.  I might introduce this book by having the students discuss a specific location the students spend time with their family or guardians. The pond is a place of recurring fishing for the father and boy, and the students might have a location where they spend a lot of time with their family.

Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey To The Ballot Box

Title: Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey To The Ballot Box

Author: Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher and Year: Candlewick Press 2015

Number of pages: 32

Tags/Themes: Diversity, Emotion, Family, Historical Fiction

Genre: Historical fiction, Children’s, Culutral, Picture Books, African American, historical, Family

Descriptive Annotation: Michael remembers the time his granddaddy took him to the voting polls.  Michael was only a child and would work on a farm with his granddaddy.  They both dressed up and the voting polls had huge lines and they kept on getting cut by white voters.  His granddaddy kept telling Michael to be patient and saying their time will come.  Once granddaddy got his ballot, he expressed to Michael how it was the happiest day of his life.  Shortly after, a police officer asked granddaddy if he could read, which granddaddy couldn’t.  The police officer then ripped up his ballot, and the two walked away defeated and granddaddy crying.  The book then goes to Michael as an adult voting for the first time.  Michael votes on behalf of his granddaddy and votes for everyone else who wasn’t able to.  The students will need basic background on what voting is, how it works, and the importance of voting, as well as background as to why black people couldn’t vote in the 1950s and 1960s (when the book took place).  The book does have a brief history lesson in the back.

Classroom Application: This text can reinforce social sciences, but more so the importance of voting.  This text could meet Social Emotional Learning Standards of recognizing feelings and perspectives of others.  This text shows the pain granddaddy went through from not voting, and there could be students in the classroom who have family experiences that are similar.  It also will paint a picture for white students to recognize how a specific act of discrimination can affect someone and how important voting is for people of other races.  This can also stretch the students ’ thinking by starting a foundation of how important it is for them to vote as active citizens in America, and to take voting seriously, since it is a privilege to vote.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: This book represents the black community and shows the historical struggles of voting.  It teaches how there is a history of different groups of people not being able to vote.  For instance, in one scene, granddaddy faced the hatred of a voting official: “The deputy slammed the book shut, saying, “Well, Uncle, if you can’t read this, then you can’t vote.” He tore up my granddaddy’s ballot and threw it on the ground” (24).  There was a culture of discrimination people of color and those who can’t read.  This book acknowledges and teaches the history of the past culture.  When Michael voted, he held onto his family’s history and said, “When I went to vote for the first time, I remembered what my granddaddy always said: “Patience, son, patience.”  He was right.  The day finally came.  And I knew that – just like my granddaddy – I would never take it for granted” (30).  The end of the book demonstrates the seriousness of voting and how voting is still a recent privilege for black people.  It’s  important to take voting serious since many people fought for the right to vote.  I might introduce this book by asking the students if they have voted before.  Voting is also as simple as voting with your friends  what game to play.  If my class has done any type of voting before (like voting on what science video to watch) then I can bring up how they have all voted before.  This will activate their schema how they all had a voice when they voted and how important their voice was.