5 Nonfiction U.S. History Books for Middle Graders
One of the greatest books of American history written in recent years is Jim Murphy's
I'm Dr. Marc Aronson. I'm a teacher in the Rutgers School of Library and information Science. I'm here with my son Sasha for About.com to introduce some great middle grade nonfiction and some subjects kids will want to read about.What is history? History is everything that human beings have done to make us who we are as investigated by our current interests and ideas. You're digging through, you know, this blank surface to catch a surprise, and to learn something, which now links you with something before and gives you a vector, a path, towards who you can become.I begin this journey with the 2012 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. It's an approach which is, we do have to say that for a lot of readers, younger readers especially, there is a fascination with facts: the tallest, oldest, longest, shortest, oldest, nearest, farthest. So the first stop I would say is books of facts that are presented as -- as a positive, as a chance to grow.One of the greatest books of American history has been written in recent years is Jim Murphy's An American Plague. What's fascinating here is, this is the story of a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. What this is isan example of is brilliant writing. From the first sentence on you cannot help turning the pages. And this turns out to be a story that is about medicine, it's a story about beliefs, it's a story in which the free black community in Philadelphia were the heros.And, here is an example where design and illustration really open up the story of the Harlem Renaissance. Here you're in the life and jazz and flow of the moment. You feel the electricity, the dance of the time as well as the darker more difficult currents of the moment.A third choice is Almost Astronauts by Tanya Stone. Tanya also uses many illustrations in her story of the 13 women who went through the same tests as the original Mercury Seven astronauts but were not allowed to fly, because of beliefs about women at the time. And, in particular, what Tanya did is, the whole book is in black and white until the moment when women were allowed to fly.Another example where personal passion comes in is Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. Claudette was Rosa Parks before Rosa Parks. She was a 14-year-old girl who refused to go to the back of the bus. But why don't we know Claudette's story? Why? Because she was a 14-year-old girl who made all the mistakes that 14-year-olds make who got angry, who was not a perfect poster child for the test case that the NAACP wanted to make. And so her story was lost.Finally, I can't help mention a book of my own that I wrote with Scott Reynolds Nelson, who is an historian at William and Mary, and Scott was trying to learn about the track liners. Track liners were men in the South. There were about 40,000 African American men who worked on the railroad re-aligning track. And there's almost no information about them. They sang a song, a famous song, about John Henry and his contest with a steam drill. But as Scott followed the clues in the song, he could not really find evidence that there was a real John Henry. Until, Scott came upon this verse in one version of the song. To me this is a great example of Scott's research that history is investigation that can start anywhere.Thanks for watching. To learn more, visit us on the web at About.com.