Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Reviews of Books for Children Which Bring American History to Life

These Amazing Books Bring American History to Life

Peter Crabtree and Bobbie Kalman are responsible for some of the most appealing American history books for children of all ages that I've ever seen. I first became aware of these books while I was in the business of selling educational books for children. They are not boring, like textbooks. They are designed to make children want to pick them up and read them. When I sold these at home school conventions, even the parents loved reading them. These books sold themselves as soon as people looked inside of them. I myself learned much from them. 

The Early Settler Series

early settler storybook book cover
Buy Early Settler Storybook
Educator Bobbie Kalman wrote most of these books. The first series she produced was called the Early Settler Series. It is now mostly out of print, but copies are available on Amazon. As you can see by the cover art on this title, the art is nostalgic in style. The books look old fashioned. There are lots of illustrations to enhance the text. The reading level is about third or fourth grade and up. The illustrations will not be considered too young by older children. 

These books sold very well for me. Titles include Early Christmas, Early Stores and Markets, Early Loggers and the Sawmill, Early Travel, Early Village Life, Food for the Settler, Early Schools, Early Family Home, Early Settler Children, Early Settler Storybook, Early Artisans, Early Pleasures and Pastimes, Early Farm Life, Early City Life, and Early Health and Medicine.The link above should lead you to all available titles. A complete collection will show children exactly what life was like for the earliest settlers of what is now the United States. 

The Historic Communities Series

Bobbie Kalman's next series, Historic Communities, made some changes in format. These books look more modern. Wherever possible they are illustrated with photographs from living history museums and towns. If you've ever been to Williamsburg or Sturbridge Village, these books will make you feel like you are there again. There are several photographs and / or color illustrations on each two-page spread. Each book 32-page book also has a glossary to explain unfamiliar words and an index to make it easy for readers to find what they are looking for. These books are visually designed for children as young as first grade, but I would expect most children would need to be at a second or third grade level to read them independently. 

a colonial town williamsburg book cover
Buy A Colonial Town Williamsburg
Let's use an example: A Colonial Town Williamsburg. This book gives an overview of the history of Williamsburg followed by a beautiful pictorial map illustrating the buildings and their locations. The reader then gets a photographic tour of some sights that would have been common to the colonists. These include shops and taverns and the garden areas that were often behind them. We see children getting water from a well, since there was no indoor plumbing. We see a ladder on the roof for putting out chimney fires. We see a slave boy grooming a horse and we learn why horses were important to the colonists.

In the next parts of the book we visit the buildings: the Governor's Palace, the public buildings, Bruton Parish Church, The College of William and Mary, the apothecary, the windmill, and the shops. We not only see photographs, but we learn the purpose of each building and why it was important to the community. As the courthouse is shown, we learn about colonial justice and punishments. In relationship to the apothecary we learn about colonial health care and treatments. We learn how the windmill works.

We meet the people of Williamsburg, from the gentry down to the slaves and get a feel for their places in the community. We see a harness maker at work in his shop. At the end we learn about Project Williamsburg and how students are involved.

Each book in the Historic Communities series introduces readers to a rich pictorial presentation of some aspect of early American colonial life. Each book allows children to step hundreds of years back in history and see what a child's day was like, which games children played, how food was produced and cooked, what people wore, what a school day was like, and more. Here is a brief summary of selected titles. You can see all the titles available for sale on Amazon.

a childs day book cover
Buy A Child's Day
A Child's Day: Ever wondered what chores the early settler children did, or what they did in their spare time if they had any? How were their schools, foods, and clothing different from those of children today? Color photographs and original artwork bring these children from earlier times to life.

Classroom Games: Even back in early classrooms, teachers used games to help their students learn spelling and creative writing, arithmetic and science, geography, art, history, drama and reciting, good behavior, and music. They even had scavenger hunts back then. Besides games still played in classrooms today, such as spelling bees, students played word games, alphabet games, arithmetic games, and more. In outdoor classrooms, students made gardens and nature crafts. The games in this book are easily transferable to today's classrooms, where they can still make learning fun

Colonial Crafts: Watch the artisans and craftsmen at work in colonial times. Visit the workshops of the wheelwright, the cooper, the founder, the shoemaker, the milliner, the gunsmith, and many more. Discover how these people were trained through the apprenticeship program.

colonial life book cover
Buy Colonial Life
Colonial Life: Meet the hard-working members of a colonial community. Learn about the importance of family relationships and discover the importance of religion and education to these people. Watch plantation life and see the plight of the slaves. Observe how people traveled and spent their leisure time.

Customs and Traditions: This is one of my favorites. It explains how the early settlers preserved history, predicted the weather, cooked and ate, welcomed a new baby, and celebrated courtships, weddings, holidays, and the harvest.

fort life book cover
Buy Fort Life

Fort Life: Forts played a vital role in the New World because they offered protection. Learn about the different types of forts, the parts of the fort and how they functioned, and what went in in the lives of the families who lived in the forts.

The General Store: The general store was the hub of a town's life. It's where people went to buy their supplies, sniff the marvelous aromas, and see the colors of bright, new fabrics. It was a place for people to dream, make deals, gossip, and socialize. The photographs and illustrations will make you feel you are there.

Home Crafts: In this book you will see, step by step, how the early settlers made candles and soap, carded and spun wool, dyed cloth, and sewed samples. The color photographs really make you feel as though you were watching.

in the barn book cover
Buy In the Barn
In The Barn:  See all the activity that went on in the barns of busy settler farms. Watch as cows are milked, hogs get their slop, and the stalls get cleaned. Share in the work and fun of a barn-raising. See how the chores changed with the seasons.

The Kitchen: When you've read this book you will feel you've visited a colonial home, and entered the kitchen where the family spent a good deal of its time. You will see the fireplace, the tools and utensils surrounding it, and the chores that were done there (baking bread, churning butter, etc.)

Life on a Plantation: Watch the daily activities of plantation owners and their slaves. Compare their lifestyles. Readers will see life in the "big house," in the slave quarters, and in the cotton, rice, and tobacco fields. The customs and festivals of the estate are also explained.

a one room school book cover
Buy A One-Room School

A One-Room School: The first priority of any early settler community was building a school. This book explains what these one-room schools were like, what they taught, how students studied when books were scarce, how students were disciplined, and what went on during recess.

pioneer projects book cover
Buy Pioneer Projects
Pioneer Projects: In this book you will find step-by-step instructions for children and parents who want to make pioneer crafts. There are also instructions for making a model of a settler town.

settler sayings book cover
Buy Early Settler Sayings
Settler Sayings: This is another of my favorites. Ever wondered why we say such things as "flash in the pan" or getting down to brass tacks"? This book explains how some of these old saying have their roots in the day-to-day lives of the early settlers.

Other titles this series include The Gristmill, Visiting a Village, Tools and Gadgets, Old Time Toys, Children's Clothing of the 1800's, The Victorian Home, Spanish Missions, 19th Century Girls and Women, 18th Century Clothing, 19th Century Clothing, Victorian Christmas, Colonial Home, Travel in the Early Days, Pioneer Recipes, and Schoolyard Games. You can find all Historic Communities titles in print (and maybe some that aren't) by following this link.

I highly recommend the books in these two series to parents who want to take their children to see places important in our country's early history. I found that using books to prepare my own children for living history museums and other historic places helped them to understand what they were seeing and got them thinking about which questions they wants to ask docents when they had the opportunity. 

These books are also great resources for children educated at home or in schools, who might not be able to visit historic sites in person as we did. Videos may also be helpful, but they move quickly. Books allow children good long looks at what most interests them.  These should be in every elementary school library. Because of their low reading level and visual impact, these books are also ideal for reluctant or low-level readers in upper grades. 

If you would like to show your children how the early settlers and colonists lived in America, don't miss these. 

Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate, Ebay (EPN) and/or Esty (Awin) Affiliate, I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


  1. Storybooks which bring history to life for children sound like the perfect way to learn. Fascinating review.

    1. My son was a visual learner. We did a lot of reading aloud until he was motivated to read more independently. If the pictures were interesting enough, though, he would read the words that explained them. I wish these books had been around when I needed them.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I have often commented that the only American History I ever learned, I taught myself by reading books. One of my truly greatest disappointments in my education was my American History teacher. She didn't teach American History, she taught her current day political views which happened to be completely different from my parents views. That instantly gave me a very low opinion of that teacher.

    Books that teach factual American History (or any history) are priceless to children. We should all remember that children, and adults as well, are educated by a variety of sources, not just a teacher in a classroom. We can all be thankful that we live in a country with those choices and opportunities. Our country's true history, the lifestyles of the past, the trails, tribulations and sacrifices made for this country are tremendous and fascinating. Thank you for the recommendations for books that will help teach our children while they are also being entertained.

    1. These books have been designed to complement or supplement school courses in history. Fortunately they are apolitical -- especially in these two series. They show how things really were. The emphasis is on how people lived and solved the problems of survival, entertainment, and education. These books answer the questions children really have about what it was like to live back in colonial days, and they actually show, rather than just telling. Even those who write about those times can find value in these books if they want to know the details of daily life to write about them. It's easier to describe something you can see.

  3. Thanks for sharing this treasury of children's books! It is so important to feed children with good stories, to know how to keep still and be quiet ...


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