Looking for an informal way to teach American history with six, seven, and eight year olds? The I Can Read series, home to the Little Bear and Frog and Toad books, is wonderful source of engaging, easy to read stories about our country’s earliest years. Beginning in 1635 with Roger Williams founding of the colony of Providence, and continuing through the early twentieth century, historical fiction written from a child’s viewpoint is extremely well presented.
We learn the history of things we may have never given much consideration to: the origin of skis in Snowshoe Thompson, nineteenth century hot air ballooning in The Big Balloon Race, the race to find dinosaur fossils in Dinosaur Hunter, and traveling libraries in Clara and the Bookwagon. There are lessons in emigration and immigration (The Long Way to a New Land, The Long Way Westward), westward expansion (Prairie Friends, The Josefina Story Quilt, Wagon Wheels), and well known historical figures (First Flight: The Story of Tom Tate and the Wright Brothers). In Clipper Ship we see young Meg and Jamie homeschooled (or should I say shipschooled?) and the amazing experiences they have as they sail with their captain parents around Cape Horn, journeying from New York to California. (Do you suppose using a telescope, chronometer, and sextant would count as technology class credit?)
Each book has it’s own entertaining twist to it. Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express includes notes to William Cody’s mother at the end of each chapter assuring her that “nothing much happens”, which the reader knows otherwise (Coerr, 1995). In The One Bad Thing About Father Teddy Roosevelt’s son describes how “Being President can practically ruin your whole life” (Monjo,1987). In Hill of Fire a Mexican farmer laments, “Nothing ever happens,”- until he witnesses the formation of a volcano right before his eyes (Lewis, 1971).
While this is not a specifically Christian collection of titles, the time period in which the stories are set was one where faith in God, imploring Him for protection, and adherence to higher laws, were the norm. Consequently you find parents encouraging their children to trust in God (Finding Providence), pray for safety (Indian Summer, Clipper Ship), and choosing to do what is right even when disobedience to man’s laws require it (The Drinking Gourd). In addition, you find resourcefulness, courage, wisdom, and a strong commitment to family. Other I Can Read historical titles include The Boston Coffee Party (not a typo!), The Battle for St. Michael’s, Sam the Minuteman, George, The Drummer Boy, The 18 Penny Goose, Six Silver Spoons (think Revolutionary War for all of these), Little Runner of the Longhouse, Small Wolf, Three Names, The Pig War, Snorri and the Strangers, Long, Tall Lincoln, How Far, Felipe?, and Chang’s Paper Pony. The I Can Read books also include some science titles including A Nest of Wood Ducks, Hidden Animals, Ants are Fun, and Greg’s Microscope, to name a few.
Written for grades two to four, these books make excellent read alouds for first graders, and shared or independent reads for second through fourth. The author’s note pages describe historical accounts and provide contexts following each story. The aforementioned titles have been published by HarperCollins, in various years, over the past quarter of a century. All are currently available on amazon.com.