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Great Books for Studying Native American History: Middle School

Reading Listamy sharonyComment
Great Books for Studying Native American History: Middle School

We couldn’t fit all of our favorite Native American history books in the fall issue of the magazine, so we’re running our favorite middle and elementary school books on the HSL blog. Today, we’re highlighting some of the middle grades books we think do a great job illuminating Native American history. Add them to your U.S. History studies for a more inclusive study of the past, or use them as a jumping-off point for a study of Native Americans.

If you want a texbook-type spine for your study, the Bedford Series in History and Culture has several excellent books about Native American History, including The World Turned Upside Down: Indian Voices from Early America and Talking Back to Civilization: Indian Voices from the Progressive Era. I think these books do a great job choosing primary source documents to highlight, and middle school is exactly the right time to start dipping your toe into this kind of critical reading.

Similarly, Cavendish Square publishes the middle grades nonfiction series Peoples of North America, which captures the history and culture of different Native American tribes, including photographs, art, snapshots of daily life (in both history and modern times), and a traditional folk tale. Titles include The People and Cultures of the Apache, The People and Cultures of the Crow, The People and Cultures of the Huron, The People and Cultures of the Delaware, and The People and Cultures of the Inuit. A collection of these books makes an excellent (if not cheap) mini research library.

But I think fiction is often the most accessible way for middle grades readers to dig into history, so the majority of this list focuses on historical fiction. Joseph Bruhac has written several books about Native American history, but Hidden Roots is a particularly good pick for middle grades. In it, Sonny — a shy boy living in 1950s New York — discovers the dark side of his family’s Native American heritage, including the Native American Sterilization Program and its devastating effects on the Abenaki and Mohican people. This book is hard to read — I mean, obviously, it’s about genocide, and we have a big problem when that gets easy to read about — but it’s well done and sensitively balanced enough for most middle school readers to handle.

Similarly dark, How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story tackles another dark chapter in U.S. history, chronicling the forced removal of Native American tribes through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy who can see the future and knows that he —and many others — will die on the trail. That doesn’t matter so much, though, because ghosts have their own part to play in Native American life, and storytelling is part of that. The book is written by an Oklahoma Choctaw storyteller, and it’s heavily based on the stories of actual Choctaw people. 

In the free verse novel Who Will Tell My Brother?, a part-Native American high school senior who has just begun to connect with his Native American roots, goes to battle against his school’s racist mascot. (Think the Washington Redskins or the Atlanta Braves.) It’s a quiet, powerful book that illuminates why it’s worth “making a fuss” about words we use and mascots we choose.

Indian Shoes reads like a series of glimpses into contemporary Native American life. In this collection of interrelated short stories (they read almost like vignettes), Ray — a half-Seminole, half-Cherokee boy who lives with his Grampa Halfmoon in Chicago.

Half-Lakota Jimmy McLean is the official protagonist of In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse, but Tasunke Witko (a.k.a. “Crazy Horse”) is the real hero of the book. Author Joseph Marshall (also a Lakota) paints him as a larger-than-life hero, a Luke Skywalker poised against the Galactic Empire of the United States. It’s an amazing story about a man who fought to protect his people and his culture from the encroaching United States. Crazy Horse’s story becomes a touchstone for Jimmy, who is struggling with being not-quite-Lakota and not-quite-standard-Caucasian.

Sherman Alexie is pretty much required reading for modern-day Native American studies, and his The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is already a classic. Junior wants to be a cartoonist, so he takes his learning into his own hands and enrolls in the town high school instead of the school on the Spokane Indian Reservation where he’s always gone. His new school comes with a big learning curve (and an Indian mascot), and the story is as much about the problematic experiences of modern-day Native American kids — where do they fit in? — as on Junior’s Everyteen experiences figuring out who he really is. An excellent book for more mature middle schoolers, though you may want to make sure it’s a good match for your particular kid.

The Trickster figure appears in many Native American tales, and the graphic novel Trickster: Native American Tales puts this mischief-making character front and center.  Because it tries to include tales from across the continent, the collection feels a little mishmash-y, and some readers were put off by the simplicity of the tales and lack of sophistication in the artwork. Fair enough. But it’s a solid collection of stories from different tribes about the many manifestations of the Trickster, and I think a lot of middle schoolers would enjoy it.

Just for fun, check out the comic Super Indian, about a totally ordinary Reservation boy who develops superpowers after eating tainted government cheese. There are plenty of sly pokes at Native American stereotypes that kids will have fun pointing out.

Bonus: We Shall Remain isn’t a book, but this American Experience series (it includes five 90-minute episodes) is a fascinating look at three hundred years of U.S. history from the perspective of Native American peoples, from 1600s New England to the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century.

Readaloud of the Week: The Hoboken Chicken Emergency

Reading Listamy sharonyComment
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency
By Daniel Pinkwater

Arthur’s job is picking up the turkey for the Bobowicz’s Thanksgiving dinner, which should be easy, right?

Except the butcher has lost the Bobowicz’s order, and he doesn’t have any extras. In fact, nobody in Hoboken seems to have a turkey for sale. Or a chicken. Or a duck. Or anything remotely bird-y. Arthur is wandering the streets, getting increasingly panicked — what will everyone say if he comes home without the star of the Thanksgiving table — when he spots a CHICKENS FOR SALE sign on an apartment door. Instead of a shady poultry vendor, Arthur finds a mad scientist looking to get rid of some seriously oversized chickens. Arthur buys a 266-pound chicken, but by the time they get home, he’s decided that he’d rather have a pet than a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Mrs. Bobowicz makes meatloaf for dinner instead, and the chicken — named Henrietta — becomes part of the family.

Of course, life with a 266-pound chicken isn’t always easy, and when Henrietta escapes, the citizens of Hoboken freak out, treating the perfectly nice chicken like a monster until she’s so hurt and angry with their unkindness that she starts acting like a monster. Arthur knows his sweet chicken is still in there, and he’s determined to save the day.

This is such a fun, funny readaloud with a great message about the ways that ignorance can make us act like — well, jerks if we don’t recognize it. Any book that emphasizes kindness and not being afraid of differences feels totally in the spirit of Thanksgiving to me. It’s a quirky, fun tour of Hoboken, and if you’ve been there, you’ll recognize the docks, the park, and other locations where Henrietta and Arthur’s adventures take them. Even though it was written in 1977, the book has a casual diversity that feels refreshing, and I love that it’s a Thanksgiving book that isn’t all about the Pilgrims. 

You might also enjoy: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, The Enormous Egg, The Qwikpick Papers: Poop Fountain!

Gift Guide: Gift Ideas for People Who Love A Wrinkle in Time

Holidaysamy sharony1 Comment
Gift Guide: Gift Ideas for People Who Love A Wrinkle in Time

We think there's no better holiday gift than a good book. But sometimes you want to kick it up a notch, so we've put together a few fun gift lists based around some of our favorite books and authors.

Like pretty much every other nerdy girl on the planet, I have a deep, abiding love for Meg Murry, the heroine of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time who discovers that her inability to fit into her everyday world is exactly what makes her special. If you, too, have a young reader who’s fallen in love with all things L’Engle, one of these gifts—plus a promise of tickets when the Ava Duvernay-helmed movie comes out this spring—might make a perfect addition to your holiday gift-giving.


Wear your love for L’Engle on your sleeve (or your lapel) with an adorable Wrinkle in Time book cover pin. (I think this might be the cover I got from my Scholastic order form back in the day.)


Obviously a lovely edition of your favorite book is always a welcome gift. The 50th anniversary edition of A Wrinkle in Time is really gorgeous, whether you opt for the hardback or a paperback version. Or, if your obsession with the Murrays is new, consider the Time Quintet collection, which includes A Wrinkle in Time, plus the loose sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time.

Another great book option: A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel is perfectly illustrated by Hope Larson. (It’s especially fun to see how she visualized characters like Aunt Beast and the Happy Medium.)


I actually own this Wrinkle in Time book cover t-shirt and wear it on the regular. It’s the perfect fashionable way to proclaim your love for this genre-blurring sci-fi adventure.


A Wrinkle in Time is one of the books Andrew DeGraff maps in the gorgeous Plotted: A Literary Atlas. He maps each character’s journey with a different colored line—a process that took him 140 hours to complete. (You can get a peek at it here.) The book also has cool maps for other books, including Pride and Prejudice and Watership Down.


Warm up your late night conversations with a tin of hot chocolate. This old-fashioned sipping chocolate—you melt the chips into milk—is thick and rich. Liverwurst and tomato sandwiches optional. (Bonus points if you serve it in this heat-activated constellation mug.)


Be prepared for wherever dark and stormy nights might take you with an umbrella that maps the constellations.


This chemistry spice set is a nod to Mrs. Murry’s habit of cooking dinner on her Bunsen burner when she’s in the middle of an experiment that needs her steady attention. 


Math-loving Meg doesn’t seem like the jewelry type, but I think she might love this math puzzle ring. (It seems easy, but it’s really not!)


We can’t guarantee that the It Was a Dark and Stormy Night Candle will lead to otherworldly adventure, but it does smell like a rainy fall evening, which is maybe almost as good.

Stuff We Like :: 11.17.17

Stuff We Likeamy sharonyComment
home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, though we try to celebrate it as a pause of thankfulness and not as a piece of U.S. mythology. I can’t wait to spend a few days cooking together, eating lots of good food, and reading together every night.


Around the web

The life of a homework assignment

It can be complicated to love T.S. Eliot, so I really appreciated this essay about reconciling the impact of his poetry (which was truly life-altering for me) with its implicit racism and classism.

A really good read about understanding how information disorder — a.k.a. “alternative facts news” — actually works

True story! Why canceling plans is so satisfying

In case you’re planning to up your style game for Thanksgiving, I give you Get the Look: Baba Yaga


At home/school/life

On the blog: 12 great book series to read together

one year ago: Gift ideas for people who love The Hobbit (ooh, I might get that Gashlycrumb Hobbit shirt for someone this year!)

two years ago: How to make a simple Thanksgiving wreath

three years ago: How unschooling shaped my social life


Reading list:

Our book club pick for December is The Golden Compass, so I’m kind of thrilled to have an excuse to read it again. Philosophically, I am torn sometimes about rereads — there are so many books and so little time — but practically, I do a lot of rereading, and it usually makes me very happy.

I can never resist a good historical scandal, so I guess no one will be surprised that I picked up Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England. I always enjoy Alison Weir’s books in spite of — well, actually, maybe because of — her tendency to come up with the occasional wacky theory. (The best one here is that Edward II didn’t actually get murdered by Isabella but went off to become a hermit.) I would read books about British monarchs all day long, but this one really was fun.

I’m moving on to Sophocles with my humanities class after the break, so I’m reading Antigone again, too.


At home

I am at the point where I make the same things for Thanksgiving every year because everybody has a “favorite thing” that it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving dinner without. I am mixing things up with the turkey this year and making this gorgeous lacquered turkey from Bon Appetit. (My have-to-have for Thanksgiving is au gratin potatoes made with Boursin cheese — they are basically pure fat in a Le Creuset since you make them by melting a cake of cheese into heavy cream — but I love them as a once-a-year indulgence.)

The kids and I have been playing Super Mario Odyssey together lately — they love video games so much, and I try to make an effort to play a couple of games a year with them to stay connected to what they care about and they try to make an effort not to be annoyed because I’m always forgetting which button makes your Mario jump.

12 Great Book Series to Read Together

Reading Listamy sharonyComment

Sometimes you don’t just want a book — you want a whole series. Discover a whole world of series to obsess over together when you’ve finished Harry Potter and Narnia.


The Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle

Start with: A Wrinkle in Time

When Meg Murry comes downstairs on a dark and stormy night, she sets off a chain of events that will take her from the farthest reaches of the galaxy to the microscopic universe inside a single human cell, from the birth a star to the wasteland of a nuclear winter. L’Engle’s fascination with science is well-matched to her philosophical musings about good and evil, and this series manages to be as readable as it is thought-provoking.


The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Start with: Shards of Honor

You may be tempted to dismiss this science-fiction series, especially if you get hold of one of the 1980s editions with laser beams and spaceships on the cover. But you’ll be missing out. Bujold’s politically and technologically complex space opera, set in a future world where humans have colonized space, is a delight — smart, funny, and utterly absorbing.


His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Start with: The Golden Compass

The original sin of curiosity becomes a triumph rather than a fall in Pullman’s fantasy-world retelling of Paradise Lost. Stubborn, wild Lyra Belacqua comes from an alternate Oxford, where humans’ spirits live beside them in animal form. Independent, untrusting Will Parry comes from our world. Together, they’ll travel through other worlds, meeting witches, cliff ghasts, armored bears, and long-missing parents, on a quest that will save or destroy every world in the cosmos.


The Pendragon Adventures by D.J. MacHale

Start with: The Merchant of Death

Time travel is just the beginning for Bobby Pendragon, who takes on the Quantum Leap-esque burden of influencing civilizations across time and space to make the right decisions at pivotal moments in their development. Lots of action keeps things interesting, and the worlds — distinct but connected in space-time — are delightfully imagined, from the watery ocean world Cloral to the virtual reality wastelands of Veelox.


Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries by Dorothy Sayers

Start with: Strong Poison

You have my permission to skip Five Red Herrings, which gets a bogged down with time tables and bus routes, but no Sherlock fan should miss Lord Peter. High-strung, over-educated, aristocratic Lord Peter assists in solving tricky mysteries with the help of his gentleman’s gentleman Bunter and (eventually) his Oxford-educated, detective novelist wife, whom he meets when she is on trial for murder (in Strong Poison).


Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

Start with: The Adventures of Captain Underpants

This series, about two boys who inadvertently turn their principal into a crime-fighting, underpants-flashing superhero, is unapologetically silly, but that’s part of what makes it so fun. George and Harold find themselves caught up in an increasingly ludicrous series of adventures, including battling lunchroom zombie nerds and bionic booger boys.


Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

Start with: Emily of New Moon

If Anne of Green Gables is a domestic fairy tale, Montgomery’s Emily trilogy is its original-Grimm-version cousin. Like Anne, Emily Starr is an orphan in love with the beauty of the natural world and passionate about the power of words. But Emily lacks Anne’s charm, her easy friendships, her ability to make the best of things. Oh, there’s plenty of Montgomery’s gentle fireside humor, but Emily must fight much harder and sacrifice much more for her ambition.


Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Start with: Gregor the Overlander

Though her Hunger Games trilogy is more popular, Collins’ underworld epic is arguably a better work. Gregor falls through a grate in his New York City laundry room and finds himself in an underground civilization, where enormous spiders, cockroaches, bats, and rats, coexist with deep-dwelling humans. A series of Underland prophecies may point Gregor toward his destiny, if he can survive the perils of the underground kingdom.


The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright

Start with: The Saturdays

When you find yourself wishing life were simpler, blame the Melendys. Enright’s family — including actress Mona, pianist Rush, dancer Randy, and little brother Oliver — inhabit a golden 1940s New York, where children can safely roam the streets of Manhattan solo and go swimming in dammed-up brooks. Nostalgic but never treacly, the Melendy stories are a pleasantly absorbing trip to the past.


The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan

Start with: The Ruins of Gorlan

Orphaned Will’s not so sure he wants to become an apprentice to the Rangers, the spy network for the country Araluen, but the alternative is working in the fields. So Will sets off with his new mentor Halt to protect the kingdom from traitors and invaders.


Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Start with: Leviathan

Set in an alternate World War I, this steampunk trilogy pits the Clankers and their mechanized war machines against the Entente Powers and their genetically fabricated living creatures. It’s up to the on-the-run heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a girl who’s disguised herself as a boy so she can join the British Air Service to bring the world back to peace.


Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Start with: Swallows and Amazons

Homeschoolers have helped rediscover this old- fashioned British series about two groups of families who bond over a shared love of sailing in an idyllic countryside where kids are perfectly safe setting up camp on an island for the summer.


This is excerpted from the winter 2015 issue of HSL.