I’m planning a unit on the California Gold Rush for my 3rd and 5th grader. Do you have any book suggestions for readalouds?
I’m always going to recommend By the Great Horn Spoon, by Sid Fleischman, which is one of the best Gold Rush readalouds (and one of the best elementary school readalouds, period, in my opinion). Bold adventures, leering villains, and a determined twelve-year-old hero make this one of those books that will have your kids begging for “just one more chapter.”
Karen Cushman’s The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, tells the story of a girl (who changes her name from California Morning to plain Lucy) who goes from a comfortable life in Massachusetts to the rough-and-tumble world of a California gold mining town. Cushman’s a pro at weaving well-researched period details into her stories, and this book really brings the experience of a California mining camp to life.
Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild, California Territory 1849 by Kristiana Gregory is part of the Dear America series and makes a good counterpoint to the merrier Gold Rush narratives. Life in camp was hard, especially for women, and this novel, chronicling the tale of a girl whose family travels from New York to strike it rich, does a nice job illuminating those dangers without getting too scary.
If your kids like funny books, check out How to Get Rich in the California Gold Rush by Tod Olson, a tongue-in-cheek look at what prospecting was really like. Though the book’s charming hero Thomas Hartley is completely fictional, the book paints a historically accurate picture of the Gold Rush experience.
In case you want to add a little nonfiction to your list, The California Gold Rush by May McNeer weaves rich details and anecdotes kids will appreciate with plenty of facts in an easy-reading account of the great Gold Rush.
And you didn’t ask, but I have to recommend California Gold Rush Cooking, by Lisa Golden Schroeder, a cookbook that lets you try your hand at making eight simple recipes miners would have eaten during the Gold Rush, like hand pies and chop suey. For extra credit, cook them over an open fire.
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