Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Common Core IRL: Colonial America books to read aloud (grades 1-6)

Welcome back for the latest installment of Common Core IRL (In Real Libraries), a blog hop featuring outstanding librarians and bloggers Mary Ann Scheuer at Great Kid Books, Alyson Beecher at Kit Lit Frenzy, and Cathy Potter and Louise Capizzo at The Nonfiction Detectives. Our goal: to provide examples of and facilitate thinking about what the Common Core State Standards look like in real libraries.

This month, we're visiting the topic of Colonial America. To cover this topic to the best of our abilities, resources for a variety of ages and uses will be on the following blogs:

Children across the United States usually encounter basic information about Colonial America when they learn about the First Thanksgiving, usually in preschool or in kindergarten. More in-depth learning, however, takes place in the older elementary years, when students encounter a (hopefully) more nuanced historical perspective. By supplementing this factual learning with historical fiction read alouds, children can engage in a deeper understanding of the time period and what it was like to be a Colonial American.

I've divided the read aloud titles discussed in this post into two age ranges: grades 1-3, and grades 4-6.

Younger Read Alouds (grades 1-3):

Anne Hutchinson's Way by Jeannine Atkins, pictures by Michael Dooling (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007)
     This picture book conveys the story of Anne Hutchinson and her family, Puritans who arrived in the colonies only to experience further religious persecution. Anne had strict religious beliefs about inclusiveness, rights of all community members to preach, and non-violence, for which she was ultimately banished from colonial Boston. The story is based on the life of the real Anne Hutchinson and her family.
     Anne's perspective on faith and what is right is clearly very different from male colonial lawmakers, and the story provides opportunities to connect to standard RL.3.3, which focuses on describing characters and how their traits and actions contribute to what happens in the story.

Pilgrim Cat by Carol Antoinette Peacock (Albert Whitman & Company, 2004)
     This picture book follows a young girl, Faith, as she journeys on the Mayflower and endures the first year at Plymouth Rock, culminating in the First Thanksgiving. She shares the experience with a cat whom she discovers on the Atlantic voyage and names Pounce. Faith and her fellow colonists encounter Samoset and Squanto, Wampanoags who may be familiar to young readers from their previous Thanksgiving lessons.
     The illustrations do much to convey the amount and variety of work that went into staying alive on the journey to and in the new colony, connecting to standard RL.2.7, which emphasizes using information from both words and illustrations to demonstrate understanding of the contents of a text.

Older Read Alouds (grades 4-6):

Our Strange New Land: Elizabeth's Diary, Jamestown, Virginia, 1609 by Patricia Hermes (Scholastic, 2002)
     Part of the "My America" series of fictional first-person historical diaries, this book (and its two sequels) allows readers insight to a young girl's perspective of the day-to-day struggles and new experiences associated with living in Colonial America. A number of historical figures, like John Smith and Pocahontas, make appearances in the storyline, allowing readers to make direct connections to historical facts they learn in social studies lessons.
     The diary format of this book provides ample opportunity to explore pacing in storytelling. This exploration fits with standard RL.5.5, which deals with understanding how a series of chapters (or, in this case, diary entries) creates the structure of a story.

*A note about read alouds on the topic of Colonial America: As I did some research to locate a variety of historical fiction titles that could fit this Common Core IRL topic, I discovered that there is something of a void in this area of literature for children. Most of the books I found were published before 2000, and of these, many were culturally insensitive--a disproportionate number added drama through tales of abduction by Native Americans. While abductions did occur in Colonial America, these texts overwhelmingly depict Native Americans in stereotypical and harmful ways. The majority of the more recent titles I found deal specifically with the American Revolution; while a worthwhile topic on its own, life during the American Revolution was not the same as life during the Colonial period between 1620 and 1775. There is a real dearth of high-quality children's historical fiction set in Colonial America. Given the ubiquity of the topic in school curricula, one would hope that authors and publishers will rectify this lack of sensitive and compelling Colonial America stories.


  1. Thanks for these lists. the thing I don't understand about common core is this- why aren't we seeing textbooks with everything teachers need? Why keep reinventing the wheel? Sure, everyone teaches differently and has pet projects, but why not a standard text that can be supplemented? (Says the former Latin teacher who LOVED her Jenney and Scudder!)

    1. From a marketing standpoint, I agree--it's interesting that we haven't seen textbooks that purport to include everything teachers need. What I like about Common Core, however, is that it plugs into subject and thematic curriculum, regardless of what that curriculum may be. That means students studying the same topic have opportunities to read different books from one another--as opposed to everyone having to read the same thing, which they may or may not enjoy.

      I continue to see how implementation and usage of CCSS evolves.


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