Piecing Together Our Past: U.S. History | Series Nonfiction

A focus on U.S. military battles and engagements marks this season’s offerings.

Dorothy Parker might have been the blue-ribbon winner of the Algonquin Round Table for turning out eviscerating one-liners, but her cohort Franklin Pierce Adams was certainly no slouch. A preeminent newspaper columnist in the 1920s and 1930s, Adams is credited with this quip: “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.” While Adams might not have had education on his mind when he came up with this gem, he does offer a salient point regarding the importance of studying history. So that the past is not rewritten or forgotten, publishers of historical accounts must adhere assiduously to academic standards of sound research and balanced presentation. Keeping these standards does not mean that the end product has to be dry. As the publishers of these series prove, history can sparkle when conveyed creatively and with accessible content.


Barrington, Richard. The Magna Carta. ISBN 9781508103943.

Carter, Jason. Gutenberg’s Bible. ISBN 9781508104032.

Keller, Susanna. The Bill of Rights. ISBN 9781508103998.

Loria, Laura. The 19th Amendment. ISBN 9781508104018.

Manger, Katherine. The Declaration of Independence. ISBN 9781508103950.

––––. The U.S. Constitution. ISBN 9781 508103974.

Rauf, Don. Washington’s Farewell Address. ISBN 9781508104070.

Vescia, Monique. The Emancipation Proclamation. ISBN 9781508104056.

ea vol: 32p. (Let’s Find Out!: Primary Sources). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Britannica. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $24.45.

Gr 3-5 –The significance of key primary source documents is adeptly explored. Each title begins by defining the term primary source. This segues into the backstory of the featured document, with a description of the social and political injustices that prompted people to seek change through legislation and formal declaration. Major players are mentioned, as are the lasting effects of the primary sources. The writing is concise, and the information is presented cogently. Brightly colored sidebars and sleek font headings complement backgrounds made to look like aged paper. The visual contrast underscores the importance of past actions on the present day. “Think About It” questions (“Think about what rules you have to follow at home and school. Which rules make you safer? Which rules would you change if you could, and why?” in Magna Carta) encourage critical thinking. With the exception of the featured primary document, sources are not cited. VERDICT An attractive, enlightening package with an emphasis on civics.

Bethea, Nikole Brooks. The Invention of the Assembly Line. ISBN 9781503816367.

––––. The Invention of the Cotton Gin. ISBN 9781503816428.

Caravantes, Peggy. The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad. ISBN 9781503816350.

Hutchison, Patricia. The Invention of the Airplane. ISBN 9781503816398.

MacCarald, Clara. The Invention of the Atomic Bomb. ISBN 9781503816411.

––––. The Invention of the Transistor. ISBN 9781503816381.

Ringstad, Arnold. The Building of the Golden Gate Bridge. ISBN 9781503816404.

––––. The Building of the Hoover Dam. ISBN 9781503816374.

ea vol: 32p. (Engineering That Made America). chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $28.5.

Gr 3-5 –Some engineering feats are so deeply woven into the fabric of the United States that it is hard to imagine a time when they were only an idea, a vision. This series explores the histories of various engineering marvels from their inception to the present day. Each title begins with a page of “Fast Facts,” where a half-dozen key points such as location, size, purpose, and cost are listed. A page with a time line comes next, followed by the main content. The writing is substantive and engaging. Interspersed among solid answers to the wheres and hows are stories about some of the people involved. For instance, in Golden Gate Bridge, readers learn that a safety net for construction workers cost $100,000 to install. The author adds a human element by describing how one worker, Al Zampa, was saved by the net after he fell from a steel beam. The illustrations are amazing, especially photographs of the construction process. One image, for example, depicts workers standing outside a diversion tunnel in the Hoover Dam, who are tiny compared to the tunnel—a vivid reminder of the enormity of the project. VERDICT Top-notch selections for upper elementary collections.

Blomquist, Katie. American Indians in the 1800s: Right and Resistance. ISBN 9781493837991.

Rice, Dona Herweck. Laura Ingalls Wilder: Pioneer Woman. ISBN 9781493837984.

Rice, Katelyn. Settling and Unsettling the West. ISBN 9781493837977.

Shaffer, Jody Jensen. Sitting Bull: Eagles Cannot Be Crows. ISBN 9781493838004.

ea vol: 32p. (Into the West). ebook available. glossary. index. photos. reprods. Teacher Created. Jan. 2017. pap. $8.99.

Gr 3-5 –The title of Settling and Unsettling aptly describes westward expansion as a two-pronged event. There is the part that relates to white settlers who looked for a respite from crowded Eastern cities. Then there is the part that relates to Native people who tried to maintain and defend their way of life against interlopers. Each of the other selections narrows its focus by homing in on key people (e.g., Laura Ingalls Wilder and Sitting Bull) and movements. Considered as a whole, the series provides a rich, multifaceted narrative of a consequential time in U.S. history. The material includes first-order facts, such as the devastation faced by many Cherokee on the infamous Trail of Tears, and tangential but still compelling information—for instance, how Wilder’s father’s stories influenced her books. Illustrations are a balance of photographs and drawings, all arranged in a collagelike fashion around the text. However, sources are not cited. VERDICT Rich in content and attractive in design, this series is a solid choice for most collections.

Donohue, Moira Rose. The Invasion of Normandy: Epic Battle of World War II. ISBN 9781635170245; ISBN 9781635170801.

Duffield, Katy. The Battle of Little Bighorn: Legendary Battle of the Great Sioux War. ISBN 9781635170207; ISBN 9781635170764.

––––. The Tet Offensive: Crucial Battles of the Vietnam War. ISBN 9781635170252; ISBN 9781635170818.

Hinman, Bonnie. The Battle of San Juan Hill: Famous Battle of the Spanish-American War. ISBN 9781635170221; ISBN 9781635170788.

MacCarald, Clara. The Battle of Gettysburg: Bloodiest Battle of the Civil War. ISBN 9781635170184; ISBN 9781635170740.

––––. The Battle of Inchon: Turning Point of the Korean War. ISBN 9781635170191; ISBN 9781635170757.

Mara, Wil. The Battle of Midway: Turning the Tide of World War II. ISBN 9781635170214; ISBN 9781635170771.

––––. The Battles of Lexington and Concord: Start of the American Revolution. ISBN 9781635170238; ISBN 9781635170795.

ea vol: 32p. (Major Battles in US History). chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. North Star. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $28.50. pap. $9.95.

Gr 2-4 –Designed with the beginning chapter book crowd in mind, this series tackles complex subject matter in a way that is compelling and accessible. Each title starts with a “Battle Preview,” which is an easy-to-follow time line. There is an amazing amount of information in each volume’s four chapters, but the authors make it manageable with succinct writing, and opposing viewpoints are provided. For instance, in Little Bighorn, Duffield addresses the reasons why both the U.S. government and the Lakota Indians believed in the validity of their claims on the land. While the focus is on the trappings of battles (weapons, strategy, etc.), there are descriptions about how the battles affected civilians. The maps show only that which is absolutely necessary to understand the location of the battle. The illustrations are effective complements to the text. VERDICT A high-interest topic is presented in an attractive, accessible package. Military-minded kids will love this series.

Kawa, Katie. The Declaration of Independence Wasn’t Signed on July 4th: Exposing Myths About Independence Day. ISBN 9781482457223.

Keppeler, Jill. Betsy Ross Didn’t Create the American Flag: Exposing Myths About US Symbols. ISBN 9781482457186.

Linde, Barbara. Thomas Jefferson Didn’t Sign the Constitution: Exposing Myths About the Constitutional Convention. ISBN 9781482457377.

McDonnell, Julia. The Pilgrims Didn’t Celebrate the First Thanksgiving: Exposing Myths About Colonial History. ISBN 9781482457339.

Nagelhout, Ryan. George Washington Didn’t Have Wooden Teeth: Exposing Myths About the Founding Fathers. ISBN 9781482457261.

Saxena, Shalini. Paul Revere Didn’t Say “The British Are Coming!”: Exposing Myths About the American Revolution. ISBN 9781482457292.

ea vol: 32p. (Exposed!: Myths About Early American History). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 2-4 –Attractive though ultimately unsatisfying selections. The text is concise and engaging. Monotone backgrounds with bold, black fonts are visually appealing. However, there is no real exposing here, because the “myths” are not actually widely held but erroneous beliefs. For instance, one myth in Paul Revere reads, “The British couldn’t have won the war.” This is a false statement but not a widely held view. Though this series claims to reveal historical falsehoods, it doesn’t cite sources, which would have been a big plus. VERDICT An intriguing concept presented in an appealing way, but this set lacks substance.

Kennon, Caroline. Depots of the Underground Railroad. ISBN 9781482457964.

Levy, Janey. North America’s First People. ISBN 9781482457926.

––––. Slavery at Mount Vernon. ISBN 9781482458046.

McAneney, Caitie. Uncovering the Jamestown Colony. ISBN 9781482458084.

Shea, Therese. The African Burial Ground. ISBN 9781482457896.

Shofner, Melissa Raé. Great Lakes Shipwrecks. ISBN 9781482458008.

ea vol: 32p. (Hidden History). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $26.60.

Gr 3-5 –Each title is designed to resemble an archaeological field book. Some text appears on what looks like paper torn from a spiral notebook, and most illustrations are placed slightly aslant, as if they were pasted on in a hurry. The content focuses mainly on how tangible, physical objects and places became part of a larger historical narrative. For instance, Depots of the Underground Railroad goes beyond describing the Underground Railroad as a group of nonspecific places where people stopped for help after they escaped from slavery—it examines the roles of specific stops, such as the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. In Slavery at Mount Vernon, there is an account discussing how archaeological digs around the slave quarters at Mount Vernon yielded bones of dozens of kinds of animals, thereby shedding light on how slaves supplemented their meager rations. VERDICT Riveting from start to finish and bound to be a favorite among upper elementary schoolers.

Middle to High School

Ablard, Michelle & Torrey Maloof. The Civil War: Brother Against Brother. ISBN 9781493838042.

Conklin, Wendy. Civil War Leaders. ISBN 9781493838875.

Maloof, Torrey. Abolitionists: What We Need Is Action. ISBN 9781493838011.

––––. Abraham Lincoln: Addressing a Nation. ISBN 9781493838059.

––––. Harriet Tubman: Leading Others to Liberty. ISBN 9781493838028.

––––. Reconstruction: Freedom Delayed. ISBN 9781493838066.

Schwartz, Heather E. Causes of the Civil War: A House Divided. ISBN 9781493838035.

ea vol: 32p. (A Nation Divided). ebook available. glossary. index. maps. photos. reprods. Teacher Created. Jan. 2017. pap. $8.99.

Gr 4-7 –This series provides requisite Civil War information, such as the fomenting social issues (Causes) and battles won and lost (Brother Against Brother). In addition, there is content that puts a human face on the war and makes it relatable to readers. For instance, in Abraham Lincoln, a sidebar titled “The Stress of War” invites students to compare two photos of Lincoln, one from 1861 and one from 1865. The differences are drastic: “Lincoln aged dramatically during the war. His cheeks sunk as lines and wrinkles deeply etched their way into his face. The stress of war took a great toll on the president.” The books are profusely illustrated with photos, drawings, and maps, yet not one image is superfluous. Each is captioned and forms an important part of the narrative. Suggested activities are of varying usefulness: one invites students to research a real escape story that did not take place on the Underground Railroad (Abolitionists), while another asks readers to develop a playlist commemorating Civil War leaders (Civil War Leaders). VERDICT For those in need of an update on Civil War materials.

Bodden, Valerie. The Muckrakers: Ida Tarbell Takes on Big Business. ISBN 9781680783889.

Burling, Alexis. Occupying Alcatraz: Native American Activists Demand Change. ISBN 9781680783896.

Edwards, Sue Bradford & Duchess Harris. Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA. ISBN 9781680783872.

Moore, Shannon Baker. Women with Wings: Women Pilots of World War II. ISBN 9781680783919.

Poehlmann, Tristan. The Stonewall Riots: The Fight for LGBT Rights. ISBN 9781680783902.

Yomtov, Nel. The Belles of Baseball: The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. ISBN 9781680783865.

ea vol: 112p. (Hidden Heroes). chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. ABDO. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $35.64.

Gr 9 Up –A look at people who by dint of determination and skill shaped social, political, and professional arenas but typically have received little or no attention for their efforts. The coverage is thorough. Content includes not only details about what the featured groups did and why but also significant backstory. For instance, in Hidden Computers, the authors describe both this resolute group of black women who became top-notch mathematicians and the history of human computers, going back as far as 1758. The writing is matter-of-fact and unbiased. In The Stonewall Riots, the violence perpetrated by police against protestors is addressed along with the reaction of the protestors. The illustrations consist of archival drawings and photos. The plain white backgrounds and pale shading for sidebars make for a lackluster visual presentation, but the material is solid. VERDICT Good selections for libraries looking for U.S. history that has often gone unacknowledged.

Caravantes, Peggy. The American Revolution: 12 Things To Know. ISBN 9781632352644; ISBN 9781632353146.

Hinman, Bonnie. The War of 1812: 12 Things To Know. ISBN 9781632352699; ISBN 9781632353191.

––––. World War I: 12 Things To Know. ISBN 9781632352705; ISBN 9781632353207.

Hutchison, Patricia. The Civil War: 12 Things To Know. ISBN 9781632352651; ISBN 9781632353153.

––––. World War II: 12 Things To Know. ISBN 9781632352712; ISBN 9781632353214.

MacCarald, Clara. The War in Afghanistan: 12 Things To Know. ISBN 9781632352682; ISBN 9781632353184.

Sherman, Jill. The Vietnam War: 12 Things To Know. ISBN 9781632352675; ISBN 9781632353177.

Westmark, Jon. The Iraq War: 12 Things To Know. ISBN 9781632352668; ISBN 9781632353160.

ea vol: 32p. (America at War). chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Amicus. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $31.35. pap. $9.95.

Gr 6-8 –Each book is divided into 12 chapters. The first chapter highlights the ideological, political, and religious disputes that led to the war. Subsequent sections explain the war itself: battles, weaponry, and people. The final chapter describes the outcomes of the conflict, such as how the regions were affected socially and politically. Organization of content is pragmatic and attractive. A simple palette of two bold colors and their pastel counterparts keeps the look uncluttered, and the writing is succinct yet substantive. Related statistics and questions for readers to consider appear in sidebars. For instance, in American Revolution, students are asked: “Were the Sons of Liberty right to dump the tea into the Boston Harbor? Why, or why not? Was there another way they could have protested the taxes?” VERDICT Sound choices for most tween readers.

Conley, Kate. 12 Questions About the US Constitution. ISBN 9781632352897; ISBN 9781632353399.

Dils, Tracey E. 12 Questions About the Bill of Rights. ISBN 9781632352828; ISBN 9781632353320.

––––. 12 Questions About the Indian Removal Act. ISBN 9781632352859; ISBN 9781632353351.

Kallio, Jamie. 12 Questions About “Paul Revere’s Ride.” ISBN 9781632352866; ISBN 9781632353368.

––––. 12 Questions About “The Star Spangled Banner.” ISBN 9781632352880; ISBN 9781632353382.

Miller, Mirella S. 12 Questions About the Declaration of Independence. ISBN 9781632352835; ISBN 9781632353337.

––––. 12 Questions About the Gettysburg Address. ISBN 9781632352842; ISBN 9781632353344.

Sepahban, Lois. 12 Questions About Slave Narratives. ISBN 9781632352873; ISBN 9781632353375.

ea vol: 32p. (Examining Primary Sources). chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Amicus. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $31.35. pap. $9.95.

Gr 6-8 –A dive into U.S. history through the documents that forged or forever changed the nation. First chapters describe the issues that necessitated the creation of the featured document. The following sections examine the provenance of the document, such as who wrote it and when and to whom. Also covered are the content and implications of the work. Content is well organized. Neat columns of text are balanced with complementary archival images, and sidebars offer questions designed to encourage critical thinking. Others contain expository statistics. To emphasize the importance of the Gettysburg Address to the people of the time, the author points out how in 1863 the town of Gettysburg, PA, had 2,000 residents but an estimated 15,000 people attended the dedication where Lincoln spoke. VERDICT With thought-provoking analysis, this series makes the most of primary sources and is a fine choice for most middle school collections.

King, Margaret. The Legacy and Legend of Sacagawea. ISBN 9781493837939.

Maloof, Torrey. James Madison and the Making of the United States. ISBN 9781493837953.

––––. Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of Liberty. ISBN 9781493837922.

McArdle, Matthew. 19th Century Innovations: Paving the Way. ISBN 9781493837960.

Mulhall, Jill K. Lewis & Clark. ISBN 9781493838868.

Rice, Katelyn & Torrey Maloof. The Great Leap Westward. ISBN 9781493837915.

Schwartz, Heather E. The War of 1812: By the Dawn’s Early Light. ISBN 9781493837946.

ea vol: 32p. (Expanding the Nation). ebook available. glossary. index. photos. reprods. Teacher Created. Jan. 2017. pap. $8.99.

Gr 4-7 –This series chronicles the people, places, and events that turned 13 colonies along the Atlantic seaboard into a vast independent nation that stretched for 3,000 miles from coast to coast. The titles demonstrate that expansion meant more than land acquisition. It meant politicking, war, trade deals, and more. That “more” is the rub. Some information is presented multiple times. The adventures of Lewis and Clark are described in Thomas Jefferson, Sacagawea, and Lewis and Clark. There is so much material that the series lacks focus. The volume about the War of 1812 contains several pages about Francis Scott Key and his writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Also in that title is a full-page illustration of the Battle of Waterloo. Coverage of the forced removal of American Indians from their lands is scattershot, consisting as it does of a sentence here and there. Thomas Jefferson is a puzzling addition. Details about Jefferson’s childhood, education, and family and his plantation Monticello are noteworthy but have little or nothing to do with expanding the nation. VERDICT A messy presentation limits this set’s usefulness.

Orr, Tamra. Choctaw. ISBN 9781624693144.

––––. Zuni. ISBN 9781624692918.

Roberts, Russell. Creek. ISBN 9781624693106.

Wilson, Wayne. Blackfeet. ISBN 9781624693182.

––––. Seminole. ISBN 9781624693120.

ea vol: 48p. (We Were Here First: The Native Americans). bibliog. charts. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Purple Toad. Mar. 2017. lib. ed. $29.85.

Gr 4-8 –General but well-written entries on various tribes. Each title begins with an account of an important event, such as birth (Zuni), preparation for a ritual (Seminole), or protest against land grabs (Creek). Following these riveting introductions are narratives about tribal life (house styles, gender roles, religion) before the arrival of European explorers and settlers and later the establishment of the U.S. government. The books also discuss the tribes’ current status, including interviews with notable tribal members such as Everett Osceola, cultural ambassador of the Seminole tribe of Florida. The full-color illustrations are plentiful, though of mixed quality: dated artist renderings clash with contemporary photos of protestors at Standing Rock in Creek or President Obama sitting down with teens in Choctaw. Furthermore, only Creek cites a consultant on the CIP page; Seminole lists several individuals in the bibliography; Zuni, Choctaw, and Blackfeet do not note any. VERDICT Collections in need of report material should consider.

Otfinoski, Steven. The Civil War. ISBN 9780531225691; ISBN 9780531243633.

––––. The Vietnam War. ISBN 9780531225707; ISBN 9780531243640.

––––. World War I. ISBN 9780531225714; ISBN 9780531243657.

––––. World War II. ISBN 9780531225721; ISBN 9780531243664.

ea vol: 144p. (A Step into History). chron. filmog. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Children’s Pr. Feb. 2017. lib. ed. $36. pap. $12.99.

Gr 4-8 –Lengthy overviews of key United States–involved conflicts, though the format is odd. With each volume made up of about 30 chapters, information is often needlessly divided up. For instance, each chapter consists of four pages. The first has a small picture, a famous quote, or a tiny map in the middle of an otherwise blank page; the second describes the chapter’s intent; the third contains a few blocks of text; and the fourth includes a full-page photo. These illustrations are puzzling at times; in Civil War, a photo of soldier’s supplies on display features a blanket, boots, shoes, officer’s gloves, two guns, a tool kit, a hammer, a hat, and a hook. Based on this, it would be easy to assume soldiers were well equipped when oftentimes they were not. Readers might wonder, too, why the hook? Its purpose is not addressed. VERDICT Interesting, important topics, but a flawed presentation.

These series are a history teacher’s cornucopia. Any comprehensive study of U.S. history begins with Native Americans, and Purple Toad’s “We Were Here First: The Native Americans” is a fine starting point. Teacher Created’s “Into the West” offers an engaging, accessible account of the United States’ growth. Amicus’s “America at War” and North Star’s “Major Battles in US History” provide impartial accounts of various U.S. conflicts. Thoughtful presentation of primary sources is always a boon, and Amicus’s “Examining Primary Sources” and Britannica’s “Let’s Find Out! Primary Sources” are just that. The Child’s World’s “Engineering That Made America” and Gareth Stevens’s “Hidden History” round out this selection of series with high-interest subject matter. Deciding which history books to purchase has never been easier than it is right now.

Jennifer Prince, Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC

For the latest nonfiction series reviews, check out the Spring 2017 Series Made Simple

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