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Topic: need advice, suggestions

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Subject: need advice, suggestions
Date Posted: 10/21/2011 10:45 AM ET
Member Since: 6/26/2006
Posts: 613
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I teach World History and can suggest loads of historical fiction to students.  One of the American History teachers has asked me what series of historical fiction would be recommended for American History?  I don't know, so I am turning to the HF experts - readers on PBS!  Please let me know if you have something you think high school students would like and based on American history.  THANK YOU !!

Date Posted: 10/21/2011 12:04 PM ET
Member Since: 3/14/2009
Posts: 9,178
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Linda, Check out this web site.  http://www.historicalnovels.info/Eighteenth-Century.html  There are other eras there as well. 

Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow is excellent, and is Y/A about a Charleston dressmaker recruited by Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox," as a Patriot spy during the American Revolution.

The Tory Widow (R)  about a widow who is making her living running her late husband's business printing Tory propaganda when she encounters.

Midwife of the Blue Ridge is to use movie ratings an R (2008), about a Scottish midwife who becomes an indentured servant in order to pay for her voyage to America.

Redcoat by Bernard Cornwell (PG) about the American Revolution from the perspective of a British soldier.

The Whisky Rebels by David Liss (PG) (2008), a thriller about a former spy for George Washington and a woman pioneer who, independently, become involved in Alexander Hamilton's development of the Bank of the United States and the Whiskey Rebellion during the 1790s. 

The Hornet's Nest by Jimmy Carter (2003), about a man who migrates to Georgia with his wife and family on the eve of the Revolutionary War and experiences the war as it was fought in the Deep South.

This could be a very long list. 

ETA:    http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/520582-american-historical-fiction

Last Edited on: 10/21/11 4:04 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 10/21/2011 12:17 PM ET
Member Since: 7/15/2008
Posts: 4,035
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I thought the Shaara Civil War trilogy was quite good, although it is very brutal and no holds barred so age appropriate of course. I've heard about a series called Sparrow Hawk that looks interesting but never got around to reading it.

Date Posted: 10/21/2011 3:06 PM ET
Member Since: 7/22/2009
Posts: 2,617
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I agree with Cathy -- Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels (about Gettysburg) is one of the best books I've read and should be required reading for anyone studying the Civil War.  The other two books in this Civil War trilogy are actually written by Jeff Shaara (Michael's son). Jeff Shaara also wrote two books on the American Revolution, Rise to Rebellion and The Glorious Cause, that are both supposed to be quite good. Then there's always:

  • Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (a little long but a classic)
  • Brooks' March (Civil War)
  • Bahr's The Black Flower (Civil War)
  • Douglass' Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (non-fiction)
  • Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (non-fiction)
  • Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (about the internment of the Japanese during WWII) -- wasn't my favorite book but I think it'd be great for high school students)
  • Dallas' Tall Grass -- another book about the internment of the Japanese that would be excellent for high school students; I haven't read Sandra Dallas' other books but she has several that are American historical fiction

I know there are many more -- I'll come back to edit if I think of others. You can certainly google "American Historical Fiction" and you will end up with lots of lists of books.

Edited to correct author's name -- how embarrassing!


Last Edited on: 10/21/11 10:06 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/21/2011 6:52 PM ET
Member Since: 6/26/2006
Posts: 613
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Thanks!! Linda

Date Posted: 10/21/2011 7:29 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
Posts: 3,688
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Fever 1793 by Laurie Anderson

This book received  numerous awards for children's literature. It is an authentic tale of the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, which was the capitol of the U.S. at that time.

The primary role is a teenage girl, 16-year-old Mattie, whose single mother runs a coffee house. Her mother leaves just before the fever strikes to visit relatives out of town. The girl and her grandfather, a elderly Revolutionary War veteran, try to keep the coffee house running with help from white friends and Afro-American employees (also friends).

Eventually they try to leave town, as no one is coming to the coffee house or any other establishment, to find her mother.  The book deals with the reactions of the people in Philadelphia and neighboring communities, and the government (town, state and national). It is full of concepts that can be discussed in class. 

I am an entomologist who uses this epidemic  to teach college students how insects affected our history. This book deals with so many issues, political and social, that really happened that it could probably be a true tale.  I recommend it to students in a science teaching course I lecture in.

I suggest that a teacher also get An American Plague by Jim Murphy  that is a Grade 6-10 level history of this epidemic. An American Plague serves as an historical resource to any questions the students might have about the validity of Fever 1793.

Do not confuse it with The American Plague, which cover other aspects of the history of yellow fever.

An interesting concept in the book, that existed for centuries before this epidemic and for well over a 100 years after it, was that  Negros were immune to the disease or had a resistance to it.  Of course, this wasn't true. As a result, when whites fled the town, leaving many to die, it was the local free Afro-American community that provided care to so many, often for no payment.  Then they started dying too.

Later, when the epidemic was over, a returning "journalist" wrote up those in the Afro-American community as greedy, predatory and worse. Other journalists wrote defenses of the Negros and the local Afro-American comunity itself published a defense of their actions during the epidemic. This was the first case of publishing such a document in America.  As a result, these two book are valuable in teaching young Afro-Americans that Negros served important roles in early American history that was not the stereotypical slave role.

Speaking of stereotypical "slave roles," I also recommend the video Filling the Gap which covers the Civil War period. It was filmed in Florida and includes some of my friends. It has received acclaim for depicting how Afro-Americans (free and slave) contributed to our history and economic development as skilled artisans and leaders.  Since this video is sold (I receive no monetary benefit from it) , I cannot list the Web site here, but If you have an interest, please PM me.  Or just go to Google and search for Filling the Gap. It should come up first or in the top results. There are two selections form the vido shown on the site.


Last Edited on: 10/21/11 7:31 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/21/2011 8:06 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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Well, I ran over time on Fever 1793, but it is so good that I felt it was necessary.

Others I highly recommend are:

April Morning by Howard Fast. 

It is Spring in colonial America, and 15-year-old Adam is feeling his oats as a young man. His father still treats him as a boy and Adam is beginning to have problems in his relationship with his father, who loves Adam but does not know how to show it. Adam has a girl friend that he is very serious about.  At this period of American history, youngsters this age were on the verge of adulthood, so many married young. Adam's father also just happens to be the captain of the local militia. Then late one night, a man rides through town warning the villagers that "The ministy's army is coming." Did I mention that Adam lives in Lexington, Massachusetts? Tomorrow morning, "on the 18th of April in 75," Adam is going to leave his childhood behind forever.  

This is also an excellent video in the Hallmark series. NOTE: Paul Revere and others never said "The Redcoats are coming." It was either "The army is coming," or "The ministry's army is coming."  Colonial Americans initially blamed the British ministers in power  and not King George for the laws made against them.

Alas Babylon by Pat Frank.

What would have happened if an atomic war had occurred in the 1950s?  Pat Frank does an outstanding job of realistically depicting such in this classic which takes place in a small town in Florida.  Life gets turned upside down as the people in that town find themselves cut off from the state and national resources they were used to. They are on their own, even defending themselves against drug addicts without drugs, and outlaws who use force to get what they want. This book comes across as so real you can't classify it as science-fiction. Excellent roles for both whites and blacks, both young and old,  in this book as the political, economic and social order is turned upside down and average Americans take their destiny in their own hands.

Captain Newman , M.D. by Leo Rosten

A wonderful book about the post-traumatic stress disorder problems we hear about due to our current wars in the mid-East, but all the action takes place in a hospital ward in the southwest U.S. during World War II.  The stories of the patients (and staff) are both funny and sad, uplifting and tragic. A wonderful book I have read many times. 

This is also a great movie starring Gregory Peck.

A Walk in the Sun by Harry Brown

Finally, what is it like to be in a war? Especially if you have to make the decisions on who lives or dies. This classic follows an American infantry platoon that lands at Salarno, Italy in 1943. It follows the men as they march a lonely road toward a farm house they have to take. A house sure to be defended by German soldiers. The incidents along the way, as men fight and die, sometimes for no reason, and the stress of command takes its toll on the sergeants leading the platoon. How do men face the knowledge that they may be the next to die, or seeing their friends die.  This is war as really seen by the infantry, and not as seen in the special effects of movies such as  Saving Private Ryan.  

This was also made into an excellent  movie by the same name. Dana Andrews stars but so do many others who were either big stars at that time or who went on to be big stars.

These last two books are outstanding novels about World War II, the war that changed the world, the war that we could not afford to lose. They serve as valuable discussion tools to the story of World War II, and demonstrate what the students' grandfathers and other relatives did for today's young Americans.

All four books are relatively short, 300 pages and less, and easy to read.  The longer ones could be assigned as extra credit. Obviously, you would not use all of them in the same term.


Last Edited on: 10/21/11 10:30 PM ET - Total times edited: 11
Date Posted: 10/21/2011 8:44 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
Posts: 3,688
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Kim by Rudyard Kipling - A great tale of 19th century India. Kim, a young Anglo-Indian boy, lives on the street. There are wonderful descriptions of Indian life during that time.  Kim later becomes a spy for the British Raj while also serving a Holy Lama who is searching for Budda's Holy River.  Too many lessons in this book to even begin listing them. This is the book I want to live in when I die. 

Also made into a movie starring Errol Flynn that departs somewhat from the book.

Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter Edmonds - A young couple starts their married life in New York's  Mohawk Valley at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The book depicts Indian raids and General Herkimer's famous defense of the Valley.  Many scenes depicting community  cooperation in building, harvesting, medical care and defense. How our ancestors worked hard, lost everything and started in again without government aid.

Also made into an excellent  movie staring Henry Fonda.

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson - Life, death and love during the English War of the Roses.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabtini - A great adventure depicting life before the French Revolution, giving many reasons why that Revolution occurred and was so bloody.  This was also made into a movie, but I forget who stars.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy - An English adventurer risks his life rescuing French aristocrats during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror. Also a love story of two people married to each other who don't know how much they care for each other. 

Also made into a very good movie starring Leslie Howard.



Last Edited on: 10/22/11 11:04 AM ET - Total times edited: 5
Date Posted: 10/21/2011 9:38 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
Posts: 3,688
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Unless there is a different novel by the same name, Harriet Beecher Stowe was the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Unlike most of the depictions we have seen of this book, "Uncle Tom" was actually a fairly young man, not old and white-haired.  And not all of it was fiction. 

Stowe was a strong abolitionist and traveled extensively visiting other abolitionists.  Take the story of Eliza (was it Eliza?) fleeing across the ice to freedom with her young baby. That was an actual incident which occurred in the West (Kentucky to Ohio, if I remember correctly). When Stowe visited the home of the major abolitionists in the area, she was told the story of this young negro woman who fled with her baby.  She later incorporated it into her story.

Last Edited on: 10/28/11 11:17 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Bruce -
Date Posted: 10/21/2011 10:22 PM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2008
Posts: 3,412
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Valley Forge by Newt Gingrich and William Fortschen - really brings it to life.

Citizen Washington by William Martin

Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker - one of my favorite books of all time.  About the 1863 New York draft riots. This book is powerful, graphic, and left me feeling like I'd been kicked in the guts. May not be age appropriate.


Oh, can't forget "The Known World" by Edward P. Jones. This is the Amazon.com review for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning novel:

Set in Manchester County, Virginia, 20 years before the Civil War began, Edward P. Jones's debut novel, The Known World, is a masterpiece of overlapping plot lines, time shifts, and heartbreaking details of life under slavery. Caldonia Townsend is an educated black slaveowner, the widow of a well-loved young farmer named Henry, whose parents had bought their own freedom, and then freed their son, only to watch him buy himself a slave as soon as he had saved enough money. Although a fair and gentle master by the standards of the day, Henry Townsend had learned from former master about the proper distance to keep from one's property. After his death, his slaves wonder if Caldonia will free them. When she fails to do so, but instead breaches the code that keeps them separate from her, a little piece of Manchester County begins to unravel. Impossible to rush through, The Known World is a complex, beautifully written novel with a large cast of characters, rewarding the patient reader with unexpected connections, some reaching into the present day. --Regina Marler


Last Edited on: 10/21/11 10:25 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/21/2011 10:26 PM ET
Member Since: 5/19/2007
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You have some great suggestions here!  I would add that Ann Rinaldi does some very good historical fiction for young adults.  

Date Posted: 10/22/2011 8:20 AM ET
Member Since: 6/26/2006
Posts: 613
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Fabulous suggestions!  Thank you for taking the time to help my colleague. I knew this was the right place to ask! Linda

Bruce -
Date Posted: 10/25/2011 10:48 AM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2008
Posts: 3,412
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The kids probably won't like this but I am reading "Hanging Captain Gordon" by Ron Soodalter. It is non-fiction, not a novel. Soodalter simply tells, in fascinating historical detail, the story of Nathaniel Gordon, a maritime captain who became the only man in U.S. history to be executed for his involvement in the slave trade. I am learning so many little historical details that I never knew. For instance, I never knew Congress passed a law in the early 19th century that made slave trading a capital offense though owning slaves remained legal. However, the law was rarely enforced and when it was the result was a slap on the wrist at worst while a full acquittal or pardon was the norm. However, Captain Gordon got caught in the perfect storm - a new anti-slavery administration (Lincoln) replaceing a pro-slavery one (Buchanan), a press that suddenly took the issue seriously, a new "by the book" DA, etc. lead to his remarkable fate. Even during his trial he never suspected that he would face any kind of serious consequences. I just love learning about these little known nuggets of American history.

Last Edited on: 10/25/11 10:49 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/25/2011 4:23 PM ET
Member Since: 1/12/2008
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What about the John Jakes series? Added bonus is movies they can watch as treats....

Date Posted: 10/25/2011 4:51 PM ET
Member Since: 3/14/2009
Posts: 9,178
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Good point Colleen, I read "The Bastard" in my senior year of high school.