A list of our favorite children’s books, both picture books and chapter books, about the American Revolution. (Updated with new books Feb 2017)
1. Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George? by Jean Fritz. Tells the story of King George III from childhood with an emphasis of course on the American Revolution. The tone is humorous, the pictures by Tomie de Paola match it perfectly. I like having resources that gently guide children to considering alternate viewpoints and seeing there can be understandable motives and likable people on both sides of a conflict. Perfect for a younger audience.
2. George vs. George: The American Revolution As Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer. This book is more detailed than the Jean Fritz book and written for a slightly older audience. The format is compare and contrast between King George III and George Washington. A nice overview of the history of the Revolution that gives a balanced look at the motivations of both sides.
3. The Boston Tea Party by Russell Freedman. I like the way Freedman tells stories of several individuals who participated in the Tea Party including direct quotes and source notes. The illustrations by Peter Malone are beautiful. This was aimed at a slightly older student. The younger kids’ attention sort of drifted but Bella was riveted. Includes timeline and map and bibliography.
4. And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? (Paperstar) by Jean Fritz. Goes beyond Longfellow’s Midnight Ride to give a more complete portrait of Paul Revere and his role in the American Revolution. Like Jean Fritz’s other books, the subject is treated with a mixture of light humor and appropriate seriousness.
5. Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? by Jean Fritz. Tells the story of Samuel Adams, patriot and political agitator. The focus of the story is on how Sam Adams doesn’t know how to ride a horse, preferring to walk and enjoying the image of himself as a man of the people until his cousin John Adams convinces him that it is fitting that a great patriot and founder of a new nation should ride a horse, reminding him of the great equestrian statues of history. This led us to a fun little Google image search activity, looking at statues of the Revolutionary War leaders mentioned to see if they are on horseback or not, so bonus for optional art activity.
6. George Washington’s Mother by Jean Fritz. Aimed at younger readers, this humorous biography of George Washington’s mother, Mary, tells the story of our first president from a slightly different perspective. The children especially loved that most of this book takes place at Ferry Farm and Fredericksburg, Virginia which we visited last summer.
7. George Washington’s Breakfast by Jean Fritz. This book is aimed at younger readers, but can be enjoyable to older children as well. The protagonist is a young boy, George Washington Allen, who wants to find out everything he can about his namesake. One day he wonders, what did Washington eat for breakfast? His grandmother promises that if he can find out, she’ll cook it for him. The quest to find the answer is a gentle introduction to methods of research. First, he tries the local library. His parents and the librarians help him read a variety of books. When that doesn’t pan out his parents take him on a trip to the Smithsonian Institution and Mount Vernon. He finds out many interesting things about Washington, including what he served guests for breakfast, but not what Washington himself ate– a nice distinction. Finally, after he has given up on finding the answer it turns up serendipitously in a book that his grandmother was getting rid of after cleaning out the attic. A book published during Washington’s lifetime that includes the detail that Washington ate three hoecakes and three cups of tea every day. Pictures by Tomie de Paola. I especially liked the emphasis on hands-on history and the lessons in perseverance.
8. Let It Begin Here!: Lexington & Concord: First Battles of the American Revolution by Dennis Fradin.
A nice overview of the battles of Lexington and Concord.
9. Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz.
This book was much drier than any of the other books we got about this period and while the other children were definitely intrigued by the catchy title and enjoyed some of the colorful anecdotes, only Bella remained focused during the entire read-aloud. The bits about the debates over Federalism and over the actual workings of the government lost Ben and Sophie and Anthony. But Bella was riveted throughout and even went back and re-read parts of the book to herself and was able to tell me about some of the memorable characters and anecdotes. It’s hard to make the Constitution interesting to elementary school children and I think Fritz’s book is very well done. Pictures by Tomie dePaola. (At Bella’s request I later bought a copy of this book for our own library. She was thrilled.)
10. Valley Forge by Richard Ammon illustrated by Bill Farnsworth.
A beautifully illustrated book that focuses more narrowly on Washington’s winter in Valley Forge. I really liked the text of this one, too, it really made the time come to life with so many little details of daily life. Definitely one of the better books we’ve read about the war.
11. Boston Tea Party by Pamela Duncan Edwards.
The kids really liked this book, primarily because of the talking mice cartoons on the bottom of each page. For me it didn’t really work. The illustrations were truly lovely, but I hated reading it out loud and to me that’s killer to the picture book form. The idea was sort of good: trace the tea from where it grows in India and China to England where it is taxed, to the colonies where the taxes are rejected and so forth through the events of the Boston Tea Party. But the author chose to try to cram this story into the form of a cumulative tale, which really doesn’t work well for this material and which this particular author handles very poorly. It’s clunky and awkward to read, no rhyme, no rhythm, and no flow. It is, frankly, boring and pointless. And once I’d pointed out how clunky some of the phrases are, Sophie, my seven year old, agreed and joined me in identifying the particularly egregious phrases and thinking of ways we could rewrite them to make them better. To be clear, she took the lead in this particular exercise.
These are the soldiers who fought for freedom
remembering the tea chests 340 in number, which bobbed in the harbor
stained dark brown. “Like a giant teapot!”
shouted the sailors scared by disguises worn by the patriots
who made plans to dump the cargo
being carried in ships to the shores
of the colonists who cried, “No!”
to the king on his English throne who declared,
“Tax the tea!” that was made from the leaves
that grew on a bush in a far-off land
and became part of the Boston Tea Party.
Sophie thought the phrase, “Like a giant teapot!” should have been cut and she also thought “that grew on a bush” could be cut. I wanted to ax “who made plans to dump the cargo” in favor of “who dumped the cargo.” And I’d have changed “who declared, ‘Tax the tea!'” to “who taxed the tea.” But really I just wanted to dump the whole cumulative tale device into Boston Harbor.
So while the book worked pretty well as a copy editing exercise, I vastly preferred the other Boston Tea Party book. If this were the only picture book on the topic that our library had it would do in a pinch, because like I said the kids didn’t mind the elements that bothered me and Dom, at least not until they were pointed out to them. But I’m very glad there were better options. On the other hand, the boys remember this book fondly months afterwards.
12. They Called Her Molly Pitcher by Anne Rockwell illustrated by Cynthia von Buhler
A captivating book about a heroine of the Battle of Monmouth. Molly Hays accompanied her husband to the front and brought water to the men who fought on a scorching day. And when her husband was wounded she took his place and helped to fire a cannon. Beautiful illustrations and very well told story that attempts to separate historical fact from embellishment.
13. Secret Soldier: The story of Deborah Sampson by Ann McGovern, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi.
The true story of a woman from Massachusetts who enlisted as a man and fought and was even wounded in battle. She was given an honorable discharge when she was found out. After the war she traveled and did paid speaking engagements, telling people about her experiences and even doing drills dressed in her uniform.
Longer books for older kids
The following books aren’t exactly picture books, though they do have plenty of illustrations. More like fairly easy chapter books for the confident reader. Some of them I’ve read aloud, at least parts of. Others Bella has read on her own, at least parts of them.
1. 10. Year of Independence, 1776 by Genevieve Foster
The first section retells not just the events of 1776, but an overview of the whole war from the Stamp Acts to Tea Party through a few major battles (tracking George Washington’s progress through the war), to Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris that formally ended the war. The second section looks at scientists and artists who were alive during the time of the American Revolution: Montgolfier, Levoisier, Voltaire, and Mozart. The third section is an overview of what is going on everywhere else in the world. Pictures and maps are engaging. The text is very readable. I read all of the first section in one sitting, but it should probably be broken up over several days.
Although this book has pictures, it’s really more of a chapter book. Pages with pictures alternate with pages that text-only. The reading level and assumed interest in scientists and artists also seems to be pitched more to upper elementary or even middle school.
2. A Young Patriot: The American Revolution as Experienced by One Boy by Jim Murphy.
This has fast become one of Bella’s favorite books, a delightful living history book. It’s so wonderful to find a book that makes a child light up, that they narrate spontaneously because they can’t stop thinking and talking about it. The pictures are woodblock prints engaging and with informative captions, and the text is full of direct quotations from the memoirs of a boy from Connecticut who went to war at 15. The author’s narrative contextualizes the excerpts from the memoir, providing background information and explanations and making the story of a real boy soldier accessible to young readers. Such a gem. Bella spent all of one morning telling me about it, reading me selections, telling me about more of it.
3. Why Not Lafayette? by Jean
Unlike the other Jean Fritz books we’ve read, this one is a chapter book with pictures. It’s not quite as humorous as her picture books tend to be, though not at all lacking in wit. Fritz’s lively narrative really brings Lafayette to life using his family motto, “Why Not?”, as a hook. Bella read several chapters of this one on her own and then I read it to all the kids, Bella listening in with that as well.
4. Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos by Robert Lawson
I know this is a popular book, but not really my cup of tea. I’m not a huge fan of the talking mouse narrator to begin with and then when it comes to the trope of the animal who is cleverer and knows better than the bumbling human but the human takes all the credit, that really annoys me. I don’t like portraying Franklin as a fool. I read the kids the first chapter, explained why I didn’t really like it, and gave up. I think Bella read a bit more, but I was pretty sure she gave up on it too. Though later she mentioned something about the book in a positive way and seems to have read more of it than I thought. So maybe it is just me.
Same problem as with Ben and Me, above. I’m not a big fan of the animal narrator and the portrayal of the British officers and stupid and bumbling annoyed me too. I read the kids the first chapter and gave up on it. Robert Lawson is definitely not my cup of tea. I think Bella read a bit more of this one on her own.
6. Abigail Adams: Girl of Colonial Days (Childhood of Famous Americans series) by Jean Brown Wagoner
Bella really likes the Childhood of Famous American series. After we visited the Adams National Historical Park she asked me to buy this book for her.
Other titles in the series that deal with Revolutionary figures:
Molly Pitcher: Young Patriot by Augusta Stevenson
Martha Washington: America’s First Lady by Jean Brown Wagoner
Benjamin Franklin: Young Printer by Augusta Stevenson
Paul Revere: Boston Patriot by Augusta Stevenson
Thomas Jefferson: Third President of the United States by Helen Albee Monsell
John Adams: Young Revolutionary by Jan Adkins
George Washington: Our First Leader by Augusta Stevenson
Betsy Ross: Designer of Our Flag by Ann Weil
Chapter Books without pictures for slightly older children:
Bella loves all the Dear America books and this one she checked out of the library several times.
I’m not sure if she’s read the sequel to this one, The Second Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart: Cannons at Dawn: Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
2. Also, the Little Maid series by Alice Turner Curtis: Little Maid of Massachusetts Colony, Little Maid of Ticonderoga, Little Maid of Old Maine, Little Maid of Old New York, Little Maid of Old Connecticut, Little Maid of Virginia, Little Maid of New Orleans, Little Maid of Provincetown, Little Maid of Maryland, Little Maid of Narraganset Bay, Little Maid of Mohawk Valley.
A series about girls who get caught up in the Revolution, helping to win decisive victories. Each book in the series is a standalone novel with no connection to the others so you can read them in any order, they just follow the same formula. Probably more appealing to girls than boys. Both Bella and Sophie loved these books and devoured a bunch of them in a row.
3. The Story of the Boston Massacre by Mary Kay Phelan, illustrated by Allan Eitzen
Bella really loved this one, especially all the details of the trial of the soldiers, who were represented by John Adams.