Monday, December 17, 2007

The American Story

The American Story: 100 true tales from American History by Jennifer Armstrong, illustrations by Roger Roth, Random House, 2006

Conversation with the 5th grade ent-nephew this past summer:

Me: Do you like history?
Ent-nephew: Nooooo.... It is borrrrring.
Me: How can it be boring? Story is part of the word Hi-story! Don't your teachers ever tell you the stories from history?
Ent-nephew: Stories?
Me: How do they teach history and social studies at your school?
Ent-nephew: --shrugs--
Me: Do you do a lot of worksheets and vocabulary lists?
Ent-nephew: How did you know? Did my mom tell you?

How did I know?
Because worksheets and vocabulary definitions are what passes for social studies education in many classrooms today. The emphasis on test scores in reading, math and now science, seems to have blown, what should be one of the most interesting subjects in school, right out of the water.

It does NOT have to be this way... reading, writing, math and science skills should be/could be part of the social studies curriculum. Sadly, too often, it is tagged on at the end of the day or slotted in like an airline standby passenger.

"Any hope for getting on this flight?"
"Ummm...we have to looks pretty full today."

Sometimes I despair.

This is why I have such a tender spot in my heart for books that share stories from our past. In this splendid volume, Jennifer Armstrong tells some well known (although now-a-days that is not a given) and not so well know tales from our country's past.

I consider myself a student of American history but I did not know that long before the 1938 Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast, The New York Journal "reported" their own sequel to that book, in 1897, in daily installments called "Edison's Conquest of Mars."

I did not know the story of Thaddeus Lowe and his contributions to aerial surveillance for the Union during the Civil War. In one of the many, many author notes following the story, Armstrong explains that Lowe Observatory near Pasadena California is named for him.

The scope of stories is diverse. Spindletop, Typhoid Mary, Mount Saint Helens, the Rumble in the Jungle, Custer, ENIAC, Carrie Nation, the Chicago fire, Popé and the Pueblo revolt, and Asser Levy are names and events that we should know.

The stories are related chronologically, in three page bites, perfect for reading aloud and Roth's illustrations complement the stories. At the back, there is an extensive bibliography and index. The chapters are also grouped by "story arc" categories, such as, "Steel," "Cuba," "Government and Law," "the Moon and Stars" and whimsically, "Bananas." I do wish the page numbers had been included here. It takes an extra step to find the story in the table-of-contents or index.

As a librarian, I found myself matching these chapters with more books on the subject.

1927 The Spirit of St. Louis = Flight by Robert Burleigh
1954 Brown v. Board of Education = Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
1884 Hold Your Horses, Here Come the Elephants = Twenty-One Elephants by Phil Bildner
1938 War of the Worlds = Meghan McCarthy's wonderful and entertaining Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account Of The 1938 War Of The Worlds Radio Broadcast
1925 Mush = Togo by Robert J. Blake
1846 I'm Not Leaving this Jail = Henry Builds a Cabin and the other Henry books by D.B. Johnson

There are so many more.

That is one of the great things about being the school librarian, YOU can be the storyteller and share the tales that shaped our nation.


Anonymous said...

I was lucky! I had a quite good teacher who believed in reading 'living' books for school.

- Jaden

Tricia said...

Woohoo, Camille! You are my hero! I wish more people felt this way about the teaching of history. I'm glad you're doing your part to help all those poor worksheet laden kiddies.

Have a great break!

Ladytink_534 said...

I've found that most children hate school and learning for this very reason. They make it so boring and take almost all of the fun out of things nowadays.

Kris Bordessa said...

This is such a good book! I hope your nephew was inspired to give history another chance after you talked to him. I'm a student of one of those ditto sheet teachers (I know, I'm aging myself!), and I like to think that I've helped my kids realized just how interesting the past is.

Kris at Paradise Found