Children's Literature Reviews for Teaching History

Know a great book for teaching social studies that's not yet included here? Click the appropriate link on the left to add it.
Have you used one of these books with students? Leave a comment after the rating about your own experience.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Letters from Rifka

Title: Letters From Rifka
Author: Karen Hesse
Topic: Immigration
Grade Level: 3-4
Students: A balanced mix of strong readers and struggling or reluctant readers

Rating by:Trecie Warner in Colorado

Historically Accurate?
(4) Yes and also includes historical notes, primary sources, etc.
(3) Yes
(2) A few inaccurate or misleading portrayals
(1) Not a bit

An Engaging Story?
(4) Almost all students will beg to keep reading
(3) Most students will get caught up in the story
(2) Some students will read ahead by mistake
(1) Students will groan when the book is mentioned

Prompts Discussion?
 (4) Students will still be talking about it in the hallway
(3) Will prompt discussion about major issues in the past as well as today
(2) Will prompt discussion about the characters and the events in the book
(1) Will not prompt discussion

(4) Everyone - even the most reluctant readers – can get on board
(3) Can be used for a whole class read
(2) Can only be used with a small high-powered reading group
(1) Recommend only to students that love reading

Age Appropriate Content?
 _X_Too mature
 ____Just right
 ____Too simplistic

 A Comment from Trecie Warner:  My students loved hearing Rifka's story. They laughed and cried, worried and cheered as I read the book aloud. It connected well with our unit on immigrants and their struggles to become American citizens.

 Amazon's Product Description:     
“America,” the girl repeated. “What will you do there?”
I was silent for a little time.
“I will do everything there,” I answered.

Rifka knows nothing about America when she flees from Russia with her family in 1919. But she dreams she will at last be safe from the Russian soldiers and their harsh treatment of the Jews in the new country. Throughout her journey, Rifka carries with her a cherished volume of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. In it, she records her observations and experiences in the form of letters to her beloved cousin she has left behind. Strong-hearted and determined, Rifka must endure a great deal: humiliating examinations by doctors and soldiers, deadly typhus, separation from all she has ever known and loved, murderous storms at sea—and as if this is not enough, the loss of her glorious golden hair. And even if she does make it to America, she’s not sure America will have her.

Link to Reviews on Amazon
Link to Letters From Rifka Background (A brief video introduction to the novel Letters from Rifka to get students familiar with the history of Russia during the Russian Civil War.)
Link to a Teacher's Guide for Letters From Rifka
Buy this book from your local bookstore via Indie Bound

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Historical Fiction: MAY B.

Yesterday, debut novelist and former teacher Caroline Starr Rose published May B., a historical novel-in-verse for middle grades, and it's getting fabulous reviews...

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2011:"If May is a brave, stubborn fighter, the short, free-verse lines are one-two punches in this Laura Ingalls Wilder–inspired ode to the human spirit."

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, December 5, 2011:"Writing with compassion and a wealth of evocative details, Rose offers a memorable heroine and a testament to the will to survive."

Here's the description of May B.:

I've known it since last night:
It's been too long to expect them to return.
Something's happened.

May is helping out on a neighbor's Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it's hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May's memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she's determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose's fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

For more info and giveaways, check out:

Caroline's website ( where she's created a whole section for teachers, including a free downloadable study guide for May B., or follow Caroline's blog.

You can also buy May B at Amazon or Indiebound

It definitely sounds like a book worth checking out for your classroom (and if anyone has already used it with students I'd love for you to rate it for the blog.)