It's important for students to have knowledge about the people, ideas, and themes involved in the Age of Discovery from before 1491 which led to the colonization in the Americas. To help students engage in their study of the pre-colonial period in American history, I am sharing some of my top choices for historical fiction books in this category: Oldies, But Goodies: Pre-Colonial Period.
Teachers, with the emphasis on reading informational texts, be sure to balance the inclusion of historical fiction with non-fiction texts and primary sources.
These historical fiction stories provide a worthwhile reading experience because students can get caught up in the excitement of the story; learn the big picture of the historical period; and gain background knowledge, which can help students interpret and make sense of the facts.
I've included some books which were award winners; and since I feel it is important for historical fiction to support and foster multicultural understanding, I've included some books that offer an alternative perspective on the historical event. My other criteria for including a book are:
1. I read the book and enjoyed it.
2. The book could possibly be in many school libraries in the school district (making it easier for interlibrary loan purposes), or the books could be housed in a school book room.
When possible, I am providing you with the author's name, title, illustrator, publishing company, ISBN, page numbers, reading level (R), interest level (I), and a short blurb. This information can help you consider books for your curriculum. I'd like to acknowledge that much of the information was taken from Recreating the Past and Literature Connections to American History, both by Lynda G. Adamson.
Conrad, Pam. Pedro's Journal: A Voyage with Christopher Columbus. 0-590-46206-7. 81 p. R=6; I=6. Chosen to be cabin boy because he reads and writes, Pedro accompanies Christopher Columbus on the Santa Maria in 1492 and records what he learns.
Illus. Peter Koeppen. Paper, Scholastic (Apple), 1992.
Dorris, Michael. Morning Girl. Hyperion, 1992. 1-56282-285-3. 74p. R=6;I=4. Morning Girl and Star Boy live with their parents on a Bahamian island in 1492 before Columbus finds them. Even in their simple culture, they have an understanding of the world.
O'Dell, Scott. The King's Fifth. Illus Samuel Bryant. Houghton Mifflin, 1966. 0-395-06963-7. R-4; I=7. The black slave, Esteban, is held in a prison in 1541 and will be tried for hoarding the king's fifth of gold taken on Mendoza's expedition. Newbery Honor, 1967.
Yolen, Jane. Encounter. Illus. David Shannon. Paper, Harcourt Voyager, 1996. 0-15-225962-7. Picture book. The story of Columbus' landing in the Americas, as told by a boy of the Taino people who lived there.
The American Colonies 1700-1774
Anderson, Joan. Spanish Pioneers of the Southwest. Photographs by George Ancona. Dutton, 1989. 0-525=67264-8. 48p. Grades 3-6. In this photo essay, a young boy in Santa Fe, New Mexico or New Spain, is to guard the pueblo and call for the gates to be closed in case of Native American attacks .
Anderson, Joan. A Williamsburg Household. Photos by George Ancona. Clarion, 1988. Paper, 1990. 0-395-54791-1. 48 p. R=7;I=2. In 1770, Rippon and his family are slaves to Williamsburg families.
Dalgliesh, Alice. The Courage of Sarah Noble. Illustrator Leonard Weisgard. Scribner's, 1987. 64p. Paper, Macmillan, 1991. 0-689-71540-4. R=3, I=3. In 1707, Sarah stays goes with her father to build a new house in Massachusetts and stays with the Native American family while her father return for her mother. Sarah's mother refuses to believe Native Americans can care for her child better than she can. Newbery Honor, 1955.
Rinaldi, Ann. The Fifth of March: A Story of the Boston Massacre. Harcourt Brace, 1993. 333p. Paper, 0-15-227517-7. R-4; I-7. Rachel is an indentured servant to John and Abigail Adams around 1770 in Boston and hears the news from the British and the colonists.
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Sign of the Beaver. Houghton Mifflin, 1983. 144p. Paper, Dell, 1984. 0-440-47900-2. R=4; I=5. Matt is left alone in Maine to watch over their new house and someone steals his gun. The Indians nearby help him and Matt reciprocates by teaching them to read. Newbery Honor, 1984. Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, 1984.
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Houghton Mifflin, 1958. Paperback, Dell, 1978. 256 p. R=6, I=6. In 1687, Kit, an orphan, travels from Barbados to New England to live with her aunt and is accused of witchcraft, when she is actually teaching a child to read. Newbery Medal, 1959.