2014 U.S. History Hits for the Middle Grades—So Far…

I’m a history buff, so whenever interesting new titles come across my desk, I’m happily carried away to another place and time for a bit, immersing myself in another era. While I’m often quite familiar with the generalities of a particular time period—the Civil War, the Great Depression, the Space Race—I am always intrigued to learn about a person or happening that is new to me. Today’s blog features four great new history titles published in the first half of 2014 that will have broad appeal for students. Consider adding them to your collection in time for the new school year.

Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights, by Steve Sheinkin. 9781596437968. January 2014. Grades 7-10.

1596437960_01_LZZZZZZZSteve Sheinkin has written a number of thoroughly-researched and engagingly-written books about American history. Port Chicago 50 is his latest. It investigates the true story of an event in July, 1944, at the Port Chicago Naval Base in California, which was used by the Navy during World War II as a bomb-loading port for the Pacific. Segregation was in effect, and every serviceman loading the bombs was black. When an explosion due to unsafe working conditions killed over 300 servicemen, fifty black sailors refused to return to work until the unsafe conditions were dealt with. They were court-martialed and sent to prison, but protests forced the Navy to commute most of the sentences and re-examine its segregation policies. Thus, this event was an early chapter in the Civil Rights Movement that really gained steam in the 1950s-1960s.

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain, by Russell Freedman. 9780547903781. January 2014. Grades 4-7.

0547903782_01_LZZZZZZZEveryone knows about Ellis Island, the New York port of entry for Europeans immigrating to the United States. Less familiar is California’s Angel Island, which was the entry point for Asian, primarily Chinese, immigrants. Between 1910 and 1940 almost a million people entered through the facility. Most Asian immigrants were unwelcome, and, thus, the process for legal entry was usually very prolonged, difficult and arbitrary. The book details the hardships many immigrants endured as they waited to enter the mainland. Poems written on the walls of the holding facilities remain today and bear witness to these personal experiences. It Includes many black-and-white photographs.

Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific, by Mary Cronk Farrell. 9781419710285. March 2014. Grades 5-8.

1419710281_01_LZZZZZZZIn 1941 about one hundred Army and Navy nurses were serving in the Philippines under placid, peace-time conditions. That all changed on December 8, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack, when the Japanese began bombing the islands. Forced to retreat and eventually surrender, the U.S. forces, including the nurses, endured over three years of brutal imprisonment before they were liberated in 1945. This book tells the story of these brave and intrepid women who continued to care for soldiers and each other under horrendous circumstances. Once they returned to the U.S., many found readjustment to civilian life difficult, not only because of unrecognized PTSD, but because of the society’s expectations for women at that time, which were vastly different than the roles they had lived out during wartime. Loaded with first-hand accounts, photographs, and other primary source documents, this is a compelling account of a seldom-reported chapter of WWII.

Lincoln Memorial: The Story and Design of an American Monument,by Jay Sacher. 9781452127170. February 2014. Grades 7-10.

1452127174_01_LZZZZZZZMany people who have been to a lot of historical monuments cite the Lincoln Memorial as an especially meaningful—almost holy—place. Millions visit it every year. It has been the site of some iconic events in American history, many associated with the Civil Rights movement, such as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. As early as the late 1860s there were efforts afoot to memorialize our most beloved president, but it was not until 1914 that construction finally began. The memorial was dedicated in 1922 and has been part of our national identity ever since. Beautiful watercolor illustrations enhance the story. This would be a great addition to both architecture and history collections.

 

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