What are some cool American-history-related books/games/movies for kids?
December 16, 2013 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a fun gift for an 8-year-old that might fuel his interest in American history (or any history) ... Any ideas? (Some specifics provided inside.)

I think I'm specifically searching for things that lean more toward the non-fiction end of the spectrum, but are presented in a way that is immediately engaging for a youngin'. Certainly open to anything.

If a thing is great, it's great. But bonus karma for less of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and fighting Nazis, and more of Teddy Roosevelt and James Garfield and the Jeffersonian search for monsters more giant than Europe's.

(The best I could come up with is the Awful America edition of Horrible Histories ... but I probably need a more positive companion to that.)
posted by pokermonk to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
On the "any history" side, I loved the ancient history Treasure Chests at that age and now I'm working on a history PhD so there's your anecdata right there. There are lots on Amazon, but it looks like they're all resellers, so caveat emptor.

I also loved the Childhood of Famous Americans biographies at that age, but I think what got me into those was having exhausted Laura Ingalls Wilder, the American Girl books, and Anne of Green Gables, all of which are marketed toward girls and decidedly do not feature monsters or fighting, so I don't know if that will help.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:34 AM on December 16, 2013

How about Early American Chrononauts and Chrononauts? Excellent and fun time travel games that lets you get a bit of an idea on how things interconnect.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:41 AM on December 16, 2013

I had a fun book of American presidential facts growing up that I loved, but I a) was a super nerdy kid and b) grew up a couple of miles from the White House, so it was more immediately relevant to my life. I still love anything to do with Alice, Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, and the rascally adventures of the other Roosevelt kids as well. This one seems pretty similar. Much older, but the book Rifles for Watie was and remained a searing and difficult look at the Civil War. I'm sure there are other more recent novels as well; you might look at recent Newberry awards.

This seems like a great annotated list of books on the Oregon Trail for students, and if you wanted to be really awesome, you could get him into the old-school online version so that he too can catch dysentery and die!

You could pair a book on the American Bone Wars with a dig-your-own-dino kit [though please, please teach him the difference between palentologists and archaeologists if you do-- it's often wrong even on the packaging...]

I personally read a ton of the very old We Were There books, which really didn't pull a lot of punches when it came to the realities of battlefield medicine and chopping off hands as punishment and whatnot. (Also written in the 1950's, so I'm pretty sure there are a lot of topics that are more sensitive now than before.) However, they were really, really engaging and quite memorable; I would say that if you found a copy in a used book store that you vet it for content.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:49 AM on December 16, 2013

My son (currently majoring in History in college) loved the Horrible History books at that age.
posted by COD at 10:52 AM on December 16, 2013

Seconding Oregon Trail. Classic.
posted by GrapeApiary at 10:57 AM on December 16, 2013

i guess i like historical fiction as long as it's true to the history and not just "set" in 1843 or whatever. good historical fiction always got me interested in the real story/history. that's where i'm coming from. sorry i that's not exactlywhat you're looking for.

Fever 1793--about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia. written for kids, but engaging even for adults.

possibly the red badge of courage if he's not gonna get stuck reading it in school.

you may also want to check out this list and this list.

edit: one more list.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:23 AM on December 16, 2013

I don't know any 8 year olds, so maybe this recommendation is too advanced--but I think Twilight Struggle is an awesome game and a fun introduction to some of the people and events of the Cold War. If he's old enough for Risk, he's old enough for this much better game.
posted by soonertbone at 12:20 PM on December 16, 2013

When I was that age I loved outer space. NASA and space exploration are part of American history.

Get that kid When We Left Earth. If he gets really into it, save up to send him to Space Camp* when he's 10.

*I have gotten to do a lot of cool things in my life...I'm 28 and going to Space Camp when I was 10 still ranks among probably my top 5 life experiences. It was the perfect thing for me at that age and SO FUN. From what I understand, Huntsville (where I was) has the best campus. I followed it up a few years later by going to Astronomy Camp. The family got a telescope. History of Physics (with a focus on folks like Kepler and Copernicus and Galileo) was one of my favorite courses in college. And all of that ♥ started with learning about NASA and going to Space Camp.
posted by phunniemee at 1:12 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

April Morning is a teen reader book about the Battle of Lexington.
It is extremely accurate historically, and very readable. It not only brings the battle to life, but it does a great job bringing out the social and political dilemma faced by the families caught up in the war. It is a book meant for teens, but honestly I think it is so good, everyone interested in the Revolutionary War should read it.
posted by Flood at 4:55 PM on December 16, 2013

I enjoyed Chronology at a board game night. I think it is something all ages would enjoy.
posted by easilyamused at 4:44 PM on December 17, 2013

This may be too much like Awful America, but I know tons of kids who are totally hooked on The You Wouldn't Want To series. It has gems such as You Wouldn't Want to Work on the Brooklyn Bridge!: An Enormous Project That Seemed Impossible and You Wouldn't Want to Be an Aztec Sacrifice!: Gruesome Things You'd Rather Not Know. (Most of the series is in print and recent.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:39 PM on December 17, 2013

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