Who lives, who dies, who tells your story to preschoolers?
November 4, 2015 6:16 PM   Subscribe

My four-year-old is as obsessed with Hamilton as I am. He is full of Alexander Hamilton facts and keeps sing "Oceans rise, empires faaaaaaall" with Broadway gestures. We need some high-quality Founding Father (and/or Mother!) children's books! Obviously the big gets are the guys from the musical: Hamilton, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. But we will also accept Franklin, Jay, lesser founders, and assorted wives and girlfriends. And I suppose Aaron Burr, sir.

We're looking at a range from picture books to elementary-grade books that could be read-alouds at bedtime. (Kids' chapter books are fine; he's just too little for junior high-targeted chapter books about history to be interesting to him, but if you have a great one a little above my target age I can always add it to our wishlist for later, because he is scammin for every book he can get his hands on.) He also likes adult coffee-table-encyclopedia style books with a lot of pictures and some text; we read him the words and he admires the pictures -- I'm sure there's a good one of the Founding Fathers or the Revolution out there somewhere that details how the world was turned upside down by the war.

We would ALSO love to find some children's book about the Revolution itself, he would like that -- or even specific battles, like Yorktown, or Lexington & Concord. I'm sure there are Paul Revere and Betsey Ross books out there too ... near neighbors of the Founding Fathers are okay.

There's plenty of crappy mass-produced school library "all the presidents!" biography series that are clogging up my attempts to find a diamond in the rough (shiny piece of coal), so definitely I am after personal recommendations or high-quality book lists, not just amazon results.

Prefer physical books but can do ebooks.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Cartoon History of the United States is a lot of fun
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:34 PM on November 4, 2015

The d'Aulaires did a biography of George Washington that I remember enjoying when I was a kid.

The next two would work as read-alouds and have lots of fun illustrations: Ben and Me is a biography of Benjamin Franklin, who got all his ideas from a mouse named Amos who lived in his hat.

Also by Robert Lawson is Mr. Revere and I, the story of Paul Revere and Sherry (nee Scheherazade), who started life as a horse in King George's army.
posted by mogget at 6:34 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, I'm sorry to think he has so many years before he'll be age-appropriate for Octavian Nothing.
posted by janey47 at 6:37 PM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The American Girl Felicity books are pretty awesome, and would be fine for a readaloud. Stolen horses! Tea! Revolution!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:58 PM on November 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Hello, I am Hamilton trash and also a youth librarian! Your first stop ought to be John, Paul, George, and Ben by Lane Smith, and perhaps George vs. George which is on the upper end of that age range; put George Washington, Spymaster on the wish list for later.

The Duel is, again, a LITTLE older than what you're looking for, but it's well-reviewed and very on-target. Jim Murphy is excellent, so look into The Crossing. I haven't seen Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything, but the trade reviews are good. (I rely on Horn Book Guide for distinguishing the books that are significantly better than the mass-produced Generic Biography Of Every President books). Russell Freedman is so great - try Lafayette and the American Revolution.
posted by Jeanne at 7:00 PM on November 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Ben and Me. What about Longfellow's poem Paul Revere's Ride? I'm sure there are some good picture book versions of it.

In second grade our teacher read Toliver's Secret to us. It's about a young girl whose uncle is a spy for Washington. She disguises herself as a boy to deliver a message baked into a loaf of bread.
posted by lharmon at 7:06 PM on November 4, 2015

Best answer: You could try Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman. It looks like she wrote one about Thomas Jefferson, too.

If you want high quality, then Magic Tree House books are probably out, but your kid might really like them. Mine did at that age. There's one where the kids meet George Washington and another one where they meet Abe Lincoln.
posted by Redstart at 7:08 PM on November 4, 2015

Best answer: Maira Kalman's Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything is just fantastic. My daughter and I enjoyed reading it together when she was four. Looking at Lincoln is pretty rad too.
posted by eelgrassman at 7:19 PM on November 4, 2015

Seconding American Girl books - our war of choice at the moment is Civil, not Revolutionary, but the first Addy book was listened to with rapt attention. It was intense from a plot perspective- I might not have read it to a 4yo if I'd prescreened it - but I think that part is slavery specific, and it wound up being fine, we just had to talk through some things. (Like, "why did they have to leave her baby sister behind, why is mommy sniffling, ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT OUR BABY **PANICKED LOOK***")

And yeah, Magic Treehouse. Six books in, I'm getting tired of them, but Micropanda sure isn't, and they are decent brief introductions to the various themes.

Love the question, btw - you should have seen the look our children's librarian gave me when I asked if they had any age appropriate books for a 4yo about the civil war...
posted by telepanda at 7:33 PM on November 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is highlighted in our elementary library this year. I think because it's a Blue Bonnet award winner (Texas).
posted by wwartorff at 7:34 PM on November 4, 2015

I have no suggestions but THIS IS ADORABLE.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:21 PM on November 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The fantastic illustrator Don Brown has a new picture book out called Aaron and Alexander! I just read it and it's lovely, mostly talks about their parallel lives in a kid-friendly manner.

I also like Independent Dames: What You Never Knew About the Women and Girls of the American Revolution.

I have no familiarity with this one besides coming across it just now, but it looks pretty good! Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette

Also have not read, but Steve Sheinkin is an awesome non-fiction writer for kids: King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the American Revolution

And for some fictionalized history for a little bit older readers, there's a book in the Treasure Chest series called Alexander Hamilton: Little Lion about his early years in St. Croix.
posted by wsquared at 9:54 PM on November 4, 2015

your child may be too young to appreciate Stan Freberg Presents the United States Of America, but you'll get a kick out of it!
posted by TDIpod at 10:04 PM on November 4, 2015

Not a book, but if you want another catchy song, The Shot Heard Round the World from Schoolhouse Rock is pretty great!
posted by wsquared at 10:38 PM on November 4, 2015

It's from 1943, and it's specifically Boston-at-the-beginning-of-the-Revolution, but Johnny Tremain won the Newbery medal.

I've not read it. But I did watch the Disney movie. Read the book, skip the movie.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:23 AM on November 5, 2015

I like the Jean Fritz picture books about the Founding Fathers, including this one about Sam Adams.
posted by puddledork at 7:28 AM on November 5, 2015

Best answer: If you want to include women in the sequel, try looking at Independent Dames and Founding Mothers. Both are aimed a little older; Independent Dames would be a fun read-aloud, while Founding Mothers would be good for looking at and talking about the pictures.

Sleds on Boston Common and Colonial Voices are both great picture books with a kid's perspective on colonial Boston.
posted by earth by april at 8:27 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sybil Ludington was only 16 when she rode her horse forty miles to alert the rebels of approaching British soldiers during the American Revolution. I haven't read this book, but I have heard good things about it.
posted by ants at 5:59 PM on November 5, 2015

Johnny Tremain is fantastic but I don't think a 4-year-old will get much from it. There's a bunch of apprenticeship drama before you even get to any revolutionary war stuff. Give it a few years.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:53 PM on November 18, 2015

Response by poster: Aaron and Alexander is a huuuuuuuuuge hit and all he wants to read is a children's book about a duel in which his hero dies, which I'm sure isn't permanently scarring ...

We also picked up Independent Dames, which he likes a lot, and Sleds on Boston Common, which he thinks is so-so (as do I. On the one hand, it's a nice telling of the old Boston story. On the other hand, it's kind-of lacking in narrative drive, and even though I'm with the Sons of Liberty it seems kind-of shitty the way the kids take advantage of Gage after he's nice to them. Neither the language nor the pictures jump off the page enough to make up for the narrative shortcomings). A bunch more (including George v. George) will be arriving from Santa.

Magic Treehouse are fine, they do a nice job and are QUALITY-CONTROLLED mass-produced books, unlike some of the "okay make a book for every president but only put effort into Washington and Lincoln" series they sell to school libraries as kiddie reference books. My 6-year-old likes Magic Treehouse a lot, although my 4-year-old isn't quite into them yet.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:11 PM on November 18, 2015

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