An Inclusive American History Curriculum
Updated: Nov 21
This post was originally published on May 13, 2020 on my other blog here.
When I began homeschooling, I was starstruck by all the classic children's books. I grew up in the public school system with parents who weren't readers themselves. I continued on to college to get a degree in English, mostly because I loved grammar... but of course, soon I found myself reading many classics. So I learned the classic adult books. But I had never been welcomed into the world of classic children's literature. Until I started homeschooling.
I hopped full on the train. Found all the best book lists. Borrowed them all from the library. Bought even more of them. And I started Sophie's first year of homeschool, checking off every single book on the list of classics for kindergarteners. But I never really stop researching. And as I continued to research, I would see snippets here and there of people pointing out issues with classics. "This book is so good, but you have to edit while you read because it calls Native Americans 'savages.'" Or, "This book talks about Christopher Columbus like he's a hero and doesn't give an accurate portrayal of the way he treated Natives."
I was not educated enough. So I had to read all the comments, click on the links, read the articles. I followed every rabbit trail laid out before me, and soon I found myself in a heap of wreckage. I wouldn't say my history education was very strong, but I certainly thought I knew my stuff. But enough rabbit trails, enough listening, enough reading made me realize that I was given a biased history education. My history was from a white westerner's point of view, and it left out the side of the Native American and people of color. So I left the classics' train. And I jumped on the enlightenment train. Sometimes it still includes classics. But it's a train that is inclusive and seeks to give a full picture of history. Sometimes the train charges full force ahead, and sometimes it has to stop, refuel, backtrack, and correct its path. But I am fully on this train, committed to giving my children an education that is not white-washed or westernized but rather inclusive, diverse, and honest. I am constantly learning and constantly updating my shelves, but I wanted to share my favorite books. At the end of this post, I will share my favorite sources. Don't miss that part! I am only relaying information to you that I got from others, whom I'm so thankful for. If we want to include indigenous people and black people in our history curriculum, we must listen to them. Most of my book ideas were a direct result of listening to them and their recommendations.
These are three incredible spines. They are so important. Each book comes in an adult format if you'd like to read those for yourself, but honestly, you could start with these young people versions and learn a shocking amount. All of these focus on different matters and are all important in their own way. If I had to recommend one to start with, though, I'd go with Zinn's. Howard Zinn - A Young People's History of the United States Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz - An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People Ronald Takaki - A Different Mirror for Young People
I'm really big on having a spine for history, and then supplementing with biographies and historical fiction. It's hard to find a history spine for young children that isn't white-washed. Betsy Maestro's books are my favorite I have found, though. The spines mentioned above (Zinn, Dunbar-Ortiz, and Takaki) are better to start around 4th grade, I think, so Maestro's books would be good for before that.
These books are all just so excellent for learning about the Native Americans before contact. For most of us, and for many curriculums today, America starts when the white settlers came. But that's a false narrative. This land has been here for an incredibly long time with people walking it. And those people (Native Americans) are still amongst us today! The top two books are good for a parent/teacher's own education, and the bottom three books are good to use for a curriculum with children. Catherine O'Neill Grace - 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving Bill Bigelow - Rethinking Columbus Helen Roney Sattler - The Earliest Americans Charles Mann - Before Columbus Yellowhorn and Lowinger - Turtle Island
Picture books are a lovely way to learn about Native Americans - both historical figures as well as legends. Below are some of our favorites. These are a great supplement to a curriculum. Biographies and legends make a curriculum come to life! Robbie Robertson - Hiawatha and the Peacemaker Liselotte Erdrich - Sacagawea S. D. Nelson - Buffalo Bird Girl Joseph Bruchac - Squanto's Journey Tomie dePaolo - The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush Tomie dePaola - The Legend of the Bluebonnet
It's fun and important to know how people live. We not only are better able to understand the people but also the land we live on, if we live in the Americas. These are some of my favorite books for learning about the types of homes Native Americans lived in. We personally don't live far from mounds, and it's a really neat place to visit. Bonnie Shemie - Houses of Snow, Skin, and Bone Bonnie Shemie - Houses of Bark Bonnie Shemie - Mounds of Earth and Shell Bobbie Kalman - Native Homes Bobbie Kalman - Life in a Longhouse Village Bobbie Kalman - Native Nations of the Western Great Lakes
A few more books about Native American historical figures and legends that we love, and a book to understand that Native people still live amongst us today! Simon J Ortiz - The People Shall Continue Tehanetorens - Legends of the Iroquois (this is a really fun one!) Charles A. Eastman - Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains Joseph Bruchac - Between Earth & Sky
Basically anything by Joseph Bruchac is wonderful. He's a good name to know. Both of these books are good ones. Once your children are older, continuing to read biographies and historical fiction is important, but the books will get longer. Joseph Bruchac - Sacajawea Cornelia Cornellisen - Soft Rain
Historical fiction is one of our very favorites in our house. Louise Erdrich and Joseph Bruchac are simply the best when it comes to historical fiction about Native Americans. The Birchbark House series is a great series if you're looking for one with a Little House on the Prairie feel but that covers the Native's perspective. Louise Erdrich - Birchbark House series Joseph Bruchac - Children of the Longhouse Joseph Bruchac - The Arrow over the Door
I consider all of these good spines to cover black history. James Haskins is an author I like, and his books are the top four, but he has many more as well. These books all cover a time period or different slave accounts rather than one person. James Haskins - Bound for America James Haskins - Building a New Land James Haskins - Following Freedom's Star James Haskins - Out of the Darkness Virginia Hamilton - Many Thousand Gone Kadir Nelson - Heart and Soul Doreen Rappaport is an author I really love, and she has some books not pictured that I would also recommend: No More!: Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance Free at Last! Stories and Songs of Emancipation Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round
There are a lot of great picture books about different movements of black history, from slavery to emancipation to the civil rights movement. Here are some we love. Andrea Davis Pinkney - Boycott Blues Andrea Davis Pinkney - Sit-In Jacqueline Woodson - Show Way Gretchen Woelfle - Mumbet's Declaration of Independence Scott Russell Sanders - A Place Called Freedom
I truly find that there's nothing like historical fiction to make history come to life! (Thank you Amber from Heritage Mom for so many of these recommendations!) Sharon Draper - Stella by Starlight Patricia McKissack - A Picture of Freedom Brenda Woods - My Name is Sally Little Song Mildred Taylor - Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry Harriette Gillem Robinet - Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule William Armstrong - Sounder
Don't forget to introduce your children to other voices in other subject areas as well! Poetry - Consider Phyllis Wheatley, Langston Hughes, Joseph Bruchac, Louise Erdrich, and Effie Lee Newsome Artists - Consider Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Helen Hardin, Mary Sully, and Pablita Velarde Music - Consider Scott Joplin, Elizabeth Cotten, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Duke Ellington, and Robbie Robertson Some of my favorite sources: * Heritage Mom - Amber is simply amazing. As a black mama raising black children, she provides a world of wisdom on giving children a black perspective in history as well as other subjects (composers, artists, fiction, field trips). * The Parallel Narrative - I've gotten a lot of book ideas from this site. She breaks it down by time period and subject area. * Living Books of all People Facebook group - If you're on Facebook, be sure to join this group. People are continually posting new books and resources, and the search bar is great when you need to find information on a specific area. * Oyate - This site has been really informative about Native Americans. They review books and also have a shop with books they recommend broken into different categories. * American Indians in Children's Literature - So many great reviews on this site! * Woke Homeschooling - This is a curriculum thoughtfully put together by homeschooling mama Delina Prcye McPhaull. * A Broken Flute- This is a pricey book. I borrowed a copy from the library, but I will say it's worth every penny should you choose to buy. Doris Seale and her companions go through hundreds of books on Native Americans, reviewing them thoroughly. It gave me a lot of ideas for books to buy but also after reading through it, I began to have a clearer idea of what to look for and what to avoid when looking for books on indigenous people.