The Westward Movement and Children's Literature

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Grades 3 - 7
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. Novel. 256 pages.
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This is a great story through which the Native American culture during the Westward Expansion of the United States is realistically and sympathetically portrayed. A band of Ojibwa (old name: Anishinabe) live on an island in Lake Superior and we are witness to much of the custom and ritual, successes and tragedies of these people who lived so closely bound to the earth. The book is a National Book Award finalist. It makes an excellent read-aloud choice for children as young as third grade and should appeal to students all the way up through seventh grade, at least. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links.

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Grades 2 - 4
Dandelions by Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Greg Shed. Picture Book. 32 pages.
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When a man moves his family from the comforts of Illinois to the uninhabited prairie, he knows there will be hardships. For this family, the children and father adapt quickly, but the pregnant mother is overwhelmed by the loneliness. Even when the soddy is built, she says it disappears when you step away from it. When the older daughter gets to go to town, she brings back a clump of dandelions to plant on the roof of their soddy. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links.

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Grades 3 - 8
Grasshopper Summer by Ann Turner. Illustrated by Erika Meltzer. Novel. 176 pages.
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The Civil War is just ended and Sam is appalled when his father decides to move west. In Dakota Territory the family works together to build a sod house. When it is done, much to their surprise, everyone loves the sod house and there is much hope. The corn crop is planted and doing well and then come the grasshoppers. Turner's account of the awfulness of the grasshopper plague is enough to set your skin crawling and the destruction they leave behind is devastating. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links.

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Grades 6 - 9
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson. Novel. 448 pages.
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This captivating book is a wonderful piece of historical fiction with one genre-bending exception. The main character can sense the presence of gold. This is the first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy. Fifteen-year-old Lee lives with her parents in Dahlonega, Georgia in 1849. They have come there for the first major gold rush in the US, but now the gold is mostly gone. When Lee must flee and disguise herself as a boy she works her way across the country to the California Gold Rush, first by horseback, then by boat, and finally by wagon train. Read More.

Grades 1 - 4
Aurora Means Dawn by Scott Russell Sanders. Illustrated by Jill Kastner. Picture Book. 32 pages.
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With striking illustrations, this book tells about the Sheldon family who are bound for Aurora, Ohio in the early 1800s. They are caught in a terrible storm and have to take shelter under their wagon. According to their information, Aurora is a bustling frontier town, but they find only a surveyor's post. Readers will get a sense of the travails and deceptions the first European settlers were subjected to.

Grades PreK - 3
Snowshoe Thompson by Nancy Levinson. Illustrated by Joan Sandin. Easy Reader. 64 pages.
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This is the story of a little boy whose father is on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains mining for gold. Snowshoe Thompson, a real person, carries letters from the boy to his father.

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Related Areas of Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Site


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