Just as the works of early American artists can be accessible to young students, so can real works of early American literature. A local teacher that I work with asked if I could expand my companion reading list to include literature, thus making the curriculum a full humanities curriculum. After searching through the literature currently in print I came up with a fairly comprehensive list:
Native American Literature
Native American traditions are full of myth and legend. Many of these have been successfully translated into picture books. Two authors that stand out are Joseph Bruchac and Gerald McDermott:
- Turtle’s Race with Beaver by Joseph Bruchac and James Bruchac
- Raccoon’s Last Race by Joseph Bruchac and James Bruchac
- How Chipmunk Got His Stripes by Joseph Bruchac and James Bruchac
- Coyote: A Trickster Tale from the American Southwest by Gerald McDermott
- Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest by Gerald McDermott
- Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale by Gerald McDermott
For older students Bruchac has written a collection of legends and myths with author Michael J. Caduto called Native American Stories. Another great collection is Native American Myths and Legends by Richard Erdoes.
One of the earliest authors, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, found himself stranded in Florida after a failed expedition in 1528. After walking through much of the southern and southwestern states to return to Mexico City, he wrote about his travels in the new territory and published it in 1542 in Spain. Author Betty Baker has written a wonderful adaptation for students 10 yrs and older called Walk the World’s Rim.
Works of other early American authors, or their biographies that have also been successfully adapted are:
- Captain John Smith’s Big and Beautiful Bay by Rebecca C. Jones
- Finding Providence by Avi (a short biography of Roger Williams)
- A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatly, Slave Poet by Kathryn Lasky
Author Jean Fritz covers the stories of the Declaration, Constitution, its authors and supporters in a series of books:
- Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz
- Can’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? by Jean Fritz
- What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? by Jean Fritz
Early American Literature
Rip Van Winkle Coloring Book published by Dover (tells Washington Irving’s story illustrated with illustrations by the famous artist Arthur Rackham).
Two wonderful adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s works are particularly attractive. For very young readers Natalie Rompella has written a wonderful spoof on Poe’s The Telltale Heart. It is called Edgar, Allen and Poe and the Telltale Beets and is appropriately illustrated. The second, for older readers, is Classics Illustrated #4: The Raven and Other Tales illustrated and written in a graphic novel form.
Other prominent titles include:
- Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere also by Longfellow
Finally, three of my absolute favorite children’s books that prove my theory that it’s never too early to introduce great classics to children. Five beautiful picture books by author D.B. Johnson present aspects of the life of Henry David Thoreau for K-2nd grade: Henry Works, Henry Builds a Cabin, Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, Henry Climbs a Mountain, and Henry’s Night.
For older children not yet ready for the real Thoreau, there is Henry David’s House by Steven Schnur.
With these titles added to the history and art book list, and the ARTK12 art curriculum, your student receives a great introduction to the classics of early American humanities.
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