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Sleeping Bear Press’ Tales of Young Americans Series

When I moved from an elementary to a middle school, I was shocked to discover I have less than two shelves of picture books available in the collection. Most of the teachers didn’t understand why I was so upset. You and I know that a good picture book can introduce a subject to reluctant readers, spark conversations, and encapsulate a theme in a convenient package. My reading teacher came to me one day wanting some read-alouds to introduce historical fiction to several classes. She didn’t want a long chapter book and didn’t have time to really explore the background knowledge of a historical period, she simply wanted a story set in a historical time-period. Fortunately for her, I’d just ordered the Tales of Young Americans series from Sleeping Bear Press.

I chose to take some of the titles that emphasized hard-times and poor economic situations to share with you today.
Rudy Rides the Rails: a Depression Era Story by Dandi Daly Mackall and illustrated by Chris Ellison was released in March, 2007. ISBN 9781585362868

Did you know that "a quarter million teenagers left their homes to ride the rails as hoboes, in search of a better life" during the Great Depression? Have you heard of Ramblin’ Rudy? Do you know the Hobo Glossary or the signs that were carved to alert hoboes to the hospitality to expect? You will after you read this title. 

If you have ever worked with homeless people or those who are devastated at losing jobs and being unable to help their families, you will appreciate this title, also. 
There’s even a teacher’s guide online.

Another Depression era story published in April, 2008 is The Lucky Star by Judy Young and illustrated by Chris Ellison. ISBN 9781585363483. 

As tough as the economic times are now, we haven’t faced 20,000 rural schools closing as the author notes happened during the Great Depression. We continue to benefit from the infrastructure created by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). Teachers who want to convey why President Obama talked about the need to rebuild the American infrastructure and how the terms scarcity, recession, and unemployment impact families will appreciate this quick-read. 

The Junk Man’s Daughter by Sonia Levitin and illustrated by Guy Porfirio could be added to your immigration read-aloud collection. October, 2007. ISBN 9781585363155.

The concept of the American Dream and the belief that America’s "streets are paved with gold" are discussed in this story. Showing that many immigrants found living in America very difficult, this story also gives hope that taking small steps can help bring hope to a family in financial need.

Check out the review on Through the Looking Glass

Another quick-read that will inspire more questions than it answers is Pappy’s Handkerchief by Devin Scillian and illustrated by Chris Ellison. ISBN 9781585363162. 

Beginning in Baltimore, this story shows the problems an African-American family faces during the Oklahoma Land Run on April 22, 1889 while seeking free farmland and a better opportunity. From the beginning with the declining income of the family through the obstacles they encounter moving westward, Chris Ellison’s paintings will inspire you to cheer on this family.

This was included in the SLJ article A Patchwork of Picture Books: Celebrating Black History Month in February, 2008. Check out Anastasia Suen’s writing suggestions.

I do own more of this set of Tales of Young Americans series. They have been very useful this year in our middle school curriculum and would be beneficial to elementary schools.


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