Highlighting Our History: Colonial Times Read-alouds PLUS for the Common Core
Books about Daily Colonial Life
Gourley, Catherine. Welcome to Felicity’s World 1774: Growing up in Colonial America. ISBN: 1-56247-768-4. Lexile: IG 890.
This is a companion text to the American Girl historical fiction books about Felicity, a girl growing up in colonial Virginia, closer to the Revolutionary War period. Although it is an excellent book for browsing and could become part of a text set for the colonial period, you could use portions of it—especially the first two chapters—to contrast it with colonial life in New England, for example. Paintings, images, and colorful photographs of artifacts from everyday life will broaden students' understanding.
Harness, Cheryl. Our Colonial Year. ISBN: 0-689-83479-9. Lexile: 578.
This text subtly reinforces what students have seen in some other texts on this list—that chores were a big part of daily life in the colonies, and that children were part of the workforce. With its focus on children, its short text, and its colorful illustrations, students are sure to engage with the content. Have them pore over the illustrations in search of what the text does not mention, but perhaps implies; this provides practice with CCSS Standard 7 for Reading: Informational Text—interpreting information visually. Discuss how specific images contribute to or clarify the text.
Harness's book also provides an opportunity to discuss craft and structure—Standards 4-6 in Reading Literature. She uses the twelve months of the year, plus New Year's Day as a device to feature each of the thirteen colonies. The endpapers show patchwork squares from a quilt, and a map of the thirteen colonies shows each as part of a similar quilt, with different textile patterns for each colony. (What were the author's intentions here? How does the way she illustrated the map relate to the opening Note from the Author and her concluding sentences--”The colonial year is fast away. And tomorrow is an American day.”?)
McGovern, Ann. If you Lived in Colonial Times. ISBN: 9780590451604. Lexile: 590.
This is an older text that remains popular, largely because of its question-and-answer format and the inclusion of material not often found in other sources. Other texts talk about children having to attend church services, for example, but McGovern draws the reader in by sharing that you might get your face tickled by the tithingman if you fell asleep there. She also provides information about what things brought joy to the lives of children at the time, providing a balanced perspective which may be useful when children are forming an opinion for the writing prompt listed here.
Osborne, Mary Pope and Natalie Pope Boyce. Pilgrims (a Magic Tree House Research Guide). ISBN: 9780375932199. Lexile: 550.
This book is a nonfiction companion to Osborne's fictional tale Thanksgiving on Thursday, from the popular Magic Tree House series, though it works well on its own. It provides additional information and a context for Jack and Annie's fictional adventures in Plymouth. Chapter 6-- “Plymouth Grows” is especially useful because of its information about daily life. It pairs nicely with Kay Waters's books below and also provides an opportunity to discuss the way writers conduct research that informs their writing.
Waters, Kate. Samuel Eaton’s Day. ISBN: 0-590-48053-7. Lexile: 590.
Waters, Kate. Sarah Morton’s Day. ISBN: 0-590-42634-6. Lexile: 700.
If you were only able to share two texts about the early colonists, these would be the ones to read. With lush photographs from Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, these books deliver a lot of content in a way that is easy for today’s students to understand. Set the stage by explaining that Plimoth is a living museum and that the photos show interpreters who give glimpses into life in 1627.
Read these texts closely more than once. First, have students take in the historical details and see what new information they can add to the matrix or chart you have put together for this study. Read the text a second time and focus on the language. Since the books are written with the children as the narrator, the phrasing and vocabulary are reflections of the period. (The author includes a glossary for words and phrases that aren’t obvious from the context.) Lastly, help students to notice how the writer carefully moves us through the events of the day without a “bed to bed” format that is simply a string of events held together with the word “then.” Put the text on the document camera and find all the transitional words and phrases that helped to keep the reader’s interest and accomplish the author’s purpose —to inform the reader about the typical daily activities of a young boy and a young girl living at Plimoth Plantation.
Wroble, Lisa A. Kids in Colonial Times. ISBN: 9780823951185. Lexile: IG670
This concise text is also told from the perspective of a colonial child. The reader follows Priscilla throughout her day and learns about chores, clothes, play, religion, and school. Each topic is featured on one page and accompanied by a drawing or other art. The book makes use of non-fiction features including a glossary with many of the same words students have seen in other texts—petticoat, hornbook, and breeches.