Top Reads for TJ: An Annotated Bibliography for Elementary Educators

September 30, 2013

Reading Level:

  • Elementary

This bibliography points teachers toward works that offer young readers accessible information on this country's past, as well as compelling narratives that make history exciting. This resource was created to address a lack of detailed information on high-quality literature available about Thomas Jefferson and the historical issues of his time, particularly for elementary educators. This bibliography covers three main areas: Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries, his famous and troubled friendship with John Adams, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition across the Louisiana Territory. It includes APA citations, synopses, and details on the books' genres, reading levels, and target audience age. 

TJ's Top Reads: An Annotated Bibliography for Elementary School Educators

 

Topic: Thomas Jefferson and His Contemporaries


Barretta, G. (2006). Now and Ben: The modern inventions of Benjamin Franklin. New York: NY: Henry Holt Children’s Books.

Genre: Nonfiction

Guided Reading Level: R

Ages: K-3rd

Barretta’s vibrant book is about how Benjamin Franklin’s many inventions still affect our lives today. As you read, one side of the book is dedicated to “now” and the opposing side to “Ben.” The author employs color to subtly differentiate between the past and the present. The bluish undertones direct the eyes to modern day and the illustrations of the past are in hues of orange and yellow. Descriptions of the inventions are written in a format accessible to Kindergartners during a teacher read-aloud, but would also make an engaging, independent read for a third-grade student. This story is a great introduction to the contributions about Benjamin Franklin.

 

McNamara, M. (2012). George Washington’s birthday: A mostly true tale (B. Blitt, Illustrator). New York, NY: Random House.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Guided Reading Level: P

Ages: K-4th

This imagined story of George Washington’s seventh birthday allows McNamara to integrate facts and myths about Washington’s past. The story is told in a narrative, but includes text boxes indicating which part of the story is a fact or a myth. She ingeniously includes Washington’s “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior” in a way that children will understand and relate. This book is appropriate for a variety of ages because the story is enough to engage younger readers while the distinction between facts and myths make the book compelling for older readers. This book would make an excellent language arts lesson on fact versus myth, and how myths can be created.


 

Pingry, P.A. (2002). Meet Thomas Jefferson (M. Johnson, Illustrator). Nashville, TN: Ideals Publications.

Genre:  Biography

Guided Reading Level: O

Ages: 1st-3rd

Pingry has written a very accessible biography for younger readers to comprehend the basics of Thomas Jefferson’s life. The primary focus is on his personal life and does not delve deeply into his political accomplishments. This book would be a good introduction to who Jefferson was as a person and could help younger students relate to the life of this founding father. One word of caution is that slaves are referred to as “servants,” and will therefore require some more informed clarification. Some of the text is printed in bold and appears to be direct quotations, but no sources are cited.

 

Smith, L. (2006). John, Paul, George, and Ben. New York, NY: Hyperion Books.

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Guided Reading Level: P

Ages: 2nd-5th

Smith creates a fictional tale of four lads, John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and “Make that five lads. There was also Independent Tom (always off doing his OWN thing).” Smith interprets famous scenes from history, such as Paul Revere’s famous ride, to delight the reader in antics that these men fictionally had in their childhood. In Thomas Jefferson’s fictional childhood everyone in his class dutifully makes macaroni houses as Jefferson builds a miniature Monticello with available building supplies. For students to fully appreciate this book, it would be beneficial for them to have some background knowledge of the accomplishments of the five men. It would make a wonderful culminating activity after students have studied the founding fathers and the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Smith includes some additional information in the section, “Wherein we set the record straight with ye olde True or False section.”


 

Turner, A. (2003). When Mr. Jefferson came to Philadelphia: What I learned of freedom, 1776 (M. Hess, Illustrator). South China: Harper’s Children.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Guided Reading Level: O

Ages: 2nd-4th

Ned is a young boy who lives in a boarding house in Philadelphia with his mother. His world-view changes dramatically when Thomas Jefferson comes to stay during the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Turner focuses on Ned’s understanding of freedom and liberty and how his values shift through his conversations with and observations of Thomas Jefferson. The storyline is very simple and allows students to see Jefferson through the eyes of someone their own age. This book serves as a good entry point in understanding the significance or writing and signing the Declaration of Independence. For further reading, The Declaration of Independence: in Translation What it Really Means by Amie Leavitt, will offer a thorough explanation of all parts of the Declaration of Independence in kid-friendly language.

 

Topic: Lewis and Clark Expedition

 

Erdrich, L. (2003). Sacagawea (J. Buffalohead, Illustrator). Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books Inc.

Genre:  Biography

Reading Level: S

Ages: 2nd-5th

Erdrich writes a comprehensive story of the life of Sacagawea. Erdrich reflects on Sacagawea’s struggles and successes in her short life. Buffalohead has illustrated the prose beautifully and has a background in researching the traditional artwork of American Indian peoples. The book follows Sacagawea’s beginnings of being captured by a neighboring warring tribe to her extensively documented time with Lewis and Clark. Erdrich has included an author’s note explaining the reasoning she chose in the spelling of Sacagawea’s name, a detailed timeline of her life, and select bibliography.

 

Murphy, C.R. (2005). I am Sacajawea, I am York: Our journey west with Lewis and Clark (H. Bond, Illustrator). New York, NY: Walker & Company.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Guided Reading Level: Q

Ages: 2nd-5th

This narrative of the Lewis and Clark journey is told in the voices of Sacajawea, an American Indian who is the property of a fur trader, and York, an enslaved African-American. Sacajawea was taken on the trip by a French-Canadian man, Toussaint Charbonneua, to act as an ambassador and guide to Lewis and Clark through the many Indian territories. York made the trip as Clark’s slave. The narration alternates between Sacajawea and York on every other page allowing the reader to see the story through their eyes. They reflect on the trip as the two people who had not willingly participated in the journey. Paired with, How we crossed the west: The adventures of Lewis and Clark by Rosalyn Schanzer, this account of the Lewis and Clark expedition makes for a powerful example of historical perspective.

Schanzer, R. (1997). How we crossed the west: The adventures of Lewis and Clark. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

Genre: Nonfiction

Guided Reading Level: S

Ages: 3rd-5th

Schanzer brings the adventures of Lewis and Clark to life with her rich illustrations and text taken directly from primary sources. She uses letters, notebook, and journal entries to piece together the journey of Lewis and Clark for younger readers. Schanzer artfully weaves quotations from many sources to create a cohesive and chronological story of the major events and influential people during the exploration of the Louisiana Territory. Some of the language may be complicated for younger readers to appreciate, but the illustrations heavily support the text, making the book accessible for third- through fifth-grade students. This book would be an excellent classroom read-aloud for students studying Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Sacajawea. It would also be beneficial for students to read and compare this book with I am Sacajawea, I am York: Our Journey West with Lewis and Clark.

Topic: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

 

Jurmain, S.T. (2011). Worst of friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the true story of an American feud (L. Day, Illustrator). New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Genre: Nonfiction

Guided Reading Level: T

Ages: 2nd-5th

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had a unique relationship that Jurmain explores in Worst of Friends. She briefly depicts the men’s very different class backgrounds and illustrates a few bonding moments in the first pages of the book. Jurmain quickly dives into the conflict that divides the two friends: should there be a strong president, yes or no? When the men cannot agree on this major political point, the author shows how their relationship disintegrates over the next eleven years until Adams eventually writes Jefferson a letter. As the two friends reconcile, the book offers an important history lesson while also demonstrating the importance of a strong friendship. If students are interested in learning about the two presidents relationship in further detail they should read Those Rebels, John and Tom by Barbara Kerley.

Kerley, B. (2012). Those rebels, John and Tom (E. Fotheringham, Illustrator). New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

Genre: Nonfiction

Guided Reading Level: T

Ages: 2nd-5th

Kerley does a wonderful job juxtaposing the lifestyles of Jefferson and Adams in a detailed and entertaining way. The relationship between the two men is seamlessly integrated into the major historical events that shaped their lives. The text employs several direct quotations from Jefferson and Adams that enliven the prose. Kerley does a masterful job of showing the slow building of the men’s friendship, and then the events that eventually make the two men part ways for eleven years. Fotheringham’s illustrations bring the conflict and resolution to life with his vibrant cartoon drawings that are sure to catch a reader’s eye. The author’s note in the back of the book gives beneficial additional information about the historical context of their relationship and has included a copy of the Declaration of Independence. If your students need additional background information before reading this book, Jurmain’s: Worst of friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the true story of an American feud would be a great starting point.