A middle-grade history of the “other Ellis Island” traces how Angel Island served as an entry point for one million Asian immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century, drawing on memoirs, diaries, letters and “wall poems” discovered at the facility long after it closed to describe the center’s screening process, immigration policies and eventual renaissance as a historic site.
Sometimes the best children’s books are not fully appreciated by children because they are written about topics that are beyond a child’s experience or outside of their sphere of historical context. Sometimes the most amazing historical books in a library go largely unread because adults don’t think to look for books traditionally written for the children’s or youth demographic.
I no longer have any shame in admitting that I read children’s books. I used to think I had to explain this interest away by qualifying and explaining that I was a children’s librarian. However, many of these books can stand alone on their own merit as good reading for any age group based on their level of excellence. They are well written, researched and may contain intriguing or unknown stories of historical events. Because the target audience is children or teens, the authors carefully present material in a way to grab the reader’s attention. Once, I am hooked on the topic, I may go on to read adult books with more details about the story but it is sometimes fun to start with the general details.
The following books are some of my personal favorite children’s historical books that I think adults will love—maybe more than the kids will. I am intrigued by the quirky stories of random historical events, the mysteries of forgotten medical issues or the sometimes overlooked accomplishments of people who have done extraordinary things.
For example, did you know that the drought stricken city of San Diego, California once promised to pay a “rainmaker” $10,000 if he could produce enough rainfall in the year 1916 to fill their water reservoir to overflowing? Have you ever heard of the mysterious disease “pellagra” that at nearly 3 million Americans suffered from it? Do you know of the sacrifice that Fannie Sellins made in Natrona, Pennsylvania fighting for worker’s rights?
I hope you are intrigued enough to check out the following books.
Fanny Sellins was a union activist who fought and gave her life for equality and labor reform.
One hundred years ago, a mysterious and alarming illness spread across America’s South, striking tens of thousands of victims. No one knew what caused it or how to treat it. People were left weak, disfigured, insane, and in some cases, dead. Award winning science and history writer Gail Jarrow tracks this disease, commonly known as pellagra, and highlights how doctors, scientists, and public health officials finally defeated it. Illustrated with 100 archival photographs, includes stories about real life pellagra victims and accounts of scientific investigations.
In 1915, the city of San Diego hired “rainmaker” Charles Mallory Hatfield to save their city from a drought, but when the town experienced one of the worst floods they ever had they refused to pay Hatfield for his services.
Recounts the story of the 1914 disappearance of eleven-year-old Sarah Rector, an African American who was part of the Creek Indian people and whose land had made her wealthy, and what it reveals about race, money, and American society.