I reviewed The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, And Our National Parks in April 2012:
This is a memorable look at the Yosemite camping trip that ignited Theodore Roosevelt's passion and defense of national parks. Roosevelt was an ardent conservationist and reader; reading John Muir's plea to preserve the natural landscapes of America inspired Roosevelt to ask Muir to take him on an exploration of Yosemite. Muir wasn't convinced; truth be told, he was a bit weary of taking people on guided trips, because not much action seemed to come from them. He was eventually persuaded to do so (Roosevelt was not one to take no for an answer), and the camping trip lead to a lifelong correspondence between Roosevelt and Muir--and the establishment of the national park system. Roosevelt was quite the character; the more I read of him, the more I want to read about him. This is an excellent depiction of an important but little known event in our nation's history.
Theodore Roosevelt's oldest daughter, Alice Roosevelt, was a force of nature in Washington D.C. society for many years. What to Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, And Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy is an entertaining picture book biography about this outrageous and unique woman.
Also consider these books by two stellar authors of children's biographies: You're On Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt! by Judith St. George and Bully For You, Theodore Roosevelt by Jean Fritz
Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
Kathleen Krull's many picture book biographies are superb introductions to important historical figures; A Boy Named FDR: How Franklin D. Roosevelt Grew Up to Change America is a great overview of FDR's privileged childhood, his battle with polio, and his powerful presidency.
Also consider: Make Your Mark, Franklin Roosevelt by Judith St. George and Russell Freedman's biography.
Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my favorite biographies by Candace Fleming; it's an involved read, but quite inspiring and informative.
Also consider: Eleanor, Quiet No More by Doreen Rappaport and Russell Freedman's biography.
Joyce Meyer Hostetter's YA novel about a town stricken with polio is one of my most memorable reads in recent years. I reviewed it in November 2008:
Blue is an enormously moving and emotional novel set during the polio epidemic. When Ann Fay’s father leaves to fight the Nazis in Europe, he tells her that she’s the “man of the house” and is expected to take care of her little brother and sisters. When her four year old brother is suddenly stricken with polio, Ann Fay feels very guilty that she somehow drove him to the illness.
Polio was (and still is) a random, painful, and frightening illness. The immediate quarantine placed upon a family affected by polio and the dramatic limitations placed upon communities led to fear of anyone associated with the disease. This is an excellent read, but one that is very rich and very sad at times (a child’s funeral is described at heartbreaking length). The painful treatments of polio are brought to life through Ann Fay’s experiences, and the sorrow of Ann Fay’s father over the separation from his family is very much apparent.
Blue takes place in Hickory, NC, site of one of the worst polio outbreaks. Joyce Hostetter provides a thoughtful essay and bibliography at the end of her novel. Although not an easy read (emotionally), Blue is an outstanding portrayal of the polio epidemic.
Also consider: Peg Kehret's memoir of her struggle with childhood polio, Small Steps and Kathryn Lasky's YA novel, Chasing Orion, about a young girl and her teenage neighbor, who is forced to live in an iron lung due to the effects of polio.
Prohibition was repealed during FDR's administration (Eleanor Roosevelt was an early advocate of prohibition). Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, And the Lawless Years of Prohibition is a fine overview of the era; I reviewed it in July 2011:
Bootleg is an eye-opening account of the Prohibition Era. Prohibition activists, gangsters, bootleggers, repealers, politicians, speakeasies, police and judges who looked the other way....it's all covered in fascinating detail. An epilogue looks at the effects of Prohibition and its repeal, including changes in legislation and advocacy (including MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving).
Bud, Not Buddy is one of my favorite Newbery winners of all time; this story of an orphan searching for his father brilliantly evokes the Depression era.
I haven't read one book written by Russell Freedman that hasn't failed to move me; Children of the Great Depression is an eye-opening, heartbreaking, and and incredible look at how children were affected by the Great Depression. It's not all darkness, though; readers learn about children's favorite games and pastimes of the era and the optimism felt by many at the end of the Depression.
Also consider: Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky, which highlights the librarians who brought books and informational materials on nutrition, maternity care, and child care to rural parts of Kentucky during the Depression, and Esperanza Rising, a middle grade historical novel about a wealthy Latino family who must find migrant work in order to survive.
Out of the Dust won the Newbery Medal in 1988; it's a hard hitting read centered on a young girl living in Oklahoma during the dust storms.
Older readers should take a look at Don Brown's unforgettable account of the Dust Bowl, presented in graphic novel format.
Also consider: Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp
Japanese-American internment camps:
Although written in 1971, Journey to Topaz remains one of the most affecting children's novels about the Japanese-American internment camps.
Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II was a 2014 finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction and is on Fauquier County's Middle School Battle of the Books list. It is is an unforgettable read that includes many first-hand accounts.
Also consider: Three superb books about the importance baseball played in the camps: Baseball Saved Us, Barbed Wire Baseball (nonfiction picture book), and Kathryn Fitzmaurice's middle grade novel, A Diamond in the Desert; also Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese-American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference, about a librarian who kept in touch and advocated for her young San Diego Public Library patrons forced to relocate to the camps.
World War II (American homefront):
I am fascinated by the diverse ways the American people contributed to the homefront during World War II; Children of the World War II Homefront shows how even the youngest Americans pitched in during wartime.
Coming on Home Soon received a Caldecott Honor in 2005; it's a beautiful and realistic depiction of a young girl and her mother who must cope with their separation after mother takes a job in Chicago. Now that many American men are fighting in Europe and the Pacific, women are needed to take the jobs they left behind. It's an unflinching look at the hardships experienced during that time, especially by African-Americans, but it's also a heartwarming portrayal of a close family.
World War II brought women into the workplace like no other event had in the past; Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II is a must-read for all those fascinated by the homefront movement.
Also consider: So many choices, but I'll limit to two excellent novels: Duke by Kirby Larson (reviewed in July)--not only does it depict how household dogs were used during World War II, but it also effectively shows the prejudice faced by German-Americans at the time; and Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff, about a young girl who befriends a Hungarian refugee.
Still want more about the American homefront effort (can you tell this is one of my favorite eras)? Take a look at the amazing online collections of World War II propaganda posters from The National Archives, Northwestern University, New Hampshire State Library, and Hennepin County Public Library (which is one of the top collections; if you click "show more search options," you can browse by subject).
Finally, if you can't get enough of The Roosevelts documentary, "get action" on the companion book.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library