Reading Through Texas

I’m working on an assigned booklist, readers if you will, for a class that will be taught to sixth graders next year in our homeschool co-op. The class is supposed to incorporate literature and Texas history. So, I’ve been reading books about Texas: historical fiction, biographies, memoirs, short stories, nonfiction, poetry if I can find any. So far I have the following books that I’ve already read and evaluated to some extent:

We Asked for Nothing: The Remarkable Journey of Cabeza de Vaca (Great Explorers) by Stuart Waldman. Mikaya Press, 2003. I haven’t actually looked at this book yet. I’d like to have something on the list about early explorers and something about the Native Americans who lived in Texas, but I’m having trouble finding good, recommended titles to evaluate on either of those subjects. Any suggestions?

The Boy in the Alamo by Margaret Cousins. Fiction set in the Alamo, 1836. Corona Publishing, 1983. Ms. Cousins very much presents the Texans’ side and the traditional account of the Alamo story through the eyes of her fictional hero, twelve year old Billy Campbell. Billy runs away from home and follows his older brother Buck who has joined Davy Crockett’s Tennessee Volunteers. Sherry Garland’s account (see below) is more nuanced and therefore more thought-provoking, but Ms. Cousins’ story gives the basic traditional outlines of the story of the Alamo as the Texians experienced it and may be more appropriate as an introduction for sixth graders.

In the Shadow of the Alamo by Sherry Garland. Gulliver Books, 2001. This book is different because it’s told from the perspective of a Mexican boy, Lorenzo, who’s conscripted into Santa Anna’s army and forced to fight the Tejanos at the Alamo and at San Jacinto. It may be a little too graphic and mature for some sixth graders.

Inside the Alamo by Jim Murphy. If the fictional accounts are too hard to find in sufficient quantities (The Boy in the Alamo) or too advanced for our sixth graders (In the Shadow of the Alamo), I may go with this nonfiction book by award-winning author JIm Murphy.

Make Way for Sam Houston by Jean Fritz. Putnam, 1998. Biography of famous Texan general, president, and governor Sam Houston.

Come Juneteenth by Ann Rinaldi. Slavery in Texas during and after the Civil War. Harcourt 2007. I read this book a long time ago. Is it too mature for sixth graders?

Wait for Me, Watch for Me, Eula Bee by Patricia Beatty. Fiction set in West Texas, 1860’s. William Morrow and Company, 1978. I also read this one a long time ago, but I remember it as exciting with some good things to discuss about family loyalty and cultural engagement.

Cowboys of the Wild West by Russell Freedman. Nonfiction, late 1800’s. Clarion Books 1995. I have this one on my shelf, lots of pictures, a good break from fiction for those who prefer their information in a nonfiction format.

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson. Texas frontier, 1860’s. Harper Classics, 2001. Old Yeller. Classic. Natch.

Search for the Shadowman by Joan Lowery Nixon. Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1996. Set in contemporary times, this story would be a good introduction to a family history/genealogy unit since it tells about a boy who researches his own family history and discovers facts that may be better kept secret. There are a few holes in the plot, and some of the information on how to use computers to research genealogy are a little dated, but most kids probably won’t notice. The historical part is set in c.1876-1888, so I put it here is the list to keep to chronological order.

The Texas Rangers by Will Henry. Landmark book/out of print. I haven’t seen this one either, and it may be too difficult to get copies for all our students. But I would like to have something about the Texas Rangers.

Galveston’s Summer of the Storm by Julie Lake. Fiction set during Galveston Hurricane of 1900. TCU Press, 2003. I reviewed this book a couple of years ago, and I liked it very much. I said then: “Lots of historical detail, information about sailing ships and steam trains, and book characters that make the history come to life all make this book an excellent choice for middle grade (3-6) readers and classrooms.” Unless someone else knows of a better book on the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, this one will be on the list.

Mooonshiner’s Gold by John R. Erickson. Fiction set in Texas Panhandle, 1926. Viking 2001. Great action-packed adventure with engaging characters and a lot of history sneaking in through the back door. John Erickson is known for his Hank the Cowdog series, but this stand-alone adventure is just a good as the Hank books and should be just the right reading level for most sixth graders.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. I’m hesitant to include this one even though I loved it. It does have some seriously evil villains, and the Native American mythical elements may bother some people in our (very conservative) co-op. I think it would have to be introduced to the class with care and enthusiasm. But it’s such a good book! Semicolon review here.

Holes by Louis Sachar. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1998. I think this one might be a good book to end the year. It’s set in a sort of mythical, contemporary Texas, and it ought to be fun for the kids to talk about the plot and the characters in relation to their own lives and experiences.

Any help, comments, suggestions, you can give, I will appreciate. I know there’s lots more fiction set in and around the Alamo. Which one is the best? I don’t have anything set during the Civil War except for Come Juneteenth, which may be too mature for sixth graders. Nor is there anything set during the Dust Bowl era, the Great Depression, or World War II and the latter half of the twentieth century.

Also, most of the books feature a male protagonist. Any girl-y books about Texas that you all can recommend? Poetry? Short story collections?

8 thoughts on “Reading Through Texas

  1. I do have a handful of novels–

    Winnie’s War by Jenny Moss is good. I just finished reading it. And it would be appropriate for sixth graders. It’s set in 1918 during the Spanish influenza and it has some references to the Galveston hurricane of 1900. (Review hasn’t been written yet.)

    White Lilacs by Carolyn Meyer. The book is about Denton, Texas, but it’s been renamed to Dillon, Texas. It’s set in the early 1920s. Highly recommended 🙂 Though you’ll want to read my review and use your own judgement of course.

    Where the Broken Heart Still Beats also by Carolyn Meyer. It is a historical fiction novel about Cynthia Ann Parker.

    Some of my favorite “Texas” books are Kathi Appelt’s picture book series featuring a baby boy and his dog. Bubba and Beau–the cutest books ever. But I know that they’re not what you’re looking for now 🙂

  2. I can’t believe I forgot this one. Flygirl by Sherri Smith. Another new book–2009–it’s historical fiction about the WASP–Women Airforce Service Pilots–who trained in Sweetwater, Texas. Set during World War 2 and very, very good.

    All the books I’ve recommended feature girl heroines.

    Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith is set in Texas–Austin to be exact–but not what you’re looking for unless you have a secret love for vampires that I don’t know about 🙂

  3. Thanks Becky. I’ll check on those. I’ve actually read Where the Broken Heart Still Beats, but we’re using it with another group. Brown Bear Daughter loves all of Carolyn Meyer’s historical fiction and Ann Rinaldi’s, too.

  4. The Shefelman series, A Paradise Called Texas (Texas Trilogy) used to be a very, very popular read several years ago. I even had one teacher who used it as a teaching unit. It covers the German immigration to Texas. I’ve actually never read the books so I can’t vouch for the story or characters but the “Little House” girls used to read them.

    I ADORE Moonshiner’s Gold. What a good pick that is. Erickson should have had a Bluebonnet nomination for that book. Fools, fools, fools. There is also a sequel.

    Texas Rangers: Legendary Lawmen by Michael P. Spradlin, illustrations by Roxie Munro. Walker & Co., 2008 is a picture book but a good pick for 6th grade. Lots of good facts about the Rangers.

    Many of Joan Lowry Nixon’s mysteries were set in Houston. I remember one had the heroine going to Ben Taub Hospital.

    Spooky Texas Tales by Tim Tingle, Doc Moore, and Gina Miller and Texas Ghost Stories: Fifty Favorites for the Telling by Tim Tingle, Doc Moore, John O. West, and John L. Davis are some terrific stories that draw from Texas history.

    Anne Bustard’s BUDDY: THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY about a Texas favorite son.

    Oh, I almost forgot the wonderful, wonderful Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill, a Texas cattle drive. Hemphill writes characters you just want to hug.

    Anna Meyers’s Stolen by the Sea is another good Galveston Storm book.

    Sherry Garland’s Line in the Sand is a Dear America Alamo book and was always popular. The series is well researched. The Dear America series has another book, Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards, Dalhart, Texas 1935 which is Depression era Texas.

    Susanna of the Alamo: A True Story by John Jakes tells the story of Susanna Dickinson, the survivor of the Alamo. I really enjoy Texas writer D. Anne Love. (Her Puppeteer’s Apprentice is wonderful.) She has an Alamo book, I Remember the Alamo.

    For being such a large state and being so influential in textbook publishing, there is a need for more books that tell the compelling story of our state. The publishers try to have it both ways…books that will fit 4th grade and 7th grade. They end up being too hard for elementary kids and not too interesting to the 7th graders. Texas material is always one of the things I’m on the hunt for at TLA every year.

    Eakin is a publisher that specializes in Texas historical fiction and biographies.

  5. I ran across your blog post in a google search for schools who studied the novel, White Lilacs. I am the Director of Teaching and Learning at Trinity School (in Atlanta, GA), and I have a group of sixth grade teachers interested in collaborating with another class (or more) in an online space to read and discuss White Lilacs.

    We’ve taught WL for six years and have a very robust curriculum for the novel (happy to share anything with you!) but I was wanting my sixth grade teachers to stretch a bit and connect with another class to strengthen the conversations around the powerful themes in the novel.

    If you are working with White Lilacs, would you be willing to discuss the possibility of connecting classes in early fall?

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