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.
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.
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?