The best books about American children and history

The Books I Picked & Why

Brown Girl, Brownstones

By Paule Marshall

Brown Girl, Brownstones

Why this book?

This coming-of-age novel set in the Great Depression and World War II Brooklyn has it all: girlhood, poverty, and cultural conflict between Barbadian immigrants and black Americans. The voice of the narrator, a young first-generation immigrant girl, is captivating. Although published in 1959, it is timeless and fresh today, you’ll ask yourself, “why isn’t this story going to became a major motion picture?”.


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Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

By Steven Mintz

Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

Why this book?

Your schoolbooks left them out, but young people are American history makers and they have been so for over 300 years. Huck’s Raft presents the way children shaped the American experience and how their lives evolved over time. You’ll meet young people here from the seventeenth-century port cities to the nineteenth-century slave plantations to the Depression-era hobo camps and on to the end of the twentieth century. It’s history you need to know and will have fun learning.


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Playing with History: American Identities and Children's Consumer Culture

By Molly Rosner

Playing with History: American Identities and Children's Consumer Culture

Why this book?

Toys! Dolls! Amusement Parks! They aren’t just playthings and play places; they are part of our national character and our consumer culture, as well as our private objects and experiences. Childhood is manufactured—created in our homes, communities, schools, and yes, by play. This book has a lot to say about our history but it is also a fun reminder of the things many of us grew up with or wish we had. It just might have you rooting through your attic or old photo books.


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Teenagers: An American History

By Grace Palladino

Teenagers: An American History

Why this book?

This is a book about my life—growing up in the middle of the twentieth century. Bobby Soxers, juvenile delinquents, popular music, MTV, Freedom Riders, Anti-War protestors…it’s all here, along with much more. It isn’t about the good old days; this book takes us to the heart of the culture created decades ago and still influencing us today. We knew teenage life was complex and this book reveals just why that is the case. You’ll wish it came with a playlist.


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Children and Drug Safety: Balancing Risk and Protection in Twentieth-Century America

By Cynthia Connolly

Children and Drug Safety: Balancing Risk and Protection in Twentieth-Century America

Why this book?

The Covid-19 pandemic makes this book a must-read as the author, reminds us that so many medications prescribed for children have not received all the tests for safety necessary to protect them. Yes, we got the heroin out of teething syrups, and our bottles now have child safety caps. Fun fact: the author you will learn, was as they put it at the time, an aspirin poisoned child thanks to those good-tasting baby aspirin. Shocking reality: pediatric drug research and regulation often follows disasters rather than preventing them. That’s why we, fortunately, have to wait for full testing before those covid vaccines get into the arms of the young. This book is an eye-opener.


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