Children’s Books: Making History Come Alive
by Dr. Mary E. Outlaw
Young visitors to country schools often lack the experiential background to understand and appreciate how such schools served their communities in earlier times. Museum and historic site staff and teachers of visiting students have limited time for providing perspective and context for student visits to these sites. The use of children’s literature, however, can be an effective tool in preparing students for a country or one-room school visit. This literature can also enhance post-visit classroom reviews.
The books listed below are recommended for use before, during and after a visit to a country or one-room school. One strategy that can provide needed background and context for young students is the use of a “book box.” This is a collection of artifacts mentioned in the book, especially those items that are less familiar today. These items may be presented/shared with students prior to reading the book. This sharing can even take the form of a pre-assessment---checking to see if anyone recognizes the item or has any knowledge of it. After presenting the items, the book is read, with appropriate pauses when one of the shared items is mentioned. Questions after the reading may focus on how the item was used, and what would be the comparative item today. Why was the more modern item not used in the story?
A list of suggested artifacts for two of the books listed below is provided, along with vocabulary activities students can complete. Additional activities in which students can participate include preparing creative book reports, playing some of the games from the book, and even writing their own story (If their grandchildren were reading about their grandparents’ life during elementary school, what would the “good ole’ days” look like?)
This book box model may be adapted for use with other books and publications. Picture books and chapter books are most appropriate for K-8 learners. (“Chapter books” generally contain more text than picture books and the storyline is organized into distinct chapters. They are now available for many ages and reading levels.) Biography and autobiography selections are suggested to provide background content for teachers and living history staff members. The list includes geographic location/setting to assist in matching different local histories and cultures of the historic and contemporary schools.
Sample Activity Sheets
Barasch, Lynne. A Country Schoolhouse. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004.
A student’s grandfather tells of his experiences in a three-room school. The book includes a good description of grade groupings in the different classrooms and activities in those classrooms.
Bial, Raymond. One-Room School. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1999.
Hauscherr, Rosemarie. The One-Room School at Squabble Hollow. New York: Four Winds Press, 1988.
This is the story of a “modern-day” one-room school. It is slightly dated even with the mention of dot-matrix printers and other details. The photographs and a story line bring the one-room school alive for the current students.
Houston, Gloria. My Great-Aunt Arizona. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.
Blue Ridge Mountains (NC)
A little girl dreamed of faraway places while she was growing up and attending a one-room school. Though she never visited those places, she taught generations of children about words and numbers and all the places they could visit.
McCully, Emily Arnold. School. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
This is a wordless book about a mouse community and their country school.
Pringle, Laurence P. One Room School. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mill Press, 1998.
Share one last year at School 14, with adventures such as being driven home in the rumble seat of the teacher’s car, working in a classroom with students from first through eighth grades, having to go outside to use the school’s bathroom, playing “Anny Anny Over” throwing a ball over the school’s roof, and more.
Sandin, Joan. Coyote School News. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2003.
This is a year in the life of a one-room school in the southwest (land that originally belonged to Mexico.) Gives a good glimpse of Hispanic culture. It includes a listing of Spanish words and how to pronounce them at the end of the book.
Weatherford, Carole Boston. Dear Mr. Rosenwald. New York: Scholastic Press, 2006.
Based on the actual founding of the Rosenwald schools, the reader gets a glimpse of the
need for these schools and the times when they were built. The Author’s Note provides additional historical information.
Avi. The Secret School. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 2001.
When their teacher has to leave for a family emergency, the students plot to keep the
school open. They all work together to continue school so that the two oldest students can take the exams they need to enter high school. With just a few challenges along the way, they are successful in their quest to keep the school open, and pass required exams.
Bartlett, Susan. Seal Island School. New York: Puffin Books, 1999.
Every year a new teacher comes to Seal Island School on the coast of Maine (rather than the former teacher staying for more than one year). Pru and other students really like Miss Sparling and are determined to assure that she stays another year on the island. Through several surprising partnerships, the students are successful in their efforts, not only for keeping Miss Sparling, but also to register enough students to keep the school open.
Brink, Carol Ryrie. Caddie Woodlawn. New York: MacMillan, 1935.
The author tells the story of her grandmother, the real Caddie Woodlawn, and the adventures with Indians in rural Wisconsin in the 1860s. Originally printed in 1935, this classic continues to be in print. *1936 Newbery Medal winner
DeJong, Meindert. The Wheel on the School. New York: Harper Trophy, 1954.
Dutch fishing village
This is the story of how students in a one-room school in the Dutch fishing village of Shora brought long absent storks back to Shora. Everyone becomes involved and an initially unlikely member of the community proves to be a critical player in the effort.
*1955 Newbery Medal winner
Hansen, Joyce. I Thought My Soul would Rise and Fly: The Diary of Patsy, a Freed Girl, Mars Bluff, South Carolina, 1865. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
In this addition to the Dear America series, Joyce Hansen presents the inspiring story of Patsy, a freed girl who becomes a great teacher. Hansen won the Coretta Scott King Honor.
Hill, Kirkpatrick. The Year of Miss Agnes. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2000.
When their teacher leaves, the students are not quite sure about the next teacher that,comes to their school. Though there are several questions about the new teacher, it isn’t long before the students are endeared to Miss Agnes and enjoy everything they are learning. Miss Agnes considers returning to England at the end of the year, butdecides to stay for the next year, much to the students' delight.
Lawlor, Laurie. The School at Crooked Creek. New York: Holiday House, 2004.
Beansie and his sister Louisa have an adventure on the first day of school at their one-room school. The family cow helps out in the snowstorm and everyone looks forward to the next day of school. A glossary is included to assist with unfamiliar terms.
McCaughrean, Geraldine. Stop the Train. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
“It’s 1892 and for them and their fellow settlers, a bright future seems set to arrive along the Red Rock Railroad track.” When settlers refuse to sell their claims to the railroad company, the railroad decides to not stop at their town. This is the story of how the people of Florence got the train to stop at their town.
Murphy, Jim. My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, a Prairie Teacher. New York: Scholastic, 2001.
Broken Bow, Nebraska
Her father was the teacher for the one-room school, and after his death, she had nowhere to go. Rather than risk being sent to the orphanage, Sarah determines that she will be the teacher. She convinces the town people of her ability. Her safe management of the children in a snowstorm was all that was needed to assure the position was hers.
Swain, Gwenyth. Chig and the Second Spread. New York: Delacorte Press, 2003.
Kalish, Mildred Armstrong. Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression. New York: Bantam Dell, 2007.
This memoir captures a way of life unfamiliar to folks today. The chapters cover a wide range of topics from the Depression era and include specific chapters about the country school and a city school.
Puckett, Martha Mizell, edited by Hoyle B. Puckett Sr. Memories of a Georgia Teacher: Fifty Years In The Classroom. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002.
Barely fifteen years old, Martha Mizell began her teaching career in 1913 in a one-room, one-teacher school hear the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia. This book chronicles that time period and location, from the observance of holidays to the rituals of school openings and closings, to the challenges and variety of transportation available for a young teacher.
Williams, Cratis D. I Become a Teacher: A Memoir of One-Room School Life in Eastern Kentucky. Ashland, Kentucky: The Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1995.
“This book is a memoir of one-room school life in 1929, detailing the first teaching experience of Cratis D. Williams, once America’s foremost scholar on the Appalachian experience. This beautiful story of Williams’ first teaching assignment---a one-room school on Caines Creek in Lawrence County, Kentucky---will be of interest to teachers, historians, genealogists, and general scholars.” (from book jacket)
Our thanks to Mary Outlaw for sharing her presentation on books for children with one-room school themes. Beginning her career in the elementary classroom, Dr. Mary Outlaw gained valuable experience that served her well as she earned advanced degrees and became a professor of education, teaching courses in curriculum and methods for elementary education majors. Her interest in the history of teacher education provided the topic for her dissertation and on-going research. A founding member of the CSAA, she serves as the secretary for the organization, and hosted the 2013 CSAA conference at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.