A History of US

A History of US by Joy Hakim, 2nd edition (in color!). $13.95 for each paperback volume. (Subtract 10% if you buy 5 or more in one order!) Currently, just volumes 2 through 6 are available.

These are U.S. history books for children age 8-13, in eleven volumes. The volumes are: (1) The First Americans, (2) Making Thirteen Colonies: 1600-1740, (3) From Colonies to Country: 1710-1791, (4) The New Nation: 1789-1850, (5) Liberty for All?: 1800-1860 (6) War, Terrible War: 1860-1865, (7) Reconstruction and Reform, (8) An Age of Extremes, (9) War, Peace, and All That Jazz, (10) All the People, and (11) Source Book. The writing style is lively and direct, with none of the dullness that plagues typical school textbooks, and the books are brimming over with maps, old prints, photos, editorial cartoons, and fascinating sidebars.

Review of A History of US

by Susan Richman

I can't tell you how excited I am about these new history books that we've just added to our catalog. They are part of a 10 volume set [now 11 volumes], all written by Joy Hakim, a former journalist and educator. Are these books textbooks? Well, yes, and no. They are not standard history texts at all. You won't find any end of chapter questions or quizzes, and you won't find a grade level on the spine. These are real history books, written to a broad age range of roughly 8-13--but I'm finding them as fascinating as Molly (10) and Jacob (13).

They are also not like regular textbooks because they are, well, engaging. They have a real writer, a person, telling you a story, a fascinating story--very different from the typical voiceless committee-style writing of most modern social studies textbooks. Molly kept coming up to me while reading Book One, The First Americans, to say how neat it was that Joy Hakim wrote as if she was talking right to her readers. Those of you who have had the good fortune to enjoy the marvelous books published by the Calvert School, A Child's History of the World, will recognize here the same warm familiarity of author speaking directly to child. Indeed, I hear that Hakim wanted in part to emulate the storyteller's tone found in so many of the early books on history written for children. She'd done it, and more.

The books are quality bound paperbacks, 192 pages each, with many black and white illustrations all throughout. Lots of old political cartoons, old engravings, old portraits and maps--you are steeped in the visual feel of the eras talked about. The format is as engaging and involving as the prose--many sidebars and tidbits of extra info sprinkle the borders of the book. When you just open the books for a bit of a browse, you can't help but be taken in by these capsule peeks into the past. For instance, opening randomly in Book Three, From Colonies to Country, I find a sidebar on the Boston Tea Party, illustrated with an old engraving--and it's an actual account written by a participant in the tea dumping, a Mr. George Hewes. On the facing page is a political cartoon about the repeal of the Stamp Act, and a sidebar telling more about that tea:

The actual blend of tea that was thrown overboard at the Boston Tea Party (a mixture of Ceylon and Darjeeling teas, from Sri Lanka and India) can still be bought from the original shippers, Davison Newman of London. The label says, 'This tea is from the same London blending House which in the Year of Our Lord 1773 had the Misfortune to suffer a Grievous Wrong in that certain Persons did Place a quantity of its Finest Produce in Boston Harbour.

Joy Hakim sure knows how to find the new detail to make our country's history come alive. And this is just one page. Every page is equally full of lively anecdote and story. The chapter on Lexington and Concord has a sidebar with two different newspaper accounts of the event--one from the Salem Gazette from Massachusetts, and one from The London Gazette. Pretty different accounts, as you can imagine! The book's original source material like this helps students see how historians have to sort out and figure out, and imagine what the world must really have been like. In fact, on the very last page of Book Three, after the detailed index, the summary timeline, the list of further books a student might want to read to learn more, Hakim has a last one page "Note from the Author" written directly to the reader, where she explores the idea of historians needing to do "exact imagining" in order to understand any different time and place. Here's some of what she says:

I thought about the way I write my history books. This is what I do: I pretend. In this book I pretended that I lived in the 18th century. I pretended that I was a Patriot. I pretended that I was a Loyalist. Whenever I could, I got help with the pretending. I traveled and observed. I visited Boston and Williamsburg and Monticello and Philadelphia and Charleston. I talked to people who know about the past; I asked questions. And I read books, lots and lots of books, to learn all the details I could. That way, when I pretended, I wouldn't be ignorant about it. I wanted my pretending to be as exact as possible.

She goes on to quote some important historians, sharing what their vision for their work was and how they went about the task. And she ends the Note by encouraging the student to think of exploring their own family's history, or their neighbors' or town's. "Why don't you try some exact imagining?"

A thing I've always hated about social studies textbooks is that they try to do too much in one book, with the effect that everything is gone over shallowly, with little depth or insight. Just names and dates fired fast, battles zipped through, a highlight here and there, and we're on to the next epoch. No time to get comfortable with a time period and get to know the people involved, as you can in a good biography or a good book of historical fiction. But Joy Hakim has overcome this problem, in part by taking her time, and writing about US history in ten books and not just one.

By the way, I'm not the only one who likes these new books. The history profession is buzzing excitedly about them, delighted at last that someone has brought the story back into history, and helped children feel keen delight in learning about the past. One of our favorite history writers for children, Jean Fritz, writes on the back cover: "I marvel at what Joy Hakim has done. She's set just the right tone, sustained the interest, examined what history is and what it is not, and written a book of real substance that speaks directly to children... I'm overcome with admiration." Ditto from me.

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