5 Children's Books That Bring Oregon History to Life

The origin of the state’s name is uncertain, but there are several theories of how Oregon was christened. The French Canadian word “ouragan” means “storm” or “hurricane” and some historians believe that the Columbia River was referred to as the river of storms. Spanish explorers to the area may have called indigenous people “orejon” meaning “big-ear.” Another theory is that those explorers called the abundant wild sage “oregano.” We do know it is called “The Beaver State” due to the animal’s impressive qualities, such as industry, ingenuity and intelligence.

Oregon’s rich background begins with the lives of the Paleo Indians, the first known Native American tribes included the Shasta, the Tillamook and the Walla Walla, among others. Spanish explorers traveled the coast in the mid-1500s. Fur traders began their trade in the late 1700s. In 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored the area. In 1848, the Oregon Territory established and on February 14, 1859, Oregon became the 33rd state.

Kids learning about the state’s background in fourth or fifth grade can gain more insight and interest that illustrate important historical periods. The following five children’s books are set in various time periods and range from historical fiction to fact-based retellings:

Operation Clean Sweep

By Darleen Bailey Beard

It’s 1916 and women can only vote in 11 states. Oregon was one of those states. It’s nearly Election Day in Umatilla and 12-year-old Cornelius Sanwick and his best friend Otis have just discovered that their mothers are running for office.

However, Corn’s mother is not just running for any old office. She is running for mayor. Against his own father! Based on the true events of a day now known as the Petticoat Rebellion of 1916, this book tells the tale of how a group of women secretly ran for office… and won.

Mr. Tucket

By Gary Paulsen

Fourteen-year-old Francis Tucket is brave. In fact, he may be a little too brave, because when he wanders away from his family’s wagon train on the Oregon Trail to get some target practice, a group of Pawnees capture him and take him back to their camp.

After he finally escapes, Francis spends a winter living off the land with the help of a quite-capable, one-armed mountain man. He becomes so enamored with this way of life that he considers not going back to his family until he realizes how much he is missing.

The Devil in Ol' Rosie

By Louise Moeri

Twelve-year-old John’s father calls him Wart. He believes this is how his Pa sees him: “hard, bumpy and not much use.” However, Wart soon gets the chance to prove his worth.

Ma is about to have the baby and Pa is caring for her and four-year-old Davy. A headstrong horse named Ol’ Rosie led the rest of the family’s horses away from the ranch. Wart is charged with riding off on the remaining horse –a faithful mare named Gypsy—to retrieve the horses. Wart faces a cougar, a blizzard, and other dangers in the wilderness. Readers will get a glimpse into life in eastern Oregon at the turn of the 20th century.

Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell, 1847

By Kristiana Gregory

When Hattie Campbell’s father gets a free steamboat ride anywhere he wants to go, he decides that the family will pack up and head to the Oregon Trail. Mama is not pleased with his decision, but he convinces her that it will be a fresh start, away from the sad memories. Thirteen-year-old Hattie’s little sisters both died some time ago and things have never been quite the same.

In this historical fiction book, written as Hattie’s diary, kids will read of the realities, hardships, and triumphs of the many pioneers from all walks of life who made the life-changing trip on the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s.

Precious Gold, Precious Jade

By Sharon E. Heisel

The Oregon Gold Rush is ending. Fourteen-year-old Angelina's father is no longer making enough with his part-time mining endeavors to make a living. Jobs are becoming more difficult to find, and many of the townspeople are resentful of the Chinese immigrants living there and taking “their” work away.

Angelina and her sister Evangeline befriend a girl named An Li, who starts attending classes in their one-room schoolhouse. As the girls get to know more about An Li and others in her community, their perspective broadens. However, Pa and others in the community are not pleased by the friendship.

Do you have a favorite kids’ book about Oregon history not included in our little list? Please share it with us!

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Tags : chapter books   historical novels   oregon   

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