Historical Novels for Kids: 5 Books about California

The third largest state in America (only smaller than Alaska and Texas), California became the 31st state of the Union on September 9, 1850. Before that, California was its own –albeit unrecognized—nation when a group of American settlers rebelled against the Mexican government and proclaimed the region an independent republic. Known as the Bear Flag Revolt, this is when the Bear Flag, which is now California’s state flag, was raised.

The Golden State boasts everything from seaside beaches and cliffs to deserts, mountains, and lush wine country. With 1200 miles of coastline, more than 4 million acres of national parks (and more state parks than any other state), the highest waterfall in the United States, and the world’s tallest trees, California’s geography is varied enough to interest everyone.

The state’s history is varied and interesting as well. Residents of the El Dorado State have included more than 100 Native American tribes, Spanish explorers, missionaries, treasure hunters, farmers, and of course, celebrities. Historical fiction and novels set in California can be an ideal teaching tool, helping upper elementary students dig into the state’s colorful past. This collection of age-appropriate books is a wonderful place to begin.

Island of the Blue Dolphins

By Scott O’Dell

Karana lives happily on the Island of the Blue Dolphins off the California coast with her brother, sister, and father, the tribe’s chief. After Aleutian fur hunters arrive by ship and swindle her tribe’s people, Karana’s father confronts them and a battle erupts. Many of the islanders –especially the men– are killed.

As the remaining people try to resume life on the island, an elder sails off to the mainland in search of help. Soon, a ship full of white men arrive to take everyone to the mainland, but in the rush, Karana’s little brother Ramo is left behind. Karana jumps off the boat to save him and they are stranded alone on the island.

After Ramo is killed by wild dogs, Karana lives alone with only animals for company. Based on a true story, this book details her trials and adventures until she is rescued and taken to the Santa Barbara mission.

I Survived the San Francisco Earthquake, 1906

By Lauren Tarshis

On April 18, 1906, a monumental earthquake struck San Francisco, destroying approximately 80 percent of the city and killing thousands of people. In this historical fiction book for kids, Leo is a ten-year-old newspaper boy who loves life in the city at the turn of the century.

One day, Leo’s life changes forever. After some bullies steal the lucky golden nugget his grandfather had given him, Leo and his friend Morris hatch a plan to get it back. The plan fails miserably and the bullies are about to wallop them when the ground begins to shake.

The boys help save the bullies from the rubble and gain the nugget back, along with a newfound friendship. Hardship continues as aftershocks occur and the city burns to the ground, but the boys find a way to survive and build new lives.

Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild

By Kristiana Gregory

In 1848, a carpenter discovered gold while building a sawmill northeast of what is now Sacramento. News spread quickly and soon the California Gold Rush began. This book, written in diary format, tells the story of a fourteen-year-old girl whose family sails from New York toward Oregon to start a new life.

Tragically, Susanna’s mother falls overboard and drowns. All of the family’s money was stitched into her dress, so they find themselves distraught and destitute, which prompts Susanna’s physician father to abandon his plans of starting a practice in Oregon. Instead, he decides to look for gold in California.

The book gives insight into life as a young woman during the Gold Rush. Historical photos, drawings, and notes enhance the fictional yet accurate tale.

Where Is Alcatraz?

By Nico Medina

America’s most famous prison is on an island just over a mile offshore from San Francisco. This informative and engaging book teaches readers about the long and fascinating history of Alcatraz Island.

While most associate the name of the island with the prison, the federal penitentiary was in operation for less than three decades. Long before that, Native Americans believed it was home to dangerous evil spirits. In the 1700s, Spanish explorers named it La Isla de los Alcatraces, or Island of the Pelicans because many of the large birds inhabited the island. The United States military built a fortress there in the 1850s and soon began using it to house military prisoners.

Details of famous prisoners, attempted escapes, and the current state of the island are included as well.

Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father

By Steven W. Hackel

As a Franciscan priest, Junipero Serra first left Spain for what is now the Gulf Coast of Mexico as a missionary in 1749. By 1770, he and his team were in California with the goal of converting the Native people to Catholicism and teaching them to become European-style farmers.
This biography, written 300 years after his birth, details the life of the missionary from childhood on, describing the California missions he founded and promoted, as well as the substantial decline of the state’s indigenous population that followed.

Which of these books about California’s history will you be reading with the kids? Share your own favorites with us!

Tags : chapter books   historical novels   california   

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