Wednesday, May 13, 2020

An Inclusive American History Curriculum

When I began homeschooling, I was starstruck by all the classic children's books. I grew up in the public school system with parents who weren't readers themselves. I continued on to college to get a degree in English, mostly because I loved grammar... but of course, soon I found myself reading many classics. So I learned the classic adult books. But I had never been welcomed into the world of classic children's literature. Until I started homeschooling.

I hopped full on the train. Found all the best book lists. Borrowed them all from the library. Bought even more of them. And I started Sophie's first year of homeschool, checking off every single book on the list of classics for kindergarteners.

But I never really stop researching. And as I continued to research, I would see snippets here and there of people pointing out issues with classics. "This book is so good, but you have to edit while you read because it calls Native Americans 'savages.'" Or, "This book talks about Christopher Columbus like he's a hero and doesn't give an accurate portrayal of the way he treated Natives." 

I was not educated enough. So I had to read all the comments, click on the links, read the articles. I followed every rabbit trail laid out before me, and soon I found myself in a heap of wreckage. I wouldn't say my history education was very strong, but I certainly thought I knew my stuff. But enough rabbit trails, enough listening, enough reading made me realize that I was given a biased history education. My history was from a white westerner's point of view, and it left out the side of the Native American and people of color. 

So I left the classics' train. And I jumped on the enlightenment train. Sometimes it still includes classics. But it's a train that is inclusive and seeks to give a full picture of history. Sometimes the train charges full force ahead, and sometimes it has to stop, refuel, backtrack, and correct its path. But I am fully on this train, committed to giving my children an education that is not white-washed or westernized but rather inclusive, diverse, and honest.

I am constantly learning and constantly updating my shelves, but I wanted to share my favorite books. At the end of this post, I will share my favorite sources. Don't miss that part! I am only relaying information to you that I got from others, whom I'm so thankful for. If we want to include indigenous people and black people in our history curriculum, we must listen to them. Most of my book ideas were a direct result of listening to them and their recommendations.

These are three incredible spines. They are so important. Each book comes in an adult format if you'd like to read those for yourself, but honestly, you could start with these young people versions and learn a shocking amount. All of these focus on different matters and are all important in their own way. If I had to recommend one to start with, though, I'd go with Zinn's.

I'm really big on having a spine for history, and then supplementing with biographies and historical fiction. It's hard to find a history spine for young children that isn't white-washed. Betsy Maestro's books are my favorite I have found, though. The spines mentioned above (Zinn, Dunbar-Ortiz, and Takaki) are better to start around 4th grade, I think, so Maestro's books would be good for before that.

These books are all just so excellent for learning about the Native Americans before contact. For most of us, and for many curriculums today, America starts when the white settlers came. But that's a false narrative. This land has been here for an incredibly long time with people walking it. And those people (Native Americans) are still amongst us today! The top two books are good for a parent/teacher's own education, and the bottom three books are good to use for a curriculum with children.

Picture books are a lovely way to learn about Native Americans - both historical figures as well as legends. Below are some of our favorites. These are a great supplement to a curriculum. Biographies and legends make a curriculum come to life!

It's fun and important to know how people live. We not only are better able to understand the people but also the land we live on, if we live in the Americas. These are some of my favorite books for learning about the types of homes Native Americans lived in. We personally don't live far from mounds, and it's a really neat place to visit.
Bobbie Kalman - Native Homes
Bobbie Kalman - Life in a Longhouse Village
Bobbie Kalman - Native Nations of the Western Great Lakes

A few more books about Native American historical figures and legends that we love, and a book to understand that Native people still live amongst us today!
Tehanetorens - Legends of the Iroquois (this is a really fun one!)

Basically anything by Joseph Bruchac is wonderful. He's a good name to know. Both of these books are good ones. Once your children are older, continuing to read biographies and historical fiction is important, but the books will get longer.

Historical fiction is one of our very favorites in our house. Louise Erdrich and Joseph Bruchac are simply the best when it comes to historical fiction about Native Americans. The Birchbark House series is a great series if you're looking for one with a Little House on the Prairie feel but that covers the Native's perspective.

I consider all of these good spines to cover black history. James Haskins is an author I like, and his books are the top four, but he has many more as well. These books all cover a time period or different slave accounts rather than one person.
Doreen Rappaport is an author I really love, and she has some books not pictured that I would also recommend:

There are a lot of great picture books about different movements of black history, from slavery to emancipation to the civil rights movement. Here are some we love.

Picture book biographies are simply one of our favorite!

I truly find that there's nothing like historical fiction to make history come to life! (Thank you Amber from Heritage Mom for so many of these recommendations!)

Don't forget to introduce your children to other voices in other subject areas as well!
Poetry - Consider Phyllis Wheatley, Langston Hughes, Joseph Bruchac, Louise Erdrich, and Effie Lee Newsome
Artists - Consider Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Helen Hardin, and Pablita Velarde
Music - Consider Scott Joplin, Elizabeth Cotten, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Duke Ellington, and Robbie Robertson

Some of my favorite sources:

* Heritage Mom - Amber is simply amazing. As a black mama raising black children, she provides a world of wisdom on giving children a black perspective in history as well as other subjects (composers, artists, fiction, field trips).
* The Parallel Narrative - I've gotten a lot of book ideas from this site. She breaks it down by time period and subject area.
* Living Books of all People Facebook group - If you're on Facebook, be sure to join this group. People are continually posting new books and resources, and the search bar is great when you need to find information on a specific area.
* Oyate - This site has been really informative about Native Americans. They review books and also have a shop with books they recommend broken into different categories.
* American Indians in Children's Literature - So many great reviews on this site!
* Woke Homeschooling - This is a curriculum thoughtfully put together by homeschooling mama Delina Prcye McPhaull.
* A Broken Flute- This is a pricey book. I borrowed a copy from the library, but I will say it's worth every penny should you choose to buy. Doris Seale and her companions go through hundreds of books on Native Americans, reviewing them thoroughly. It gave me a lot of ideas for books to buy but also after reading through it, I began to have a clearer idea of what to look for and what to avoid when looking for books on indigenous people.


  1. I love, Love, LOOOOOVE this!!! I'm literally bubbling over with joy right now. Thank you for taking the time to learn. Thank you for caring and for sharing all of your hard work. Even if you have the books sitting there, it takes a lot of time and thought to put them all out in a coherent post, and you've done an awesome job. And you're welcome for the recommendations. I hope your girls love them as much as mine have. I can't wait to dig into some of the goodies that you've listed.

    1. You're welcome, Amber. I'm so happy to be sharing this post! I'm also so thankful for all you share and hope many others will click over and enjoy your wealth of wisdom and the gems you share.

  2. Thank you for this extremely necessary and wonderful list!

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I already commented on your Instagram post, but I have to say it again after looking through the whole list. This list is honestly an answer to my prayers and deep soul searching. Thank you!!

    1. You’re welcome, Claire! Thank you for your encouraging comment, and I’m so glad it is a help to you! Love knowing fellow people who are on this journey with me.

  4. Hi! This is SUCH an amazing resource. Thank you so much for compiling all of this and sharing! I am working on our school year planning for next year (Kinder and 2nd) and am hoping to include Effie Lee Newsome as one of our poets. I'm having trouble finding her works, and I was wondering if you have any tips for that. She has an amazing book of children's poetry, but it looks like its going to be very hard to find. I'm curious what you've used or might recommend.

    1. Yes! My sweet friend Amber has generously put it together in an easy format and shared on her blog:

      She is the best! Check out the rest of her blog if you haven’t yet- so many helpful resources!
      Happy planning! I am planning right now too and it is so fun! :)

    2. Thank you!! Yes, I love Amber's blog! I hadn't seen that post! I am so excited :D

      Happy planning to you too! :)

  5. Thank you so much for the resources! I have linked your blog to mine in my resource section for parents! <3 Truly awesome!

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you found it helpful!

  6. Do you know if anyone has taken this type of reading suggestions and created a curriculum? I am trying to find curriculum that isn’t whitewashed and I love your suggestions, but it works better for me if it is laid out with what to read.

    1. Check out Blossom & Root! As far as I know, they have the best complete inclusive history curriculum. Heritage Mom Homeschool and Woke Homeschooling have good curriculum packages for covering Black history.