Read Aloud Thursday: Family History

The past two weeks we’ve been doing a little study on family history and immigration for kindergarten. This started with reading this book by Robert Lawson as our Five in a Row book. In it, Lawson traces his own family history as he recounts the lives of his grandparents and parents. I like this book . The simple black and white pen and ink illustrations seem to go perfectly with the text which is spare but full of rich stories. As a bit of a warning, it was published in 1940 and although it won the Caldecott then, it feels a little outdated due to depictions of Native Americans and African Americans that would not be seen as politically correct today. I didn’t have a problem with this, I think it’s reflective both of the time it was written and probably the true feelings of the author’s ancestors. For example, the authors’s grandmother doesn’t like Native Americans. I’m sure a lot of settlers didn’t like Native Americans. It’s easy enough to discuss why and to discuss why the Native Americans probably weren’t all that fond of the settlers either.

Loreen Leedy has written several math related picture books (Mapping Penny‘s World and Measuring Penny) that we have enjoyed. This book on family relationships is fairly simple and plain as far as story and illustrations but gives a great straight forward description of genealogy. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins are included and explained. It even covers second cousins in a way I finally understood. This is a good starting point for drawing and discussing your own family tree.






All three of these books (The Name Quilt by Phyllis Root, Seven Brave Women by Betsy Hearne and Homeplace by Anne Shelby) offer different perspectives on the same theme of family history. In The Name Quilt, a young girl loves staying at her grandmother’s house because she sleeps under a name quilt that tells the stories of all her ancestors. When it is lost in a tornado, she is deeply sad until her grandmother shows her how they can create their own history.  I like Seven Brave Women because the author is trying to tell history through the perspective of those voices we don’t always hear, women who may have lived ordinary lives but who have their own stories to tell. And Homeplace looks at the history of one family through the family home.

We’ve also very briefly touched on the idea of immigration. We’ve been enjoying Betsy Maestro’s books on early American history for our history studies so I was excited to find this one by her on immigration. It’s a very nice overview of the topic.







Naming Liberty by Jane Yolen takes the topic of immigration and makes it more human and accesible. The story of Gitl, a young Russian Jewish girl who immigrates to American with her family is interposed with the story of the construction of the Statue of Liberty. The two stories merge as Gitl and her family arrive in New York and see Lady Liberty for the first time. At first, my kids had a little bit of a hard time understanding the back and forth between the two stories (different in time and location) but they figured it out and enjoyed both stories. Grandfather’s Journey  is by the gifted Allen Say and tells the story of his own grandfather’s journey to Japan and back again. This one is our current Five in a Row book and it offers a continuation of some of the same topics for discussion. Say’s book   gives a slightly different perspective as we see the grandfather both love his new country and long for his native Japan, a feeling that I think most immigrants can understand. Say has written many other picture books based on his family and his own life that continue to explore this idea of being at home in a foreign land , including Tea with Milk and Tree of Cranes.  Say’s books are all beautifully written and illustrated and deal with more complex ideas than many picture books.

For more Read Aloud Thursday, stop by Hope is the Word.

6 thoughts on “Read Aloud Thursday: Family History

  1. We’ve enjoyed the Lawson book and a few of the other titles you mention. What a great idea to combine the two themes!

  2. I love reading books about family history & immigration. What a great collection you have here! One more unique and beautiful immigration book (perhaps for when your kids are a bit older?) is Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. The story is told all in pictures, and I think it’s amazing.

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