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Today marks the beginning of Children’s Book Week (May 12-18). Since 1919, this annual celebration has been the perfect time for adults and youngsters to enjoy new authors and books together. This week, take the time to rediscover old classics and find some new favorites as you read aloud with your kids!
The look and sound of English books for children may have changed over the last 150 years, but one thing never changes: stories of heroism and courage in the face of mystery and danger have always been in high demand! This list of juvenile novels and chapter books—while by no means complete—gives a snapshot of children’s books about adventure over the years.
The American Revolution
With rebels and soldiers, patriots and spies, the American Revolution has long provided the perfect backdrop for historical fiction aimed at kids. Of course, the stories weren’t always written from the American perspective. In True to the Old Flag: A Tale of the American War of Independence (1885), British scholar George Alfred Henty presented the war from the Redcoat point of view. Known as “The Boy’s Own Historian,” Henty wrote over 100 books that entertained and instructed readers on both sides of the pond in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The historical fiction was aimed at young ladies when Alice Turner Curtis wrote A Little Maid of Bunker Hill (1916). In this now-forgotten chapter of the “A Little Maid” series, Millicent Austin of Charles Town, Massachusetts celebrates her tenth birthday, learns lessons about friendship, and becomes a role model to her younger brother and sister. Sound familiar? That’s because the beloved American Girl doll “Felicity” taught similar lessons to little girls of the 90s. In Felicity Learns a Lesson (1991), author Valerie Tripp delights readers with Felicity Merriman, a heroine caught between loyalists and patriots in Williamsburg, Virginia.
If you’re looking for a beginning chapter book for boys, don’t miss a new release called The Redcoats are Coming! (2014) by WriteShop’s own Nancy I. Sanders. This exciting installment of “The Imagination Station” series—based on the popular Adventures in Odyssey radio drama—follows curious cousins Patrick and Beth as they travel back in time to the world of John Hancock and Paul Revere.
There Be Pirates Here
Ever since the debut of Treasure Island (1883), young readers have dreamed of treasure maps and tropical islands, with relentless one-legged pirates ever on the pursuit. Boys especially sympathize with the narrator Jim Hawkins, who comes of age on the high seas of the 18th century. When Robert Louis Stevenson first serialized this story for a children’s magazine, could he have imagined the scores of movie and television versions his story would inspire? One thing is certain: this story that began as a scribbled map to amuse a child has become classic junior-high reading material.
If your kids prefer pirates with a more fantastical flair, find a reprint of the original Peter and Wendy (1911). J. M. Barrie adapted the story from his 1904 stage play, and the characters of Peter Pan and Captain Hook have ever since been engraved on our memories. Nothing compares to reading this classic aloud by candlelight at dusk. Tonight, step aboard the pirate ship Jolly Roger in the blue waters of Neverland!
In the 20th century, children’s authors created plenty of mysterious pirate ships to haunt and enthrall young readers. Clyde Robert Bulla’s Pirate’s Promise (1958) tells the tale of an orphan sold into slavery and later captured by pirates. Avi’s Captain Grey (1976) has held more than a few readers spellbound with the story of Kevin Cartwright, a prisoner of pirates. More recently, pirate novels for children ages 8-12 have focused on the adventure-laden War of 1812.
Want to read about twin brothers who also happen to be escaped slaves? Check out The Twins, the Pirates, and the Battle of New Orleans (1997) by Harriette Gillem Robinet. Interested in the British side of the story? You’re sure to enjoy Gerald Hausman’s Tom Cringle: The Pirate and the Patriot (2001). Following the exploits of a fourteen-year-old naval lieutenant, this book was crafted by an author who has spent many summers on the tropical island of Jamaica.
We hope you and your children will share many more adventures through the pages of books! If you read any good American Revolution or pirate stories this week, won’t you leave a comment and let us know?
Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella also blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.