Read Through History VI: Frontier Life & Native Americans (1850-1900)

In this sixth installment of our Read Through History series, I share picture books about frontier life and Native Americans during the second half of the 19th century. This booklist includes stories about The Oregon Trail (e.g. Apples to Oregon and Cassie’s Journey), homesteading (e.g. Dandelions and Wagon Wheels), conflicts between settlers and Native Americans (e.g. Crazy Horse’s Vision and Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home) and efforts to unite a rapidly expanding country (e.g. The Pony Express and Coolies).

You may also be interested in Read Through History IV: Westward Expansion (1800-1850).


Country FairThe My First Little House Books Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder et al.  A series of stories about the adventures of Laura Ingalls, a young girl who lived in Wisconsin in the 1800s, and Almanzo Wilder, who lived in New York at the same time. In these stories, Laura and Almonzo celebrate birthdays, care for farm animals, find a bee tree, win a ribbon at the state fair and more. This picture book series features stories taken from two of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s chapter books: Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy. See e.g. County Fair, Winter on the Farm and Going to Town. Ages 3+

Apples to OregonApples to Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter. A rollicking story about a family that transports a wagon-load of fruit trees west along the Oregon Trail. On one hand, this story’s humor seems out-of-place when one considers the very real hardships settlers endured on the Oregon Trail. On the other hand, Apples to Oregon is very entertaining and offers memorable descriptions of the main obstacles faced by settlers. This book is a new favorite of all three of my children, who keep quoting the book’s apple puns. Ages 4+

Stagecoach SalStagecoach Sal: Inspired by a True Tale by Deborah Hopkinson and Carson Ellis. Stagecoach Sal is a jaunty tale about a young stagecoach driver named Sal who captures a bandit named Poetic Pete. This fictional tale is based on the life of Delia Haskett Rawson, the first woman to carry the U.S. mail by stagecoach in California. An endnote provides readers with information about the real Delia Haskett Rawson. While the fast-paced story will entertain kids, the illustrations are the highlight of this book. Stagecoach Sal sings traditional folksongs throughout this story. Ages 4+

Wagon WheelsWagon Wheels by Barbara Brenner and Don Bolognese. An incredible but true story about a family of black settlers. When the father in this story heads further west to look for a new home, the three Muldie boys (only 11, 8 and 3) take care of themselves. Ages 5+


Crazy Horse's VisionCrazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac. Crazy Horse’s Vision introduces readers to Crazy Horse, an important leader of the Oglala Lakota during the mid to late 18oos. Along with Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse led the Lakota in the Battle of Little Big Horn, during which the Lakota defeated General George Custer’s army. Ages 6+

A Boy Called SlowA Boy Called Slow by Joseph Bruchac. A Boy Called Slow introduces readers to Sitting Bull, another important Lakota leader. It was customary for the Lakota to give their children a childhood name based on how they acted, and Sitting Bull was given the childhood name “Slow.” As Slow grew up he worked hard to earn the respect of his people and with it a new name: Tatan’ka Iyota’ke or Sitting Bull. Ages 6+

Cassie's JourneyCassie’s Journey: Going West in the 1860s by Brett Harvey and Deborah Kogan Ray. Cassie’s Journey is a story about a family who travels to California along the Oregon Trail. This book describes the hardships settlers endured while traveling along the Oregon Trail, from the dust and heat to the death of oxen and family members. Cassie’s Journey is based on first hand accounts from people who traveled along the Oregon Trail. Ages 6+

DandelionsDandelions by Eve Bunting and Greg Shed. Dandelions is a story about a family of homesteaders who claim land in Nebraska Territory. The mother in the family is homesick, and the main character, Zoe, and her sister try to comfort her. Ages 6+

Little Woman Warrior Who Came HomeLittle Woman Warrior Who Came Home: A Story of the Navajo Long Walk by Evangeline Parsons Yazzie. Told from the perspective of a young girl Dzanibaa, Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home tells a personal story about the Navajo Long Walk. The Navajo Long Walk was an incident that occurred during the Civil War. U.S. troops captured a group of Navajo, forced them to walk 450 miles and held them as prisoners of war. Little Woman Warrior Who Came Home highlights the Navajo’s efforts to retain their culture during this time of imprisonment. Ages 6+

Pony ExpressPony Express! by Steven Kroll and Dan Andreasen. Pony Express! tells the story of the pony express, which, for a brief 18-month period, carried U.S. mail across the country in dramatic fashion. While the pony express did not last long, it was memorable and demonstrated the importance and challenge involved in communicating in the new, vast country that was the United States. Endnotes include a neat series of photos of the evolution of methods for carrying U.S. mail. Ages 6+

CooliesCoolies by Yin and Chris Soentpiet. A moving story about two Chinese brothers — Shek and Wong — who worked together to help build the transcontinental railroad. Coolies includes plenty of action to capture and hold kids’ attention. This book explains what motivated Chinese workers to leave China and move to America to help build the railroad, the hard and dangerous work involved and the prejudice they faced. For a detailed account of how the transcontinental railroad was built, see Ten Mile Day by Mary Ann Fraser. Ages 6+

This week, my kids enthusiastically recommend Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Coolies by Yin.

This week, my kids enthusiastically recommend Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Coolies by Yin.

Chapter Books:

Betsy TacyThe Betsy-Tacy Series by Maud Hart Lovelace. A series of stories about the adventures of two best friends — Betsy and Tacy — who live next door to each other in a small Minnesota town around 1900. Ages 5+



On the Banks of Plum CreekThe Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. A series of autobiographical stories about the childhood of author Laura Ingalls Wilder. These books are set in the midwest (present day Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota and South Dakota) during the 1860s and 1870s. The Little House books describe the challenges facing settlers who tried to survive on the prairie (wolves, prairie fires, locusts etc.) and the simple, childhood adventures of Laura and her family. Later books in the series describe what it was like to attend and then teach in a one-room school. Ages 6+

Caddie WoodlawnCaddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. A Newberry Award winner about the adventures of tomboy Caddie Woodlawn and her brothers. Caddie Woodlawn is based on stories the author’s grandmother told her about her childhood in Wisconsin in the 1860s. Ages 7+


Caddie Woodlawn Historical Park

K-5 librarian Mr. Schu has, during the past year, been reading and reviewing each and every Newberry Award winner at his blog Watch. Connect. Read. Take a look at Mr. Schu’s blog post right here for his video review of Caddie Woodlawn as well as a tour of the Caddie Woodlawn Historical Park.

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This entry was posted in Ages 4+, Ages 5+, Ages 6+, Ages 7+, Ages 8+ and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Read Through History VI: Frontier Life & Native Americans (1850-1900)

  1. Yvonne says:

    Can I just say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!!” I love your selection!! I am also using the books that you’ve suggested with my kiddos!

    • Mohamed says:

      My daughter loved reaidng Caddie Woodlawn along with so many Sonlight books. A few weeks ago, we went to my homestate Wisconsin–also Caddie Woodlawn’s. We just happened to drive right past (just off I-94) the park where Caddie Woodlawn’s log cabin and house where she grew up still stands. The kids especially the one who read Caddie Woodlawn really enjoyed going there. It brought the story to life. If you’re ever near Menomonie, WI after reaidng Caddie Woodlawn, it’s a great place to bring the book to life.

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