Hooray for American History ; Kids Stories about the United States in Fact and Fiction

Article excerpt

Although publishers could never have imagined the tragic events that spurred the patriotism sweeping America, they have conveniently packed a lot of US lore into their new releases.

Picture Books

What was it like to take part in the Boston Tea Party? Readers of Joining the Boston Tea Party (HarperCollins, $15.95) will find out. Award-winning author Diane Stanley adds a second installment to her Time-Traveling Twins series. Here, redheads Lenny and Liz visit their grandmother in anticipation of going back to 18th-century Boston (with the aid of a magic hat). Their adventure involves historic figures, old-fashioned clothes, and yester-year customs. Illustrator Holly Berry adds whimsy to the story with bright, cartoon-style illustrations. (Last year's "Roughing It on the Oregon Trail" is equally engaging.)

American literature is rich in tall tales - those greatly exaggerated stories of larger-than-life characters and heroic deeds. If these appeal to you, add Davy Crockett Saves the World (HarperCollins, $16.95), by Rosalyn Schanzer, to your reading list. Schanzer pairs Crockett with a cosmic visit from Halley's comet. In this original tale, the comet threatens to destroy the world, and the US president asks Crockett for assistance. After a meal of "pickled rattlesnake brains fried by lightening," his super-human strength helps to prevent the disaster. He also wins "purty" Sally Sugartree's heart. Bright, Disney-like illustrations give this frontier tale a modern look.

Books for Older Readers

The Pleasant Company has provided an ideal series for dark winter nights: History Mysteries. This line was introduced in 1999 and voted "favorite new series" by children's booksellers in a Publishers Weekly survey. The series introduces strong female characters that solve exciting mysteries at significant points in America's history.

One of this season's new additions is Mystery on Skull Island ($5.95 paperback), which takes place in 1724 in Charles Town, S.C. Twelve-year-old Rachel has come to live with her widowed father, and she and her new best friend, Sally, daughter of a tavern owner, wind up in an adventure involving shipping fortunes, pirates, and hidden treasure.

Shane (Houghton Mifflin, $22), by Jack Schaefer, has been on some schools' required reading lists for decades. Written in the 1940s, it's about the West in the late 1880s. …