This Fourth of July, post-hot dog eating competition and pre-fireworks display, you’ll get a nice, quiet window to sit down and read a few books to your kid about how this important day in American democracy went down 240 years ago.
You can read to them about the brave women who don’t get any credit for keeping our troops in the game. You can read to them about a duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton that didn’t win any Tony Awards. You can read to them about Benjamin Franklin, who had some interesting ideas about electricity and productivity. Because in the words of President Bill Pullman, “Today, is our Independence Day.”
They Called Her Molly Pitcher
When shit was getting real at the Battle of Monmouth, Molly ran water to soldiers suffering in the sweltering June heat. She earned her nickname as these dying soldiers called out, “Molly — Pitcher.” Even when her husband was wounded and fell, this badass lady of the Revolution basically told him to rub some dirt in it, and continued to load his cannon and fire on the British ranks. Hopefully your kids will never again think that Americans won against the British because of men in powdered wigs.
Ages: 3 – 7
They Called Her Molly Pitcher By Anne Rockwell ($8)
The Founding Fathers!: Those Horse-Ridin’, Fiddle-Playin’, Book-Readin’,
Gun-Totin’ Gentlemen Who Started America
If you’re going to write yet another books about the Founding Fathers, why not have some fun with it? New Yorker illustrator Barry Blitt makes the topic relatable to kids by dropping NBA Jam-sized heads on Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson. And author Jonah Winter spice up a boring history lesson by including baseball card-like stat sheets for each of the 14 profiled patriots. (Patrick Henry has a pretty stellar WHiP.)
Ages: 5 – 8
The Founding Fathers!: Those Horse-Ridin’, Fiddle-Playin’, Book-Readin’, Gun-Totin’ Gentlemen Who Started America By Jonah Winter and Barry Blitt ($14)
Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History
You’d rather talk to your kid about the all-rapping, all-dancing Hamilton than the one filled with bloody duels to the death. But even for younger kids, there are lessons to learn that don’t start long conversations about gun violence. For instance, any toddler can understand the emotions that Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton’s were facing when they couldn’t make peace. It happens to them every Saturday in the sandbox.
Ages: 5 – 7
Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History By Don Brown ($12)
Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies
Longtime NPR reporter Cokie Roberts adapted her acclaimed book, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, into a picture book with Caldecott-winning artist Diane Goode that even a revisionist historian can get behind. Just like the adult version, this book draws from letters and ledgers of female patriots such as Phillis Wheatley, Mercy Otis Warren, Sarah Livingston Jay, and others who were scratched from the history books.
Ages: 7 – 12
Founding Mothers: Remembering the Ladies by Cokie Roberts ($16)
Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin
The book does a good job of linking the present with the past through some of Franklin’s notable inventions and their modern counterparts. Electricity and the lighting rod make the cut. So do bifocals, lending libraries, the post office, and daylight savings time (blame Benny for the reason you spend all winter in darkness). It also dives into explaining the mechanics of the inventions and encourages your kids to tinker with ideas. Standing outside during a thunderstorm not recommended.
Ages: 5 – 9
Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin By Gene Barretta ($8)
George Washington’s Teeth
Kids won’t brush their teeth? Ol’ George has a nightmare story about pre-novocaine dentistry for them. Poets Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora use rhyming verse to comically chronicle Washington’s mouth rot (always good for a chuckle) to the point where he only had 2 teeth left when he took office. The takeaway is that you can form a more perfect union, but it’s all for nought is you don’t floss.
Ages: 4 – 8
George Washington’s Teeth By Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora ($8)
John, Paul, George & Ben
Lane Smith, the illustrator behind Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, presents the Founding Fathers like the Fab 4 — or 5. (“Independent” Tom Jefferson is kind of the Pete Best of the group.) What the book trades in historical accuracy it makes up with in stories about selling underwear and making mischief. Weirdly, this is probably closer to way that these ribald men would have wanted their biography presented.
Ages: 3 – 7
John, Paul, George & Ben By Lane Smith ($12)
Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution
Jean Fritz is kind of big deal when it comes to writing children’s non-fiction. Besides her many leather-bound books and library the smells of rich mahogany, the Newberry-award winning author wrote a whole series on the Founding Fathers and and their clandestine meetings where the Constitution took shape. You might recognize illustrator Tomie dePaola as well, whose other works include Strega Nona and The Knight and the Dragon. Be forewarned, your 3rd grader might start throwing around accusations that you’re impinging on their liberty.
Ages: 7 – 9
Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution By Jean Fritz ($17)
Paul Revere’s Ride
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about Paul Revere’s ride (not the Beastie Boys’) tells the story of how a colonist alerted everyone to the arrival of British forces. Around Boston, this is a classic piece of literature — right up there with Now I Can Die In Peace — but your kid will hopefully take away that this is the only book on the list that was written within a hundred years of the historical event. Yup, there’s plenty of 19th century American poetry where that came from.
Ages: 5 – 8
Paul Revere’s Ride By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ($10)