3 Picture Books to Teach Reconstruction

I LOVE using picture books to teach Reconstruction. In my opinion, it’s one of those units that doesn’t interest students right away, so I use these mentor texts to spark their interest!

I am a firm believer in the idea that picture books should be used to teach frequently in the classroom, regardless of the subject or grade level. I constantly use picture books to support my social studies standards, (in this case during my unit on Reconstruction) and I am confident that allowing my students to experience the (let’s be honest, sometimes VERY wordy and complex) standards in this way gives them SUCH a better understanding. Picture books allow older students to dive deep into these otherwise abstract and foreign concepts.

I have spent a LOT of time finding the absolute best books to teach all of our social studies standards. These are my top five favorite books to teach the Reconstruction Era. I’ve included affiliate links to each book on amazon!

1. No Small Potatoes by Tonya Bolden

Reconstruction read aloud fifth grade
photo courtesy of tonyaboldenbooks.com

This picture book is GREAT for teaching both Reconstruction and some Westward Expansion. It tells the story of Junius G. Groves, who moves west after the Thirteenth Amendment is ratified. He works extremely hard, rents land, eventually owns land, and becomes the “Potato King of the World.” There are SO many social studies vocabulary words sprinkled in, (exodusters, the idea of sharecropping, westward expansion, etc.) but there’s also amazing opportunities to pull in some reading standards. (I love to use theme with this one because there are tons of examples of how Junius works hard to achieve his dream!) This book as a read-aloud can spark great conversations around the Reconstruction Era, but also allows for mulitple cross-curricular lessons. I use this unit over several days to really get the most out of this exceptional picture book.

2. The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton

Reconstruction picture book
photo courtesy of www.chrisbarton.info

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is another remarkable read-aloud to spark some conversation with your students! It follows the journey of John Roy Lynch, who is born into slavery, but is freed when he is sixteen, after the Emancipation Proclamation. He suffers as an adult due to Black Codes and continuing segregation in the South. John Roy Lynch learns to read, becomes Justice of the Peace, and eventually is elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives. He works his entire life to protect the rights of freedmen. This book has a TON of vocabulary that you can pull out and discuss with your students. It also has timelines and maps in the back to use with your Social Studies lessons! I like to use this book for summarizing and sequencing in reading, because it offers LOTS of practice for both.

3. Abe Lincoln’s Dream by Lane Smith

Abe Lincoln's Dream to teach Reconstruction
photo courtesy of lanesmithbooks.com

This picture books has the BEST illustrations by far. It tells the story of a young girl visiting the White House. She is separated from her group and meets Abraham Lincoln’s ghost. She goes on an adventure with Abe Lincoln where he discusses his dreams and concerns for the country. This book is more abstract than the other two, but it really offers some fantastic insight into Abraham Lincoln’s goals, and what he wanted for our country. It’s perfect for talking about the impact of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on Reconstruction in America. For this book, I tie in author’s craft, because it is absolutely beautifully written and designed. I also point out and discuss the figurative language used-there are a BUNCH of similes!

Each of these mentor texts can be used so many different ways in the classroom to engage students, and get them thinking about our country during the Reconstruction Era. If you’re teaching something other than Reconstruction, click here for more cross-curricular units of study!

If you have more suggestions for picture books to teach Reconstruction, leave them in the comments!

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