Planning an upcoming family road trip to D.C.? What about a class field trip with dozens of middle schoolers? With its free museums and wealth of historic sites, Washington, D.C., is a great place to immerse kids in U.S. history. Because a great read can help them feel more connected to the history and happenings in our nation’s capital, we’ve picked one one book for each of the major monuments along the National Mall. So spit out your gum and let’s get this tour started:
The White House
When Audrey Met Alice, by Rebecca Behrens
If you’ve managed to book a White House tour, we bet you’ve got plenty of time to read this charming story in advance. Life as the first daughter is tough, from Audrey’s unwanted celebrity status to the mild security breaches that cancel her much-anticipated birthday parties. But when she stumbles across the secret diary of Alice Roosevelt—another feisty first daughter from nearly a century before—she begins to feel less alone. This tale combines a fun look at modern life as an eighth grader in the White House with a history lesson on Alice Roosevelt and her father’s presidency.
The Capitol Building
The United States Capitol: Its Architecture and Decoration, by Henry Hope Reed & Anne Day
Full of large photos, illustrated diagrams, graphics, and more, this beautiful book offers a tour of the Capitol with a big (and fun) dose of history. If your middle-schoolers are visual learners, or enjoy history brought to life, this book is a must-read before your Capitol visit. By the time you arrive, your kids may make better tour guides than the staff.
The Jefferson Memorial
Jefferson’s Sons, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Most remember Thomas Jefferson for penning the Declaration of Independence, but one of the oft-overlooked facts about our third president is that he had a number of children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. This is the powerful story of four of those children: Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston. While they receive special treatment at Monticello, they’re told to forget their connection to their famous father, and to live quietly in his shadow. As they grow and witness the unfairness and discrimination around them, the children call into question the rights the Declaration so famously proclaims as self-evident.
The Lincoln Memorial
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, Rodman Philbrick
One of the best ways to get a grasp on our sixteenth President is to learn about the Civil War itself. In this Newbery Honor book, set in Maine in 1863, Homer is a plucky orphan who lives with his older brother Harold and their cruel uncle. When their uncle sells Harold to the Union army, Homer follows the regiment to make sure the authorities know that Harold is too young for enlistment. Between outwitting con men, spending time in a pig pen, and a ride along with a traveling medicine show, Homer’s adventures are as hilarious as they are heartwarming, with a few serious moments to drive home the impact of war.
The Washington Monument
George Washington, Spymaster, by Thomas B. Allen
The Washington Monument is visible from all over the National Mall, but George himself may have been just a footnote in history if not for his espionage network during the American Revolution. This award-winning book tells the story of how the fledgling colonies, with limited supplies and manpower, still managed to out-spy the British. This invisible war was the Patriots’ only option against the most powerful nation in the world, and at the helm was Washington himself. While it is nonfiction, middle-grade readers will delight in the fast-paced stories of the clever spies, double agents, and secret codes.
What are your favorite middle grade books about U.S. history?