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We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History


"This may be the most exhilarating and revelatory history of our country. It is must reading for today's youth-as well as their elders." --Studs Terkel

From the boys who sailed with Columbus to today's young activists, this unique book brings to life the contributions of young people throughout American history. Based on primary sources and including 160 authentic images, this handsome oversized volume highlights the fascinating stories of more than 70 young people from diverse cultures. Young readers will be ...

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We Were There, Too!: Young People in U.S. History

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"This may be the most exhilarating and revelatory history of our country. It is must reading for today's youth-as well as their elders." --Studs Terkel

From the boys who sailed with Columbus to today's young activists, this unique book brings to life the contributions of young people throughout American history. Based on primary sources and including 160 authentic images, this handsome oversized volume highlights the fascinating stories of more than 70 young people from diverse cultures. Young readers will be hooked into history as they meet individuals their own age who were caught up in our country's most dramatic moments-Olaudah Equiano, kidnapped from his village in western Africa and forced into slavery, Anyokah, who helped her father create a written Cherokee language, Johnny Clem, the nine-year-old drummer boy who became a Civil War hero, and Jessica Govea, a teenager who risked joining Cesar Chavez's fight for a better life for farmworkers. Throughout, Philip Hoose's own lively, knowledgeable voice provides a rich historical context-making this not only a great reference-but a great read. The first U.S. history book of this scope to focus on the role young people have played in the making of our country, its compelling stories combine to tell our larger national story, one that prompts Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, to comment, "This is an extraordinary book-wonderfully readable, inspiring to young and old alike, and unique."

We Were There Too! is a 2001 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.

Biographies of dozens of young people who made a mark in American history, including explorers, planters, spies, cowpunchers, sweatshop workers, and civil rights workers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A treasure chest of history come to life, this is an inspired collection. Readers could easily get lost in it by simply dipping into one compelling story after another . . . Because the book is packed with historical documents, evocatively illustrated . . . and full of eyewitness quotations, it should prove valuable to young historians and researchers." -Starred, School Library Journal

Howard Zinn
This is an extraordinary book — wonderfully readable, inspiring to young and old alike, and unique.
Studs Terkel
Exhilarating and revelatory history . . . MUST reading for today's youth — as well as their elders.
Marian Wright Edelman
We Were There, Too! shows young readers how other young people have shaped American history in large and small ways . . .
Publishers Weekly
Hoose's (It's Our World, Too!) impressive survey places young people at the center of every event that shaped America, from 12-year-old Diego Berm#dez who sailed with Christopher Columbus in 1492 to high school junior Claudette Colvin's refusal to give up her seat in 1955 Montgomery, Ala., nine months before Rosa Parks. The diverse contributions of these gutsy children and teens include 16-year-old Deborah Sampson, who masqueraded as Private Robert Shirtliffe and fought in the Revolutionary War, and 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall who, in the absence of many major league players-turned-soldiers, pitched for the Cincinnati Reds during WWII. Readers will appreciate the brief epilogues that explain what happened to each person in adulthood. For instance, Chuka, a nine-year-old Hopi Indian subjected to assimilation in white schools in 1899, "struggled to live in two worlds" throughout his life, and high school junior Peggy Eaton, who rode the rails in 1938, continued to live a life of adventure as a missionary and mountain climber. Informative sidebars provide additional, and sometimes humorous, historical asides to the biographical profiles (e.g., a story problem in a Confederate math book during the Civil War calculates the death toll of Yankees). Pictures, maps and prints help bring these stories to life, but it is the actions of these young people that will inspire readers to realize that they, too, can play a part in making America's history. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
History is often written in such a way that the stories of the lives of our ancestors are lost in a sea of seemingly endless names, dates and places. Yet what makes history so compelling is that it encompasses the most interesting possible material, namely, the stories of people who have gone before us. In this stellar book we are exposed not only to the tales of ancestors but those of young people who influenced the times they lived in. Meet George Tifton who, as a young teenager, set out to sea in a whaling ship from New Bedford. Understand what the Dust Bowl was like through the eyewitness account of thirteen-year-old Harley Halliday. Relive the Civil War via the words of Elisha Stockwell, a fifteen-year-old Union soldier from Wisconsin. Learn about Jennie Curtis, a young woman who was a leader in the 1893 Pullman Strike and then disappeared from history. These and approximately sixty-five other stories, drawn from the experiences of young people reaching back to the pre-Revolutionary era, make for fascinating reading. Each segment of this book draws heavily on primary source materials and the writings of the individuals in question. Written with great care and compassion, this is one of the finest children's books dealing with American history that this writer has come across in recent years. A five star literary work, We Were There, Too! brings history to life through the lives, words and actions of common young people who accomplished uncommon deeds. 2001, Melanie Kroupa Books, $26.00. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-A treasure chest of history come to life, this is an inspired collection. Readers could easily get lost in it by simply dipping into one compelling story after another. The selections are arranged chronologically, beginning with 12-year-old Diego Berm dez sailing to the New World with Columbus and ending (66 stories later) with 9-year-old Kory Johnson, who started Children for a Safe Environment. There are famous figures such as Pocahontas and Sacajawea, and less famous, such as Billy Bates and Dick King, both of whom escaped from Andersonville, and Enrique Esparza, survivor of the Alamo. Each story ends with a brief paragraph describing "What Happened to-" the person after that moment in history. The writing is a bit stiff, but it rarely gets in the way of the stories. Because the book is packed with historical documents, evocatively illustrated (with black-and-white photographs, engravings, drawings, maps, and the like), and full of eyewitness quotations, it should prove valuable to young historians and researchers.-Herman Sutter, Saint Agnes Academy, Houston, TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"We're not taught about younger people who have made a difference. Studying history almost makes you feel like you're not a real person." This remark by a girl Hoose had interviewed for It's Our World Too: Stories of Young People Who Are Making a Difference (1993), inspired him to embark on this major project. He follows the traditional arc of US history, from Columbus and the Colonies to hippies and the computer revolution, by relating the stories of individual young people-both familiar and little known. Each three- to four-page narrative begins with a quote (often-when available-from the person herself), and ends with a few lines describing "what happened" to the person in her adult life. Illustrations (mostly black-and-white print and photo reproductions with ownership credits at the end) on every page and sidebars of interesting historical tidbits or explanations make every spread inviting, and should encourage browsing. Hoose's short entries are accessible and give a good sense of the historical process by using attributed quotes and explanations of how each individual's story survived. However, for the curious, he provides no direct references to his sources. His selected sources at the end-grouped by chapter-will give readers a general indication of where to go next, especially as he marks those most appropriate for young readers with an asterisk. This approach to history will intrigue and delight readers. Frederick Douglass and Sacajawea take their place alongside Caroline Pickersgill (who in 1813 helped her mother and aunt stitch the flag that Francis Scott Key wrote about), and Jessica Govea (whose education as a union organizer started when she was a four-year-oldmigrant worker in California). Hoose brings his narrative firmly and elegantly to the 21st century with contemporary examples. An index of proper names and topics may help kids with reports, but for those wanting a broad but approachable book on US history, this is a thoroughly enjoyable choice. (sources, index, picture credits) (Nonfiction. 9-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374382520
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 8/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 276
  • Sales rank: 231,249
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 950L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 10.10 (w) x 10.19 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Phillip Hoose is an award-winning author of books, essays, stories, songs and articles.  Although he first wrote for adults, he turned his attention to children and young adults in part to keep up with his own daughters. His book Claudette Colvin won a National Book Award and was dubbed a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2009. He is also the author of Hey, Little Ant, co-authored by his daughter, Hannah, It’s Our World, Too!, and The Race to Save the Lord God Bird. We Were There, Too! was a National Book Award finalist. He has received a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, a Christopher Award, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, among numerous honors. He was born in South Bend, Indiana, and grew up in the towns of South Bend, Angola, and Speedway, Indiana.  He was educated at Indiana University and the Yale School of Forestry.  He lives in Portland, Maine.

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Table of Contents

Introduction vi
Part One "¡Tierra!": When Two Worlds Met
Part Two Strangers in Paradise: The British Colonies
Part Three Breaking Away: The American Revolution
Part Four Learning to Be a Nation
Part Five One Nation or Two? The Civil War
Part Six Elbow Room: The West
Part Seven Shifting Gears in a New Century
Part Eight Hard Times: Wars, Depression, and Dust
Part Nine Times That Kept a-Changin'
Linking Up in the Twenty-first Century
Acknowledgments 252
Sources 253
Index 257
Picture Credits 264
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The idea to write this book started with a comment made by Sarah Rosen, a girl I interviewed for a book about young social activists entitled It's Our World, Too! Her school had staged a reenactment of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 without allowing girls to participate. Her teacher had explained that since women hadn't taken part then, girls couldn't take part now. Sarah responded by taking over the halls with chanting, poster-carrying girls and organizing a counterconvention. Later, talking to me about her U.S. history class, she remarked, "We're not taught about younger people who have made a difference. Studying history almost makes you feel like you're not a real person."

It made me think about my own education. I couldn't remember having read about anyone my age in my history classes either. I started combing through U.S. history textbooks and found that Sarah was right. A very few young people seemed to have survived in the pages — Pocahontas and Sacagawea, to name two. But for the most part, to become historically real to be remembered in a U.S. history book, you had to be an adult.

It's easy to see why. Adults were more likely to have written journals and diaries. They were also more likely to have accomplished the kinds of things that usually get remembered as historical events. Presidents and generals were adults. But as I began to do research for this book, I found that if you scratch any major event in U.S. history, young people are everywhere. Often they're right in the middle of the action.

The story of Columbus's journey to the New World in 1492 is a good example. Nearly a quarter of the crew members on the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria were teenagers and younger boys. According to anthropologists, more than half the Taino Indians they met were fifteen years of age or younger. Several of the Indians that the Spaniards kidnapped and carried back to Spain as trophies for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were children. One Spanish boy's misfortune resulted in an early European settlement in the New World. And more than half the sailors on Columbus's fourth and final voyage west in 1502 were boys in their teens or younger.

Young people have acted boldly from the very beginning. A fifteen-year-old Shoshone girl guided white explorers from the prairies to the Rocky Mountains, all the while caring for her baby. Another teenager, Jennie Curtis, sparked a national railroad strike with a single speech. A thirteen-year-old boy was the first undercover agent in the English Colonies. Hundreds of newsboys, tired of being cheated, banded together and nearly brought the nation's presses to a halt until their lost wages were restored. Martin Luther King, Jr., credited young people with much of the success of the civil rights movement. "The blanket of fear was lifted by Negro youth," he said. "When they took their struggle to the streets, a new spirit of resistance was born."

This book is a collection of stories of young people who were a part of U.S. history between 1492 and the present. All of the stories are of real people. Some, like Anna Green Winslow and Carrie Berry, kept diaries while they were young, and their writing has survived. More, like Frederick Douglass and Chuka, wrote about their youth once they got older. Still others became visible through the writings of those who met them. We know Pocahontas mainly through the journals of John Smith, and Sacagawea mainly through the writings of Lewis and Clark. When I reached the twentieth century, I was able to interview living people and hear them tell their own stories.

There are many more stories beyond those that I chose. It's worth researching and interviewing to know them. Why? Because stories of caring and courageous people from history are inspiring. And because we're less likely to repeat mistakes of the past if we know about historical blunders. And because no single person's story, even that of a president, tells enough about a historical event or time. There are always other perspectives worth understanding. The American Revolution means one thing if you see it through the eyes of white men in powdered wigs with the weight of a new nation on their shoulders. But it's something different when you can imagine yourself as a girl in a sunny sewing room, racing your cousin to see who can turn out more homespun cloth for liberty. Or as an apprentice, itching to fight the redcoats, convinced that freedom from Britain will also mean independence from your master. Or as a Haitian slave boy in Georgia fighting alongside French and Continental soldiers to win somebody else's freedom.

All these new voices can be challenging. I kept expecting each new diary or journal or interview to give me the final answer about some part of our country's history. But instead of closing doors, each new voice seemed to raise fresh questions and present new mysteries. Every book or article or Web site seemed to make me want to keep — rather than stop — reading.

Though their surroundings and circumstances may be very different from ours, the basic needs of the young people in these pages should seem familiar. Some were out to get rich, while others needed to feed their families. They wanted adventure, love and respect, a change of scenery. They longed for justice, safety, information, and the freedom to make their own decisions. Some sought to answer spiritual questions.

All the people you'll meet here deserve attention not simply because they are "real people" close to your age. They are important because through their sweat, bravery, luck, talent, imagination, and sacrifice — sometimes of their lives — they helped shape our nation.

Phillip Hoose

Linking Up in the Twenty-first Century

Most mornings fifteen-year-old Mary Fister, coffee cup steaming on the desk before her, has logged on to her family's personal computer by 7 A.M. Typically, she is greeted by at least twenty e-mail messages from around the world. "Usually they arrive from the east overnight and from this hemisphere in the afternoon," she says. As an active member of Nation One, a global network of young people working for social justice, Mary plans events and organizes activities with colleagues in Madagascar, Mexico, Australia, Greece, Canada, and the United States. Often there are several messages from Dakar, Senegal, where Mary is raising funds for a computer lab in a school with fifteen hundred students. "It'll be available to the whole community," she says. "It's a way to help people in one specific place gain access to the Internet and all it has to offer."

Like the boys who sailed with Columbus, Mary is part of a voyage that is shrinking the world by connecting strangers from distant places. "As long as they're on-line" she says, "there is no one in the world we can't talk to, and very little we can't find or learn."

Indeed, young Americans have much to celebrate at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Most have adequate shelter and enough food. With such deadly childhood diseases as polio, tuberculosis, and measles controlled by vaccines, Americans now live nearly thirty years longer than they did in 1900. Laws prohibit child labor. Education is now a right, for both boys and girls. Slavery and racial segregation are forbidden by law. Girls have more opportunities than ever. American society is becoming increasingly diverse, with immigrants from around the world bringing with them their foods, dances, songs, languages, and customs.

But uncertainties and challenges remain. Children are growing up in smaller families, often living with one parent, often removed from the wisdom of elders. A large gap remains between rich and poor. Civil rights laws have not eliminated intolerance. We've only begun to understand how human activities affect the environment. And, looking ahead, some wonder: Will we be able to control technology or will it come to control us? But the future has never been clear. "What's wrong with uncertainty?" Mary Fister asks. "If everything were predictable, this would be a boring place." Linked to young activists around the world, she feels hopeful about the future. "All in all," she says, "especially if you're above the poverty line, this is a very good time to be young."

Copyright © 2001 Phillip Hoose

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