Literature is an excellent way to help teach the events leading to and during the Civil War to elementary students. When selecting a piece of literature, always check for its historical accuracy and that it does not contain misconceptions, oversimplifications or stereotyping.
The following list is divided by subject according to the aspect of the war being introduced to the students.
The institution of slavery as a cause of the war and the flight to freedom of many slaves
There are several books on Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad available. Two that are powerful read-alouds are:
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, by Carole Boston Weatherford, (Hyperion Book CH, 2006) Caldecott Honor Book
This is an account of Harriet Tubman’s escape to freedom and role in the Underground Railroad.
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine, (New York: Scholastic Press, 2007.) 2008 Caldecott Honor Book
Henry Brown dreams of freedom. This book is the true story of how he escaped from slavery by mailing himself to freedom inside a wooden crate.
Escape North!: The Story of Harriet Tubman, by Monica Kulling, (Random House, 2000)
This is an account of Harriet Tubman's life from her childhood in slavery to her years as a conductor on the Underground Railroad to her later work as a suffragette and as a spy in the Civil War. This is a Step-Into-Reading book that students can read themselves.
Life during the war (especially how the war affected children)
- The Silent Witness: A True Story of the Civil War, by Robin Friedman, (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
The story of how the war affected the life of little Lulu McLean, whose home was located both at the location of the beginning and the end of the war. (Note the number of states in the Confederacy as written in the book: correct and explain as needed.)
- Children of the Civil War, by Candice F. Ransom (Carolrhoda Books, 1998)
A Picture the American Past book which uses primary source photos to show families before, during, and after the Civil War.
Heroes of the Civil War
There are several biographies of Clara Barton to select from, but the following book is easy to read and contains direct quotes from Barton’s diaries in the Library of Congress.
- Clara Barton: Civil War Nurse, by Nancy Whitelaw (Historical American Biographies) Enslow Publishers, 1997
This recounts the life of the Civil War nurse known as the "Angel of the Battlefield."
- Hold the Flag High, by Catherine Clinton (Katherine Tegen Books, 2005)
This is the true story of Sergeant William H. Carney, a member of the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment, who was the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
For other titles dealing with the Civil War, see the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People . Lists are available from 2000 to current year.