Author: Michael Williams

Genre: nonfiction

Ages 8+

GrGreat Kids in History covereat Kids in History is a collection of twenty two short stories on the contributions of kids to history. Some of these names will be familiar to adults and many children. For example, there are stories about Thomas Edison, Andrew Jackson and Robert Fulton. But then you probably have never heard of Grace Bedell or Philo Farnsworth. This compilation is a nonfiction book that is not intended to be comprehensive or scholarly. It is written in simple language appropriate for independent reading in middle grades. The information presented is not exhaustive; it may give children a sense of pride in the achievements made by these young people in many fields such as politics, sports, inventions, science, the military and technology.

Grace Bedell hoped that Abraham Lincoln would win election even though she was only eleven years old. She feared that Lincoln’s face was too thin and thought that he needed whiskers. Grace persuaded her father to mail Lincoln her letter. To their surprise he answered her but made no promises. Before he was inaugurated President, Lincoln visited her home town of Westfield, New York and sought out the little girl who had written to him. He told her that he had grown a full beard just for her. In 1999 a statue was erected in Westfield commemorating that day. The letter that she wrote to Lincoln sold for one million dollars.

Jackie Mitchell was sixteen in 1931, and she was the only female on the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league baseball team. The Yankees came to play exhibition ball. When she took the mound and faced both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the crowd was astounded when she struck out both of these baseball giants.

Willie Johnston of Vermont went off to battle in the Civil War with his father. Because he was a child, the only role he could play was that of a drummer boy. He fought in at least twenty five battles. At the age of thirteen he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for Bravery. He kept drumming and never left the battlefield. The drumsticks he used are in a museum.

In the 1890’s many orphans in cities sold newspapers. They were called “newsies.” When powerful editors like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raised their prices but not the wages paid to the children, they organized a strike and held up traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge for days. The owners tried to send thugs against them, but the newsies succeeded in getting the owners to buy back the newspapers. Their strike became a model for other cites and helped to change child labor laws and improve child welfare.

Sybil Ludington was a sixteen year old girl who lived in Kent, New York before the Revolutionary War broke out. Her father was a farmer and a Colonel in the local militia. On April 26, 1777, she volunteered to ride forty miles on horseback to gather volunteers and warn colonists that the British were burning the town of Danbury. Her warning allowed the colonists to muster forces and force the retreat of the British to Long Island.

I think that any boy or girl will find at least a few of these stories inspiring. Teachers will be able to select one or more as a springboard for discussion and research on many topics. My guess is that any adult who shares this book with a child will learn a thing or two as well!