Show Kids Another Side of History With Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States

Reading Time: 2 minutes
One of my favorite educational resources for children. Image: Triangle Square
One of my favorite educational resources for children. Image: Triangle Square

History books are often written by the victors — the big names in events. In school, we learn about a lot of names, dates, battles, laws, and movements. Less often do we read about the oppressed, the conquered, the silent, the every day folk. Howard Zinn changed all that for me when I read A People’s History of the United States in college.

Adapted from Howard Zinn‘s original, this juvenile version, A Young People’s History of the United States, is an eye-opening experience for children, especially those who have been taught the usual history material in school. Aimed for ages 10 and up, it simplifies Zinn’s original, shortening it, but still containing great detail and amounting in the same effect on children that the original had on me as a young adult.

“Wait, this is what history is about?”

My version is dark blue, since I read it in the early to mid 1990s, but this version has been updated to cover additional modern events. Image: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
My version is dark blue, since I read it in the early to mid 1990s, but this version has been updated to cover additional modern events. Image: Harper Perennial Modern Classics

Indeed. While the original digs deeply into each chapter topic, giving detail after detail, this version for kids instead gives a look into each subject, whetting their appetite for more. Enough detail is given to make the reader feel like they have learned about real people and events, but chapters are short enough to read in one sitting, and are also great read-alouds.

Covering topics such as slavery, the “purchase” of parts of Mexico, women’s history, the revolution against England, class struggle, the world wars, and civil rights, this book tells history from the perspective of every day people, and is an important counterpoint to traditional education’s point. The truth of history isn’t just one side’s version. There is always at least one other version of events, and usually many more. Each one of these perspectives is another truth of what happened. While Zinn’s books don’t cover all possible perspectives, of course, they train us to remember to question what we read, searching for other stories, other experiences.

That’s what A People’s History of the United States did for me, and I hope that A Young People’s History of the United States will have the same effect on my kids. Reading through the chapters as a family allows us to discuss what we read and share our reactions and questions. Sometimes the chapters give us more questions than answers. This leads us to keep questioning, keep seeking more versions of truth. I hope these books inspire you and your family as well.

A Young People’s History of the United States costs about $15 and is worth every penny. It is also fantastic for more casual adult students of history, if Zinn’s larger work is more than you want to sink your teeth into. For those who love detail and immersion, the original A People’s History of the United States also costs about $15. Either one of these books is a great gift idea for any American history lover on your holiday shopping list. And if you won’t take my word for it, perhaps you’ll listen to Matt Damon.

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