Covered Wagon; Gold Rush Books

Gold Rush Books, the Pioneers, Westward Expansion, Slavery

US History Project Ideas

Gold Rush books dominate the topics of the 1850’s for popular reading choices! Other good titles on early immigrants & pioneers are listed first.

The Gold Rush books include a surprising number of picture books for the younger readers. A favorite for this age group is the picture book, Gold Fever. For later elementary to Junior High grades, a good choice for historical fiction is By the Great Horn Spoon.

There are many reading choices for themes about the Santa Fe Trail and pioneers moving west that could be included as one of the Gold Rush books as well. For the youngest readers, Old Crump is a must-read!

On a more serious note, books on Harriet Tubman can introduce the topic of slavery and the Underground Railroad (see a larger selection on the 1860’s—Slavery page). Also, take a look at the book on Prudence Crandall, who overcame difficult obstacles to establish a school for African Americans during this time period.


Kirsten: An American Girl: 1854 (The American Girls Collection/Boxed Set): The set includes these books: Meet Kirsten: An American Girl (American Girls Collection), Kirsten Learns a Lesson: A School Story (American Girls Collection), Kirsten’s Surprise: A Christmas Story (The American Girls Collection), Happy Birthday, Kirsten: A Springtime Story (American Girls Collection), Kirsten Saves the Day: A Summer Story (American Girls Collection), and Changes for Kirsten: A Winter Story (American Girls Collection) by Janet Shaw. The Pleasant Co. 1986. E-JH
Based on the life of a fictional American pioneer girl who immigrated from Sweden. Especially for girls.

Welcome to Kirsten’s World, 1854: Growing Up in Pioneer America (The American Girls Collection). Pleasant Co. UE-JH
Expanding on the Kirsten series, this book illustrates and explains many facets of the typical way of life of her time period and location.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest, illus. P.J. Lynch. Candlewick Press, 1997. E-UE
A picture book of a young immigrant girl’s journey to America., conveying her homeland, the journey across the ocean, Ellis Island, and life in New York City with beautiful illustrations. Recommended.

The Wind Wagon by Celia Barker Lottridge, illus. Daniel Clifford. Silver Burdett Press, 1995. E-JH
Fun, true story about one inventor’s experiment to travel across the prairie faster than the ox-drawn wagons. Short. Advanced E.

AMERICAN HISTORY: 1850s—Harriet Tubman & Slavery

Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling. Scholastic. UE+

Go Free or Die: A Story About Harriet Tubman (Carolrhoda Creative Minds Book) by Jeri Ferris, illus. Karen Ritz. E-UE

Listen for the Whippoorwill (Trailblazer Books) by Dave & Neta Jackson. E-JH
Christian historical fiction about Harriet Tubman. Curriculum Guide, Harriet Tubman: Curriculum Guide: Listen for the Whippoorwill (Trailblazer Curriculum Guides, 5), also available.

Prudence Crandall: Woman of Courage by Elizabeth Yates. JH-HS
Against all opposition, Prudence opens a school to educate African Americans.

AMERICAN HISTORY: 1850s—California Gold Rush

By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleishman. Little, 1988. E-JH
Fun, entertaining fiction based on the Gold Rush. A young boy and his butler face many adventures when they travel from Boston to find their fortune in California.

Calico Dorsey: Mail Dog of the Mining Camps by Susan Lendroth, illus. Adam Gustavson. Tricycle Press, 2010. E
Children will love the story of the dog who carried the mail during the Gold Rush days of the Old West. Based on a true story and filled with large, colorful illustrations, this heart-warming tale is sure to be a favorite.

Clipper Ship (I Can Read) by Thomas P. Lewis, illus. Joan Sandin. E
Travel east on a clipper ship from New York to San Francisco with the ship’s captain and his family.

Gold Fever by Verla Kay, illus. S. D. Schindler. K-E
Simple text with entertaining, descriptive pictures portray a farmer leaving his fields to travel through wilderness and desert in search of gold. The reality of the hard life in a mining camp and the lack of gold send him home again!

The Secret Valley (Trophy Chapter Book) by Clyde Robert Bulla. HarperCollins, 1949, 1977. E-UE
Short chapters and pencil drawings tell the charming tale of a family who heads west to find gold, but instead discovers what is truly important to a happy life.

AMERICAN HISTORY: 1850s—Santa Fe Trail & Westward Expansion

Along the Santa Fe Trail: Marion Russell’s Own Story by Marion Russell, adapted by Ginger Wadsworth, illus. by James Watling. Albert Whitman & Co., 1993. E-UE
Adapted from an original text, this book is a first-hand account of a young girl’s experiences on a wagon train heading to California along the Santa Fe trail. Full-color illustrations on every 2-page spread.

Carolina’s Courage by Elizabeth Yates. BJU Press, 1964. E-UE
A pioneer story. A girl from New Hampshire heads west with her family on a wagon train.

The Josefina Story Quilt (An I Can Read Book) by Eleanor Coerr, illus. Bruce Degen. HarperCollins, 1986. E
Delightful story of a young girl’s trip West on a wagon train centers around her pet and her quilt.

Old Crump: The True Story of a Trip West by Laurie Lawlor, illus. John Winch. Holiday House, 2002. K-E
True story of four children traveling West with a party of forty-niners who survive the hard journey only because of the family’s faithful ox. Well Done.

Ransom’s Mark: A Story Based on the Life of the Pioneer Olive Oatman (Daughters of the Faith Series) by Wendy Lawton. Moody Press. UE-JH
Attacked on the Santa Fe Trail with her family, Olive was taken captive by Indians, then ransomed by a different tribe.

Tree in the Trail by Holling Clancy Holling. E+
A tree growing on the Santa Fe Trail sees changes occur all around it for over 200 years.

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