Pioneer Books, Immigration, Orphan Trains, more topics

US History Project Ideas

The classics of all pioneer books are the ones in the well-loved Little House on the Prairie series, set in the 1870’s. But don’t miss other great pioneer books! One of our favorites is Dakota Dugout, which will give your child a better idea of what living in a prairie “soddy” was like.

The selection for the 1880’s and 1890’s have widely varying themes! You will find books on the Statue of Liberty, European immigration, the Johnstown Flood, and the Orphan Trains.

Speaking of Orphan Trains, Train to Somewhere is a good choice to learn about this topic. And then discuss this with your students, asking questions like…What were Orphan Trains? Was this a good solution to the orphan problems? What do you think the kids experienced?

Read below for our picks for good pioneer books and other topics of late 1800’s America.


Centennial Celebration (The American Adventure #25) by Joann A. Grote. UE-JH
Christian historical fiction.

Dakota Dugout by Ann Turner, illus. Ronald Himler. Macmillan, 1985. E-UE
Despite the short narrative, the poetic words and the pencil sketches on each page truly give a renewed sense of the difficulties of the prairie pioneer living in a sod house.

The Little House Collection: Little House in the Big Woods/Little House on the Prairie/Farmer Boy/On the Banks of Plum Creek/By the Shores of Silver Lake/The Long Winter/Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. E-UE
The stories of Laura’s experiences with her pioneer family in the Midwest have become classic American favorites. See My First Little House Books below, The Caroline Years & Farmer Boy in 1860s, and Little House on Rocky Ridge in 1890s.

My First Little House Books series: Winter on the FarmPrairie DayDance at Grandpa’sGoing WestWinter Days in the Big WoodsCounty FairSugar SnowThe Deer in the Wood illus. by R. Graef, H. Jones & J. Wheeler. K-E
Selected stories from the Little House series written & illustrated for the younger child.

An Orphan for Nebraska by Charlene Joy Talbot. Macmillan Publishing Co., 1979. E-UE
A boy arrives in America from Ireland as an orphan, and his uncle is not able to care for him. He survives on the streets as a newsboy, but when the Children’s Aid Society finds a home for him in Nebraska, he ventures into the American West for a new life. Along with historical themes, this book incorporates how printing newspapers was done in the late 1800’s, fronier life on the prairie, and the grasshopper “plague.”

The Story of Thomas Alva Edison (Landmark Books) by Margaret Cousins. Landmark Books. E-UE

Wagon Wheels (I Can Read Books) by Barbara Brenner, illus. Don Bolognese. Harper & Row, 1978. E
An African-American pioneer story. Three young brothers courageously travel alone in the frontier west to find their father. Based on a true story.


Beautiful Land: A Story of the Oklahoma Land Rush by Nancy Antle.

Building Liberty: A Statue is Born by Serge Hochain. National Geographic, 2004. E-UE
Watch the Statue of Liberty take shape through the eyes of 3 boys: a French apprentice, a French sailor, and an American newsboy. Color illustrations for every short paragraph tell the fascinating story. Pair this with a Statue of Liberty craft!

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.

The Day It Rained Forever: A Story of the Johnstown Flood (Once upon America) by Virginia T. Gross.

Gold in the Hills by Laurie Lawlor. Walker, 1995. UE+

Julie by Catherine Marshall. HS
Fiction based on the Johnstown Flood. Good story, dramatizing how and why it happened.

A Man for All Seasons: The Life of George Washington Carver
Large, colorful illustrations and clear storytelling make this book a winner. It takes you from Carver’s birth to his death, describing all the inspirational achievements of his well-lived life.

Paperboy by Isabelle Holland. Holiday House, 1999. UE
Setting is New York City and the difficult existence of an Irish immigrant family. A boy learns that there is opportunity for all in America if you are willing to work hard and follow your dreams.

The Story of the Statue of Libertyby Betsy Maestro & Giulio. Harper Collins, 1989. E-UE
With just one short paragraph per 2-page spread and full-page, full-color illustrations, this book is entertaining and easy to read without sacrificing content. If you get only one book on the Statue of Liberty, make it this one! Recommended.

Train to Somewhere by Eve Bunting, illus. Ronald Himler. Clarion Books, 1996. E-UE
A picture book based on the Orphan Trains with a hint of sadness, but a happy ending.


The Bite of the Gold Bug: A Story of the Alaskan Gold Rush (Once upon America) by Barthe DeClements, illus. Dan Andreasen. Viking, 1992. UE
A short chapter book. Story illustrates what it was really like for men (and in this story, a boy) to leave home to pan for gold in Alaska.

Chicago World’s Fair by Joann A. Grote, illus. Adam Wallenta. UE-JH Christian historical fiction.

City of Orphans by Avi, illus. Greg Ruth. Atheneum Books (Simon & Shuster), 2011. UE-JH
Newbery Medal. Set in 1893, the book depicts the hard life on the streets of the orphans and the very poor in New York City. Good adventure story with a happy ending, but with a street gang as the primary antagonist in the tale, the fighting scenes may be too upsetting for the younger or sensitive child.

Danger on the Flying Trapeze (Trailblazer Books) by Dave & Neta Jackson. E-JH
Christian historical fiction. Chicago World’s Fair & D. L. Moody.

The-Forty-Acre Swindle (Trailblazer Books) by Dave & Neta Jackson. E-JH
Christian historical fiction. George Washington Carver.

Little House on Rocky Ridge by Roger Lea MacBride. Series includes: Little Farm in the Ozarks, In the Land of the Big Red Apple, On the Other Side of the Hill, Little Town in the Ozarks, New Dawn on Rocky Ridge, and On the Banks of the Bayou.
This series of books takes up where the Little House on the Prairie (see 1870s) series ends. Written by the adopted grandson and heir of Rose Wilder Lane (Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter).

Little Yellow Fur by Wilma Pitchford Hays, illus. Richard Cuffari. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1973. E-UE
This book is based on the author’s experiences as a little girl growing up in South Dakota near an Indian reservation. A child wins the hearts of a neighboring tribe. An easy chapter book for UE, it also gives a glimpse into the homesteading life of the American pioneer in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Streets of Gold by Rosemary Wells, illus. by Dan Andreasen. Dial Books, 1999. E-UE
A Jewish family suffers under the Russian Czar and must leave friends and family for a better life. Tells of their experiences in Russia, their journey, and their settling in America.

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