Children’s and Young Adult Literature for Teaching Different Perspectives

on the Westward Movement or Invasion


Dr. Ava L. McCall


Brenner, B. (1978). Wagon wheels. New York: HarperTrophy.


Picture book, lower elementary. The text is historical fiction, but is based on a real African American family who traveled to Kansas in 1878 to create a new home on land available from the Homestead Act. This family’s story is similar to many African Americans who left the South after the Civil War to find better homes in the West. The father and his three children at first settle in Nicodemus, Kansas, an African American community. They build their dugout home and survive the first harsh winter with food provided by the Osage. However, in the spring, the father leaves the three children alone in search for a better place to live. The children stay alone for several months until their father writes that he has a new home. To the children’s credit, they walk 150 miles to find their father.

Duncan, D. (1996). People of the West. Boston: Little, Brown.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The text and numerous photographs portray the diversity of people who have lived at one time in the "West." The text portrays the racist policies of the U.S. government and the racism of European Americans toward native people, specifically the Hidatsas, the Nez Perces, and the Cayuse. European Americans and the U.S. government destroyed many tribes' food and shelter, forced them to move from their homelands, and tried to make them change their way of life and beliefs. For Chinese men, the West provided opportunities for work by building the transcontinental railroad, although these men received fewer benefits than European and European American workers earned and endured racism. The contributions these men made in helping to complete the railroad was not acknowledged, despite the loss of 1,200 Chinese lives in the process. For African Americans, opportunities to homestead in Kansas offered some respite from the few economic opportunities in the South after slavery was abolished. Racism directed against African Americans also existed in Kansas.

Freedom, R. (1983). Children of the wild West. New York: Clarion Books.


Chapter book, upper elementary/middle school level. The author credits western histories and memoirs for providing the content for the text. In addition, he cites the sources for quotes and the many historical photographs which illustrate the text. The first pioneers to travel west by wagon train left in 1841, which corresponded to the development of photography to record this important migration. The author describes a typical day along the trail and some of the hazards the pioneers faced crossing rivers, enduring storms, traveling through the mountains and deserts, and facing accidents and diseases. He describes what it was like for pioneers to reach their destination and build their first homes. An important chapter focuses on American Indians and the author’s assertion that pioneers traveled through Native people’s lands. He also focuses on the diversity among Native nations, relationships between pioneers and Native people, Native children’s lifestyles, efforts to take Native people’s land and urge them to adopt European American lifestyles, and finally, battles between the U.S. army and Native warriors. The book also includes descriptions of some of the first schools, teachers, and students in the West, children’s responsibilities and jobs, and ways children had fun. Although the author has few quotes from Native people, he attempts to provide both European American and Native American perspectives on European Americans migration west.

Freedman, R. (1996). The life and death of Crazy Horse. New York: Holiday House.


Upper elementary/middle school level. This text is a detailed, moving narrative of Crazy Horse’s life, one of the most well-known Teton Sioux warriors. It is embellished with ledger art created by Amos Bad Heart Bull, a cousin of Crazy Horse, who lived in the late 1800s and completed 400 pictographs depicting the history of the Oglala Sioux, one of the seven tribes of the Teton Sioux. The author encourages readers to empathize with Crazy Horse and his people by providing a strong “insider’s” perspective on the Sioux and the hardships they endured at the hands of the U.S. Government. During the mid 1800s when Crazy Horse was growing up, the Teton Sioux were the strongest and largest Native American nation. By the time Crazy Horse became a man, the Teton Sioux were fighting to save their hunting grounds and lifestyle, which were threatened by invading European Americans and U.S. Government’s efforts to take their lands. Crazy Horse was a very quiet man who spent a great deal of time alone. When in battle, he did not wear war paint, dressed according to a vision he had as a young boy, and took no scalps. He was also humble and refused to boast about his accomplishments as a warrior. The author describes in detail the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 when Crazy Horse led his warriors in defeating General Custer as well as his surrender to soldiers at Camp Robinson in 1877, his betrayal by rivals in his own tribe, and his murder at the camp.

Garland, S. (2000). Voices of the Alamo. New York: Scholastic.


Picture book, upper elementary level. In the historical note, the author explains the different people who lived in what is now known as the state of Texas and the events leading up to and following the Battle of the Alamo. She also acknowledges the Alamo’s historian and curator, Dr. Richard Bruce Winders, for reviewing the manuscript and art for historical accuracy. The text itself, written in verse, presents the perspectives of different people who lived in or near the Alamo, including a Payaya maiden, a Spanish conquistador, Franciscan priests, Spanish soldiers, Tejano ranchers (Mexicans living in Texas), Texian farmers (Protestant Anglos who moved to Texas), General Santa Anna and President of Mexico, David Crockett (Tennessee volunteer), poor peasant Mexican soldier, William Barret Travis (Alamo commander), a drummer in the Santa Anna’s army, Susanna Dickinson (only Anglo survivor of the battle), and General Sam Houston (of Texas army). The author encourages readers to remember the many people who contributed to a part of Texas history and how it became part of the United States.

Goble, P. (1987). Death of the iron horse. New York: Bradbury.


Picture book, elementary level. This book is loosely based on the one incidence of a Native American tribe derailing a train as an act of resistance to European American invasion into their land. In 1867, a Union Pacific freight train was derailed by Cheyennes during its journey from Omaha to North Platte, Nebraska. The book portrays a Cheyenne perspective on how they were treated by European Americans including European Americans' greed for land and their destruction of Cheyenne people and villages. However, as the book explains, the Cheyennes were not just victims, they also fought against these injustices.

Goble, P. (1992). Red Hawk’s account of Custer’s last battle. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.


Picture book, upper elementary/middle school level. Paul Goble not only provides an Oglala perspective on the Battle of Little Bighorn, but also illustrates the text in a style used by Plains people in paintings on their tipi or buffalo robes. The text includes a fictional young Oglala male, Red Hawk’s narrative of the battle, but also background information on Custer, Chief Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse, who led the warriors in battle. Goble explains that the U.S. Government wanted to force the Sioux and Cheyenne onto reservations so European Americans were free to move west. Custer wanted to be part of this effort in order to gain personal glory and become president. Red Hawk describes the bravery of the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Oglala warriors as well as that of the U.S. soldiers in his narrative of the battle. However, despite their victory, Red Hawk communicates the destruction of the battle for warriors, horses, and children. The final outcome of the interaction between European Americans and Native people was the removal of Native people to small pieces of land White people did not want.

Katz, W. L. (1995). Black women of the old West. New York: Atheneum Books.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The text includes historical photographs to illustrate African American women's presence in the settlement of the West in the 19th century. African American women as well as men escaped from slavery to live with Native Americans in the West, moved into free states in the Midwest and West and insisted on their freedom, and moved west more freely after the Civil War and emancipation. African Americans faced discrimination in the West in jobs, housing, education, and restaurants, but they also found less racial anger and violence than they experienced in the South. African American women ran laundries, hotels, farms, carting firms, taught school, wrote for newspapers, herded cattle and horses, and protested for civil rights in addition to caring for their homes and families and improving the spiritual and economic conditions of their people.

Kimmel, E. C. (2003). As far as the eye can reach: Lewis and Clark’s westward quest. New York: Random House.


Chapter book, upper elementary level. The book appears to be well-researched with a list of references and photo credits listed at the end. The author clarifies the purpose of the Lewis and Clark expedition: to claim the territory west of the Mississippi for the U.S., find a river route to the Pacific (the Northwest Passage), stop the land claims from other countries, and win the trust and favor of the Native nations along the journey. They hired a crew of over 35 men, including York, Clark’s slave, and set out by boat in 1804. The text describes the health problems, fatigue, and different encounters and relationships they had with various Native nations along the route. The author describes how the French Canadian Toussaint Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife Sacagawea came to join the expedition. Lewis and Clark wanted Sacagawea to communicate with her people and obtain the horses they needed to cross the mountains. The author notes that perhaps Sacagawea’s greatest contribution was saving Lewis’s and Clark’s detailed maps, journals, and drawings from floating away when one of the boats turned on its side. In addition, she also gathered local roots and berries to add to the group’s diet. Sacagewa communicated with the Shoshone to trade goods for horses and obtain directions for crossing the Rocky Mountains. However, the crossing itself was extremely treacherous followed by travel along fast-moving rivers. The author concludes that Lewis and Clark met the goals of their mission: crossed the continent to the Pacific Ocean, although they did not find the Northwest Passage.

Knight, A. S. (1993). The way West: Journal of a pioneer woman. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks.


Picture book, elementary level. The text contains the journal of Amelia Stewart Knight as she, her husband, and seven children travel from Iowa to the Oregon Territory in 1853. Readers learn of illnesses, accidents, the effects of the weather on traveling in covered wagons, interactions with Native Americans, and the challenges of crossing rivers. Most entries reflect the difficulties of the journey. Native people, for the most part, were helpful to pioneers by trading or selling food and assisting in crossing rivers, for a fee.

Lowery, L. (2002). One more valley, one more hill: The story of Aunt Clara Brown. New York: Landmark Books.


Middle school level. The text is based on historical research of secondary sources and original documents, including letters, diaries, newspapers, magazines, and recorded interviews. It focuses on the inspirational life of Aunt Clara Brown, who was born a slave, but was freed at the age of 56 and eventually became one of the wealthiest women in the West. The text provides descriptions of the racism African Americans experienced during and after slavery as they moved west into “free” states. It also provides an African American perspective on the racism directed against Native people as “pioneers” traveled through and settled on Native people’s land. Aunt Clara was a deeply religious woman, which helped her bear the painful losses of one daughter to drowning and her husband and children to the auction block. Throughout the remainder of her life, Aunt Clara sought to find the one daughter she believed was still living. In an effort to live in a state where she felt free, Aunt Clara obtained the job of cooking and washing for trail hands on a wagon train as they traveled from Kansas to Colorado. In Colorado, Aunt Clara’s laundry business prospered, but rather than spend money on herself, she fed and housed people, especially miners, who needed a place to live, and held prayer meetings at her home. In exchange for food and shelter, miners shared their profits with Aunt Clara, which enabled her to purchase houses and land and grow her nest egg. Aunt Clara became one of the most respected members of her community and one of the Colorado Pioneer Society members. However, as long as she was able, she helped ex-slaves and people in need. When Aunt Clara suffered financial losses, community members supported her search for and union with her one surviving daughter.

Miller, B. M. (1995). Buffalo gals: Women of the old West. Minneapolis: Lerner.


Upper elementary and middle school level. The author includes women from different cultural backgrounds and provides descriptions of women who emigrated west and endured the challenges of cooking, crossing rivers, and giving birth on the journey. Once African American and European American arrived at their destination, they struggled to build homes and endure the isolation they often felt. Women also worked as teachers, writers, cooks, maids, farmers, ranchers, miners, and prostitutes to earn money as well as care for their families in the West. Picnics, quilting bees, harvest parties, church socials, and the theater provided necessary social outlets for women. Although women had few rights during the 19th century, the importance of women’s contributions to the survival of families in the West opened the door to greater rights, such as suffrage. The author closes the text by focusing on the clash of cultures among European Americans, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans.

Monceaux, M. & Katcher, R. (1999). My heroes, my people: African Americans and Native Americans in the West. New York: Frances Foster Books.


Picture book, upper elementary level. Monceaux also illustrated the text with drawings of African Americans and Native Americans who played important or minor roles in the history of the “West,” despite racism and discrimination. He described African Americans who were fur traders, cowboys, criminals, lawmen, stagecoach drivers, and buffalo soldiers and some of the ways they were unequal to European Americans in similar positions. Only a few African American women were depicted, but these women spent their lives helping others find more opportunities in the West. Several Native leaders were portrayed who were involved in conflicts with the U.S. Government over Native people’s land.

Pelz, R. (1990). Black heroes of the wild West. Seattle, WA: Open Hand.


Upper elementary level. Each chapter includes a short biography of an African American, including Estevan (explorer), Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable (founded Chicago), George Washington Bush (one of Washington state founders), James Beckwourth (guide), Clara Brown (Colorado settler and benefactor), Biddy Mason (obtained freedom from slavery in California and settled and prospered there), Mifflin Gibbs (lawyer and judge), and Mary Fields (Montana pioneer).

Savage, C. (2001). Born to be a cowgirl: A spirited ride through the old West. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press.


Upper elementary/middle school level and adult resource. The text is liberally illustrated with historical photographs and posters and focuses on cowgirls who rode across the prairies of western Canada and the U.S. beginning in the mid-19th century. The author provides readers with very interesting portrayals of individual cowgirls, how they learned to ride horses so well, the equipment they used, the clothing they wore for riding, diverse chores they completed as part of ranching, and how “ranch sports” led to the creation of rodeos in the late 19th century. Although few women ride broncs and bulls at rodeos today, most rodeo cowgirls concentrate on barrel racing or racing their horses around barrels in loops and different patterns.

Thomas, J. C. (1998). I have heard of a land. New York: Joanna Cotler Books.


Picture book, elementary level. Written in verse, the author describes the possibilities for women and African Americans to obtain land in Oklahoma during the late 19th century. Building on family stories of her African American great-grandparents move to Oklahoma, the author focuses on one African American woman pioneer who plants crops, grows all the food she eats, sleeps in a sod hut, and builds a log cabin with the help of her neighbors. The Oklahoma Territory was one of the few places in the U.S. where a woman could own land in her own name. The text celebrates the possibilities for a better life in Oklahoma for women and African Americans.

Turner, A. (1997). Mississippi mud: Three prairie journals. New York: HarperCollins.


Picture book, elementary level. The text includes journal poems written by three fictional children who traveled with their family from Kentucky to their new home in Oregon. Amanda tells of why they left Kentucky, her wish to ride astride a horse and shout, and her responsibilities on the trail. Caleb focuses on possessions other pioneers left on the side of the trail, the death of the family dog, his father’s purchase of a horse treated cruelly by his owner, and the rescue of the wagon from the Mississippi River. Lonnie writes about the birth of his youngest sister, the illness of another, young sister, his desire to plant peaches at his new home, and a brief encounter with a Native boy on horseback.

Van Leeuwen, J. (1994). Bound for Oregon. New York: Puffin Books.


Chapter book/upper elementary level. In the author’s note, Van Leeuwen clarifies the text is historical fiction, but based on the book On to Oregon! A True Story of a Young Girl’s Journey into the West, which describes a young girl’s experiences on the Oregon trail in 1852. The narrator is nine-year-old Mary Ellen Todd, who provides her perspective on her family’s emigration to Oregon for a better life. On the journey, the family endured dangerous river crossings, storms, illnesses, especially cholera, injuries, shortages of food, water, and cooking fuel, loss of livestock, and encounters with Native people (called Indians by the pioneers). Readers learn about the travelers’ exhaustion from the journey, but their determination in solving problems they faced along the trail.

Viola, H. J. (1990). Sitting Bull. Austin, TX: Steck-Vaughn.


Picture book, upper elementary level. Sitting Bull was one of the most well-known leaders of the Lakota people, or Sioux. The book portrays the changes for the Lakota brought about when European Americans moved west and disrupted their dependence on buffalo. The conflict over land led to warfare between different tribes and European Americans. Sitting Bull and other tribes resisted moving to reservations because they viewed them as little more than prisons which disrupted their lifestyle and forced them to adopt European Americans' lifestyle. Sitting Bull was a leader in the defeat of Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn, but this victory was short lived due to the greater power of the U.S. government. However, his life is a symbol to people who resist oppression and fight for freedom.

Viola, H. J. (1998). It is a good day to die: Indian eyewitnesses tell the story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. New York: Crown.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The author has collected the accounts of several Native people who participated in or saw first hand the Battle of the Greasy Grass, sometimes called “Custer’s Last Stand” or “Battle of the Little Bighorn” by European Americans. Since none of the U.S. soldiers survived this battle, the only first hand accounts must come from Native people. In the introduction, the author provides a context for the battle by describing the many events which led to this conflict, including European Americans invading Native people’s lands; building railroads and trails through their lands; finding and mining gold in the Black Hills, a sacred place to Lakota and Cheyenne; and finally, trying to force the Lakota to move to the Great Sioux Reservation. Although the Lakota did not want to fight the U.S. soldiers, they fought back when attacked. Sitting Bull urges the warriors to fight, warriors dress for battle, and women take down tepees and urge the warriors on. The accounts portray the confusion, bravery, and death the Native people saw as well as the motivations for fighting.

Walker, P. R. (2006). Remember Little Bighorn: Indians, soldiers, and scouts tell their stories. Washington, DC: National Geographic.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The author attempts to present a balanced, well-reasoned perspective on the Battle of Little Bighorn, by quoting primary sources of Native people who wanted to hold onto their land and maintain their traditional way of life, soldiers who wanted to take Native people’s land for the U.S. government, and Native scouts who helped the U.S. soldiers. However, readers learn about the U.S. government’s relentless efforts to take Native people’s land, including the Black Hills of South Dakota despite treaties guaranteeing these lands for Native people. The text is embellished with paintings, drawings, and photographs of the battlefield as well as photographs of battle participants. The author provides a timeline of battles for Native people’s land from the 1600s through 1850 and the daily timeline for the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Wright, C. C. (1995). Wagon train: A family goes West in 1865. New York: Holiday House.


Picture book, elementary level. The author provides valuable information on African American history through the portrayal of the movement of African Americans to the West after the Civil War. The text focuses on an African American family who traveled with other African American families, all newly emancipated slaves on two plantations in Virginia, as they traveled to California along the Oregon Trail. The hardships of slavery provided the training to endure the difficulties of the trip and the incentive to begin life in a different part of the country. The author emphasizes the racial segregation of travel along the Oregon Trail with African Americans forced to travel separately from the bigger European American wagon trains. Despite the numerous challenges the family faced during the trip, the book closes with their safe arrival in California.

Yep, L. (1993). Dragon’s gate. New York: HarperTrophy.


Upper elementary/middle school level. The text is fiction, but is based on the author’s research of Chinese American’s participation in constructing the railroad during the 1860s. The text opens with the main character Otter attending school and living with his mother in China. However, an accident precipitates his escape to “safety” in the United States or the “Land of the Golden Mountain” to join his uncle and father in building the transcontinental railroad through the mountains. At this time, a number of men left their families in China to earn money in the United States, but planned to return to China. Readers are introduced to the racism directed against the Chinese men who helped construct the railroad and were forced to work longer hours, use explosives and complete other dangerous jobs, but were paid less than European American workers. If they resisted, they were whipped. Frequently, overseers would not allow Chinese men to leave the work camps to seek other employment. At one point the work group led by Otter’s uncle organized a strike and asked for higher pay, an eight-hour work day, and freedom from whippings by the railroad workers’ overseers. In the “Afterword” the author clarifies that an estimated 1200 Chinese workers died during the construction of the transcontinental railroad during the late 19th century, and countless others were injured. The strike portrayed in the text also occurred, although it received scant attention in California newspapers. Readers finish the text with some understanding of the racism and hardships Chinese men endured as they contributed to an important event in U.S. history.

Yin. (2001). Coolies. New York: Philomel Books.


Picture book, upper elementary level. The author and beautifully illustrated text portrays the story told to a young Chinese American boy about how his great great great grandfather and his brother came from China to the United States and help build the transcontinental railroad in the mid-1800s. The text reveals the dangerous, difficult work the Chinese American men experienced, but also the ridicule, racial discrimination, and threats to deport them to China if they protested. “Coolies” are defined as “lowly workers,” but the text encourages pride in the important contributions Chinese American men made to the completion of the transcontinental railroad.


Children’s Periodicals

Chorlian, M. (Ed.). (1995, February). Buffalo soldiers. Cobblestone, 16.


Elementary level. This issue contains articles which explain who Buffalo soldiers are (name Native people gave to African American soldiers serving in the West during the end of the 19th century who exemplified the courage and importance of the buffalo), the discrimination and prejudice these soldiers experienced, some of their accomplishments, honors they have received, and programs developed to teach children and youth about this aspect of U.S. history.

Chorlian, M. (Ed.). (1997, May). The Mormon pioneer trail. Cobblestone, 18.


Elementary level. The articles clarify why Mormons traveled west (religious persecution) to settle in Oregon; background on Joseph Smith, Mormon founder, and Brigham Young, Mormon leader; efforts to build rest and resupply stations in Iowa and Nebraska; children’s jobs and recreation along the trail; Mormon women’s contributions to the journey’s success; and the transportation used to complete the trip.

Chorlian, M. (Ed.). (1999, February). African American pioneers and homesteaders. Cobblestone, 20.


Elementary level. The articles focus on African Americans’ migration west following the Civil War. These African Americans were called “Exodusters” and were motivated to move to claim the 150 acres of free land promised by the Homestead Act of 1862 and the passage of the Black Codes in the South which denied rights to African Americans and kept them poor. Other articles focus on African American leaders who encouraged other African Americans to settle in Kansas, African American women who founded businesses and helped develop communities, the struggles of farming in the West, and the development of Nicodemus, Kansas as the first all-African American town west of the Mississippi.

Chorlian, M. (Ed.). (2008, January). Into the West. Cobblestone, 29.


Elementary level. Articles describe the mountain men who explored, trapped, and traded with Native people in the West; a description of a day on the California Trail in 1852; the unique aspects of the Mormon migration from eastern states to Utah; the forced removal of the Cherokees from Georgia to Oklahoma in 1838; the protective function of frontier forts for emigrants moving west; the importance of Pony Express riders in delivering mail to people living in the West from 1860 until 1861; the role of Chinese immigrants in building the transcontinental railroad from 1865 until 1869; the lure of the Homestead Act and its promise of free land in Kansas, Nebraska and other places in the West for African Americans or “Exodusters” after slavery; the life of cowboys who followed herds from cattle ranches to railheads and shipment to meatpackers and manufacturers in the North and East; the role of clothing and other tools in a cowboy’s life; and the factors contributing to the growth of boomtowns.

Nankin, F. (Ed.). (1980, May). The first transcontinental railroad, 1869. Cobblestone, 1.


Elementary level. Articles describe the historical events leading to the development of the transcontinental railroad, a fictional television newscast about the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the contributions of Chinese workers to the completion of the railroad, a description of a railroad trip by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1879, and possibilities about the future of railroads.

Nankin, F. (Ed.). (1981, December). The Oregon trail. Cobblestone, 2.


Elementary level. The issue provides an overview of why people traveled west along the Oregon trail and some of the dangers they faced, such as accidents and diseases and “Indian” raids on their livestock. Articles also describe the missionary work of Narcissa and Marcus Whitman among the Cayuse in Oregon Country, the wagons and daily routines of the pioneers on their journey, and a meeting between the Sioux Chief Red Cloud and President Grant to clarify the terms of a treaty.

Yoder, C. P. (Ed.). (1991, January). Annie Oakley and the wild west. Cobblestone, 12.


Elementary level. As part of the focus on Annie Oakley, articles concentrate on Oakley’s childhood; her marriage to Frank Butler, a sharpshooter, and their subsequent sharpshooting act; background information on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show which established stereotypes of Native American-cowboy relationships; and Oakley’s later years participating in shooting exhibitions and raising money for charities.

Annotated bibliography list