by Pat Scales
October is Family History Month, and school and public libraries have many books to help readers focus on the idea of family heritage. Some families have family trees that date back to the time their ancestors immigrated to America. Others may only know names of two or three generations. Family history projects in schools have sometimes been an issue with adopted children: Do they place their name on the tree of their adoptive family? Many families have no problem with this, while others feel as though it doesn’t represent the truth of their child’s heritage. In the event this is an issue with their parents, these readers may focus on fictional families (as in the activities below for all readers). If the adoption is a foreign adoption, then these readers should be asked to share something about the culture of their birth.
● Have readers ask the oldest member of their family to tell a favorite story from his or her childhood.
Then read aloud the picture book Grandfather Tang’s Story by Ann Tompert, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker.
Have readers use the method of storytelling used in the book and tell their family story to the group. (Even adopted
children may find this a fun activity.)
● A good way to help readers focus on family history is to look at old family photographs. Ask them to make
photocopies or digital copies of at least five photographs (don’t risk losing the originals) and write captions for
each photograph. These may include school pictures, baby pictures, and family reunion photos.
● Have readers find out about an object that has been in their family for generations. Perhaps it’s a household item, a
baby garment, a toy, or a wedding dress. Then have them draw a picture or take a digital photograph of the item
and write a creative story about it.
● Invite someone who immigrated to the United States to talk with the group about their family’s immigration story.
Prepare for the speaker by having students read one of the following:
All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
(picture book) by Dan Yaccarino
I Will Come Back for You: A Family in Hiding During World War II
(picture book) by Marisabina Russo
Children of the River (middle Crew) by Linda Crew
A House of Tailors (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff
Ashes of Roses (young adult) by Mary Jane Auch
Enrique’s Journey (young adult) by Sonia Nazario
Goodbye, Vietnam (young adult) by Gloria Whelan
● Ask readers to read one of the following books and then write a family history for the main character. Be creative,
and embellish the story by taking it back two more generations.
Stitchin’ and Pullin’ (picture book) by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Child of the Mountains (middle grade) by Marilyn Sue Shank
Family Ties (middle grade) by Gary Paulsen
The Mighty Miss Malone (middle grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis
Nest (middle grade) by Esther Ehrlich
The Quilt (middle grade) by Gary Paulsen
Hattie Big Sky (young adult) by Kirby Larson
The House of Djinn (young adult) by Suzanne Fisher Staples
Orchards (young adult) by Holly Thompson
Roots and Wings (young adult) by Many Ly
What the Moon Saw (young adult) by Laura Resau
● Have readers make Family Heritage Boxes. Decorate them with photocopies of old photographs. Then pick at least
five items to include in the box that would tell their personal story to future generations.
● Refer to the following websites for ideas of other ways to celebrate Family History Month.