Kiddosphere: We the People: Books for Constitution Week
Do you remember taking a civics class? Learning about the branches and duties of government? Watching “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock? If so, it’s likely that younger generations do not. In fact, a 2016 comprehensive study of recent college graduates found that:
-Only 20.6% were able to identify James Madison as the “Father of Our Constitution.” (Most named Thomas Jefferson–clearly mixing up the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution.)
-Half of college graduates could not explain how the Constitution is amended.
-Nearly half incorrectly stated the term lengths of senators and representatives (Article 1, Section 1-2).
(As a contrast, 76.7% of college graduates over the age of 65 knew how the Constitution is amended.)
Constitution Week is September 17-23, making now a great time to study our Constitution and teach its value and importance to young citizens. The Daughters of the American Revolution have celebrated Constitution Week since 1956, as an effort to emphasize civic responsibility and pride. We have many outstanding books for young American readers to instill knowledge and pride in our great living document.
Granted, the Constitution is not the easiest (or most interesting) read. Luckily, Constitution Translated for Kids is a top-notch choice for learning about our Constitutional rights. The original text and kid-friendly translation are presented side-by-side.
Yes, you know that James Madison was the architect of the Constitution, but can you name any other signers other than Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin? The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution reveals the long and drawn out fight to create and ratify the original Constitution.
Jonah Winter’s picture book biographies are always fun and informative reads (hoping for a Lou Gehrig biography from him!) The Founding Fathers! Those Horse-Ridin’, Fiddle-Playin’, Book-Readin’, Gun-Totin’ Gentlemen Who Started America is a slightly irreverent take on the men who shaped our nation, specifically focused on the drawn-out battle to create our Constitution.
The “If You Were There” series is classic nonfiction (I remember reading them!), and still a worthy resource. If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution presents the basic facts and intriguing details in a fun-to-read question and answer format.
Russell Freedman is a giant in children’s nonfiction; winner of the 1988 Newbery Medal book Lincoln: A Photobiography, he continues to create unforgettable history reads. In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights is an eye-opening and thorough account of the tension-filled creation of the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments), as well as challenges to the Bill of Rights over time.
Kathleen Krull is another great in children’s nonfiction; she recently updated her A Kids’ Guide to America’s Bill of Rights for a new generation.
Shhh! We’re Writing the Constitution is another classic in children’s nonfiction.
If you want to read the original constitution, try The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation. Created in a graphic novel format, it’s a great choice for middle school students and higher.
Lynne Cheney, the former Second Lady of the United States, has made a post-White House career of writing children’s books on American history. We the People: The Story of Our Constitution is a picture-book length (30 pages) look at the delegation that formed the original Constitution.
Benjamin Franklin is inarguably one of our most fascinating and colorful characters in American history (and unique among the Founding Fathers in that he is the only person to have signed the three major documents that formed American independence: The Declaration of Independence, The Treaty of Paris, and the Constitution). Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin is a vibrant tribute to this unique man, complete with actual quotes.
Jean Fritz’s The Great Little Madison continues to be a memorable read about the “Father of Our Constitution” and the fourth president of the United States.
Don’t feel like tackling Ron Chernow’s massive Alexander Hamilton biography (I admit I’m looking a little askance at his enormous Ulysses S. Grant book coming out in October, but still can’t wait to read it!)? I recently finished Teri Kanefield’s impressive Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America, perfect for those wanting a more substantial read than our other Alexander Hamilton books for children.
Online information about the Constitution
Constitution Facts is not designed for children, but it’s a great resource for middle school students and older (and includes fun quizzes as well, including one that tells you which founding father you would vote for!).
For program highlights and staff suggestions for children and young adult readers, make Kiddosphere your source for all the latest on what to read and what to do for kids!
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library