California History - Books for Kids


If you're studying California history or are planning a California history trip with your kids, choose from this list to enhance what you're learning or better understand what you'll see.


In recent years, we've enjoyed several different California history road trips.  As each of our boys have gone through fourth grade (the year California schools cover our state's history) we planned special trips to see the places we were learning about.  These are great memories and will without a doubt be remembered as one of our educational highlights.


Our California History trips:

  • A 4 day road trip to visit 5 missions - click here
  • Yosemite & Gold Rush Country - click here
  • A Giant loop of Gold Rush country, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Coastal Missions - click here


By the Great Horn Spoon

by Sid Fleischman

In this rollicking adventure set during the California Gold Rush, Jack's aunt is forced to sell her beloved mansion to meet her debts. She is still unable to raise enough money to pay her creditors, and twelve-year-old Jack goes to California in search of gold to help her. Joined by his trusty butler, Praiseworthy, Jack finds adventure and trouble at every turn. Will Jack strike gold in San Francisco or come home empty-handed?


** There's also a Disney movie remake called "The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin"


Patty Reed's Doll: The Story of the Donner Party  

by Ms. Rachel K. Laurgaard and Ms. Elizabeth Sykes Michaels

In the winter of 1846, the Donner Party was stranded by heavy snows in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The pioneers endured bitter hardships and many of them died. But some survived, including eight-year-old Patty Reed, a girl filled with dignity and determination in the face of mortal danger. This is her story, as told by Dolly, the wooden doll she kept hidden in her dress.


** Patty' Reed's actual doll is on display in Sacramento at Sutter's Fort


Mr. Blue Jeans: A Story about Levi Strauss 

by Maryann N. Weidt

A six-chapter narrative of the life of the German Jewish businessman who settled in New York and then San Francisco after the Gold Rush, making millions selling denim work pants.


** There is a free tour in San Francisco at the factory location where Strauss first made and patented his famous blue jeans.


Blue Willow

by Doris Gates
To Janey Larkin, the blue willow plate was the most beautiful thing in her life, a symbol of the home she could only dimly remember. Now that her father was an itinerant worker, Janey didn't have a home she could call her own or any real friends, as her family had to keep moving, following the crops from farm to farm. Someday, Janey promised the willow plate, with its picture of a real house, her family would once again be able to set down roots in a community.  Blue Willow is an important fictional account of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, and has been called The Grapes of Wrath for children. It won a Newbery Honor and many other awards.



Island of the Blue Dolphins

by Scott O'Dell

This is the story of Karana, the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Year after year, she watched one season pass into another and waited for a ship to take her away. But while she waited, she kept herself alive by building shelter, making weapons, finding food, and fighting her enemies, the wild dogs. It is not only an unusual adventure of survival, but also a tale of natural beauty and personal discovery.


**Stop in at the Santa Barbara Mission to see Karana's tombstone.



by Scott O'Dell

A young Indian girl, caught between the traditional world of her mother and the present world of the mission, is helped by her Aunt Karana, whose story was told in Island of the Blue Dolphins.


**Be sure and visit the Santa Barbara mission to see Karana's tombstone and also to better understand mission life for the native Americans.



by John Muir and Joseph Cornell

A wonderful picture book biography for children on the life of John Muir.



The Camping Trip that Changed America

by Barb Rosenstock

A great book for children on the establishment of our National Parks with fun and engaging illustrations.



Song of the Swallows

by Leo Politi

Did you know the swallows return each year to the San Juan Capistrano mission?  This is a beautiful picture book illustrating that through the eyes of the main character, Juan.


**Stop in at the beautiful San Juan Capistrano Mission to see the swallows.  Even if the time of year is not quite right, you can still see their mud homes.



The Bracelet 
by Yoshiko Uchida

After the bombing on Pearl Harbor, many Japanese-Americans living in California were rounded up and forced to live in internment camps.  This is the story of young Emi and how a bracelet helped encourage her through this difficult time.


** Camp Manzanar - located on highway 395 just outside of Lone Pine, has a great museum and visitor's center.  Well-worth a visit for the whole family.



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