The best way to learn how others feel is to walk a mile in their shoes, and author Rona Arato gives readers that opportunity in her 2011 illustrated chapter book, On An American Day: Story Voyages Through History, 1750-1899.
On an American Day gives a first-person account of the lives of eight teens ages 9+ (like Ms. Arato’s target audience) who help pilgrims, rise above slavery, pan for gold and overcome blindness during times in early America where innovation and tolerance were in their infancy.
There is young Patrick of Pennsylvania who fights off religious persecution; Native American Indian Little Fox, who helps feed General Washington’s starving men at Valley Forge; a blind girl named Emma who attends the burgeoning Perkins School for The Blind; and pre-teen Civil War drummer boy, Samuel, who drums for his Union regiment.
As children read these stories and more (eight in total), they will learn how teens just like themselves went about their everyday lives. They will learn what it was like to have to learn what it means to be free; how the world seems when one suddenly goes blind; how a teen copes with months away from his mother while he and his father pan for gold, and more.
They will also read and learn about famous lives, including Frederick Douglass, Clara Barton, George Washington, and General Stonewall Jackson.
Ms. Arato text is both moderate-paced and age-appropriate text, however, because each child’s story seems unwaveringly similar, the text can tend to become a bit cumbersome. Still, the author’s research is meticulous, and the provision of this wide range of early American scenarios should make for excellent supplemental reading in upper-elementary or middle school Social Studies, Civics and Geography classes.
Artist Ben Shannon’s illustrations capture every facial expression and landscape detail, and are an excellent complement to other archival photos in the book.
For a great dose of history with a first-hand twist, parents, teachers and school librarians should consider purchasing this informative book.
Best wishes and happy reading,