You know, not once have 7-year-old S or 2-year-old F expressed a burning desire to learn more about, say, the United States between 1875 and 1925. But in the U.S. history books I’ve been bringing home each month, that’s exactly how I’ve been compartmentalizing things — by sheer chronology. It makes things easy to plan, and the chronological approach is the way I was taught, so why shouldn’t it work for them?

Well, as I just said, they don’t care about the United States between 1875 and 1925. What they care about — depending on the time of day, the weather, what they had for lunch, what they caught a glimpse of while out and about, etc., etc. — are birds, rockets, sharks, explosives, banjos, apples, and so forth. And they aren’t exactly hiding these passions from anybody. It just takes a halfway attentive parent to pick up on them.

So, I’m going to keep introducing them to U.S. history, but I’m going to do it by theme — and the themes are going to be picked by S and F themselves, whether they realize it or not. Maybe it will take exactly a month for a theme to wear out its welcome — if so, how convenient for me. But some themes will take less time, others may take more, which will make it somewhat harder to plan these posts. So be it.

Many of the titles I’ll expose them to won’t look like history books at all, and some won’t even be children’s books. The idea is that I’m going to give them more of what they’re already passionate about, and let their curiosity and the contextual details in these books do the rest. And we’re going to start today, with birds.

The Bald Eagle’s View of American History (Charlesbridge, 6/06) has come along at just the right time for us. Author C.H. Colman and illustrator Joanne Friar place a bald eagle over the Bering land bridge as the first people arrive on the continent, and they entwine the stories of eagles and Americans up to the present day. The third strand in this episodic book, Colman’s passion for collecting stamps, depicts many of those intersections, such as the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division and “the Eagle has landed.”

Other bird books on our shelves these days include:

  • The Boy Who Drew Birds (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), by Jacqueline Davies and illustrated by Melissa Sweet: A delightful account of John James Audubon’s early years.
  • Sparrow Jack (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), by Mordecai Gerstein: How the sparrow saved Philadelphia.
  • Grandmother’s Pigeon (Hyperion, 1996) by Louise Erdrich and illustrated by Jim LaMarche: In this fantasy, three Passenger pigeons hatch — decades after the species became extinct.
  • The True Story of Stellina (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), by Matteo Pericoli: A baby bird grows up in an apartment in modern Manhattan — a city S and F will get to see for themselves in the next year.
  • Birdsong (Harcourt, 1997), by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Robert Florczak: A host of species and songs depicted among children in a variety of contemporary settings.
  • Backyard Birds (Houghton Mifflin, 1999), by Jonathan P. Latimer and Karen Stray Nolting and illustrated by Roger Tory Peterson: A children’s field guide filled — but not overstuffed — with information.
  • The Lives of Birds (Henry Holt, 1993), by Lester L. Short: Written for adults, but with answers to many of the questions (whatever they may be) I hope S and F will have.