7th Grade Texas History (Texas)
Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition (Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca) – This true story is the first major narrative detailing the exploration of North America by Spanish conquistadors (1528-1536). The author, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, was a fortune-seeking Spanish nobleman and the treasurer of an expedition sent to claim for Spain a vast area of today's southern United States. In simple, straightforward prose, Cabeza de Vaca chronicles the nine-year odyssey endured by the men after a shipwreck forced them to make a westward journey on foot from present-day Florida through Louisiana and Texas into California. I found this one a bit of a stretch for the average 7th-grader, but many actual Texas History teachers tell me they have great success using it or excerpts from it.
Gone To Texas (Donald Worcester) – Ellis P. Bean is seventeen and wants adventure. Philip Nolan is a soldier of fortune who invites him along on an expedition to capture wild mustangs in Texas. Nolan promised Ellis a few months of thrilling excitement capped off by enough gold to make it worth his while. Unfortunately, they’re mistaken for an invasion force by Spanish cavalry and Nolan is killed. Bean finds that adventure he wanted, but not in the form he’d anticipated. Based on real events.
The Raven’s Bride (Elizabeth Crook) – This novel tackles Sam Houston circa 1829 – friend of Andrew Jackson, governor of Tennessee, and bemused player of women. Crook fleshes out Houston and Jackson in interesting ways, and speculates generously regarding Eliza Allen, the young woman to whom Houston is married for a scant eleven weeks before he bails for Texas. I enjoyed this one, although it's fairly lengthy and has enough sexually explicit moments that I'm hesitant to endorse it without reservations. Still – a daring attempt to bring to life some complex characters and circumstances.
Ride the Wind (Lucia St. Clair Robson) – In 1836, when she was nine years old, Cynthia Ann Parker was kidnapped by Comanche Indians. This is the story of how she grew up with them, mastered their ways, married one of their leaders, and became, in every way, a Comanche woman. It is also the story of a proud and innocent people whose lives were very much interwoven with the land itself. This book is rather explicit when addressing the violence and sexual behavior of the day, and the length is that of a very adult novel. Although solidly researched and well-written, I'm not sure most 7th graders will be ready for its length or its tawdry passions. Several actual Texas History teachers disagree.
Where the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker (Carolyn Meyer) – In December 1860, a 34-year-old woman, Naduah – kidnapped 25 years earlier by Comanche Indians – was “rescued'' by soldiers and returned to the white family who recognized her as their niece/sister/cousin Cynthia Ann Parker. This account blends fact and fiction, alternating third-person reminiscences of Naduah's life among the Comanche with journal entries by her 12-year-old cousin, Lucy. The Parkers' frustration at Cynthia Ann's reluctance to be “civilized'' and Naduah's longing for her Indian family and customs are both presented believably, along with a reasonable taste of life in early Texas. Not as rich in detail as some alternatives, but much more manageable to younger readers.
The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier (Scott Zesch) – On New Year's Day, 1870, Adolph Korn was captured by Apaches near his family's cabin in central Texas. Adolph was traded to a band of Quahada Comanches, with whom he lived until November 1872. The author's search into Korn's sad life led him to the similar stories of eight other children captured in Texas between 1865 and 1871. Drawing on his tenacious research and interviews with the captives' descendants, Zesch compiles a gripping account of the lives of these children as they lived and traveled with their Indian captors. He delves into the reasons for their "Indianization," which for most of them lasted the rest of their lives, and discusses why they couldn't adjust to white society. An engaging read dealing with the painful confrontations between whites and Indians during the final years of Indian Territory.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Jaqueline Kelly) – I liked this one so much I wrote an entire blog post about it. 11-year old Calpurnia Tate is an inquisitive girl in an upper middle-class Texas family as 1900 approaches. The tale is as much about scientific method and challenging the roles of women a generation or so before that was the trendy thing to do. I'd use this one in Texas History, American History, or pretty much any ELA or Science class. I like it that much.
Dark Water Rising (Marian Tate) – In early September 1900, the booming town of Galveston, Texas, was nearly obliterated by a storm that is now credited with killing nearly 8,000 inhabitants. Hale's novel brings the drama and post-traumatic stress of the storm to life and also paints a vivid picture of the city before the tragedy. Sixteen-year-old Seth is a newcomer to Galveston. He would like to pursue his father's trade, master carpenter, but his family has relocated to Galveston to give Seth and his siblings an opportunity for higher education. With some romance, some grappling with the racial dynamics of the times, a few appropriately grisly moments, and a very credible protagonist, this fine example of historical fiction has something for almost everyone. This title was recommended by an unusually high percentage of teachers surveyed – far more than any other single Texas title.
The Great Storm: The Hurricane Diary of J. T. King, Galveston, Texas, 1900 (Lisa Waller Rogers) – More than a century later, the Galveston hurricane of 1900 is still the largest natural disaster in American history. Pounding most of the historic island city to rubble, and claiming perhaps as many as eight thousand lives, the storm stranded Galveston’s stunned survivors without a bridge to the mainland. Extensive primary-source research forms the backbone of this rather exciting and richly detailed faux diary.
Hurricane: Deep in the Heart of Texas, Book One (Janice Thompson) – This one threw me a bit at first. The cover on my copy suggests something more traditionally romance-driven and I’d have assumed the “hurricane” was metaphorical had it not been recommended by a 7th Grade Texas History teacher specifically for this list. The series title almost got me in a bit of trouble as well – if you decide to order a Deep in the Heart of Texas series for class, make sure it’s not the one with scantily-clad cowboys on the cover and subtitles like Make Mine A Bad Boy. Upon diving in to Hurricane, however, all of that was quickly forgotten. Rather than tell multiple stories in comfortable individual narratives, Thompson rotates through brief glimpses into the inner lives of each of her protagonists, each marked almost clinically with the precise date and time – further heightening a drama of which those involved are blissfully unaware until it hits. She also does a wonderful job of creating very real, yet culturally representative characters – the reporter, the young nurse, the restless nun, the ambitious socialite, etc. When the flood strikes (er… spoiler alert?), the deaths with which Thompson confronts us are neither glorified nor sanitized. They’re sudden and harsh and sad and awkward, which I suspect is in keeping with the reactions of those there at the time. Because the suffering is neither overly glorified nor carefully couched in euphemism, it hits especially hard. Then again, I suppose that’s largely the point. The post-flood parts of the story become a bit more traditionally warm and fuzzy, and it's worth noting that pretty much every main character either finds Jesus, rediscovers the importance of family, or both. While that may raise an eyebrow or two in some public school settings, it's no so far-fetched to think that would be how much of Galveston in 1900 might respond to tragedy.
The Good Old Boys (Elmer Kelton) – Hewey Calloway has a problem. In his West Texas home of 1906, the land of the way of life that he loves are changing too quickly for his taste. Hewey dreams of the freedoms of a generation past – the footloose cowboy, endlessly wandering the open range. But times are changing whether he likes it or not, and every choice he makes means sacrificing the alternatives. I found myself thoroughly sucked into this one, but it should be manageable for reasonably strong 7th grade readers as well. Honestly, everything I've read from Kelton has potential for classroom use as well as being pretty gosh-darned nifty.
Sweetbitter (Reginald Gibbons) – Amid the suffocating racism and fear found in east Texas in 1910, half-Choctaw, half-white Reuben Sweetbitter and Martha Clarke, a white woman, fall in love. Forbidden to be seen together, they escape to the town of Harriet, where an influential friend of Martha helps them settle down and raise a family. Atypical of love stories, this realistic work maintains a historical perspective in lending the couple short-lived happiness. The themes are timely but a bit heavy – sacrifice, fear, and the loss of one's identity, as well as some very convincing anguish over frustrated love.
True Women (Janice Woods Windle) – Filled with tales of the strength and bravery of Texas women, this fictional family history covers 1831 to 1946. Featuring well-known historical figures as well as members of the King and Woods clans, it is a sort of Gone with the Wind , Texas-style. An intriguing blend of historical novel and family memoir. I found parts of this one a bit tedious, but I'm under the impression most teachers who use it pick-and-choose the chapters they like, which seems to work for them.
The Time It Never Rained (Elmer Kelton) – Charlie Flagg, an honest, if cranky, Texas rancher, fights through extended drought and other challenges in 1950s Texas. He’s determined to refuse government assistance and the loss of freedom he believes it carries. I really liked this one. It's adult length, but never inappropriate, and in tackling history brings up several modern “big questions” as well. Flagg’s wrestling with changes beyond his control brings a natural tension to the story without the need for manufactured “bad guys.” Throw in a coming-of-age tale or two and some bracing honesty about racial attitudes towards Mexican labor, and this is quite an enlightening piece of work.