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American History Through Literature

September 24, 2000

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a soldier during the Civil War or a flapper in the Roaring '20s? Sometimes events and issues in American history can be better understood by reading a novel rather than a history book. While a history book may give you names, dates and places, novels can place you in the middle of events and let you see through the eyes of a person living at that time. To explore the American experience through literature, try out the direct links on The Times' Launch Point Web site,

Here are the best sites for getting your schoolwork done or for just having fun.

Level 1

Laura Ingalls Wilder: Frontier Girl: Find out the true story of this beloved author who wrote about living in a little house on the prairie, an experience that was prompted by the Homestead Act of 1862, which offered free land to settlers. Read historical documents, view archival photos and listen to Pa's fiddle music.

Kids Page (Historical Fiction: America): Have fun learning about what life was like at different times in America through this helpful reading list, which organizes books by era and reading level.

My Brother Sam Is Dead: Immerse yourself in the issues of the Revolutionary War as families divided on whether to remain loyal to the King of England or to join the fight for independence. Delve into the background of Christopher and James Collier's novel through historical documents, timelines, Webquests and other helpful resources.

Level 2

Tilford Middle School Historical Fiction Resources: Want to know more about what life was really like in earlier days of this county after reading such books as "Sarah, Plain and Tall" or "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry"? Explore various periods in U.S. history through this site, which matches novels with additional historical resources.

Literature: A Bridge to the Past: Discover what life was like in Jasper County, Ill., at the time of the Civil War, when Irene Hunt's novel "Across Five Aprils" takes place. Review photos, charts and articles that compare the Jasper County of the mid-1800s with the present day.

Internet Insights: Dragonwings: Learn about the story of Chinese immigrants arriving in California during and after the Gold Rush through Laurence Yep's novel "Dragonwings." This site offers accompanying materials: an eyewitness account of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, newspaper clippings from the time, and a photo trip to Angel Island.

Level 3

American Collection: Explore the Great Depression through the novels of John Steinbeck or the pre-Civil Rights South through Harper Lee's fiction in this outstanding collection of resources on American literature. This site offers an in-depth look at works by Eudora Welty, Langston Hughes, Henry James, Willa Cather, Esmerald Santiago and James Agee as well as a guide to Web resources on more than 50 American authors.

Outline of American Literature: Place literary works within their historical context as you learn about such periods as Transcendentalism and the Harlem Renaissance and get acquainted with the works by authors of that time.

Mark Twain Home Page: Ernest Hemingway once said that "all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn.' There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." Learn about Mark Twain's life and work through this comprehensive site.

Launch Point is produced by the UC Irvine department of education, which reviews each site for appropriateness and quality. Even so, parents should supervise their children's use of the Internet. This column was designed by Cynthia Mason, Jenna Widelock and Anna Manring.


The answer to this Internet quiz can be found in the sites at right.

Why was Angel Island known as the "Ellis Island of the West"?

CLUE: See Internet Insights: Dragonwings

Find What You Need to Know: Have a project on California history? Need help doing a math problem? Launch Point now covers more than 100 topics for getting your schoolwork done. Go to for the full list of subjects and direct links to the best Internet sites.

Answer to last week's Quest: The modern pentathlon consists of horse riding, fencing, shooting, swimming and running.

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