Civil War books for kids can help spark an interest in history or fuel a fire that's already been lit. The Civil War was not only the last war fought entirely on U.S. soil, but it had the highest number of U.S. casualties, and this makes it an object of fascination for many kids. While some of the earliest works written about the war tended to be one-sided, the authors of today try to take a more balanced view of both sides of the conflict.
- Ghost Cadet by Elaine Marie Alphin (Grades 3-5). Benjy, who spends the summer with his grandmother in Virginia, feels miserable and lonely until he makes a new friend—the ghost of a cadet killed at the Battle of New Market in 1864! Only Benjy can help his new friend solve a problem that's been bugging him for over a century. In the process, he learns what it means to be a hero, and what it means to be a friend.
- Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen (Grades 5-8). Charley Goddard, at age 15, enlists in the First Minnesota Volunteers in 1861. Four years later, he returns home, feeling much older and sadder, if no wiser, as he realizes there may have been little point to the sacrifices made by his fallen comrades. This book can be a wrenching read, but older readers will appreciate Charley's attempts to make sense of the nightmarish experience.
- Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco. (Grades 3-5). Pinkus Aylee, a former slave turned Union soldier, saves the life of a young Confederate named Sheldon Curtis (also known as Say). The two become close friends who stick together right up until the end when they are torn apart. Their story is told from the point of view of Say, who was one of the author's own ancestors.
- Bull Run by Paul Fleischman. (Grades 5-8). Sixteen different voices narrate this story: soldier and civilian, slave and free, male and female, young and old, Yankee and Confederate. All tell the tale of how their lives were changed by the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major conflict of the Civil War. This book won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction and made many 1993 and 1994 best books lists.
- My Last Skirt: The Story of Jennie Hodgers, Union Soldier by Lynda Durrant (Grades 5-8). Jennie Hodgers was a real woman who lived her life dressed as a man, from the time she left Ireland through her three years with the 95th Illinois Infantry. She even kept up the disguise after the war; her true identity was discovered shortly before her death. Although this book is a novel, it is based on the true story of the soldier who was known as Albert Cashier.
- Girl in Blue by Ann Rinaldi. (Grades 5-8). Sixteen-year-old Sarah Louisa has no intention of allowing herself to be forced into marriage, so she disguises herself as a boy and runs off to join the 2nd Michigan Infantry. Although she is eventually found out, she winds up working as a spy for Allan Pinkerton's fledgling Secret Service. Excitement, intrigue and a spunky heroine make this a great read for girls who don't picture themselves as Scarlett O'Hara-type Southern belles.
- Ghosts of the Civil War by Cheryl Harness (Grades 3-5). This graphic novel-style book tells the story of Lindsey, who is less than enthused about attending a Civil War reenactment until she meets a young boy who turns out to be the ghost of Willie Lincoln! Willie (son of Abe) takes her on a time traveling trip where he explains what caused the war, how it developed and how it ended.
- Civil War by John E. Stanchak (Grades 3-5). Part of the popular Dorling-Kindersley Eyewitness non-fiction series, this book consists primarily of pictures with accompanying text in captions, boxes and sidebars. Weapons, battles, uniforms, commanders and everyday activities all come to life in this stunning visual history.
- Fields of Fury: The American Civil War by James M. McPherson (Grades 3-5). Pulitzer Prize-winning historian McPherson manages to break down a comprehensive history of the Civil War into 41 bite-size, kid-friendly chapters. Numerous illustrations, sidebars of "quick facts" and eyewitness accounts, including many from children, make this book a fun read for all ages.
- The Civil War for Kids: A History with 21 Activities by Janis Herbert (Grades 3-5). This is definitely the book for readers who prefer to be doers, as it provides a wealth of hands-on activities to accompany the information it provides. As he reads about battles, leaders and everyday life during the Civil War, your budding historian will also learn to build a lean-to shelter, bake hardtack, create a secret code and make a soldier's uniform.
Any of these Civil War books for kids is practically guaranteed to make a hit with your history-obsessed kiddo or help make a history buff out of him even if he thought the war was one big snoozefest. Prepare for words like Gettysburg, Antietam, and Shiloh to become household names, but be warned—you may learn a bit more than you ever wanted to about the gruesome battlefield injuries and surgical procedures!