Discovering Elements of Urban Culture in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century from a Children’s Book

This post is by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress.

The Rocket Book

The Rocket Book

In the May/June 2016 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article featured The Rocket Book, a children’s book published in 1912.

The details contained in both the story’s prose and its illustrations—from the names and occupations of the tenants to the pastimes and inventions depicted—provide a unique glimpse of urban life in America in the early years of the twentieth century.

We suggested:

  • reading The Rocket Book aloud, then providing small groups of students with individual pages from the book to analyze what they observe, reflect upon, and question;
  • inviting students to share their work;
  • writing their responses on the board (or including them in a shared electronic document), and identifying categories that reflect elements of culture; and
  • leading a discussion about urban culture in America at the turn of the twentieth century; asking students to consider what details might be the same or different in a similarly-themed child’s book written today, or one written 50 years earlier; and asking to what extent they think the scenes depicted in The Rocket Book were typical in American cities at the time it was published.

Then, we suggested extending this activity by encouraging student research into the Progressive era, or, more specifically, into the activities of Jacob Riis  and Lewis Hine; and directing students to compare and contrast The Rocket Book’s contents with the information from the other sources they discovered.

Riis bannerFinally, we alerted readers to additional children’s books available from the Library of Congress , and the new Story Bug app that launched at the Library in January.

What strategies involving historic children’s books have you used with your students?


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