Family History

Family History

Family history can become a fascinating journey back in time for kids and adults. It’s a wonderful way to help children make connections, have a sense of the world and history. Intergenerational relationships provide insight, a sense of time and place, memories, and tolerance. The books listed below offer family stories, focusing on the relationship between generations, and nonfiction titles on genealogy for young people.

Web links to additional information and activities about genealogy and family history follow these reviews.

Contributor: Peg Glisson


All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel

Dan Yaccarino

Author-ilustrator Yaccarino’s autobiographical picture book shares the story of his own family’s journey from his great-grandfather’s farm in Sorrento, Italy to the New World, where intervening generations work as bakers, pushcart peddlers, and small-market owners in New York’s Little Italy before migrating to the suburbs, and then, in Yaccarino’s case, moving back to the thriving cityscape of New York. The “little shovel” is used to tend zucchini and tomatoes in the Old Country and then to measure out flour, sugar, dried fruit, nuts, and macaroni in the new. It is even used to shake rock salt on snowy sidewalks in front of the family’s barbershop. At the end of the family saga, the same little shovel is used to grow zucchini and tomatoes in Yaccarino’s present-day small apartment-terrace garden. Yaccarino’s text celebrates the values of working hard, enjoying life, and loving family–and eating, always eating, together. The art features toylike, smiling, sharp-nosed wooden-looking figures, perhaps inspired by Pinocchio’s Gepetto. Yaccarino’s family saga should inspire young readers to ask their grandparents about their own stories of when and how their ancestors came to America, what they brought with them, and the bonds of work and love that have made them a family. 2011, Knopf/Random House, Ages 3 to 7, $16.99. REVIEWER: Claudia Mills, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780375866425

Amber House

Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, Larkin Reed

When her grandmother dies, Sarah Parsons and her family travel to Maryland to attend the funeral at the very large, and supposedly haunted, Amber House. As Sarah delves into the house’s rich history, she discovers that she has the ability to experience echoes, or visions of the past, by touching objects within the house. Some of these images are pleasant, while others hold more unnerving revelations. With a full cast of fascinating characters and mysterious twists and turns, Amber House is a scintillating tale. According to the author’s note, Moore wrote the first manuscript in the late 1980s. Her daughters, Tucker and Larkin Reed, stumbled upon the story and helped their mother create a rich and lively story. It is a family affair well beyond the confines of the pages. The book is accompanied by a website,, complete with Sarah’s family tree and historical context for the house. While the novel is detailed and packed with information, it is never confusing nor does it drag. The story flows, building suspense and enticing the reader from page one. Additionally, the authors explore a variety of subjects with grace and tact, from Sarah’s little brother’s autism to ownership in her family’s history. The mother-daughters team even explores the relationship between Sarah and her distant and somewhat cold mother. This is a novel, with two more forthcoming, that has the potential to appeal to a very large audience. 2012, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, Ages 12 to 18, $17.99. REVIEWER: Kaitlin Connors (VOYA).

ISBN: 9780545434164

Applewhites at Wit’s End

Stephanie Tolan

When their bookkeeper absconds with most of their funds, the Applewhites know desperate times are at hand. They decide to turn their large property, a former motor inn, into a summer arts camp called Eureka! to help pay the mortgage. The adults, Jake, Cordelia, and Hal will lead workshops in their areas of expertise, while E.D. takes on organizing the camp, complete with spreadsheets and schedules. Young Destiny will be the mascot! Hoping to attract a minimum of twelve campers, they settle for six–six who are very headstrong and unwilling to compromise. Blending this group into a cohesive unit is quite a challenge for the Applewhites, who manage to stay true to themselves artistically and as a family while bending to meet the needs and desires of their campers. When a mysterious stranger starts poking around and it seems the camp will have to close, the campers scheme with the Applewhites to head off that disaster. The story is well plotted, humorous, and marvelously entertaining. Emphasis is on the madcap plot moving along at full steam, although themes of creativity, individuality, and collaboration are woven in. With so many characters, Tolan wisely focuses on E.D. and Jake, former enemies, and their developing trust and relationship. Other characters are loosely drawn, particularly the campers. Fans of the first book will be happy to rejoin the Applewhites; those new to this delightful family can read this one independently of the first. 2012, HarperCollins, Ages 9 to 13, $16.99. REVIEWER: Peg Glisson (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780060579388

The Counterfeit Family Tree of Vee Crawford-Wong

L. Tam Holland

An assignment to write an essay on family history kickstarts a high school sophomore’s mission to understand his hyphenated identity in this funny and profane first novel. All Vee knows about his Texas grandparents is that their annual Christmas card always makes his mother cry; his father, meanwhile, left China for college and never looked back. Already in trouble for lackluster academics, Vee can’t get his parents to talk about their pasts, so he completes the essay by inventing a backstory for his father’s family in a fishing village along the Yangtze. After he gets away with that, he’s on a roll. The question of when Vee’s lies and machinations will catch up with him gives the second half of this novel some much-needed tension. Vee is intelligent and self-effacing, and he’s also the yin to Sherman Alexie’s yang. Whereas Junior in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was determined to better himself despite poverty and a dysfunctional family, Vee is a privileged kid with wonderful parents who travels a long, tortured path to find there’s no place like home. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, Ages 14–up, $17.99. REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly.

ISBN: 9781442412668

The Family Tree

David McPhail

The story begins several generations in the past when a young man heads out into the wilderness to claim and clear land to build his house and farm. There is one tree that he leaves next to the house which will provide shade in the summer and block the cold winds of winter. Once the house and fences are built, he brings his wife to the homestead and soon they had a child. In addition, other people arrived and now they had neighbors. The young boy grew up and took over the farm from his father and so it went until the great-great-grandson of the first settler was the one on the farm. The tree has been there all the time and witnessed all that has taken place. Disaster is about to strike as workers arrive to widen the road. The boy protests and many of the forest animals come to his aid, so the engineers redesigned the road around the tree and life remained pretty much the same for the tree and the boy. The story–while fanciful, since it is unlikely that a young boy could stop a highway–is beautifully and meticulously illustrated in pen and ink by McPhail. Young children will root for the boy and be delighted at the happy ending. 2012, Henry Holt, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99. REVIEWER: Marilyn Courtot (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780805090574

Finding Family

Tonya Bolden

Tonya Bolden incorporates vintage photographs of African Americans into a fictional story about twelve-year-old Delana, who lives with her grandfather and great aunt in Charleston, West Virginia, 1905. Delana’s Great Aunt Tilley often shows old family photos and tells Delana stories about the people in them. When Great Aunt Tilley dies, Delana’s second cousin Ambertine (“trash and trouble,” Aunt Tilley always said) secretly shows up and begins telling Delana more about her family stories Aunt Tilley never told. Suddenly, all of Aunt Tilley’s family stories, including and especially the one about Delana’s own parents are cast into doubt. After Delana discovers her father did not abandon her after her mother’s death as she’d always been told, she’s full of anger at her grandfather, who forced her father into making an unfair, painful choice. Tonya Bolden successfully balances Delana’s feelings of grief, loss, and anger with eventual compassion and forgiveness in this compelling story of self-discovery and coming of age that builds to a satisfying conclusion, including a long-awaited photograph of Delana herself. 2010, Bloomsbury, Ages 9-12, $15.99. REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).

ISBN: 9781599903187

Here Lies Linc

Delia Ray

Seventh grade is a real departure for Linc, who until now has been schooled in a small eccentric collective of professors’ kids. He’s trying to break from his previous geeky identity, but that effort is endangered with the very first big class project: a study of the local cemetery, guided by none other than Linc’s anthropologist mother, who’s studied the graves. Linc decides to play the expert to the hilt, insisting to popular classmates that he can get them into a locked mausoleum; for his topic, he decides to tackle the Black Angel, a huge, creepy monument that’s the center of local lore. Ray takes some classic tropes of daily-life fiction a kid trying to eke out a niche in a new school situation, a changing relationship with a parent, the stirrings of first romance and gives them an offbeat seasoning. The result is a pleasing touch of graveyard unease that gives additional shape to the story, leading to both some haunting-hinted scenes and some exploration of legend and truth (based, according to an author’s note, on real Iowa history). Additionally, a side plot about Linc’s own family background and a mysterious local connection enhances the point about links to the past being worth uncovering. History buffs will particularly appreciate the creative approach to the topic, but readers in general will enjoy the spooky-edged tale-telling that suggests their own towns may be more interesting than they realize. An author’s note fills in the factual background, and a list of sources for the story’s elements and cemetery research generally is included. Review Code: R – Recommended. 2011, Knopf, Grades 5 to 8, $19.99. REVIEWER: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).

ISBN: 9780375867576

Lucky for Good

Susan Patron

Illustrations by Erin McGuire

The Hard Pan Cafe, nestled in the crook of three mismatched welded trailers in the Mojave Desert, is thriving, providing some financial stability for Lucky Trimble and her adoptive mother, Brigitte, when up pulls a county truck with Stu Burping to inform them that Regulation 1849 prohibits a commercial kitchen in a residence. Readers who’ve met the resourceful residents of Hard Pan in Patron’s two previous works (The Higher Power of Lucky and Lucky Breaks, BCCB 1/07 and 5/09) know they’ll rally to the cause; an abandoned cabin is hauled down from the mine, and although the brakeless tractor hauling it nearly wipes out several citizens, a burro, and a cat, the cafe will soon be back up and running. But not all problems are so expeditiously managed. The mother of Lucky’s young friend Miles has just been released from jail, and she arrives full of the Lord and promptly upends all of her precocious son’s belief in evolution. A fistfight with Stu Burping’s pugnacious nephew lands Lucky an assignment to research her family tree, an undertaking that forces her to confront her ambivalent feelings toward her absentee father. Her good friend Paloma visits frequently and still collapses with her in laughing jags, and her dearest friend, Lincoln, has surprised her with a sweet, but quite unbrotherly, kiss, a development that calls for some emotional processing. This concluding volume of the Hard Pan trilogy ends in a good place, with Lucky poised to enter junior high a little more thoughtful, a little less impulsive, and confident that her friends, neighbors, and beloved Brigitte are every bit as much a family as anyone gets. Readers who have been privileged to grow alongside Lucky during the trilogy’s cycle are probably beginning to suspect that much of life, like Hard Pan itself, is held together with spit and a prayer, but in a supportive community, that’s probably good enough. Review Code: R — Recommended. 2011, Atheneum, Grades 4-7, $16.99. REVIEWER: Elizabeth Bush (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).

ISBN: 9781416990581

The Matchbox Diary

Paul Fleischman

If you can’t read or write, how do you remember the important moments of your life? An elderly man explains to his great-granddaughter that he created a diary of objects, each saved in a matchbox. One matchbox holds an olive pit from his native Italy, given to him by his mother to suck on when the family had no food. A fish bone reminds him of grueling work in canneries (“always a man watching to make sure we weren’t slowing down”). But there are also matchboxes that hold a ticket to a baseball game, as well as pieces of coal and moveable type that represent how the man finally achieved literacy and a comfortable life. Fleischman’s voice for the girl’s great-grandfather is instantly engrossing, free of self-pity and resonant with resilience and gratitude. Ibatoulline, who previously worked with Fleischman on The Animal Hedge, is in equally fine form: his characters’ emotionally vivid faces speak of hard lives and fervent dreams, and his sepia-toned scenes never lapse into sentimentality. A powerful introduction to the American immigrant story, and fine inspiration for a classroom project. 2013, Candlewick, Ages 6–10, $16.99. REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly.

ISBN: 9780763646011

Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide For Young People

Susan Provost Beller

Where do we come from? The answer is more than a story about birds and bees. “Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People” is a guide for children who want to trace their family histories through the centuries. Encouraging children to learn everything they can about their history, “Roots for Kids” is tailored to elementary school age children and formatted in a manner suitable for adaptation into classroom lessons. Featuring a focus on internet research, “Roots for Kids” is a great pick for any parent with an inquisitive child. 2007, Genealogical Publishing Company, Ages 8+, $19.95. REVIEWER: Midwest Book Review (Children’s Bookwatch).

ISBN: 9780806317779

Tea Cakes for Tosh

Kelly Starling Lyons

When family recipes are passed down from one generation to the next, stories often accompany them; so it is with the tea cakes that Tosh’s grandmother, Honey, bakes for him. Lewis’s milky watercolors shift from color to sepia as Honey shares the story of Tosh’s “great-great-great-great-grandma Ida,” an expert cook who would secret away a couple of her famous tea cakes to give to her children and other young slaves. Back in the present, however, Honey’s memory is becoming spotty, and Tosh organizes a role reversal of sorts, baking tea cakes for Honey and telling her Ida’s story. “In a blink, Tosh’s words carried his grandma from her seat to the plantation, a place neither had been but their hearts knew well,” writes Lyons (Ellen’s Broom). Caldecott Honoree Lewis’s (Coming on Home Soon) watercolors glow with intergenerational tenderness and a familial pride; recipe cards showcase the items needed to make tea cakes (a recipe is also included), underscoring the idea that a few simple ingredients can create not just a treat but, as Honey puts it, “a promise of days to come.” 2012, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin, Ages 5 to 8, $16.99. REVIEWER: Publishers Weekly.

ISBN: 9780399252136

Turtle in Paradise

Jennifer L. Holm

During the Depression, eleven-year-old Turtle is sent to live with her Aunt Minnie in Key West after her mother’s employer makes it clear that she doesn’t like children (her mother is a live-in domestic). Turtle spends her time with her boy cousins Beans, Buddy, and Kermit and their friends who run a babysitting service called the Diaper Gang, carting around neighborhood babies and selling their homemade diaper-rash ointment. Strong and quick-witted, Turtle is able to keep up with the gang, even if they consider her an outsider. Their daily adventures are varied, and these independent kids are capable and competent, though one senses that the adults, as busy as they are, are watching out for them in one way or another. As Turtle starts to embrace her extended family and new surroundings, she makes interesting discoveries about her relatives and her identity. And when the Diaper Gang goes on a treasure hunt, the story reaches an adventurous climax. Reality comes crashing down quickly with the return of Turtle’s mother and her boyfriend, Archie, but a surprising twist grounds this humorous and exciting story in the warmth of family. Jennifer L. Holm richly depicts personalities and setting in a novel that, she explains in an author’s note with photos, is inspired by her own family’s history. 2010, Random House, Ages 8 to 11, $16.99. REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).

Using Your Research: (How to Check Your Facts and Use Your Information)

Jim Ollhoff

This thirty-two page reference book is filled with basic information describing how to research and find information about a family’s ancestors. In a clear and concise text, the author begins by showing readers how they can start their genealogical research. For example, a reader learns how to evaluate the information that he already has and where he can locate additional research sources. The author also mentions how birth and death certificates can help readers begin their research, and how some ancestor’s names may be misspelled or difficulties that arise when people often share the same name. The author also talks about online searching and lists sites such as and Other good sources that can help are historical facts found in old newspapers, history books, libraries, museums, and other places. There is also a chapter about adopted children trying to locate information relating to their birth parents and family. The author also suggests that all found information be questioned and verified, since accuracy is important in determining if the information reliable. Back material includes a glossary and index. Illustrations are in color and black and white. 2011, ABDO Publishing Company, Ages 9 to 12, $27.07. REVIEWER: Della A. Yannuzzi (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781616134655

Who Am I? The Family Tree Explorer

Anthony Adolph

This is a comprehensive and accessible guide to finding out all you can about your family history. No stone is left unturned! All available sources are suggested: oral histories, old photographs, old records, war memorabilia, old correspondence, gravestones, books and websites. The specific vocabulary of the area of study is explained. Famous people’s family trees are included. Even the origin of species is there. Suggestions are made as to how to record and present your findings. An interesting chapter deals with things we inherit like name, ethnicity, language, body quirks, heirlooms and stories. This is obviously a labour of love born no doubt out of years of research into the author’s own unusual surname. (The Queen of England is his grandfather’s second cousin’s brother-in-law’s mother-in-law. Still with me?) Pictures and portraits of members of his own family are used to illustrate particular points. The writer assumes an intelligent interested audience and his enthusiasm is infectious. The book is well planned and carefully designed. Practical help is given in getting maximum value out of the various sources and the interpretation of the content of primary sources is both useful and interesting. It is geared to a British audience but, given our shared history, has enough relevance for an Irish audience to justify its purchase. Further reading lists, among others, include Tracing your Irish Family History by the same author (Collins 2007). Highly recommended. 2009, Quercus, Ages 12 up, 14.99. REVIEWER: Irene Barber (Inis – Children’s Books Ireland Magazine)

ISBN: 9781847245090

Who Do You Think You Are?: Be a Family Tree Detective

Dan Waddell

This is a fun flap book where it seems like there is treasure on each page as you lift the flap. It includes a family tree poster and some index cards on which to take notes. With a detective theme the reader is encouraged to sleuth through family history. The reader is given sample questions to get them started. The book is always alerting the reader to sensitive issues in a family history search. I bristled when it incorrectly said “genes live inside the cells of your body.” No, they reside or are found there. There are detective tips and Internet alerts that will help the family search. There is a crest to make your own, if your ancestors did not have one or you do not like it. You can even practice taking a survey and store it in a time capsule; instructions for that are included. There is a little bit of European history explaining what some ancestors may have experienced if you are of European descent. Learning about ones ancestors may cause interests in many other areas. This book might be the genesis for an interesting adventure. 2010, Walker Books, Ages 8 to 16, $19.99. REVIEWER: RevaBeth Russell (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780763655471

Updated 06/01/13

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