Story Keepers: a Family History Project Annotated Book Resources

Story Keepers: a Family History Project          

              Annotated Book Resources

(This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Some titles may be out of print, but still worth hunting up!)


Overview books for  teachers:

  • Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins: How Our Family Stories Shape Us by Elizabeth Stone (Penguin, 1988)
  • Living Legacies; How to write, illustrate and share your life stories by Elgin & LeDrew (Conari, 2001)
  • Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story by Christina Baldwin (New World Library, 2005)
  • Underfoot: An Everyday Guide to Exploring the American Past by Weitzman (Scribner, 1976) This book came out at the time of the country’s Bicentennial, and it is still a wonderful resource.
  • Making Sense of History by Myra Zarnowski (Scholastic, 2006) Uses high-quality literature and hands-on experience to build content knowledge
  • Family History Detective: A Step-by-Step Guide to Investigating Your Family Tree by Desmond Walls Allen (Fmaily Tree Books, Cincinnati, 2011)


Overview books for students:

  • My Backyard History Book by Weitzman (Little, Brown  & Co., 1975) It’s old, but it’s a classic; thought written for children, but it has been a wonderful resource for adults over the years.
  • The Kids’ Family Tree Book by Leavitt (Sterling, 2005) A great overview, filled with tips and ideas.
  • Through the Eyes of Your Ancestors: A Step-by-step Guide to Uncovering Your Family’s History by Taylor (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) Taylor is a well respected genealogist with a specialty in photograph detective work. Lots of good information.
  • Climbing Your Family Tree: Online and Offline Genealogy for Kids by Wolfman (Workman, 2002) This book is the official Ellis Island Handbook, and is a wonderful resource.
  • Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People by Beller (Genealogy Publishing Co, 1989) The author shares her tips and forms she has used helping students, grade 4 and up, explore genealogy in a 12-week enrichment class. . A very good resource.
  • My Family Tree by Laden (Chronicle Books, 1997) A whimsical picture book, explaining relations, from grandparents to third cousins once removed.
  • Who Do You Think You Are? Be a Family Tree Detective by Waddell (Candlewick, 2011) With snazzy graphics and interactive flaps, kids will like this book filled with information and ideas.
  • Family History Detective: A Step-by-step guide to investigating your Family Tree by Desomnd Walls Allen (Family Tree Books, Cincinnati, 2011). Subtitled “an all-ages introduction to genealogy”, but probably more accessible to adults, this little booked is packed with ideas and resources for using research tools.


Stories in basal readers about children taking on the role of story seekers and keepers:

  • “The Story Keeper: Finding Stories Near and Far” by Carmen Tafolla in Scott Foresman’s New Beginnings  gr. 2 reader (2004); a question and answer format interview with a woman who interviews people about their family stories
  • “ Keepers”  by Jeri Hanel Watts  in Scott Froesman’s “Seeing is Believing” gr. 4 reader (2004); a young boy discovers he can be the keeper of his grandmother’s family stories

Family stories, turned into a book: (Adults: consider that Frazier, who wrote Cold Mountain, was inspired by a family story of his ancestor,  a Confederate soldier who had walked home to North Carolina after deserting  Civil War. He said all the facts he knew about his ancestor would have fit on an index card.)

  • Radio Rescue by Lynne Barasch (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000) The author tells the story of her dad when he was 10 years old and his adventures in 1923 in NYC with a ham radio he made. Actual photograph from newspaper article included at the end.
  • Roxaboxen  (Harper Collins, 1991) and  The Year of the Ranch (Viking,  1996); both by McLerran. In Roxaboxen, she tells the story of her mother’s memories of playing in an empty lots in Yuma, AZ, which the author pieced together from interviews, letters, and old manuscript  and maps. Today, because of this book, the area is now a special playground and park for children. In Year of the Ranch, McLerran tells the story of her mother’s family’s move to the Arizona desert in 1919. It was a story she never heard from her mother, but discovered in unpublished memoirs of her mother’s sister.  
  • A Happy New Year’s Day by Roch Carrier (Tundra, 1991) French Canadian customs from 1941; memories of when the author was a four year old. Illustrated with full page folk art paintings by Gilles Pelletier.Carrier has also published The Hockey Sweater and The Boxing Champion, and others, all capturing his boyhood memories.
  • Yoshiko and the Foreigner by Otey (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996) The author tells the story of her parents meeting in Japan in the 1950s. He was a US soldier with Japanese heritage and she was a young Japanese native woman.  As many times as I have read this book to children, when I get to the author’s parents’ wedding photo at the end it still makes me tear up!
  • Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression byKate Lied (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) This story of the author’s grandparents was learned through the author’s aunt; the author muses at the end, “All this could be how I have come to like potatoes.”
  • Tales of A Gambling Grandma by Dayal Kaur Khalsa (Dragonfly, 1986) Story of a grandmother who emigrated from Russia to Brooklyn, as told to her granddaughter, who wrote and illustrated the book.
  • Family Pictures by Carmen Lomas Garza (Children’s Book Press, 1990) Memories of growing up in Texas in a Hispanic  family are told in English and Spanish with full page paintings done by the author.
  • Up North in Winter by Deborah Hartley (Dutton, 1986) Based on a brief handwritten family history, this is a story of how Grandpa Ole’s encounter with a fox, while walking home across the ice on a bitter night in 1911, saves his life.
  • Seven Brave Women by Betsy Hearne (Greenwillow Books, 1997)Hearne’s grandmother passed on these stories of seven women in the family.
  • Wilderness Cat by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock (Cobblehill Books, 1992)  A true story of a Vermont family that moves to Canada in 1787, and the cat that helps them.
  • The Bear That Heard Crying by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock (Cobblehill Books, 1993).  The true story of Kinsey-Warnock’s great-great-great-great-great-aunt who was lost in the woods for four days in 1783 and cared for by a bear.
  • The Rowell Girls: Two Generations of a Vermont Farm Family by Eunice & Louise Rowell (self published, 2003) Natalie’s mother and aunt share their stories of their lives in Vermont. They both told their memories, and Eunice illustrated with watercolors.

Finding an Artifact inspired these books:

  • One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of WWII by Lita Judge (Hyperion, 2007) The author found a dusty box in her grandmother’s attic that led to this book. Illustrated with many photographs of what was in the box, along with photos of the people involved.
  • Home Place by Dragonwagon (Scholastic, 1992) A walk in the woods to an old home foundation and finding a an old marble, a piece of a rope, a chip of a plate, a nail and other artifacts gets a young girl’s imagination going. This is the perfect book to read before a field trip to an old building site.
  • My Mother’s Charms: Timeless Gifts of Family Wisdom by Oldford (Harper, 2002). The author talks about each charm on 4 charm bracelets: her mom’s, her grandmother’s, her sister’s and her aunt’s.  Beside each charm’s picture is the story behind each charm.
  • The Coat of Many Colors  by Dolly Parton (Scholastic, 1994) The country singer tells the story of a special coat she had when she was a little girl, which she told in a hit song she wrote and performed.
  • The Scrimshaw Ring by William Jaspersohn (Vermont Folklife Center, 2002) A true story of a boy’s encounter with mutineers in 1710, who leave him a remarkable memento that was handed down many generations in the family.


These artists made art to share family stories:

  • Honoring Our Ancestors: Stories and Pictures by Fourteen Artists edited by Rohmer (Children’s Book Press, 1999) Each contemporary artist’s creation is shown, along with photographs and stories of the ancestor each chose to honor. Some artists chose “ancestors” not by blood, but by spirit.
  • Arctic Memories by Normee Ekoomiak (Holt, 1998) Paintings and text are how this Inuk shares his memories of growing up in the James Bay in Quebec in the 1950s-1970s.
  • The Coat of Many Colors  by Dolly Parton (Scholastic, 1994) The story inspired Dolly Parton’s hit song.
  • The Rowell Girls: Two Generations of a Vermont Farm Family by Eunice & Louise Rowell (self published, 2003) Natalie’s mother and aunt share their stories of their lives in Vermont. They both told their memories, and Eunice illustrated with watercolors.  


Photographs inspired these memories:

  • Looking Back: A Book of Memories by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 1998) Memories are arranged chronologically with an accompanying story, sometimes just a few paragraphs long
  • Prairie Vision: The Life and Times of Solomon Butcher by Pam Conrad (Harper, 1991) Conrad first saw the photographer Butcher’s work when she was researching one of her novels for young adults. She worked him and his photographs into the novel, and several years later was inspired to research his life and write this book.
  • Aunt Claire’s Yellow Beehive Hair by Deborah Blumenthal (Pelican Publishing, 2001) Anne learns about her family history through photographs, artifacts, and stories.


Diaries , Journals and Memoirs inspired these books:

  • Anne Elizabeth’s Diary: A Young Artist’s True Story annotated by Krull (Little, Brown & Co., 2004) The 1912 diary of 12 year old Anne Elizabeth Rector of NYC, with her drawings as illustrations. The annotator has added sidebars with background history and added photographs of the diarist.
  • Sailing Home: The story of a childhood at sea by Gloria Rand (North South Books, 2001) Based on sailing journals of a captain of a four-masted ship whose family traveled with him, 1896-1910. Actual photographs included at the end.
  • The True Adventures of Daniel Hall by Stanley (Dial, 1995) Stanley used the memoirs of Daniel Hall, written in 1861, as her inspiration for this retelling of the adventures of this 14 year old boy.
  • My Great-Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston (HarperCollins, 1992).  Gloria Houston’s recounting of her great-aunt Arizona’s life as a teacher who always dreamed of faraway places.
  • The Best Town in the World by Byrd Baylor (Aladdin Books, 1986)  Memories by Byrd Baylor’s father, of his childhood in a Texas hill town.
  • In Coal Country by Judith Hendershot(Knopf, 1987) Hendershot used her memories as well as those of her parents to tell this story of growing up in an Ohio coal-mining town in the 1930s.

Oral histories/interviews led to these books:

  • Pa’s Harvest: A True Story told by Ephrem Carrier to Jan Andrews (Douglas & McIntyre, 2000) The memories of a young boy helping his dad with the potato harvest in Canada, during the Great Depression.
  • Daisy and the Doll by Medearis (Vermont Folklife Center, 2000) Daisy is an 8 year old black girl living in Vermont  in the 1890s when her teacher gives her a doll. When she was an old woman, she told this story to an interviewer, and later this book was written from her interview.
  • Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes and More from NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters by Silva & Nelson (Rodale, 2005)This is really marketed to adults, but students could definitely find inspiration in how the interviews,  recipes,  stories, photos and history are woven together.
  • Listening Is an Act of Love edited by Dave Isay (Penguin Press, New York, 2007) Short interviews taken from the StoryCorps interviews done with everyday people, a project that began in 2003. You may have heard short segment of StoryCorps interviews that are broadcast once a week on NPR. Sometimes children are the interviewers, interviewees.
  • Orphan train Rider: One Boy’s True Story by Warren (Houghton Mifflin, 1996) Over 200,000 orphans were sent by train to the Midwest from 1854- 1929; this chapter book tells the story of one nine year old boy who in 1926 made the journey.  Lee Nailling’s story is interspersed with info and pictures of the bigger story of the orphan train children.

Newspaper articles inspired this book:  (Adults:  think of The Perfect Storm, which was inspired by a paragraph newspaper article Junger cut out and carried around in his wallet before starting the research.)

  • Freedom Ship by Rappaport (Hyperion, 2006) Though this book has some fictional characters, the incidents happened. The author read eye witness newspaper accounts and historical books. It is the story of a 1862 kidnapping of a ship by its 9-member slave crew, who then gave the ship to the Union army.

One little mention or part of a sentence from a memoir can inspire a whole picture book:

  • One Writer’s Beginning by Eudora Welty (Harvard University Press, 1983) and Halley Came to Jackson, by Mary Chapin Carpenter (Harper Collins, 1998)
  • Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: a Tall, Thin Tale Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend by Hopkinton & Hendrix (Schwartz, 2008) In 1816, Abe’s friend saves him from drowning in Kentucky. Wonderful comments about how facts and details from the past are not always easy to ascertain: “For that’s the thing about history—if you weren’t there, you can’t know for sure.”


Books by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock

The Canada Geese Quilt (Cobblehill Books, 1989)based on the author and her grandmother.  Ariel and her grandmother’s work on a quilt for a new baby is interrupted when Grandma suffers a stroke.

The Wild Horses of Sweetbriar (Cobblehill, 1990)—based on a true story from Tuckernuck Island in 1903, the story of a girl whose father is with the Coast Guard station on an island where there are wild horses.

The Night the Bells Rang (Cobblehill, 1991)—based on a true story, the story of two Vermont boys during WWI.

Wilderness Cat (Cobblehill, 1992)— A true story of a Vermont family that moves to Canada in 1787, and the cat that helps them.

On a Starry Night (Orchard Books, 1994)—a girl and her mother experience the magic of a starry night on their Vermont farm.

When Spring Comes (Cobblehill, 1993)—a girl and her dog experience the coming of spring on a Vermont farm.

The Bear That Heard Crying (Cobblehill, 1993)— the true story of Kinsey-Warnock’s great-great-great-great-great-aunt who was lost in the woods for four days in 1783 and cared for by a bear.

Sweet Memories Still (Cobblehill, 1997)—Shelby learns about family stories, and gets closer to her grandmother, when faced with a family crisis.

The Summer of Stanley (Cobblehill, 1997)—set during WWII, a girl gets an unwanted goat for her birthday.

A Farm of Her Own (Cobblehill, 2001)—based on Kinsey-Warnock’s great-aunt and great-uncle.  Emma spends the summer at her aunt and uncle’s Vermont farm.

The Fiddler of the Northern Lights (Cobblehill, 1996)—set in Canada in the early 1900s, a boy and his grandfather go looking for the truth behind a legend of a magical fiddler.

Lumber Camp Library (HarperCollins, 2002 )—based on Kinsey-Warnock’s great-aunt who was born in a logging camp.

A Doctor Like Papa (HarperCollins, 2002 )—based on a true story.  Margaret longs to be a doctor like her father, who struggles to treat the sick during the 1918 Flu epidemic.

In the Language of Loons (Cobblehill, 1998)—Arlis’s grandfather teaches him how to be a runner.

As Long As There Are Mountains (Cobblehill, 1997 )—Kinsey-Warnock’s autobiographical novel, about 13 year-old Iris who struggles to save her family’s farm.

If Wishes Were Horses (Dutton, 2000)— Kinsey-Warnock interweaves five of her true family stories to tell of two sisters who deal with rumrunners, an abused horse, and polio.

From Dawn Till Dusk (Houghton Mifflin, 2002)—based on Kinsey-Warnock’s own childhood on a Vermont farm.

A Christmas Like Helen’s (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)—based on Kinsey-Warnock’s grandmother’s childhood on a Vermont farm.

Gifts From the Sea (Knopf, 2003)—Acquila lives on Devils Rock where her father is the lighthouse keeper until their lives are changed forever when Acquila finds a baby washed up from a shipwreck.  Based on a true story.

Nora’s Ark (Harper Collins, 2005 )—based on a true story.  Wren’s grandparents’ farm becomes the haven for people and animals during the 1927 Flood in Vermont.

True Colors (Knopf, 2012)—based on a true story.  Abandoned as a baby in Hannah’s yard, ten year-old Blue goes in search of her real mother.



Specific resources for specific research areas

Using the Census as a resource:

  • Tricking the Talleyman: The Great Census Shenanigans of 1790 by Davies (Knopf, 2009) This picture book shows the trials and tribulations of being an enumerator in the first US Census. Setting: Tunbridge, VT


Using Photographs as a resource:

  • Writer Walter Dean Myers has a passion for collecting old studio portraits, and he has gathered them into books: Glorious Angels, A Celebration of Children (Harper Collins, 1995), Angel to Angel , A Mother’s Gift of Love (Harper, 1998), Brown Angels (Harper Trophy, 1993) and One More River to Cross: An African American Photograph Album (Harcourt Brace, 1995). They are beautiful collections.
  • Flotsam by David Weiner (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). A wordless book, winner of the 2007 Caldecott Medal.  An underwater camera washes up on shore and when the finder develops the film, there are delightful surprises.

Using Cemetery as a Resource:

  • Your Guide to Cemetery Research by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack (Betterway, 2002) all kinds of research information about cemeteries
  • Stones and Bones: Using Tombstones as Textbooks (Vermont Old Cemetery Association, 2008) a wonderful resource packet with lots of information about cemeteries and plenty of ideas to use with students of all ages and in all disciplines.