In America, the early 1900s were filled with change and industrialization. Here are some books for kids set in the early 1900s, pre-WWI America.
1900s America (Pre-WWI) Books for Kids
Orville and Wilbur loved to build, take apart, fix, and invent. The resourcefulness and insatiable curiosity these brothers had eventually led them to chase the crazy dream that people could one day fly in the sky with the birds. In 1903 the brothers manned their first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Elected in 1901, this president fast became a legend with his sense of adventure and daring escapades. Learn all about our country’s beloved Bull Moose, the leader who guided America at the dawn of the new century.
Born to a farming family in Michigan, Henry Ford became the first to build factories that were able to make cars affordable and available to the average citizen. In 1908, he brought the Model T to market and changed America’s roadways forever.
Today, baseball is one of America’s favorite pastimes. But in 1903 when the World Series began, baseball wasn’t exactly the same sport that we know and love today. Trace the history of this beloved sport from the turn of the century until now.
Samantha is a sweet, intelligent, and brave girl who befriends a neighbor servant girl. These books are filled with lessons that apply to today’s world and excellent messages of friendship and integrity. There’s also a variety of mysteries including The Stolen Sapphire, Danger in Paris, and The Cry of the Loon. These are set in America, but give an introduction to the time period.
I love the “Welcome” series from American Girl because it brings the daily life of different time periods to life. If you grew up in the Edwardian era, this book highlights the things you may have worn, the toys you might have played with, and the food you might have eaten.
Jack and Annie have once again hurtled through time and space and now find themselves in a Texas town just as rain begins to fall. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, Jack and Annie wonder if they will be able to help the town or if they too will fall victim to the devastating hurricane.
On the coast of New England, a small town is shaken by reports of shark attacks in the local creek that has the inhabitants quaking with fear. Chet and his friends think it’s all a big joke until a swim gone wrong threatens to change their world forever.
Based on the childhood of the author, this series explores the goings-on of a family that was low on money but big on love at the turn of the twentieth century.
Forced to drop out of school and hire herself out to a garment factory to help her family make ends meet, Angela discovers long hours and brutal conditions are going to be her new normal. When the Triangle Factory Fire breaks out, Angela records the gruesome details in her journal and wonders what will be next for her and others like her working in the shirtwaist factory.
Although set in America, the following three books are set in the early 1900s and bring attention to the labor movement, unions, and more from the perspective of immigrants. I’d recommend them for ages 12+.
Anetka receives word from her father that she can finally make the long journey from Poland to join him in America. The catch: her ticket was purchased for her by a widower with three children who expects her to marry him when the boat docks at Ellis Island. Anetka faces one hardship after another as she navigates living life as an immigrant in rural Pennsylvania, motherhood, becoming a wife, poverty, and love. When she helps a bloodied man on the side of the road one afternoon, however, Anetka’s heart begins to stir and she wonders if one day she will be able to hope again.
Struggling to make a life for himself in his new home of Minnesota, Finnish immigrant Otto Peltonen finds that corruption and politics run just as rampant below the ground as above. The foreman of the mine that he and his father work at knowingly subjects his workers to dangerous conditions with little compensation, unless the miners choose to pay a bribe for the prime locations. Otto and his father find themselves swept up in the wave of growing dissatisfaction among the laborers and decide to join the fight for change.
In the wake of his father’s death, young Finn assumes the role of the breadwinner and starts selling newspapers on the streets of New York. But when the price of the papers goes up for the newsies, effectively decreasing their already meager profits, the boys join hearts and hands in a valiant effort to preserve their dignity and livelihood.
At the dawn of the new century, children not born to privilege were subjected to harsh working conditions in garment factories, mines, food-packing plants, and more. The hours were grueling and the pay inadequate. Some children wanted a life beyond this endless labor, and they courageously stood up to give voice to the idea that a better future was possible and that they were willing to sacrifice to achieve it, no matter the cost.
1906 San Francisco Earthquake Books
In April 1906, an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude shook the ground and caused an untold amount of damage. As the foundations of the city cracked and shattered, the city also fell victim to a gas line fire that wasn’t able to be stopped for days afterward. Discover the events of this tragic day and the resilience of San Francisco’s people as they struggled to rebuild after the devastation.
Teenager Minnie finds herself thrust into a new city and a new way of life after her father loses the family business. When a powerful earthquake strikes San Francisco one morning, Minnie sees an opportunity to change her station by masquerading as a wealthy heiress, one of many victims claimed by the natural disaster. Will she seize the chance to take revenge on the family who stole from her own, or will she find another way to rebuild what has been lost?
After the shocks subside and the ground resettles under the Curfman’s California boardinghouse, Clara opens the door to find a baby, apparently abandoned, on the porch. As she searches for clues as to the baby’s mysterious appearance and keeps watch for the eyes she feels on the house, Clara and her family try to keep the chaos swirling around them at bay.
When Leo gets a job as a newsboy on the streets of San Francisco, he is thrilled! He loves being a part of the bustle of this thoroughly modern city and is grateful for the chance to contribute financially to his family. When the ground begins to shake and the gas lines start the metropolis on fire, Leo must find a way out of the smoldering ruins before the rest of his world comes crashing down.
Notable Events (for further research)
- Presidents of the time were William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson
- 1900: Galveston Hurricane
- 1903: First World Series
- 1903: The Wright brothers make their first powered flight in the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
- 1906: San Francisco Earthquake
- 1912: The Titanic sank
- 1914: Mother’s Day became a national holiday