Hidden Histories

Hidden histories are those stories that are important to our nation but that most people haven’t heard about. It might be the story of Franklin Roosevelt’s use of a wheelchair, it might be the story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, or it might be the African-American genius women who starred in “Hidden Figures.”

Schools focus on an outline of our history that includes well-known names, events, and themes. This helps to ensure that all children learn some basics as a starting point for future study. It allows us all to have a common story that we can refer to and understand as a collective. But, that outline was written by people with specific interests and biases and they left out (often in the interest of space and time) stories that resonate for specific groups or that build empathy between different peoples or that show the uglier and more difficult side of our history.

We have chosen to accept the outline set forth in the Standards of Learning presented in many states and to try to use that as a scaffold for including some of those hidden histories. We can pick a theme and go through the timeline offered by the states and add on details and stories and personalities to give our history more depth and breadth. We can see that there are a wide variety of people, events, and themes that can build richness and understanding in our perception of our country.

For children who are still learning about the complexity of the human condition, it doesn’t necessarily help to discuss the shortcomings of Christopher Columbus. Knowing about him, even if it is in the clean and pretty story found in many books, provides a stepping stone for future understanding of what his arrival meant to the people living in his path. The stories of pre-school provide a way to understand the absurdity of Columbus “discovering” a land already full of people, lives, and livelihoods.

Our Expansion Pack program looks to do just that. We work within the framework of what children know or are told they should know and build upon it. We can look at the main time periods from the point of view of African Americans. We can look at how scientists influenced our history and the role they played in it. We can see that women contributed throughout our entire history. Thus, our Expansion Packs take the basic outline of our history and fill in the holes, add richness and description, and show children that our stories come from many different people, places, and influences. Of course, this is not the final pass through. It is just another step for children as they grow and become increasingly capable of understanding the complex, complicated, and messy beast that history actually is.



Expats usually have to think about Christmas shopping early because of expected delays in Santa delivery times. This year, you can give an fun, engaging, and educational present and maybe even get reimbursed for the cost!


Our American-History-Santa-Bags include games and puzzles so your child will have plenty to do on Christmas morning after all the presents are open. You can read your new books, luxuriate in your new pajamas, drink your hot chocolate and eat your candy canes, and watch the kids have a great time while learning about American History (without even realizing they are doing something good for them).

Of course, I realize this fantasy doesn’t really work if you are living in the tropics or in the Southern Hemisphere. But, we can switch it around a bit. Your kids can read the books, put together the puzzles, and play the games while you sit by the pool with your new sunshade and sip a fruity drink. Either way, your child will learn the major concepts in our history and you won’t have to do a thing.

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Each box includes 4 – 5 games and puzzles, 12 – 14 fiction and non-fiction books, a standards-based activity book, and a Santa Bag (see above). Boxes are reimbursable for many state families. Send us a message at afterschoolplans@gmail.com and we will send you the Reimbursement Request form to give to your FMO to make sure you qualify for full reimbursement before purchasing.

Learning with Books, Movies, or Both?


I grew up in a house full of books and readers on an 85 acre farm in Ohio. Surrounded by old-order Amish, focused farmers, and a 5,000 acre swamp, our farm was a peaceful, lush, green bowl of quiet…perfect for reading. Of course, it was a farm, so we spent a ridiculous amount of time working, but when we weren’t working, we were reading. My father was adamantly again television, so we never had one in the house. But, we found our stories in words. My mom loved the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen while my father insisted we read Hemingway, Faulkner, and Mark Twain. In between, I found plenty of time for Louis L’Amour, Trixie Belden, and Nancy Drew. I really believe that books are a wonderful way to learn.

I still read all the time and so do my children (see picture of one of our bookshelves above). But, now I think there is also a place for videos and movies. There is something magical about snuggling up on the couch and diving into a visual world that brings alive the abstract and distant past. Our History Boxes are based on literature, but there we do think that videos provide context and are great as a preview or a review of learning.

For older kids, we like the AP History Study Guide. The videos are short but comprehensive. You can find them here: https://ap.gilderlehrman.org/

For all ages, we love the videos available at Have Fun with History. You can search by topic or time period and learn more about themes and ideas that are confusing or that you just want to know more about. You can find them here: http://www.havefunwithhistory.com/HistorySubjects/index.html

And, of course, there are movies. We love the American Girl Doll movies for showing time periods in history, the Liberty Kids movies are great for learning about colonialism, and The States teaches a bit about our country. Some of our favorite movies include:

Ruby Bridges – segregation in America

This is America Charlie Brown – a fun survey of history

American Legends – great for learning about famous stories in our past.

Johnny Tremain – about the American Revolution.

Night at the Museum – this trilogy introduces kids to historical figures.

If you have any additional suggestions, please send us a message and we will add the to the list!



American-History-in-a-Box for Adults

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 12.28.31 PMWe don’t actually have a box for adults, but we did compile a list of books that will tell some of the story of United States history. There are so many wonderful books out there (and historians who can write so well) that it was hard to choose. We picked our favorites, though. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction, some give you lots of facts, and some just give you a feeling of what it must have been like to have lived through certain events. We have read all of them, and would appreciate any additional recommendations for books about our history that simply shouldn’t be missed.


1492: The Year the World Began, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

How our world changed in 1492.


1776, David McCullough

McCullough tells the story of our nation’s birth through the people, places, and ideas that helped form our country.

The Trees, Conrad Richter

The three books in this trilogy explore life as a settler in the Ohio Valley. The characters struggle to survive and thrive in often heartbreaking circumstances.

1800 – 1825

John Adams, David McCullough

This book looks at the time period and the men that shaped our country.

The Hemingses of Monticello, Annette Gordon-Reed

Gordon-Reed tells the story of Jefferson and the Hemingses from the point of view of the time period.

1826 – 1850

Killer Angels, Michael Shaara

This classic history of the Civil War is one of the best at vividly depicting the horror of this war and it’s impact on America.

Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin

A riveting look at Lincoln’s cabinet and his rise and term as president.

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Dramatic, sweeping, and engaging, this classic novel looks at life in the South during the Civil War.

1851 – 1875

The Known World, Edward P. Jones

Slavery and it’s complex variations are explored in this heartbreaking novel.


Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier

This Civil War story is about a lonely and dangerous journey home for a Confederate soldier.

The Big Oyster, History on the Half Shell, Mark Kurlansky

Oysters and New York City were once deeply entwined. This book traces the rise and fall of that relationship while sharing great historical information.

1876 – 1900

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

A sweeping Western about people, places, and our Western history.

Devil in the White City, Erik Larson

The true story of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago is intertwined with the story of a terrifying serial killer.

The Alienist, Caleb Carr

The search for a seriel killer allows for a close look at the Gilded Age in New York City.

1901 – 1925

Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson

Tales of life in small town America.

The Color Purple, Toni Morrison

This haunting story doesn’t reference particular events in history but gives a social context for people caught in a relentlessly unfair system.

1926 – 1950

The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown

A look at rowing, the Great Depression, and Hitler’s rise to power and the impact of the German Olympics in this gripping book set in the thirties.

Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand

This is a story of an unlikely champion and the time period in which he lived. Learn about the thirties and forties and life during the Great Depression.

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand

In 1943 Louis Zamperini’s flight went down during World War II. The story follows his incredible fight for survival when stranded at sea and then in a POW camp.

1951 – 1975

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

Two sides of living in the South in the sixties are explored through the eyes of a variety of women. 

Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson

Themes of racism, World War II and internment are explored as readers follow a gripping trial in Washington.

1976 – present

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, Robert Olen Butler

Stories of the aftermath of the Vietnam War.