The American Girl series is a wonderful teaching tool. The books and movies give girls a frame of reference for understanding important periods in United States history.
The American Girl books are grouped into series. Each character has a book for her birthday, a holiday, a school story, etc. The core books for each girl feature a wonderful section at the back of the book that ties the story in with history. This section always has pictures of artifacts from the relevant historical period.
You can also buy American Girl mysteries. There are far too many to list!
I recommend the American Girls books for grades 3 and up. You can buy boxed sets of all books for each American girl. The boxed sets are a good value because students read them over and over.
The American Girls books, in chronological order:
Kaya 1764: a Native American Girl
Felicity Merriman, 1774: a horse-loving girl caught between Patriot and Loyalist family and friends during the American Revolution
Josefina Montoya, 1824: lives in New Mexico when it was part of Mexico
Addy Walker, 1864: a fugitive slave who escapes to Pennsylvania during the Civil War
Samantha Parkington, 1904: an orphan being raised by a wealthy family during the Victorian period
Rebecca Rubin, 1914: a Jewish girl growing up in the Lower East Side of New York City
Julie Albright, 1974: A San Francisco girl facing the changes of the mid-1970s
Observation: Although the American Girls books are popular, I usually have to push them on students. Once I get one girl hooked, American Girl fever spreads through the classroom. Usually, the boys end up reading the books, too. The girls are careful not to embarrass the boys about reading these books.
American Girls Movies: Felicity, Samantha and Kit each have their own movie. (You can buy them in a 3-movie set, too.) The movies are of very high quality and I enjoy using them in the classroom. American Girl also features a wonderfully positive magazine and a plethora of dolls.
Getting the Boys to Buy In to Watching the Movies: I aways explain to the class that I understand the movies are about girls, but I think the boys in the class also will enjoy the movies. I ask the girls in my class to promise not to tease the boys or tell students in other classes how much the boys in our class enjoy the movies.