Teaching History with Children’s Literature: The Blue and the Gray

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If you are looking for a different kind of book to introduce the Civil War to your students, try The Blue and the Gray by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ned Bittinger. The story revolves around two best friends whose houses lie on a battlefield from the Civil War. Readers follow the boy’s imaginations as the one boy’s father recounts the stories of the soldiers who fought on the battlefield that now remains as their back yard. After listening to his father’s story, the son explains: “It was the Civil War, the North against the South, the blue against the gray. White against black. White against white. Us against us, to tell it right. My dad says that’s the saddest kind of war there is, though every war is sad and most are bad.” Through the father’s story, these two best friends learn that friends just like them fought against each other in this devastating war. At the end of the book, as the boys look out at the old battleground, they realize that a place like this must be remembered: “And all those days…when we play football on the field and sled when there is snow. And we will know the way it was. And we’ll remember.”

Curriculum Connections
This would be a great book to use to introduce a unit on the Civil War, because it discusses how it was a fight between men of the same country: North against South, blue against gray, white men against black men. While the language is simple, The Blue and the Gray correlates well with Virginia SOLs for 4th and 5th grade. It could be used with any of the Virginia studies SOLs related to the Civil War (VS.7 and VS.8), as well as the US History SOL for the same subject: USI.9.

Additional Resources

  • Listen to these Union and Confederate songs as a class and pretend that you are singing them with your fellow soldiers on the battlefield!
  • Here is a great webquest where your students will learn what it was like to be a Union or Confederate soldier.
  • The Civil War Preservation Trust is a wonderful website with a number of activities to use in a Civil War unit. Use their Reader’s Theater to better help your class understand what difficult decisions had to be made during the war.

General Information
Book:
The Blue and the Gray
Author: Eve Bunting
Illustrator: Ned Bittinger
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date:
1996
Pages:
30
Grade Range: 4-5
ISBN: 0590601970