Teaching Civics with Children’s Literature: Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution

Shh!  We're Writing the Constitution

Shh!  We’re Writing the Constitution, by Jean Fritz and illustrated by Tomie dePaola,  provides an engaging summary of the events during the summer of 1787 through the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1788.  Fritz masterfully explains that, “[a]fter the Revolutionary War most people in America were glad that they were no longer British.  Still, they were not ready to call themselves Americans.”  Using easy to understand text, she walks readers through the reasons that a strong federal government was needed as well as the difficulties that delegates at the Grand Convention faced in drafting a document that would define what that government should look like.  In addition to details about the art of compromise and the final draft of the Constitution itself, Fritz shares gossipy tidbits about the delegates at the convention that humanizes the nation’s Founding Fathers and makes reading about the basis for the U.S. government interesting.  For example, “[Benjamin] Franklin came to the convention in a Chinese sedan chair carried by four prisoners from the Philadelphia jail” and Oliver Ellsworth shook “the hand of a woman who was two thousand years old.”  Readers get a feel for how even once drafted, disagreements continued and the states were slow to ratify the document.  She explains that even Benjamin Franklin “disagreed with some parts… [but] he was convinced that this was the best that they could do.”  Fritz walks readers through the arguments between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists during the almost year before the United States of America officially became a nation with the new framework for government defined by the Constitution.  The book includes the text of the Constitution of the United States for easy reference.

Curriculum Connections

Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution is an excellent book for introducing upper elementary school children to the work and effort involved in creating the U.S. Constitution as well as the key components of the Constitution itself.  Teachers can use the book to trace the history of the document’s creation, address the primary political conflicts and differences between the newly sovereign states, explore the structure of U.S. government, and the role of compromise in governance (USI.7a-b).  Depending on the reading levels of students, the book can be read aloud, in pairs, or individually.  To be most effective, teachers should plan activities that allow students to explore the difficulties in working with others to create a governing framework and to engage directly with the Constitution as a primary source document (USI.1a).

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