It seems everyone has been hit with Hamilton fever! And not just Broadway audiences, either. Our own twins, Molly and Jacob, love to sing the raps and are eagerly reading all they can about Hamilton, Washington, Burr, and the American Revolution. They even put together special outfits gathered from various thrift stores to create the perfect costumes for their re-enactment of a scene for their school’s talent show. Who knew the history surrounding the American Revolution could be so hip–and fun for the whole family?! If you are new to this phenomenon, or want to brush up on your history, here are some books to get you started!
Elementary and Middle School Readers:
The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Judith St. George
The parallel lives of the two Revolutionary heroes are shared in alternating chapters to highlight the similarities. Both had difficult childhoods, including losing their parents while very young. Both studied to become lawyers, and both served as staff officers under George Washington. And of course, famously, both met on a field in a duel to defend their “honor.” This novel can serve an both an introduction and a way to pique the curiosity of readers embarking on the Hamilton adventure.
Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider by Jean Fritz
I appreciate the amount of information Jean Fritz includes in her brief yet comprehensive biography. Hamilton’s writing skills are often glossed over in the more succinct bios–and even the historical fiction about this Founding Father. His essays had an enormous influence, and Fritz shows the way these essays helped frame our early federal government. And of course, she includes other important aspects of his life, including his early years and immigration to the colonies and central role in forming the United States. His growing feud–and ultimate duel and death at the hands of Aaron Burr–are thoughtfully recounted. Fritz also shows Hamilton’s flaws in a very straightforward manner. Though the book iswritten for a younger audience, I really enjoyed and learned from it.
Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin, illustrated by Larry Day
Many of us from the pre-Hamilton musical days largely remember Alexander Hamilton for being on the ten-dollar bill and for his famous duel with Aaron Burr. It’s wonderful to have a greater context for this important historical figure, but it’s also fascinating to highlight the astounding event: the Vice-President of the United States shot and killed the Secretary of the Treasury in a duel. The author vividly shows how some aspects of politics have not changed over the past 200 years, including negative campaigning and smear tactics. The illustrations are fantastic, and work so well in this picture book format for retelling this infamous incident.
Alex and Eliza: A Love Story by Melissa de la Cruz
Such an entertaining and informative read! While some characters and events are created, the novel is also a wealth of historical detail about the late 18th century and the birth of the United States. Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler become real to readers as we learn of their meeting and their romance. Intelligent and passionate, Eliza is a wonderful heroine, embodying the commitment to the cause of a new nation in the people who fought for independence. I was intrigued by her work inoculating the troops against small pox, insisting on wearing homespun clothing, and her reliance on wit rather than flirtation. Her father, a General, did not keep her away from the politics of the time, but brought her with him on trips to meet with our allies, the Mohawk and Iroquois. The focus on the events before the famous pair are married keeps the story more on an upbeat romance level, but that makes it a more light-hearted read. I predict young adults will enjoy it as much as I did.
The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs
The story of Alexander Hamilton’s life is ripe for the kind of sweeping historical novel that Elizabeth Cobbs writes so well. Set against the American Revolution, the story brings plenty of drama to the romantic (in all senses of the word) tale. Besides being a novelist, Cobbs is a first-rate historian and includes fascinating details as well as well-spun yarns that enhance rather than detract from her retelling. The larger context of the controversy and disagreements among the Founding Fathers–men like Madison, Jefferson, and Monroe–adds depth to the other readings. I found her a bit too sympathetic to Hamilton’s infidelity, which is kind of blamed on his weakness in the face of someone really pursuing him. But the many facets of the man and his enduring relationship with his wife is well-presented. This novel is a great introduction to the definitive Chernow biography.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
As all aficionados of the Hamilton musical know, this biography so captivated Lin-Manuel Miranda that he wrote his ground-breaking musical to bring his discoveries of Hamilton to a wider audience. Expect to be similarly engaged. Might we suggest enjoying the compelling read–and then tuning in to the Hamilton soundtrack?