The Top Ten Books for Hamilnerds by Sarah Gross, Donalyn Miller, and Melissa Posten
Hamilton: An American Musical has taken the world by storm. Based on Ron Chernow’s 2005 comprehensive biography, Alexander Hamilton, the musical has garnered a Grammy Award for Best Musical Cast Album, eleven Tony Awards, and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama. Fans of all ages listen to the songs, engage with the cast on social media, and desperately hunt for tickets to the show, which is sold out almost a year in advance.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton’s creator, discovered Chernow’s biography while on vacation—launching an obsession for bringing Alexander Hamilton’s story to a broader audience. In 2009, Miranda performed the first song from his new project, The Hamilton Mixtape, at the White House. Miranda spent the next six years composing the score and songs—eventually turning his initial concept album idea into a musical. (To learn more about the creation and production of Hamilton and insider information about every song and cast member, we encourage you to read Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel-Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.)
More than a historical depiction of America’s forgotten Founding Father, Hamilton is a work of musical genius—sampling hip hop legends like Busta Rhymes, rhythm and blues elements, and classic Broadway shows like Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance—bringing together people from all backgrounds who can find something both accessible and completely new. Through its diverse casting, its mix of classic and modern elements, and its empowering reminder of our shared American Dream, Hamilton invites everyone to join the Revolution. How lucky we are to be alive right now.
The three of us were fortunate enough to see Hamilton on Broadway (not at the same time) and cannot stop talking about it. We are excited that our students and children will be able to watch and share Hamilton in the years to come.
Melissa: I’m a lifelong musical theatre fan, and was very involved in the fandom of RENT, which was the last show that inspired this sort of adoration and obsession. I was already primed to be a massive #hamilfan, and indeed became one as soon as I heard the cast recording, seeking out online communities and following Lin-Manuel Miranda and cast members on all forms of social media. I was lucky enough to see it in December via the cancellation line, just before people started waiting in it overnight. It is the most extraordinary live theatre experience I’ve ever had. I would repeat it as often as I could afford if tickets weren’t so hard to get!
Sarah: I’m very lucky to live in NJ, just a short train ride away from Manhattan. I’m a rabid theater fan who frequently purchases cheap tickets through TKTs, rush, and other discounts. I never pay full price so imagine my husband’s surprise when last July I announced that I had purchased two full-price rear mezzanine tickets for us to see Hamilton. In January. Five months from that day. But I had seen Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2009 performance at the White House and I knew I needed to see this show. In the fall NPR streamed the cast recording and I haven’t looked back. I own the cast recording and two t-shirts (and a cup), I’ve watched every bit of media out there that’s even tangentially related to the show, and I follow most of the cast on social media. I even joined Snapchat to stay up-to-date on the show! My husband and I saw the show together in January and haven’t looked back! And in February, when the production released a few tickets for summer shows, I bought three tickets before I even checked with my friends to see if they were willing to pay full price (front mezz) to go back. Luckily, they said yes, and on Tony Sunday I saw the show for the second time. I laughed, I cried, and now I enter the lottery everyday. The show is a part of my life and a part of my teaching. It’s a disease. It’s #Hamilaria. My students are just as obsessed as I am and Lin-Manuel Miranda, also a product of a high-pressure academically-talented high school like ours, is an inspiration to them.
Donalyn: My husband and I were high school drama nerds and spent our teen years in cavernous auditoriums practicing and performing. We have been Broadway fans for as long as we remember—watching Pippin, Sweeney Todd, and Sunday in the Park with George endlessly on HBO. We never imagined that we would see a Broadway musical in New York with the original cast. We caught Hamilaria last winter after listening to the cast recording, and have been reading and watching everything we could find about it ever since. Even our granddaughters can sing songs to Hamilton. In celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary, Don and I decided to track down tickets and fly to New York to see it. We saw Hamilton on June 10th and made it home to Texas just in time last Sunday night to watch Hamilton sweep the Tony Awards. A week later, it is still challenging to describe how powerful it is. It is a work of genius manifest on stage. Imagine watching Van Gogh paint for almost three hours.
Whether your family and you are obsessed with Hamilton, or you’re just discovering it, we’ve got a book for you to read and share while you’re downloading the cast album or waiting for more tickets to go on sale.
TOP TEN BOOKS FOR HAMILNERDS
(If you’re counting, there are more than ten book recommendations here, but we didn’t want to throw away our shot to share something awesome. Special thanks to Sarah Gross for matching Hamilton lyrics to each book suggestion. She’s a true Hamilnerd!)
I wrote my way to revolution.- “Hurricane”
Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
The book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda. You know he’s a Nerdy Book Club member. Who else brings an 800-page biography on a beach vacation? If you are traveling this summer, we recommend the 22-hour audiobook.
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.
An inside peek into the genesis, evolution, and production of Miranda’s masterpiece, which includes the complete libretto (with footnotes).
Most disputes die, and no one shoots- “Ten Duel Commandments”
Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History by Don Brown.
In their quest for power and influence both Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton damage their legacy. Don Brown shows the similarities and differences between the two men through the story of their infamous last encounter.
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?- “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”
Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider by Jean Fritz. This is the best middle grade biography of Hamilton that exists. It captures all sides of Hamilton, good and bad. Jean Fritz is a prolific legend in her own right—writing worthy and engaging books for children for more than 50 years.
Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland- “Alexander Hamilton”
Alexander Hamilton #2: Little Lion (The Treasure Chest series) by Ann Hood.
Felix and Maisie are transported to 18th century St. Croix they meet a young man named Alexander Hamilton about to set sail for New York. Perfect for young #Hamilfans who aren’t quite ready for Chernow’s biography.
But we’ll never be truly free, until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me- “My Shot”
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation series by M.T. Anderson.
This series is perfect for YA readers who want to know more about the Revolutionary War time period in New England. Octavian and his mother are slaves who are experimented on by Boston intellectuals. Heartbreaking and rage-inducing.
I wanna be in the room where it happens…”- “Room Where it Happens”
Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven Nate by Tim Federle.
Federle, a talented Broadway performer and writer, perfectly captures the joy of loving musical theatre and wanting to wrap yourself in it and just live there.
We keep meeting- “Right Hand Man”
The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Judith St. George.
Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton lived parallel lives that brought them together over and over again. This middle grade book introduces readers to both men.
Helpless! Look into your eyes and the sky’s the limit I’m helpless!- “Helpless”
The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough.
Are our lives and loves fate? Can class differences, prejudice, and hatred be overcome? Brockenbrough asks these questions and more when we are introduced to Henry and Flora, destined to love one another and destined to be torn apart. Love and Death play a dangerous game and we are the pawns. Much like Eliza and Hamilton, the two lovers must work hard to stay together, despite obstacles. (Martha Brockenbrough is currently researching a Hamilton book of her own, can’t wait!)
There’s a million things I haven’t done but just you wait!- “Alexander Hamilton”
Hip Hop Dog by Chris Raschka, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky. A mutt who isn’t chosen, the last one in the litter, left to fend for himself. Sound familiar? Hip-hop beats and rhymes tell the story.
Gotta be my own man, like my father, but bolder- “Blow Us All Away”
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga.
Shouldering your father’s legacy isn’t easy, especially when your father has left a wake of victims behind him. While Jazz’s dad wasn’t a Founding Father, he does force his son to make tough decisions about legacies and loyalty, much like Hamilton.
“A civics lesson from a slaver. Hey neighbor your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labor. “We plant seeds in the South. We create.” Yeah, keep ranting. We know who’s really doing the planting”- “Cabinet Battle #1”
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.
Our Founding Fathers lived lives of contradictions: many fought for their own freedom and the ability to build a new nation while owning slaves. Bradley’s book offers a look at Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemmings, a slave, and the idea that he owned his own children.
We’ll never be free until we end slavery!- “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”
The Seeds of America series by Laurie Halse Anderson. Perfect for middle grade and young adult readers who want to know about the events of the Revolutionary War from the rarely-heard perspective of enslaved children. (Ashes, the final book in the trilogy, comes out in October.)
Rise up! When you’re living on your knees, you rise up- “My Shot”
Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick.
Quick’s book brings to the table a different representation of determination to “rise up” out of poverty. The main character has a fierce determination and boundless energy, and suffers a crisis of faith when a loved one suffers a violent attack.
How do you write like you need it to survive?- “Non-Stop”
Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter.
A handbook for any young writer who also wants to “write like [they’re] running out of time”. Full of prompts and ideas, this book can inspire young writers to “write day and night”, just like Hamilton.
I love my sister more than anything in this life, I will choose her happiness over mine every time.”- “The Reynolds Pamphlet”
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.
No matter what, family sticks together. Sisters are forever. June is 14 years old in 1980’s Westchester and she is in love with her uncle. When she learns he’s been diagnosed with AIDs she is devastated. Everyone in the family handles the news differently, and June and her sister Greta struggle to keep their relationship intact. It’s not easy, but the sisters help each other though the tragedy. Perfect for #hamilfans who see themselves in the Schuyler sisters.
What time is it? Show time!- “Aaron Burr, Sir”
When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor. Perfect for younger members of the #hamily who don’t know the history behind the musical form that drives Hamilton.
You will never be satisfied…- “Satisfied”
There are a few extras that every #Hamilfan should know: First, Lin-Manuel Miranda narrates the audiobook of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by by Benjamin Alire Saenz and it is not to be missed. And for poetry fans, we recommend No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay (she’s a huge fan/friend of LMM and did a #ham4ham show. ) Kids love her poetry and Miranda wrote the liner notes for her book! And if you want to read what Lin-Manuel Miranda reads, check out his interview in The New York Times Book Review.
Additional Resources for #Hamilfans:
- Hamilton: An American Musical Genius annotations
- Tony Awards performance of “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”
- Lin-Manuel Miranda’s moving Tony acceptance speech gives tribute to the victims of the Orlando shooting.
- The New York Times The Learning Network’s ideas for teaching with Hamilton
- School Library Journal: Teaching with “Hamilton”
Melissa Posten has been a theatre fangirl since she was 16 (first Broadway show: Into the Woods) and was an indie bookseller, buyer, and children’s author event planner for ten years. She lives in St. Louis and is currently in charge of collection development and marketing for Classroom Library Company. She has tickets to see Hamilton in NYC the day before LMM leaves and plans on bringing a tote bag full of tissues.
Sarah Gross has Hamilaria and she has it bad. A lifelong theater fan, she’s never fangirled this much over a single show. Wicked came close, but this is definitely a more serious case of obsession. She even wrote a letter to Lin-Manuel Miranda to thank him for inspiring her students and included a picture of the poster she created to hang in her classroom with some of his words of wisdom. She’s caught more than a handful of students surreptitiously copying the quote into their writer’s notebook this year….achievement unlocked! Sarah is probably a little old to write fan letters. She saw Hamilton in January and again on June 12 and both times Miranda was out; as a result, she can promise you that Javier Munoz and Jon Rua are fantastic Hamiltons and the show is a religious experience no matter who stands on the stage. This summer she will finally finish reading Chernow’s book. She thinks. Maybe while entering the lottery daily…Find her on Twitter @thereadingzone.
Donalyn Miller was the president of her high school’s Thespian Society and credits her high school drama teachers, Silas Kennemer and Debbie Blankenship, for removing most of her hick Texas accent. She married a drama and music nerd who has the uncanny ability to drop song lyrics and Broadway musical references into almost every conversation—an ability Don has passed to their children. The Millers are probably singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” in Texas right now—if they aren’t reading a book. You can find Donalyn on Twitter @donalybooks where she regularly shares book recommendations and reading resources when she isn’t stalking the cast of Hamilton.