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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

I wanted to take a moment to highlight a book series that my 5 year old is into every day here. I can’t tell you exactly what his reading level is, as I’ve never done any test to see. But for comparison sake, when he reads to me from the level 3 Faith and Freedom readers, he never stumbles or needs help with words (excepting a few proper names he’s never seen).

Anyway, while he’s a very strong reader, he had it in his head that he would not read anything that resembled a chapter book. With one exception, The Silver Chair from the Narnia Series, which he read cover to cover a few pages a night. I’m not sure how much he was stumbling on the words but it sure seemed that he was getting every bit of it and he persevered of his own volition for many nights before bed. But if I ever tried to get him interested in other chapter books, he had it in his mind that they were too hard and should only be reserved for his older brother. Until I finally convinced him to try one of the Magic Tree House books.

Now he’s hooked. I think he realized, that he could speed through chapter books as easily as picture books and it gave him confidence.

MTH books are simple chapter books, with siblings Jack and Annie as the main characters. Through the tree house they are able to travel through time and witness some important historical events…pirates, moon landing, mummies, knights, etc. Each book tells of a new adventure. They are heavy with dialogue and simple sentence structure. These are perfect for transitioning kids from picture books to chapter books. Also fun for supplementing any history education you are doing.


I should caution that while these are great readers they don’t qualify as stellar read aloud literature in my mind. We listened to one on audio and let’s just say it was not a big hit with any of my kids (and frankly not me either). But they love to read them on their own at this stage.

Each of the MTH books (at least the early ones) also have a corresponding “Research Guide” that gives more background info on the topic being studied.

So if you have an up and coming reader who needs a little push to head towards chapter books, be sure to check out the Magic Tree House series. I also came across the MTH website that looks like it has some fun games and activities for kids as a supplement to the books.

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Looking back in Time

One of my son’s favorite books to page through recently has been A Street Through Time which is a DK book written by Anne Millard and illustrated by Steve Noon. The “A ______ through time” series is an impressive collection of pages that illustrate what a place looked like at different points in history. Part of the appeal of the book for my son is the larger size, so when opened to a particular page, the street view spans both sides of the pages. This particular book starts at the Stone Age Hunters era (about 10,000BC) and goes through to present time. There are explanations of things to look for around the perimeter of the pages, and locations are labeled in the illustrations. An added bonus is that on each page there’s a hidden time traveler that you can look for (reminds me of the Where’s Waldo Books). This book has been very fun to sit and look at with my sons. There is so much detail on each page as you see the cut-away views inside houses and shops. It has sparked some interesting thoughts about what our street looked like throughout history.

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My kids and I have been spending a week delving into the early years of the church and how Jesus’ message spread from the disciples out into the world.  We are in between our history books, so I thought it would be a good time to take a break to really focus on the early church.  For our read aloud this week, I chose a book by Mary Fabyan Windeatt. She is the author of countless children’s book and coloring books about saints, in the series called Stories of the Saints for Young People ages 10 to 100.  For this week, we are reading St. Paul the Apostle:  The Story of the Apostle to the Gentiles. These are chapter books that are definitely for older children or for a family read aloud.  Of the chapter books I’ve read to the kids, this one is likely one of the more difficult ones.  The vocabulary and sentence structure is definitely more advanced than most of the books we’ve read with the kids.  However, we are all enjoying it very much.  We stop to talk about things along the way of course and it helps that the subject matter is somewhat familiar to them and they already knew a bit about St. Paul from previous Bible readings.  The story begins with Paul’s (rather Saul at that time) conversion story and ends with his death.

As we are reading through this, we are making a map of each missionary journey, using this book as a guide.  It’s a Reader’s Digest book and serves as a good resource for me to read as I’m reading along with the kids.  There are a lot of pictures and photographs that illustrate places that Paul stopped at along the way.

If you need a coloring page of St. Paul, you can check out Charlotte’s list, just scroll down, they are listed alphabetically.  My kids always listen much better to stories when they have something to color or draw while listening!

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I wish I could remember how I came across this book. It must have been on some world geography book list I found recently while making my lesson plans for our homeschool. At any rate, I’m glad I found it!

The Giraffe That Walked to Paris is a children’s book based on true events from early 19th century France.  It’s written by Nancy Milton and illustrated by Roger Roth.  The story goes that the pasha of Egypt wanted to give a present to King Charles X of France, to improve relations between the two countries after disagreements about a spat between Turkey and Greece.  It was suggested to the pasha to give the king a giraffe.

So the giraffe made the journey across the Mediterranean Sea to the coast of France and landed in Marseilles.  Since they wanted to keep the giraffe in a warmer climate for the winter, she stayed there until spring.  The only way they could figure to have the giraffe make the journey north to Paris to be presented to the king was to have her walk with an entourage of cows, and caretakers.

She finally made it to Paris and in an elaborate ceremony was presented to the king.  Then she lived out her days at the Paris zoo.

This book is a fun story, if not a good way to be introduced to the historical facts the story is based upon.  It was interesting for my kids to imagine seeing a giraffe the first time, if never even been introduced to a picture of one, for that is what it was like for the people of France to see the giraffe walk from town to town.

The Giraffe That Walked to Paris is appropriate for Kindergarten and up.  It’s a longer picture book, with several paragraphs on each page, so it would also be appropriate for independent reading for older children.

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For my own fun reading, I recently finished Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures. I won’t go into details about the book here since it is not a children’s book.  It’s a novel, however, many of the characters were real people and it tells about many real things they contributed to society.

While searching for more information on the setting of that novel, I came across a children’s book in our library based on one of the main characters in Remarkable Creatures…Mary Anning.  Mary Anning did in fact hunt for fossils on the shores of Lyme Regis, England.  Her family sold them in a shop for tourists.  Mary Anning was a young girl who, through her daily hunts on the beach ended up finding some remarkable fossils.  It was highly unusual for women to be interested in this pastime but Mary spent her life finding fossils.  She found the first plesiosaur in England.

Jeannine Atkins has written a beautiful story about young Mary Anning, called Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon. It’s an inspiring story of Mary and her dedication to finding fossils despite the townspeople’s objections.  With the encouragement of her mother and her own desire to carry on something her deceased father had started, she keeps looking and finally finds an enormous ichthyosaur.

Michael Dooling is the illustrator and his paintings are truly incredible in this book.  I love the pages of gray water and sand mixing, giving us a taste for the cold rainy winters that Mary had to endure to keep up her task of fossil hunting.

As it turns out there are several other children’s stories based on Mary Anning.  I hope to get some from our library to review them.  Atkins, though, has done a wonderful job capturing who Ms. Anning must have been and paying tribute to her work for all time.

This would be a great story to read especially if you have a child who is into fossils.  It would also be a nice supplement to various history or science units on fossils or learning about how people dealt with the discovery of extinct animals and reconciled that with their faith.

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July 20th marks the anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon.  We found a wonderful book to read to commemorate the day and show our little ones a bit about the momentous day.  Robert Burleigh has written many children’s books, although I hadn’t heard of him before.  It seems most of his books are educational in nature, about historical events or figures. 

One Giant Leap is a picture book for early elementary aged children.  Paintings are by Mike Wimmer and offer a stunning view into what little kids dream about being able to see.  The paintings are very detailed.  I love how many images show the earth off in the distance the way the astronauts would have seen it.  The story is simple but gives the reader a taste for how the men were feeling at the time, and knew what they were doing was big, momentous and had far reaching implications.

My boys loved this book.  The 7 year old was able to read it on his own, and the almost 5 yr old loved listening and finding the earth on each page.  We have also visited the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and have seen what the astronauts rode in, so they could connect the pictures to something they had seen in real life.

I highly recommend One Giant Leap for your dreaming astronauts, or for learning about a momentous occasion.

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Do you have a knight in your house?

Sometimes I think I do.

Many the day when my 7 year old son walks around with cardboard creations all over him as chain mail.  He bought a GI Joe helmet at a yard sale with his own money so he could wear it backwards and pretend it’s a knight’s helmet.  He uses plastic storage bins as shields and calls his brothers “Sir Gallonhead.”

So one book that my son regularly checks out of the library (and by regularly I mean it’s quite possible that no one else in the county has ever checked it out) is a very colorful and fun tale of Sir James.  Patrick O’Brien has written a wonderful book about knighthood from a child’s perspective called The Making of a Knight.

The story tells of James who is 7 and sent to a castle to become a page.  This was the first step in eventually becoming a knight.  Through James’ experiences in the castle, the reader learns all about the years of training the knights receive.  We learn about the weapons and armor used, how he learns to hunt, and the steps he goes through to prove himself worthy of knighthood.

O’Brien is the illustrator as well, and the pictures are done in oil on canvas.  He does a great job of capturing the earthy castle scenes as well as the bright colors of the tournaments.

Summer could be a great time for a boy to do fun reading about knights and castles.  I hope to post some other ideas soon for books in that category.

Also, if you are looking for a more in depth project, check out homeschool share’s knight lapbook (and the books to supplement).

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Pheidippides!

You say that Fi-DIP-uh-deez.

If you or your kids don’t know who this guy is, then I have just the book for you!

Author Susuan Reynolds says that she got the inspiration for this story after running her first marathon.  The First Marathon:  The Legend of Pheidippides tells the story of a battle between the Greeks and Persians and how we get the word and event marathon.  Pheidippides (yes I do have to keep checking to make sure I’m spelling it correctly!) was a Athenian soldier, but due to his good running skills, he was often used as a herald to deliver messages between generals.  Runners were used instead of horses because the Greek landscape was often too rocky for horses.

The Persians invaded Greece in 490 BC and they landed in the Greek city of Marathon.  Pheidippides was tasked with running to Sparta to get help from the Spartan army.  He had to run 140 miles from Athens to Sparta.  Then, after hearing that the Spartans would not come to help for a while, he had to run all the way back to Athens.  The Athenian army marched to Marathon to defend themselves against the Persians.  The Persians were caught off guard and lost the battle.

Pheidippides was asked to run from Marathon to Athens to tell the news of the battle.  The story goes that soon after he had delivered his message, he breathed his last breath.

Reynolds does a fantastic job bringing this legend to life.  Keep in mind that this story is a legend, so while based on factual events, the details are muddy.

Even if you’re not homeschooling or studying Ancient Greece, it’s a fun story to help your child understand how some of our English words have come about and maybe spark an interest in further word root study!  At the end of the book is a more detailed discussion about which parts are fact and fiction, and how the marathon distance has evolved over time.

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Over the past few years we’ve given this book as a gift to several of our friends children for baptisms, birthdays, etc.  I’ve always had it on our list of ones to buy for our own home library but never have, until our own children were lucky enough to receive it for Christmas from a family member!

Diana M. Amadeo has compiled a lovely book about saints and blesseds of the Americas.  There are some wonderful stories of missionary saints in the Americas that often get overlooked in saint compilations.  Holy Friends:  Thirty Saints and Blesseds of the Americas is well written, and a joy to page through.  There are some well known saints in there, such as Katherine Drexel and John Neumann, but there are also lesser known ones (well, to me they are lesser known), such as Saint Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga.  The saints are arranged by country, alphabetically.  Each one has a full page color drawing of them doing their work.  The drawings are very realistic, detailed and captivating.

The details that I appreciate about this book are the flags that show each country that the saint did his or her work.  At the end of each write up about the person, the date of their feast day is given, and there is a short prayer at the end of each one as well.

This book would be a great addition to any history study, especially if using a secular text.  These early missionaries had a huge influence on the beginnings of the Americas and are often overlooked in history texts.  This book also gives the opportunity for geography study along with the saint study.

My only complaint about the book (and it’s a very small one) is that there is no separate listing of the feast days.  In our family, we try to read about the saint on his or her feast day.  It would be helpful to have a list in the back of the book that arranged them by month, rather than having to look at the last page of each write up to find the date.

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I just finished a unit with my 6 yo about Moses and the Exodus of the Israelites.  We were rather combining our History studies of ancient Egypt and our religion units of the Ten Commandments.  I wanted to share some of the books we used to enhance our studies.

The one thing to keep in mind with this Bible story is that it can be quite graphic.  From the Pharaoh setting out to kill all the firstborn baby boys to the plagues and Moses’ murder of the Egyptian, these can be violent stories so of course you have to preview these books before reading them to your child, or allowing your child to read them.

I’ll start with the lighter versions first:

Mary Auld has retold the story in two different books:  Exodus from Egypt and Moses in the Bulrushes.

This one starts with a brief telling of how the Israelites became slaves of the Egyptians and ends with Moses being called by God back to free his people.

It’s well done, not too simple nice illustrations.

This one goes into fairly great detail of the plagues and follows the Israelites until after they pass through the Red Sea.  It makes a nice follow up to the above book.  I appreciate the pictures in here, not too gory and there is just something about the style that draws you in.

The next one is by Jean Marzollo (she also wrote the I Spy books).

Miriam and her Brother Moses is definitely more cutesy and lighthearted, focusing on the sibling relationship between Miriam and Moses.  On each page it shows Miriam and the song she would sing to Moses, and how eventually it is that song that helps him remember who he really is, an Israelite.  A tough story is given some reprieve with the images of this little girl dancing and singing, and ducks quacking.

Of these books, this one was one of my son’s favorite to read over and over.  It’s a fun reprieve from a tragic story.

The next two are quite accurate re-tellings of the story.  They are longer versions, with very detailed and sometimes graphic artwork.  They should be used for older children or read-alouds.

Ann Keay Beneduce‘s Moses:  The Long Road to Freedom. Is well done.  My complaints are possibly inconsequential.  I hate the font chosen for the text.  It’s very light, quite small and a lot of space between lines.

I struggle with falling asleep while reading to the kids.  I don’t want to have to squint!

The illustrations by Gennady Spirin are unique.  They remind me of a particular painter but can’t put my finger on who it is.  They are very detailed, with soft colors and kind of grainy.  There is a very detailed picture of the Red Sea engulfing the Egyptians so be sure to preview this one for your kids.

Lastly, Exodus retold by Miriam Chaikin is the most detailed and long version of the story.  It uses many names for the secondary characters.  Starts with Moses as a baby and ends with the Ten Commandments and the Ark of the Covenant.  The drawings are detailed and there is a lot of text on each page.  The storytelling is engaging and it was a good read overall.

So go out and read about Moses and the Exodus.  Advent is a good time to read about one of the Old Testament Promises that lead to the ultimate promise of a Savior.

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