Archive for the ‘History’ Category


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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If you are searching for some Christmas or December reading that isn’t necessarily about the holiday, you might try this one:

Regardless of how much you liked the politics of the former administration, former VP’s wife, Lynne Cheney is a great author of history story books for young children.  When Washington Crossed the Delaware:  A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots.  Our drive through a cold Valley Forge Park today reminded me of this story.  It chronicles the battles of Trenton and Princeton in the Revolutionary War.  The noteworthy part about the story is that they made a rather perilous crossing of the Delaware River from Pennsylvania into New Jersey on Christmas Day.  The troops had a rough winter stationed at Valley Forge.

Cheney definitely succeeded in taking a historical story and making it engaging and interesting for young children.  As far as I can tell the story is accurate, although simplified.  I appreciate the portrayal of General Washington in this story, someone who bore the weight of his decisions to send men into battle in perilous conditions. The illustrations are stunning as well, in part because of the larger size of the book.

Here are some other books by Lynne Cheney.  Although I have read a few of the other ones and at the time thought the quality was somewhat lessened in comparison to this one.

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We are following a classical approach to studying history in our homeschool.  Since my son is in first grade, we focus on Ancient History.  A large part of that is Ancient Egypt.  There are so many great books about Ancient Egypt written for kids, and I hope to highlight more along the way.  But I’ll focus on just 2 of them for now.  One, I was reminded of after posting the Gail Gibbons Thanksgiving book earlier.

There is just so much material that one can cover when introducing Ancient Egypt to children.  The following book, is a great simple overview and introduction to ancient Egypt, and combining detailed and colorful drawings.  Mummies, Pyramids, and Pharaohs:  A Book about Ancient Egypt is written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons.

Each page only has a few sentences, and there are labels and other captions with the pictures.  There’s a simple map of Egypt, including the Nile River Delta, and very simple intro to some of the gods.


There’s a description of the pyramids, and what was contained inside, and the last page contains a list of some ancient Egypt discoveries.  The book certainly isn’t sufficient for a study in Ancient Egypt, but it’s a nice place to start and pique the child’s interest.

The second book, is another good starting point, and may get a reluctant child interested in studying something so far removed.  Miles Harvey has a series of books entitled Look What Came From…. In this case, there’s Look What Came from Egypt.


There’s something about the style of this book that is, well, I don’t know maybe a little on the cheesy side.  Maybe it’s the font for the headings on each page.  I don’t know, but it’s not a big criticism.  The book is well done and talks about many ancient Egyptian contributions to our modern society.  Things like embalming, books, sailboats, games, certain domestic animals, foods, etc.  The end of the book includes a recipe to try, a pronunciation guide, and other books to read for more info.  The pictures are well done, usually real photographs and I like that each invention is in bold letters in the paragraph.  Another great book to start the study of Ancient Egypt with.

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I recently wrote about Don Quixote for kids and wanted to give an update to another book we found in the library.  Margaret Hodges is a wonderful author of children’s books and most everything I’ve read by her I give high marks.  Our most recent read by her was St. Jerome and the Lion. We also own St. George and the Dragon.  She has a real gift for bringing legends and stories alive for children.  I did a search on other books by her and found that she has an adaptation of Don Quixote called Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

This version is definitely longer than the other I reviewed.  It’s 72 pages, with chapters, so would work better for an older child or as a read aloud.  I can’t comment on the literary quality yet, as I haevn’t gotten around to reading it yet.  But the illustrations are nice and I think I can actually get to the end of this version without being sick to my stomach!

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Don Quixote

Nope, you don’t have it wrong, this IS still a children’s book blog.  I found this book at the library and had to get it out for my knight and armor obsessed son.  Don Quixote and the Windmills by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher.

I recently attempted to read through the real Don Quixote by Cervantes. So I can definitively tell you that this children’s version is surely superior.

This book uses some dialogue from the original, and focuses on one particular chapter in which Don Quixote sees windmills and in his madness thinks them to be giants that he needs to attack. I love the artwork in this book, rather rough looking faces, bold earth colors, and his sidekick Sancho Panza looks exactly like I imagined him to be.

As someone who appreciates the Classical method of education, I look for books such as these.  Even if my children don’t grow up and read the real Don Quixote, they can have a reference point for who he was, and will understand references and the meaning of “quixotic,” or the phrase “tilting at windmills.”  In the grammar stage of their life it’s nice to have simplified versions of the classics so they can refer back to it as they progress in their studies.

And truth be told, if I had known about this book sooner, I just may have stuck with it instead of forging through the daunting original.

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