A brief and incomplete primer on the American Revolution

A couple weeks ago I got on the library's catalogue system and began hoarding all the great 4th of July books to my holds account. I came home later with a bunch of fantastic stories. Plus a few others from our home library have been floating around the house since we got really behind in our American history studies and are just now finishing our book (How Our Nation Began). The beautiful irony about this and one of the reasons I love homeschooling is that by getting off-track with so many side tangents in American history, we inadvertantly delayed getting to the climax--the American Revolution-- until this week! How timely and wonderful is that?!

At any rate, the kids are eating up this history and I'm happy to let them explore all the great titles we have and borrowed from the library.

So our favorite books so far are the D'Aulaire biographies of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin but we have a couple other non-fiction books worth mentioning too. One of the most pleasant surprises has been found in the great purchase I made of Farmer George Plants a Nation. Biographical picture books just might be my favorite genre since they add so much depth to meaningful learning in a child's brain. And Farmer George is a treat. Not many words are spent talking about our first president's glory days as a soldier or his political dealings. Instead the book focuses on the much lesser known accomplishments of this man as a farmer and entrepreneur; he really did have a brilliant mind! We also have a funny little book called Can't You Make Them Behave, King George?which offers a great and historically accurate perspective on the Revolution from the other side of the Atlantic. Then there's Thomas Jefferson: A Picture Book Biographywhich isn't as fascinating as Farmer George but it does offer an important look at an important man whose ideas still shape our world.

In addition to these are the myriad of books related to celebrating the Fourth itself. Star Spangled Banner books, Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land (great illustrations), America the Beautifuland the like. This topic is ripe with good books.

This Fourth of July, my children will be playing lawn games, eating hot dogs and apple pie, watching fireworks and hopefully having a small sense of wonder at just how it is that our nation began...

World History in 284 Pages

This was going to be called "Library Pick of the Week" since it really is my pick of the week but it deserves more gravitas than that and I plan on buying it before next fall. E.H. Gombrich's A Little History of the Worldis superb. This book will be our spine for history studies for the next few years. Some compare it to Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the Worldin that both tell history from the narrative style for what it is: a story. I have considered using SOTW for our history with the kids many times, but for some reason it never "felt" perfect (Yes I confess; she who praises logic and reason so often resorts to plain old gut feelings.) for our particular family, though it may be a great fit for others. Perhaps it's the rumors that after the first or second volume there are inaccuracies and blatant biases against Catholic history. Perhaps it's the daunting activity books or other curricula-like materials that accompany the text. I don't know. I just know that I never appreciated history as a child and I want to avoid that for my kids. History is so fascinating! And when it's told in an interesting, NON-textbook way, I think even the most school-weary child can't help but be drawn in.

That's what A Little History of the World offers. It's a story (not a curriculum), told in a brilliant, engaging, child-friendly way. Gombrich was an Austrian man and history (from Ancient Egypt up through World War II) is written from that perspective. (He also has The Story of Art which I'm eager to explore too.) Yet, even if it's never read to children (I'd say age 7 is a great start), adults will be able to appreciate it. I think it's an ideal approach for our purposes as I plan on teaching history next year using many, many living books. There is so much history to be told that every single "plan" and textbook in the world will have gaps. As a homeschooling mother, this gives me great peace knowing that ALL education models--public, private, or home-- contain gaps; there is simply no way to learn all there is to know about human history. So using Connecting with History (about which I'm very excited!) as our guide to books and activities, we'll also bring in Gombrich's book as the central overview of any period we may be studying prior to exploring all the tangents and trails that interest us during that time. I also learned that there is a Little History of the World on CD!!!which I think could be a great alternative for some people who want to listen to it in the car or who want to let their children listen to the chapter while Mama is doing dishes or helping Billy-Bob with Calculus.

*Disclaimer: the very first chapter in this book talks with primitive man and Neanderthal-types. I'm quite comfortable with my own theories of evolution but if this topic offends you, it is a chapter easily skipped and certainly should not act as a deterrent to the rest of the book!

"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. "-Ursula K. LeGuin

On sentiments and fathers

I am one of those readers who does not particularly appreciate books about sentiments. When I read a story to a child, I want it to be a story... not a eulogy about how much I love the child or how special he is. While I can readily admit that certain "sentiment books" can be well written and nicely illustrated, I tend to find the genre itself to be saccharine and contrived. Children don't-- or at least shouldn't-- need books to feel like they are special in your eyes, or that they are loved. One book on which I stand against the crowd is the very popular Love You Forever by Robert Munsch (Do note that for the sake of charity, I do NOT link books that I myself would not buy.) This is one of those books that is on a ton of bookshelves across America, whether or not the parents are bibliozealots or not. It is the only children's book I've ever seen on Amazon that has over 1000 (by and large positive) reviews. I'm not sure what it is about it. People just seem to love the message of this book: mom loves little boy unconditionally as he grows up. The final moments are when the tables get turned and the boy (now a full sized man) is holding his elderly mother in the rocking chair. So not only is there a lack of a real plot, I also struggle with one of the pages in particular. The mother, at one point, crawls up a ladder to her grown man son's bedroom to hold and love him while he is sleeping. I find this rather creepy. There are other sentiment books that I don't particularly like either. I do however have more tolerance for books which at least have some interesting elements to add to the story, as is the case in The Runaway Bunny where at least the illustrations are fun and imaginative.

So with Father's Day just around the corner, it would be easy to find a few sappy 'I Love Daddy" books to recommend that fall into the sentimental category. Instead, let's discuss a few books that have good fatherly messages or figures without being quite so overt about it.

Anatole and the Toyshop by Eve Titus. I'm always willing to give a plug to the Anatole books; we love him around here. And in this particular story, Anatole gets to shine as the hero who saves his family from a tyrranical shop owner. Family is the ends; courage is the means.
Pop's Bridge by C.F. Payne gets double points for being based on history. (I love that.) In this book a boy admires his hardworking dad as he helps to build the Golden Gate Bridge. The sacrifices of men are noted and laborers of all kinds are celebrated in the end. Kids today don't often get to see their fathers doing meaningful work. Back in the pioneer days, children worked alongside fathers out in the fields or in the stables. Since the industrial revolution, the actual sight of men at work is removed from most kids. So when dad gets home, often all they see is him lazing about on the couch or glued in front of a T.V. or somesuch. Not exactly images that inspire virtues of strength, commitment, sacrifice and integrity in young people. (Now this is a topic for another time, another blog... but while I have you reading here, if you'd like to explore this idea further see the excellent, short book Successful Fathers: The Subtle but Powerful Ways Fathers Mold Their Children's Characters.)
Papa Piccolo by Carol Talley was mentioned before in a thrifting thread. It's been a good addition to our home library. Piccolo becomes a reluctant adoptive father to two spritely little kittens. After spending a lot of time trying to dodge them; their disappearance causes him concern and he finally embraces his role as papa and teacher. I suspect I'll be mentioning this one last time in a future post when I write about my favorite books to use as curriculum units. (The glories of Venice are in top form here.)
If: A Father's Advice to his Son. Now I'm breaking all the rules on this one. Not only is this a "sentiment book" of sorts, and it doesn't have a whole lot to do with fathers specifically, it's a book I've not even SEEN in real life yet! I stumbled on it one day on Amazon.com. This is the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling (whose pedigree speaks for itself) illustrated with photographs by Charles R. Smith Jr. I am a tremendous fan of this poem. It will be one of the longer poems my boys are forced to memorize and I hope its message sticks with them. If you're not familiar with "If", I'll post it here for your good pleasure. Drink it up, then force the koolaid on your kids too. As it is, I just found out that it's in our library system so I've just put a hold on it for further perusal.

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...