From time to time as a homeschooling mom, I feel the need to mix things up a bit. If all we are doing is reading through textbooks, then the education my kids get here with me is no different than it would be in a traditional school. One of the things my kids and I have done this year is reading lots of books that are filled with mini-biographies of 7-14 people. It’s been a great way to go deeper than the paragraph that most history books give important people. I’ve been able to watch my kids understand why these people are in history books and get excited about the stories behind the names. Following I’m going to list some of our favorites and why we’ve liked them.
Women in Black History was a great addition to our studies – a perfect dovetail and supplement to an American history curriculum. The biographies are 10-12 pages, easily read in one sitting and are appropriate for a wide age range. (My kids currently are 5, 8, 12, and 15) As a homeschooler, I also loved the discussion questions and creative prompts at the end of each story. It was a great way to test comprehension and dive deeper if you like. Several times we would springboard from the biography to YouTube or another source to learn more about the woman mentioned.
The women included in Women in Black History are Phillis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marian Anderson, Mahalia Jackson, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Althea Gibson, and Coretta Scott King.
We kicked off our year reading 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas. I wanted to test the idea of diving deeper into biographies with this book that focuses on George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Charles Colson. It was a diverse collection of men all with different impacts. In fact, some of you might question why he included some of the men, but by the end of the bios the kids agreed the men had shown reasons for greatness. The biographies led to some interesting discussions and gave us the chance to explore what does it mean to live a life of greatness. While there aren’t discussion questions at the end of each biography, there are many places you can take the stories and I loved how they covered a 300 year period of time.
Because we enjoyed 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, I decided to turn to the women. 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness was a great next step. In this volume Eric Metaxas examines 7 diverse women and the impact they made on the world. While, I was familiar with the men he had selected, this volume included a couple of new-to-me women: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks. Each of the bios mirrored the length of the first book — and we would spend about a week on each woman. We had already studied Susanna Wesley, Corrie ten Boom, and Mother Teresa, but the author’s take focused on what made them different and world-changers…a perspective I enjoyed exploring with my kids. I loved how 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness introduced us to several new women — I’m determined to learn more about Hannah More because she was fascinating, and I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have found Maria Skobtsova on our own. We all agreed 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness was an interesting collection of biographies.
This final book I’ll share today is one that we thoroughly enjoyed. Prayers that Changed History spanned centuries and overlapped a bit with some of our other studies, but I love how this book tied each of these individuals to a moment in history and a moment in the Bible. It’s also designed to be a book that preteens and young teens can read on their own though we enjoyed it as a read-aloud.
Martin Luther. Sojourner Truth. Helen Keller. St. Patrick. We loved reading their stories and learning how one prayer changed their lives and history. In Prayers That Changed History, the stories of twenty-five notable people are presented along with how prayer changed their lives and changed history. Following each historical example is a biblical story that ties to that person’s life and actions, as well as ways you can use the power of prayer in your life as well. Because God isn’t done changing the world yet, and he would love to use you to make history.
I loved how this book reinforced Biblical concepts while introducing us to very short biographies of influential men and women.
I have to tell you about these bios designed for young readers. My 8 year old loves them and because of them is my first child who loves learning about people. Thanks to these 9 or 10 chapter books with lots of illustrations, my daughter has learned about people as different as Queen Victoria, Walt Disney, Abigail Adams and Leonardo da Vinci. We’ve also read about the White House and the Underground Railroad. She’s to the point, she loves getting B&N giftcards so she can go buy more of these. I’ve enjoyed reading them with her, though they are at a level that a fluent third grader won’t have any trouble going off on their own. I think she likes the guaranteed reading time with Mom.
Two different kinds of books turned my 15 year old on to history starting when she was 13. All of a sudden she went from hating history to reading it on her own in addition to what we do as a family. This history lover’s heart rejoiced! The History of series is broken into several LARGE volumes but each volume is packed with short chunks: literally 2-6 pages on a topic. That makes it very readable. A fiction series had turned my girl on to the medieval world and this series took that and turned it into a knowledge base outside fiction.
The other series she has inhaled is the Mystery of History. We had done the first two books as a family and she asked for the third. Why yes, I would love to buy that for her. We’ll be traveling this summer and she asked where the third book had gone so she could brush up on the history. I LOVE that! And I just noticed there’s a fourth volume I need to grab for her. Again these are broken into small very readable chunks. And for the family, the teacher’s guide is packed with ideas on how to take the basic information and adapt it to multiple ages.
So there you have it. Four books we used this year to bring history to life. Have you used books like this to do the same thing?