Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in Story of the World (12)


Weekly book shelf, 10/31/14

In history this week, The Story of the World took us to the time of Tariq bin Ziyad and the Islamic invasion of Spain. One of the things I've been increasingly disappointed with in SOTW is its bias—its white, male, Christian bias. It's a continuous problem in all history books for children, really, so to this week's schedule I added some reading on the Islamic faith and what it means to be a Muslim. Muslim Child came highly recommended, oddly enough, by the SOTW. It is a collection, as it says, of stories and poems about the Islamic faith. It is written fairly well and illustrated with tasteful sketches in black and white, but it did come across as proselytizing, or felt a bit like propaganda to me. At least we are learning quite a bit about bias in general.

In science this week we tackled the world's decomposers (BFSU2 B16). For comparison of the various kingdoms, in particular the animal and plant kingdoms, we used Flowering Plants and Mammals from the Classifying Living Things series. For the main portion of our week study, though, we used Steve Parker's Molds, Mushrooms, & Other Fungi. All of these are great books for understanding the criteria that determine kingdom classification, and for deeper study of Kingdom, and more detailed, classification.

For his reading comprehension notebook this week, Calvin picked The Book of Three. It's the first in the five book series, The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. Taran, a young pig-farmer, is chasing a runaway pig when he meets a prince, and thus begins his quest to become a hero. Calvin was unable to put this one down.



Calvin was also reading Carl Sandberg's Rutabaga Stories. It was a favorite of my dad's when he was little, so when we found his old copy, Calvin decided to give it a try. It's a collection of stories that display Sandberg's talent for the truly absurd. And hilarious.


Greece Gets Civilized Again (SOTW ch. 20)

The emergence of Greece from the dark ages with a new language and altered culture, plus Homer's arrival on the scene, makes for a colorful chapter of history. We paused here for a moment, actually, and blended this chapter with a look into Greece's next few years of culture, mainly their contributions to general wisdom that have been passed down through the ages.

The Life and Times series of "biographies" was something we leaned on a lot here, not because I think it's a great series, but because there weren't a lot of options available to us that fell somewhere between picture books and adult tomes. The series is a victim of modern kid book insanity, so it has insets and font changes and tidbits of information that are entirely out of place, but it worked out alright because with each book I selected small sections I thought would impart the knowledge we were looking for, and Calvin had time to peruse the rest based on his own desire. We used The Life and Times of Homer, by Tracy Kathleen, The Life and Times of Pythagoras, by Susan Sally Harkins, The Life and Times of Socrates, by Suan Zannos, and The Life and Times of Plato, by Jim Whiting.

Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates, by Mark David Usher, falls under the category of "well, it was better than nothing." Created to appeal to the younger crowd, the book tries to walk the line between picture book and biography to the tune of over-simplifying the facts. That being said, used with lots of discussion and additional resources, the book isn't a bad introduction, and the pictures keep it interesting.

Pythagoras and the Ratios and What's Your Angle, Pythagoras?, both by Julie Ellis, are fun picture book introductions to the story of Pythagoras and his discoveries. I find historical fiction to be a valuable genre, and these books fit the bill for some lighter yet still informative reading, to go along with the biography we used (listed above).

Aristotle and Scientific Thought, by Steve Parker, was probably my favorite book from this section. That may be due in part to my personal love for Aristotle, but the book was also pretty well done, with lots of information presented in an easy-to-follow yet not overly-simplified manner and illustrations intended to add and not distract.

Rosemary Sutcliff's version of The Iliad, Black Ships Before Troy, is an excellent retelling for youthful readers. Her ability to retain much of the mythical grandeur of the original poem whilst making it readable for the younger set keeps the tale truly enjoyable. There are different issues of her perfect retelling out there. We selected the set (Black Ships Before Troy and The Wandering of Odysseus) with the stunning illustrations by Alan Lee. I cannot say enough about this pair of books, or the others in Sutcliff's estimable library of traditional tales retold.


The Myceneans (The Early Greeks, SOTW ch. 19)

We are reaching the point in history where sources will be numerous and finding information won't be so hard as narrow the choices down. There is, for instance, an overwhelming number of translations and retellings, with and without illustrations, of the Iliad. Some that narrow in on just one part of the story, others that summarize, still others that make the book accessible while trying to keep the flavor of the original, and of course the original in a vast range of modernizations.

In learning about the Mycenaeans we spent some time talking about how they lived, and definitely quite some time looking at where they lived, but we also spent some time marking their time in history. I thought it important to draw a distinction between the ancient Greece of the Mycenaeans and the Classical Greece of Homer, so we talked here again about finding truth in myth and vice versa. In particular there are some wonderful books and videos (Michael Wood anyone?) that look at mythical or legendary tellings, like the Minotaur and The Trojan War, and link them to evidence of historical events. An excellent exercises.

Ancient Aegean (DVD, Schlessinger Media, 1998). A comparison look at the cultures of the ancient Minoans and Mycenaeans, and a quest for truth behind myths such as the Minotaur and the Trojan War. We enjoyed this as a short video to reinforce some things we'd already learned. We also watched it a couple of weeks ago when we were looking more closely at the Minoans.

In Search of the Trojan War (BBC Video, Michael Wood, 1985). We are big fans of Michael Wood, so much so that we actually broke down and bought this series on DVD, and we were not disappointed. Here he is at his 1980s finest, taking viewers on an historical tour with stops in Germany, Turkey, England, Greece and more, in search of the truth, or fanciful hopes, regarding the Trojan war. Not only an excellent series on the historicity of Homer's Iliad, but also on the history of archaeology itself, and the sites included.

Digging for Troy: From Homer to Hisarlik (Jill Rubalcaba and Eric Cline, 2011). Beginning with a nod to the Troy of modern culture, following with a summary of the classical story, then commencing with an historical account of the archaeologists and their excavations of the site over the years. This book provides a lot of information in a very accessible way. It's a wonderful resource not only for the study of Troy, but also archaeology itself, and the concept of a living, changing historical understanding. We really only used the portion of the book on the archaeologists.

Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad (Rosemary Sutcliff, 1993). Sutcliff's re-telling of the Iliad was originally published in serially in the magazine Cricket, before being published after her death with illustrations by Alan Lee. It has since been published in other forms and I believe Lee's illustrated version is out of print, but the book, which is excellently retold, would not be the same without the illustrations. We got it from our library and Calvin absolutely loves it. We also have the Sutcliff/Lee version of the Odyssey on loan (The Wanderings of Odysseus, 1995), and he'll probably read that this week.


The Celts (history off the beaten path)

Halloween week had us reading up on the Celts, coloring, and taking in a couple of interesting videos. It was a short detour form our march through the Story of the World, but temporally it's a legitimate sidestep. Bauer doesn't get to any of the Celts until the Romans do, quite a ways down the line, but they were there and they were building, and I'm glad we spent the time to give that culture it's place on our history timeline.

Stonehenge Decoded is a National Geographic video that looks at some newer theories and speculations about the meaning and history of that famous stone monument. A true documentary, but as usual we really enjoyed it.

Stonehenge, by Cynthia Kennedy Henzel is part of a series titled Troubled Treasures: World Heritage Sites, and part of the book is dedicated to discussing the ways in which this monument is threatened and the reasons why preserving it should be a priority. Calvin enjoyed the pictures and short paragraphs of factoids present with each.

This book, The Mystery of Stonehenge, by Franklyn Branley, is an old one. That's probably why I like it. Written in the 60s, the book is lacking the loud, attention getting images and fonts of newer non-fiction youth books, and it has the enjoyable feel of a book well written and well made. Mostly text, the images that are present are sketches with limited color. There is one particular sketch, a birds-eye-view, that Calvin has studied repeatedly and really enjoyed. Thumbs-up.

Read-Aloud Celtic Myths and Legends, because we can't look at any culture without also looking for all their good stories. We didn't spend any real time looking at these, just reading them, so I don't know how authentic they are, but we'll do that when we return to the Celts at a later date.

I love the Dover coloring books. They make a coloring book for just about every occasion, Stonehenge included.


The Minoans (SOTW ch. 18)

Back to the sea. We're on the door of the ancient Greeks now, and from there it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to the classical Greeks. Of all the ancient civilizations they might be my favorite, although I might be known to say the same about every civilization at the onset of each study. My only disappointment with this topic was the dearth of good books for children. We actually got most of the good information from the two videos we watched.

This version of Theseus and the Minotaur, by Warwick Hutton, combines beautiful illustrations with an accessible version of the Classical Greek myth about the Minoans and their Greek neighbors.

The Ancient Aegean, by Schlessinger Media. These videos tend to be just on the cusp of cheesy versus useful. But while this one definitely still suffered from a healthy cheese factor, it felt toned down to me. Most of the video is spent looking at the civilizations and delving into the myths, and the information is good. We definitely enjoyed this quick look at the Minoans and the myth of the Minotaur, plus, with a short overview of the Iliad and the truth behind Troy it turned out to be a good segue into our study for next week.

Secrets of the Dead is an ongoing PBS show. The episode that we viewed Sinking Atlantis, is from 2008. We rented it through Amazon Prime video streaming. Historians uncover evidence of what happened to the Minoan civilization in the centuries before it was ultimately conquered and absorbed by the Mycenaean culture. We watched this video twice and enjoyed it both times immensely.