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Finding Good History Books July 10, 2008

Posted by Beth in Education.

Finding good books is a challenge and has been rather time consuming for me. It was much easier with my son who is a voracious reader and much more difficult with my daughter who has other ways of approaching the world. There were a few resources however that help me narrow my search (I used to carpet bomb the library for books as Scott has done with Lewis and Clark. It works, but takes a lot of time, esp. when you try to do it across multiple disciplines.)


There are a few books on books which I found useful as a place to start my searching for books on history.


The first is Let the Authors Speak: A guide to Worthy Books Based on Historical Setting by Carolyn Hatcher. This lists titles and authors, grouped according to historical period and geographical area and indicates approximate grade level. Example: The Matchlock Gun  Edmonds, Walter  2RH  18… NA NE NY  Mohawk Valley, French and Indian War.  This stands for Level 2, age 8 and up, Realistic historical fiction. 18th century. North American, Northeast, New York.  You get the idea. Book categories include biography, autobiography, history, journal-essay, treatise, economics/history, and others. There is not much said about each book, but it is a place to start.


Another gem which I found in my library reference section, used for a couple of years there and then bought it second hand after it disappeared from the library (culled from the shelves for being out of date I suppose) is a set of annotated bibliographies by Leonard Irwin: Guide to Historical Reading: Non-fiction and Guide to Historical Fiction, McKinley Publishing, 1970 and 1971.  The biggest disadvantage here is that many of the books were not available through the library and frequently were out of print.  Since the advent of cheap books through bookfinder.com that has become less of a problem.  The bulk of the books reviewed are for adults, but each division has a Juvenile section. The bibliography is arranges by general time period and geographical region with makes searching pretty easy. Example Europe before 1500, Untied States, Civil War Period. The annotations are brief, generally one or two sentences, but the books I was able to locate were always excellent. (Listed in the Juvenile section for Lewis and Clark is Of Courage Undaunted by James Daughterty. Don’t know if you are familiar with this one Scott. I am not.)


I too like the Henty series in general. Another source which was somewhat hit or miss but in general pretty good is the Landmark Books series by Random House. These books are history written for the younger audience, which tends to be a bit tougher to find than historical fiction.


Other potential sources of recommendations are homeschooling catalogs which annotate their offerings: Sonlight Curriculum, Veritas Press, American Homeschool Publishing, Rainbow Resource, Classical Home Education.


My general approach to history for elementary and junior high was “History through Heroes” trying to find well told stories of admirable characters that presented a good feel for the historical period, thus creating a lasting image of the time period in order to a colorful background upon which to pin the facts. The books are out there, treasures which need to be discovered.




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