Poop Happened: A History of the World by Sarah Albee. I know, I know. But really, this book is very well done, following the story of how we deal with our… leavings… through the ages. The text is laid out to follow a traditional history timeline, and we’ve used it again and again as we launch into new history units. Though definitely appealing to those who appreciate good potty humor, the book explores the base vulnerabilities of the human race, and provides a more intimate consideration of famous historical figures like Elizabeth I. Kids may not be able to relate with the idea of sitting on a throne, but after reading this book, they’ll totally relate to the need for one!
The Raucous Royals by Carlyn Beccia. A superbly fun book that explores the royals in a slightly irreverent manner. Each royal is presented with his or her dominate rumor or mystery, and the reader is asked to cast their vote: is the rumor true or false? The pages that follow provide the evidence and the verdict. Think Mythbusters meets history. The illustrations are fun and fresh – a lovely choice.
Horrible Histories by Terry Deary: My friend Ray runs the bookshop linked here (tell him I sent you!). You can’t buy these books just anywhere, as they are produced and available (aside from Ray’s shop), only in the UK. The series (there are also Horrible Science and Murderous Maths books, and some great biographies too) is written with a wonderful, slightly sick sense of humor that had huge appeal for my son. The Horrible History books highlight the truly horrible things that take place in history, but present them in such a way that the reader is laughing while being disgusted. This combo – presenting shocking information while making the reader laugh – is pure gold, kind of Monty Python-esque.
Ten 20th Century Leaders Who Changed the World by Clive Gifford. This is a graphic novel look about inspiring, and sometimes scary, leaders. From the publisher: “Never has the concept of ‘six degrees of separation’ been more vivid than during the tumultuous events of the 20th century. From Mohandas Gandhi to Joseph Stalin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela, modern history is woven together in a tapestry of the interrelated stories of these leaders and the events they witnessed. Contemporary readers will understand as never before that history is built of subtle intersections that have great consequences.”
Take Me Back: A Trip Through History from the Stone Age to the Digital Age published by Dorling Kindersley. I stand by my recommendation for this publishing company in general – they produce beautiful books. I like this one as a rollicking journey through history with every page a different and visually stimulating theme – emperor trading cards, Barbarian Beat-em-Up, royalty as chess pieces – what’s not to love? We’ve owned it for a couple of years now, and the kids keep referring back to it.
Magic Tree House Fact Trackers series, by Mary Pope Osborne. You’ll find these under the science category too, because they cover a wide range of topics. These nonfiction guides to the absolutely precious Magic Tree House fiction series are a great choice for kids just beginning their explorations of the non-fiction world. In the fiction run, Jack and Annie are brother and sister who explore space and time to collect library books for a magical librarian witch, and research-lover Jack is always taking notes in his journal. The Fact Trackers nonfiction companions are a nice combination of narration from Jack and Annie and plenty of visual references to Jack’s journal-keeping. Great for the elementary crowd.
You Wouldn’t Want to Be… series. Even though the series paints history in a more negative light (not dissimilar to the Horrible Histories series in that respect), its humor, clear facts, and fun illustrations make them engaging. Whenever I’m doing a history unit with the kids, one of these books is always in the stack. It’s a quick read, and sometimes those funny pictures make the kids remember elements of history they would have otherwise failed to retain. There are tons of titles in this series that focuses on periods of history as well as biographies.
I also like Kaleidoscope Kids books, which beautifully combine interesting, digestible text, important dates and historical figures, and great hands-on activities. Especially for the elementary crowd, when I could find a book on the era we were covering, they pretty much drove our studies. I loved them! My only regret is that there aren’t more titles. (I wish this company would create a book for every historical era.) However, if you love them as much as I do, check out their other titles on geology, architecture, and evolution.
Renaissance for Students by Schlessinger Media. This is super cute series of DVDs; they did a set on the Middle Ages too, which we also enjoyed. Funny, beautiful, visual. A little cutesy, but it didn’t seem to bother the kids – we actually enjoyed the corniness. These do get a bit expensive, so I recommend you look for them at your local library, and ask them to order them if they don’t already own them. Grades 4-8.
The Renaissance Art Game – I found this in a South Carolina art museum and just had to bring it home with me! Think “Go Fish” meets the artists of the Renaissance. It has a beautiful book to go along with the game that provides further information on each artist. During our Renaissance art studies, we played the game every day, and used the book to explore one or two artists a bit further.
Leonardo DaVinci kits by Elenco. If you’re studying the Renaissance, then you will likely dive into the rich life and career of Leonardo da Vinci. The Elenco kits were big hits for my kids. They’re just simple plastic models, and not meant to be toys nor fully working replications of the original inventions. They snap together and come with full instructions. And some of them do have some limited functionality. We loved ’em.
CNN Student News: This is a great source for middle and high school students to keep up with current events. CNN presents the day’s news in 10 minutes, and though they don’t avoid the tough stuff in the news, they keep it as balanced as possible, and provide warnings if topics are particularly difficult. We watch it at the beginning of lunch every day and then discuss what we learned
One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway. One Hen is a touching and inspiring story about how micro-loans change lives. Following a boy’s journey as he borrows a small amount of money to purchase a hen, readers watch the investment grow as the hen produces eggs, and the boy sells the eggs for additional income, which in turn allows the purchase of more hens, then coops, and finally a successful business. Following the story (which has lovely illustrations), is a well-written explanation about how micro-loans work and how readers can get involved. Readers who are willing to look a little deeper may find themselves additionally inspired to reflect on their own consumption practices and realize they don’t need as much as they think to accomplish great things.
Our Supreme Court by Richard Panchyk. This is a book I haven’t personally used yet, but have looked through many times and look forward to folding it into our studies in the future. From the publisher’s description: “This lively and comprehensive activity book teaches young readers everything they need to know about the nation’s highest court. Organized around keystones of the Constitution—including free speech, freedom of religion, civil rights, criminal justice, and property rights—the book juxtaposes historical cases with similar current cases.”
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