I can’t believe we’re nearly finished with all our curricular things for the year. We didn’t have a specific program for most things, including math and reading, so there’s a sense that they just continue slightly less formally over the summer. However, the Handwriting Without Tears workbooks are all filled out and we’re about to read about the destruction of the Roman Empire in Story of the World, wrapping that all up.
So, reflecting back on a year of ancient history, where we read dozens and dozens of books from the library, here’s the best ten books we read along with Story of the World. They’re mostly in chronological order.
Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Ancient Egypt by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degan
Having a picture book in the style of The Magic Schoolbus made both kids super excited. There was another title about ancient China that they enjoyed as well.
Gilgamesh the King by Ludmila Zeman
This is a longish picture book that’s part of a trilogy. It has beautiful artwork and tells the story of the Epic of Gilgamesh for kids. This was one of the first books that got us strongly into picture book versions of mythology.
Rama and the Demon King by Jessica Souhami
This is an older picture book version of the Ramayana, with gorgeous old-fashioned cut-out illustrations. It somehow manages to get all the important bits of the story into just a few pages.
Buddha by Demi
Demi is one of my favorite illustrators and her book The Empty Pot is Mushroom’s very favorite book ever. This picture book sums up the most important parts of the life of the Buddha, as well as the most important aspects of Buddhism. The kids especially got excited about gold illustrations.
The Magic Treehouse: Day of the Dragon King by Mary Pope Osborne
I have very mixed feelings about the Magic Treehouse series. On the one hand, the kids are gaga for them and the history in them is mostly decent, at least for the early elementary set. On the other hand, the writing is so repetitive and simple. I have nixed reading them aloud anymore, but they’re allowed for trips as books on CD and I’m hoping that when they start reading chapter length books, they’ll get into them. Still, this one was a gem for getting the kids to understand China’s first emperor and it made for an especially exciting connection when the Terra Cotta Warriors came to DC.
The Magical Monkey King by Ji-Li Jiang
Okay, so this one is sort of cheating. While the Monkey King has been around since ancient times in folk tales, he’s really more of a medieval era story. Still, this little chapter book by the author of the memoir Red Scarf Girl was so compelling and cute. The kids were running about playing Monkey King for weeks.
Island of the Minotaur by Sheldon Oberman
This was probably my very favorite of all the books we discovered this year. There should be more extended picture books like this because they’re so perfect for this age group, with both lots of text and lots of colorful pictures. I liked the style of the artwork and the way in which the entire Minotaur cycle was presented, tying in so many different pieces of Greek mythology.
Tales from the Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne
I love the way that Mary Pope Osborne made the story chronological and emphasized the exciting, adventurous bits. On the other hand, it would have been ten times better if there had just been some pictures. We had to take another children’s version out of the library primarily for the pictures.
Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld
When I went in search of a chapter book about Rome, this is what I turned up with and we all (me, the kids and the husband) enjoyed it as a bedtime read. The writing style certainly reflects the period in which it was written, more than half a century ago. However, the mystery was fun and the details about Roman life made an impact on the kids.
Rome: In Spectacular Cross-Section by Stephen Biestry
Both Mushroom and BalletBoy like stories much more than straight non-fiction (in case you couldn’t tell from this list so far!). This oversized picture book, which combined incredibly detailed architectural illustrations (sort of like David Macauley) with a simple story of a boy and his father, was a great compromise between fiction and straight historical detail. For whatever reason, it just clicked with them and we read it several times.