Tag Archives: history

Westward Ho!

Forget the books.  Okay, don’t forget the books, but apparently we haven’t been doing enough projects for history lately.  Too many field trips and books.  So once we started learning about prairie schooners (that is, wagons), Mushroom and BalletBoy immediately demanded we make wagon models which could be then used by their minifigs and gogos, who were apparently about to stake out some territory out west anyway.

Here’s the result.

We used tissues for the roofs.

If you’re interested in more projects, the blog The Crafty Crow, which often has good kid craft links, has a nice long list of pioneer projects from across the blogosphere.


Of course, we did read books about the pioneers as well.  The best overview read was Don’t Know Much About the Pioneers by Kenneth C. Davis.  Davis’s popular adult and teen books of the same series apparently got translated into a picture book series at some point.  This was actually a good, quick overview.

The best fiction book we read was, by far, Dandelions by Eve Bunting.  Bunting’s books are often quite deep for the picture book genre and this story of a family who move to Nebraska was no exception.  Zoe, the family’s oldest daughter, describes her father’s can-do spirit and her mother’s growing depression at life on the prairies.  The dandelions, fellow transplants, become a metaphor for the family.

Getting Back to American History

We are resuming our study of American history finally.  We’ll be diving into a lot of good fiction that will cover the Civil War, Western expansion and general American nostalgia.  First up, I’ve been convinced we have to read Farmer Boy.  Longtime readers of this blog may remember that I’m not much of a Little House lover, but we’re going to give it a shot.

However, we began by reading the first few chapters in Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans by Kadir Nelson.

The book covers the arrival of the first Africans in America through the Civil Rights movement and I’m sure we’ll return to it and read the subsequent chapters as well as we reach the topics.  It’s a well-designed book, with illustrations worthy of the National Portrait Gallery, which is no surprise since the author’s background is as an illustrator.  The text, while still a history book, is in the voice of an African-American storyteller, including some dialect and many personal references.  The strong voice appealed to me as an innovative technique in a children’s history book and I was thrilled that it was narrative instead of blurby, but I wasn’t sure how well it would work with my kids.  After reading the preface, we talked a little bit about voice and the style of the book before reading on.  Quickly, I realized it was perfectly suited for young audiences.  Mushroom and BalletBoy immediately gravitated to the storyteller’s personal details, especially the grandfather called “Pap” in the first chapter on slavery.  These aspects of the narrative grounded the story in reality for them.

I strongly recommend this book for any family with elementary school children who are studying American history or simply for anyone who wants a resource to explore African-American history.  It’s not a terribly in depth resource, but it gives such a good overview in such a compelling way.

Colonial Books

Did I mention that we’re drowning in the colonial and revolutionary books?  Well, we really, really are.  I felt like we managed to read all the things I wanted to read about Jamestown and Plymouth, as well as books about the beginnings of the colonies, but once we got into the colonial period, the biographies began to pile up.  There’s not time for them all!  Yet there’s so many good ones.  I’m sure this only even scratches the surface.  Here’s what we’ve done so far.

First of all, the series books:

A Picture Book of… by David Adler
This series of biographies covers many figures throughout history, not just during this time period, however there were a number of good people covered, including John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Hancock and others.  Most of the older entries in the series have cartoon style drawings, but a few of the newer ones have different illustrators.  One of the nice things about this series is that all the books focus on the youth of the figure, which makes them easy to relate to for children.  They’re easy to read and not too long.  They’re also really succinct without being too detailed.

Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? (Paperback) ~ Jean Frit... Cover ArtWhy Don't You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? (Paperback) ~ Jean Fritz (... Cover ArtWhat's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? (Other) ~ Jean Fritz (Author) Cover Art

Jean Fritz’s Books
These are the classic books for this time period.  Jean Fritz wrote wonderful, readable books about nearly every major figure in the Revolutionary War, from Sam Adams to John Hancock.  We’re slowly working our way through them.  They have a sense of humor and nice, light illustrations, but are also filled with solid information told in a way kids want to hear.  They make good independent reads as well, though Mushroom isn’t quite up to these yet, so we’ve mostly been reading everything aloud.

Struggle for a Continent: The French and Indian Wars: 1689-1763 ... Cover ArtLiberty or Death: The American Revolution: 1763-1783 (American S... Cover Art

Betsey Maestro’s Books
The entries for this time period are The Struggle for a Continent, about the French and Indian Wars and Liberty or Death about the Revolutionary War.  Each book is detailed; we usually try not to read it all in one sitting.  There may have been too much detail about the French and Indian Wars.  They’re a sadly forgotten set of conflicts considering their importance, but in the end, I just want my boys to get the outline and I think they got a bit bogged down by this telling, especially in the complete absence of any other resources on the topic.  Our library literally had nothing else of note about the wars that so greatly shaped our continent.  However, overall, this is our spine for this time period.  I appreciate the beautiful illustrations as well.

Stand alone titles we’ve really enjoyed:

Ben and Me by Robert Lawson
This classic short chapter book has had such an effect on the kids and how they see Ben Franklin that they keep telling me Amos the mouse and narrator of the story is actually hiding in Franklin’s hat whenever they see him in a picture or on Liberty’s Kids.  Despite the bizarre premise that a mouse was really responsible for all of Franklin’s greatest triumphs, it’s an oddly sweet book as Amos and Ben reach old age having accomplished so much.  You can also find the short Disney film here.

George Washington’s Teeth by Deborah Chandra
This was so short and funny that it was hard to believe it was true.  However, as a timeline in the back details, Washington’s dental troubles were ongoing throughout the Revolution and he indeed helped design his own false teeth.  We laughed (and cringed!) about this one and read it again.  The illustrations are also lighthearted to go with the text and there’s a nice, clean look to the pages.

Take the Lead, George Washington by Judith St. George
This biography was detailed but focused entirely on how Washington grew up into the man he later became.  The storytelling style really appealed to Mushroom and BalletBoy, who were much more riveted by this one than the others.  The illustrations are bold and colorful and it makes Washington’s life into much more a story and less of a set of dry facts.  I think they really connected to him here.

Colonial Voices: Hear Them Speak by Kay Winters
We alternated reading this book, which has several different tradesmen in Boston on the eve of the Boston Tea Party, all going about their business and preparing for protest.  Each page has a different voice told in free form poetry.  I liked the illustrations and the emphasis on how ordinary people, as opposed to the “great men” we often hear about, helped begin the Revolution.

Let It Begin Here! by Dennis Brindell Fradin
Would you believe we read two children’s picture books about the first battles of the Revolution with the same title?  Well, we liked this slightly shorter one, which had more detailed illustrations better.  Be warned though, it had some gruesome bits.  People are bayoneted and both the text and the pictures make it clear that people died in some sad ways.

John, Paul, George and Ben by Lane Smith
This book is obviously a lighthearted take, not to be taken too seriously, but you have to have a little of that, don’t you?  It’s a silly look at the childhoods of our founding fathers, imagining that the traits that made them famous as adults were an annoyance in their childhood.  For example, Paul Revere is shown shouting everything loudly in class as a child, only to find a good use when he has to warn everyone the Regulars are coming.  It’s one of those books that’s funnier when you know the back stories.

George vs. George by Rosalyn Schanzer
This book is from National Geographic, who have been issuing more and more quality narrative picture books in the last decade about science and history.  There are several good ones from them about the founding of the colonies as well, mostly using beautifully done photographic illustrations.  This book is a little shorter (though still a long read aloud) by their standards and uses nice cartoonish illustrations.  It alternates perspectives and gives a clearer picture for kids as to why the British did what they did without painting them as one-dimensional “bad guys.”

Colonial Times

We’ve been so immersed in books about the American colonies and the Revolutionary War that you might say we’re drowning in them.  I’m struggling to find time to read everything that appeals to me from this time period.  I’ve also been struggling to make time to do more projects.  More about the books later, but in the meantime, the project we did get around to was fun, so I thought I’d share.

The kids noticed the silhouette pictures at Monticello and Mount Vernon so I thought it would make a good, easy project.  You can do them easiest by printing out a digital photo, but we went old fashioned and drew our shadows then cut them out.  Here’s a link to instructions on how to do both kinds.   I helped with the drawing, but the kids’ scissor skills are looking good here, I think.  They looked so cool, we hung them in the stairwell with the family pictures.

BalletBoy also spontaneously photocopied a bunch of things for his “printing shop” where he works as a journalist and distributed them among the household.  There’s his warning that “The Regulars are Coming!” and a copy of “Common Sense.”  In case his spelling was too obscure.  This pretend game is surely influenced by the intrepid journalist children on the TV show Liberty’s Kids, which they’re more than halfway finished with.

You Mean There’s an Illustrated Version?

How did I miss this?  Apparently at some point in the last few months, a new, full color, glossy illustrated version of E.H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World was issued.  I just happened to see it in a little shop.  It’s utterly beautiful.  The design is lovely.  The illustrations add so much.  Some are small, but most are large, at a half page or full page.  However, they don’t fight for attention with the text or clutter up the page.  Instead, they enhance the reading experience by offering art, photographs and documentary evidence.  Best of all, there are excellent maps included as well (more than the few that were in the standard reprint I own).  I’m ever so slightly sad to lose the lovely original woodcuts that began each chapter, but it’s a small sacrifice for this.

If you already own it, it’s not really worth it to buy it again as the text is unchanged.  However, if you don’t have it yet and would use it for world history, either as a supplement or a primary spine, I would really encourage getting the illustrated version.  It’s surely more appealing to young readers or listeners in this format, but the images are more than just eye candy.  The maps are necessary for context and many of the images contextualize or offer opportunity for analysis.  I think Gombrich’s style is probably best suited for upper elementary school or middle school.  He takes a storyteller’s attitude with history and he tells it well.

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg is all about being punished in various ways.

Mushroom in the gallows:

BalletBoy in gaol:

And, of course, wigs.  That’s a punishment, right?  BalletBoy and his friend listened to the wigmakers for practically half an hour.

It’s also about waterslides…  but those don’t photograph as well.

I Wish I Was that Kind of Book Blogger and Other Thoughts from Last Week

Prepare yourself for a rambling post.

All ready?  Okay.

We’re slowly working our way through our Great American History Expedition Checklist.  Not many done so far, but two that seemed appropriate for while we’re doing pre-Columbian America and the dawn of the 16th century were the National Museum of the American Indian and the exhibit about the “discovery” of the Americas at the Library of Congress.  We’ve done them both for fun before, but this time it was school related.  Yeah, it’s not that different, but still.

There are a lot of things to recommend the American Indian museum.  Architecturally, it’s pretty awesome.  The collection is fascinating.  While we were there, we saw tons of interesting artifacts – both things we haven’t gotten to yet in our studies and things we have like Clovis points and Mayan sculpture.  We went through the “Our Universes” exhibit, which highlights some different tribes (including the Maya and the Inka, which was useful for us studying those two cultures) and focuses on traditions and storytelling.  The problem is that everything is such a mishmash.  I feel it every time I’m there.  I understand the benefits of seeing a whole bunch of animal sculptures in a single case so you can do cross cultural explorations.  And I get that they were trying to make a unified political statement about the value of indigenous American cultures across the board.  But when you can’t find out what culture or geographic region anything is from because there’s a total lack of signage and the computer touch screens that are supposed to stand in for signs are complete junk, then you’ve really over homogenized a diverse array of peoples and robbed us of our ability to get any sense of the scope of history and geography as visitors.

Luckily, while the scope was very different, the small exhibit at the Library of Congress was excellent.  They had a larger number of indigenous artifacts than I expected along with European documentary records about the initial clash between the two worlds.  Things were arranged in a logical progression.  Plus, there were cool old maps at the end.  I’m a sucker for old maps.  Also, their touch screens not only work, but provide real information I wanted to know about.  The whole thing reinforced for me how utterly frustrating I find the American Indian museum.  Plus, it’s architecturally interesting too.  There’s the kids fascinated by the floor on our last visit.

After we finished the exhibit, BalletBoy begged me to go down to the Young Readers Room.  This is a seemingly secret basement children’s library inside the Library of Congress where they keep lots of current children’s literature that has been stamped “extra copy” and looks about as beat up as at most regular libraries.  Maybe if you’re a senator, you can take your grandkids there and check out books for them?  But for the rest of us plebs, it’s for looking only.  It’s a bright, happy space with room for programming, lots of comfy chairs, tables of coloring pages, and a pretty adorable little puppet theater you can play with.  They have a few interesting things, like an entire copy of a Harry Potter book in Braille (it takes up a whole shelf!) and, most tantalizingly, a whole table of ARCs and galleys.

I must say, when I saw the selection of ARC’s, I wished quite fervently that I were the sort of book blogger who might receive ARC’s occasionally.  Alas, I am not.  But there was a new Grace Lin,  a new Catherine Gilbert Murdock fantasy, a Daniel Handler YA, and a Katherine Paterson novel called The Flint Heart that which looked downright delightful.  I read the first few pages of that one and I suspect it will make a great read aloud when it comes out.

Most excitingly, though, one of the books BalletBoy has been bugging me about literally every week was there!  The next Squish book by Jennifer Holm doesn’t come out for another month, but there on the table, I found an ARC for him!  He sat and read the entire first half of the book, but wanted to save the rest for when he can have it for real.  If they’d had an ARC of the next Amulet book, I suspect he wouldn’t have been able to be pulled away.

As we left, the kids picked up posters for the National Book Festival in a few weeks.  If you’re local and don’t know this event, it’s really a treat.  In our most memorable year, we had the pleasure of seeing (nearly back to back), Holly Black and Tony Diterlzzi, Mo Willems, Steven Kellogg, Megan MacDonald, and Jon Scieszka and David Shannon.  It was just as amazing as it sounds.  You know you’re jealous.  Here’s the lineup for this year.  They’ve added an extra day and a “storytelling stage” which includes a lot of great authors too.  Sorry soccer practice, but we’re totally there – books over brawn.  The weekend of September 24-25.

In my final bit of ramble, after we left the Library of Congress, (and bought BalletBoy’s new ballet shoes since we were on the Hill anyway), we went over to the brand new Yards Park next to the Nats stadium.  I’ve been meaning to go for awhile, but it kept not happening.  We’ve not been at a lot of baseball this season.  Well, I must say, it’s completely and utterly awesome.  If you’re local you must go.  I command it!  Mushroom, BalletBoy and I played a slightly epic game of Hide and Seek there.  But that’s not a commandment, just a recommendation.

US History Options

I’ve had my issues with Story of the World, but the fact that there’s nothing quite like it for American history is a problem that seems to plague a lot of homeschoolers, who, like me, want to devote a full year or even two to the history of the United States.  It’s much easier to find other resources like picture books, biographies, posters, games, flashcards and things like that for US History than it is for almost any topic in world history.  Still, one needs some basic resources to start with.  As I just went through trying to choose what we would use, I thought I’d provide what I found for others.  We didn’t elect to use all of these by any means, but they’re all things I read at least samples of in my planning for the year and most of them more closely than that.

A History of US by Joy Hakim

Covers: From prehistory to the very recent past

Length: 11 volumes, each one about 150 pages, mostly text

Illustrations: Small illustrations on most pages of documentary evidence such as artifacts, cartoons, paintings and photos from the time period that enhances the text

Age Range: The intended audience is probably about grades 3-8, but this could be useful through high school and even for adults unfamiliar with American history.

Activities: The books include some review questions.  There is a separate accompanying volume with tests and further activities.

Biases: Some people feel Hakim has a liberal bias, but the books are mostly neutral.  They incorporate political, social and cultural history together.

Other thoughts: This series was a little too advanced for my boys and too detailed to do in one year besides.  People are divided about Hakim’s narrative voice, which is strong throughout.  She has a very conversational tone and asks questions as a part of the narrative.  I like it, but I know others do not.  I have seen a critique from the Textbook League posted a few times.  I can’t speak to errors throughout the volumes, but I will say that I found it extremely disingenuous that their review implied it was about the series as a whole when in reality it only critiques a short introduction for a single volume, an introduction that attempts to summarize and purposefully overgeneralize the entirety of Western history to that point, which is very different from the detail in the texts as a whole.

The American StoryThe American Story by Jennifer Armstrong

Covers: European exploration to the present

Length: one volume of approximately 350 pages

Illustrations: Ink and watercolor illustrations line the edges of most pages

Age Range: Appropriate for grades K to 6

Activities: none

Biases: The book is clearly about individual people’s stories, but an effort to balance between “great men” like Benjamin Franklin and the inclusion of minorities, women and lesser known figures is good.  There are some false stories repeated, such as about Paul Revere’s ride, so the book leans toward mythologizing moments in history, but from what I could tell most of the book is accurate.

Other thoughts:  This book wouldn’t make a good standalone curriculum, but it covers a wide range of topics and perspectives, so despite any tendency toward glossing over difficult history, I think it makes a good supplement.  Some of the figures and topics covered, such as Thaddeus Lowe or the rivalry between Hearst and Pulitzer are things you won’t find in most books.

Betsy Maestro’s American Story series

Covers: Prehistory to 1815, with new volumes being added every few years

Length: 7 volumes, each of which is a lengthy picture book that can be read in one to two sittings

Illustrations: Rich and detailed painted color illustrations are on every page

Age Range: Appropriate for preK, but detailed enough that children in upper elementary and even middle school would get something out of it

Activities: None

Biases: The books focus on political history and change more than social history.  There is not a liberal or conservative bias.

Other thoughts: These are meaty enough to be the basis for an early elementary curriculum.  We won’t be able to benefit, but I hope the authors will continue adding more volumes.

The Complete Book of US History

Covers: Prehistory to the present

Length: One volume of approximately 350 pages

Illustrations: Slightly rough ink and watercolor illustrations on most pages

Age Range: The cover says grades 3-5, but I think it could be used for slightly older or younger children without much problem

Activities: Each chapter includes some activities at the end, often independent research topics.

Biases: The book is pretty middle of the road and includes social and political history.

Other thoughts: Well, that cover sure is a turn off, but this is a pretty basic introduction.  There’s not a very strong narrative voice and there’s not much to the activities, but it covers everything pretty fairly with decent maps and illustrations.  It’s one of the better options out there.

The Drama of American History

Covers: Prehistory to the recent past

Length: 23 volumes of approximately 100 pages each

Illustrations: Documentary images are included throughout

Age Range: Appropriate for grade 4 and up.  Like Hakim’s A History of US, this could be useful all the way up to adult readers unfamiliar with the topics.

Activities: none

Biases: These books present political and social history with all its ins and outs.  From what little I was able to evaluate them, their primary bias seems to be to present topics from different viewpoints and cover them in depth.

Other thoughts: These are out of print and some volumes are criminally expensive considering it’s just a basic children’s history reference series.  They’re a little too much for my kids now so while I’m interested in them, I didn’t go to too much trouble finding them at this stage.  I wasn’t able to look at the majority of the series, so it’s difficult for me to assess it overall.  There are lots of fans of these out there though and, while there’s a lot of volumes, many of which overlap different time periods, I appreciate that topics like immigration, urbanism, and Jim Crow get their own book as opposed to fitting into other volumes without ever getting the attention they deserve.  This is a resource we’ll consider strongly when the kids are older, assuming they haven’t gone into the thousands of dollars by that point, which at this rate seems possible.

American History Stories by Mara Pratt

Covers: Viking exploration through Reconstruction

Length: 4 volumes of approximately 200 pages each

Illustrations: A few black and white illustrations are included

Age Range: Appropriate for K-6 and of possible use through grade 8

Activities: None

Biases: This is an older book, so racial biases are relatively evident throughout.  The series focuses on the “great men” of American history.  A Christian audience is assumed.  The overall attitude on the books is conservative.

Other thoughts:  This series was written about a century ago.  The storytelling style is probably as close to Story of the World as anything you can find.  I haven’t read the whole thing, but I had a serious cringe moment reading the very first page of the first volume, which is a summary of the entirety of First Peoples’ history.  It lumps all Native Americans together in the worst way and talks about them in a way I know I couldn’t read to my children in good conscience.  I read on to find that I liked the style of the books and they’re certainly not filled with hateful or racist ideas, but they focus almost exclusively on the individuals and the “great men” of history.  The opening sections about the Civil War, for example manage to somehow talk about Lincoln’s childhood in detail, but mention slavery only in the briefest way.  In fact, the way that slavery is ignored as a primary cause of the Civil War speaks volumes about the bias in this series.  Still, I think the right person might have the patience to tweak these and use parts of this along with more modern resources.  That person just isn’t me.

USKids History series from Brown Paper School Books

Covers: Prehistory through the Civil War

Length: 5 volumes which are each about 100 pages

Illustrations: Black and white pencil drawings are on most pages

Age Range: These could probably be useful in various ways to students K-8

Activities: Lots of hands on activities, such as handicrafts, cooking projects and other historical recreation activities are included.

Biases: The books are clearly focused on social history and what life was like for kids of the eras each volume covers.  The overall attitude of the books is basically liberal, with a focus on different classes and minorities.

Other thoughts: These books probably aren’t quite enough for a standalone.  Each one is about half project and handicraft ideas and half history, often told from the point of view of real or imagined children of the time period.  They’re very different from most of the other books out there for this age so they’d work well with a more traditional resource.  They were a happy discovery for me so I’m sure we’ll make use of them.

A Young Peoples’ History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Covers: European exploration to the present

Length: One volume of nearly 500 pages

Illustrations: A few black and white drawings and photographs from the time periods are included

Age Range: The intended audience is grades 7-12, but parts could easily be adapted for use for upper elementary school

Activities: None

Biases: Zinn’s liberal bias is well known.  He comes at history from a socialist perspective and his agenda is to expose the history of the working class, minorities and women.

Other thoughts: I really love this book and I appreciate the trend it’s a part of – bringing popular adult nonfiction books out in “young readers” editions.  It’s a little too mature for my kids this time, but we’ll absolutely be using it on our next go around.  Zinn covers very important history in this book and gives a strong perspective that I think everyone should be challenged with.  However, it would not make a good standalone resource.  You’ve got to have something to balance Zinn’s take on events.

Elemental History’s Adventures in America

Covers: European exploration to Western expansion, skipping many topics in between

Length: One volume of about 150 pages for the parent/teacher that includes passages to read to the student as well as “living book” suggestions and activities

Illustrations: none

Age Range: Appropriate for grades preK to 3

Activities: In addition to review questions and various craft activites, there’s an accompanying student book with copywork exercises and other worksheets.

Biases: I haven’t read enough to say for sure, but the primary bias seems to be an attempt to give children a gentle introduction avoiding anything too controversial or unpleasant.  The primary audience is kindergartners about to embark on a four year classical history cycle, so this is just meant as an introduction.

Other thoughts: This curriculum glosses over so many topics that I knew it wasn’t for us without reading much so I can’t give it a full assessment.  The civil war is skipped entirely.  However, from what I saw the quality looked good and the parent company, Elemental Science, is certainly gaining a solid reputation.  This is probably exactly what a lot of people are looking for, just not us.

Across the Atlantic

I know I already posted about our American history expedition checklist, but first, historically speaking, we needed to sail from the old world to the new.

There are obviously a lot of resources dealing with Christopher Columbus, but most of them still repeat myths about either the time period (everyone thought the world was flat!) or his treatment of the Native Americans he encountered (you can’t gloss over it, folks, he advocated cruel treatment and enslavement, end of story).  I didn’t exactly scour the shelves for the perfect book, but we found some value in the Jean Fritz biography Where Do You Think You’re Going, Christopher Columbus?, which emphasized his determination, a quality I won’t argue with.  We also enjoyed the pictures in the D’Aulaires’ biography, though I admit I made up the story mostly myself.  They were just too nice to the man.

By far, the book we’ve enjoyed the most as a bridge has been the book 1492: The Year of the New World by Piero Ventura.  This book is out of print, but can be readily found inexpensively through used book sources.  Ventura doesn’t give my perfect account of Columbus either (he dodges most of the genocide issues by focusing just on the voyages and politics and not on the encounters with the indigenous peoples), but the book is much more than a story of Columbus.  The first half of the book takes the reader on a journey through the old world, stopping off in Lubeck, Bruges, Genoa, Spain, the European front of the Ottoman Empire and more.  Each stop gives the reader an imagined character to anchor the description: a young man about to get married, an elderly soldier, a young lady in waiting.  Then, Ventura tells about Columbus’s voyage and begins his geographical journey all over again, exploring more characters among the Inca, the Maya, the Aztecs, the Plains Indians, and more.  It’s a wonderful snapshot of two worlds on the brink of collision.  The end of the book contains a short survey of life in east Asia at the time as well as some information about the early conquistadors who followed Columbus.  That mostly feels tacked on, but the book is an excellent resource, one apparently unknown enough that I couldn’t even find a decent cover image to poach, so I had to take my own.

The other thing the kids are enjoying (at this very moment in fact) is a relic from my childhood, the TV show The Mysterious Cities of Gold, which is available on Netflix instant.  If you were a loyal viewer of Nickelodeon back in the day, you may remember this French/Japanese cartoon, which told the story of Esteban, Zia and Tau, three children of different backgrounds united to find the cities of gold along with the conquistador Mendoza.  The show is obviously fictional with a number of magical elements, but the landscape of Spain, the ocean voyages, Peru and the Incan people are all reasonably realistic and informative for children.  Plus, each episode is followed by a short 2 minute live action documentary dealing with subjects related to the episode, such as ocean travel and Machu Picchu.  I must say that for a show produced in the early 1980’s, it holds up well.  The dubbed dialogue is a little stiff and the animation is clearly older, but the stories are compelling enough that the kids have been riveted.  I feel like I can admit that I watched every episode religiously at my grandmother’s one summer without any shame for having been so into it.  The show is based loosely on the novel The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell.  A sequel is apparently in production now, thirty years later, so I suppose that’s a testament to the enduring power of the show.

The Great American History Expedition Check List

I’m in the midst of planning for next year and thinking out history.  We’re wrapping up the Renaissance, but soon we’ll sail across the ocean and make it over here to the New World.  I’m not sure what speed we’ll move at, but my hope is to cover American history all the way through to the present, or at least to the second world war.  In February, we’ll take a break to do a big before we go on a huge trip to Africa unit study.  Then, in March, we’ll go to Africa.  Finally, in April, we’ll recover from having been in Africa.  By May, we’ll pick back up with American history. We usually do lots of fun projects and a few field trips with history.  For American history though, I really want to go whole hog and see everywhere with an American history tie in.  I’m actually pretty excited.  Here’s the checklist of places I hope we’ll get to at some point in the next year:

In the District Proper:

  • White House tour
  • Capitol tour
  • Bureau of Printing and Engraving (I have always heard this one is an excellent tour, we’ve just never done it)
  • National Archives
  • Library of Congress
  • Smithsonian Museum of American History
  • Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian
  • Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Museum of American Art
  • Memorials walk – Washington to Jefferson, not skipping the overlooked DC World War I Veterans Memorial
  • Georgetown fun: Tudor House, Dumbarton House, Old Stone House, canal boat ride
  • Ford’s Theater and Peterson House
  • Lincoln’s Cottage
  • Frederick Douglass National Historical Site
  • Pierce Mill (if they ever get around to reopening it)
  • Mary McCloud Bethune House
  • Fort Circle Parks


  • St. Mary’s City
  • Riverdale Mansion
  • C&O Canal at Great Falls
  • Antietum National Battlefield
  • Clara Barton House at Glen Echo
  • Baltimore fun: USS Constellation, Transportation Museum, Fort McHenry, and a roll down a really awesome hill to get some grass stains


  • Mount Vernon
  • Claude Moore Colonial Farm
  • Manassas National Battlefield
  • Gadsby’s Tavern
  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • Williamsburg
  • Monticello
  • Montpelier
  • Appomattox Courthouse Battlefield
  • Cumberland Gap (maybe we’ll do the train again…)
  • Museum of the Confederacy
  • Petersburg National Battlefield
  • James River Plantations
  • Harper’s Ferry (I know it’s not in Virginia, it’s in other Virginia)

Other Spots:

  • Gettysburg 
  • Valley Forge National Historical Park
  • Philadelphia fun: Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the National Constitution Center (or whatever it’s called)
That's Mushroom and BalletBoy having their first introduction to Fala (FDR's beloved little dog). We've really been going to a lot of these spots of historic import for awhile I guess.

We’ve obviously done many of the D.C. places many times.  I’m dorkily excited to actually visit all the Fort Circle Forts.  Some, such as Fort Stevens, we’ve been too, but most we’ve never seen (some aren’t there at all anymore).  Doing some local D.C. history should be a fun part of this.  We’re more than just a drained swamp, you know.  I also hope to get my outrage on a little and indoctrinate the kids into the injustice that is our lives without the right to vote.*  Our church has been doing some D.C. voting rights work that maybe we could look into being involved with.  We need to drag ourselves out to do that great American activity: protest.  One trip is already planned.  We’re going to homeschool days in Williamsburg and staying at Great Wolf Lodge (you know, with the indoor water park!) using the homeschool deals they offered.  I’m pretty excited to see what it’s like to be on a vacation where we seriously see historical reenactors for half the day and go down water slides for the other half.

*You should be outraged that I don’t have the right to vote too.  Especially that we have to pay taxes and don’t have the right to vote.  And that Obama used our rights as a bargaining chip.  Oh, good grief, I didn’t mean to get too much outrage on here.  Sorry.  It’s just that being literally disenfranchised will do that to a person.