Thursday, June 25, 2020

Read Alouds for American History

Last year, Notgrass History came out with a brand-new American History program called Our Star-Spangled Story.  It is intended to use for grades 1-4.  I quickly ordered it, began it, and then it sat until the Coronavirus hit when I suddenly had more time.  I did continue with some of the recommended read-aloud books even when we were not doing the history lessons.  I really love this program!  Each lesson is beautifully written and has numerous photos of people, places, and things mentioned in each lesson.  It is well worth getting!

Our Star-Spangled Story Curriculum Package

Included in the lessons are suggested books to read aloud to the children (or the children can read to themselves if they are independent readers).  I have really enjoyed doing our read alouds over the last few years.  I think that read alouds are wonderful because not only do children get to learn wonderful stories, they also get to learn great vocabulary and the books can spark some great discussions!

Notgrass History also has supplemental material online including a PDF file of recommended extra reading.  I used that list to come up with a schedule of readings to go through which will give an overview of American History.  I will tell what we've read so far and what else is on our list.  

Books We Have Read Aloud So Far

Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin
We had never heard of Benjamin West before.  He lived in pre-Colonial America in Pennsylvania with his Quaker family.  He showed an early talent for art, but was forbidden by his father to practice it.  His Native American friends helped him learn how to make paints from nature -- and he got a little bit of help from his cat as well!  We both enjoyed this story very much!

(1770s - American Revolution) Toliver's Secret by Esther Wood Brady
Young Ellen, who is very shy, becomes a spy for the Patriots after her grandfather is injured.  She encounters many challenges in her journey and grows because of it.  We enjoyed this book as well.  The only caveat I can think of for this book is that she has to dress up like a boy in order to perform her spy duties.

This a short, easy read about a little girl who traveled with her father to their new home in the wilderness.   After her father builds a cabin for his family, he returns to bring back his wife and their other children.  Sarah remains behind with their Native American friends.  This was a good book.  Chronologically, it should've been read first, but it would easily fit in among other books about the 1600s-1800s.  Gracie got a little tired of the recurring sentence, "Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble," but for younger listeners, it would be a good repetitious saying to drive the value home.

(1750s - French & Indian War) 
Indian Captive by Lois Lenski
Again, this book is out of order.  We both enjoyed this book about a little girl whose family was captured by a group of Native Americans and Frenchmen and who later lived with the Seneca Indians.  The main conflict in the story was about whether or not she would be returned to her family and whether or not she should adapt to Indian ways.  Gracie and I had some discussions about how there are good people and bad people in every segment of population and how we should treat others and view them.  My only caveat is that there is a noticeable lack of Christianity in this book, only brief mentions of the catechism.  Gracie is old enough to know what is true and what isn't true and didn't take any of the Indian religion as truth.  She even laughed at them for revering what she called their "corn god."  Don't be offended - she's 10 and she had never learned much about the Indians and their beliefs before.  Again, it offered the opportunity for some good discussion.

This is the book that we just finished last night.  I even read the final two chapters in one sitting so that we could find out what happened to little Sarah.  This is a short, beautifully-written book about a little girl who wanders off into the woods and is taken care of by a bear!  It is based on a true story about a pioneer family who lives in the mountains of New Hampshire.  One of the things I liked best about the book is the great trust in God that Sarah's father had.  He had great faith that she would be found safe and sound.  One thing that amazed me is the great responsibility given to the children in the book.  The boys (ages 11, 10, and 8) were given charge over the farm chores; the youngest one was to look after his younger siblings, especially young Sarah (who was 3 or 4).  The 5-year-old sister was to take care of the house and the youngest sibling, an infant not even crawling age!  I definitely used this to relate how even young children can and should be given responsibilities and should take care of those responsibilities well.  I bought this book at a used book sale a year ago even though it was taped together.  By the time we finished it, it was falling apart.  I like it so well that I have ordered a brand-new replacement copy.

(1838) Soft Rain: A Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Cornelia Cornelissen
This came highly-recommended by an internet friend of mine, Challice, who has a blog at Sodbuster Living, so I was excited to read it.  It tells the story of a 9-year-old Cherokee girl who was forced to move from her home to the West.  I don't want to give too much away, but it tells about the hardships without distressing details to young readers/listeners.  Most of the things that worried me as I read it were resolved happily at the end.  I did cry at the very end (not quite an ugly cry, but almost) because, even though the details were fiction, the essence of the story was nonfiction, and I could see the hand of God in this book.  My only caveat is for mothers who have lost children and have moved away from the area where they passed away.  It will probably hurt your heart more so than the average reader. (I have a dear friend to whom I normally loan my favorite read-aloud books, but I won't be loaning this one to her for that reason.)

Freedom Crossing by Margaret Goff Clark
I have a terrible habit of forgetting character's names almost as soon as I've finished reading the book.  This book is a fine example of seeing a character (the girl) change her views throughout the story.  Gracie and I both enjoyed this book.  She often asked me to read one more chapter.  There was nothing too graphic (only a brief mention of scars on the back of the boy) or otherwise too heavy for young ears.  It was a well-balanced book in all respects.  Although the character of Walt, a slave catcher, was a little caricaturish and predictable.

Thee, Hannah by Marguerite deAngeli
Hannah is the youngest girl in a Quaker family.  She is a bit hot-tempered and is fascinated by ladies fashions.  In the story she is tempted by "Old Spotty" and finally learns, through an unselfish act of great charity, the meaning of the Quaker life and values.  We both enjoyed this book and declared it a keeper!

(mid-1800s) Carolina's Courage by Elizabeth Yates
Gracie asked if there was a sequel to this book, which let me know she really enjoyed it.  I was a little afraid she would think it was too simple or not very exciting, but, apparently, I was wrong.  I do love the recurring theme of Courage that appears in many of these read-aloud books.  I think while we've been in 2020 and its upheaval, it's a good reminder and encouragement to remain brave.  Without giving any spoilers, I loved the role that the doll played in the book.

(1866-1867) Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
We read this a couple of years ago when I read the entire Little House series aloud to Gracie.  This was a favorite book for both of us.  I think I appreciated this book even more while reading it because I actually noticed foreshadowing in the book and because of the great love and respect held in the Wilder family.  Gracie enjoyed it so much that she wanted me to skip ahead to These Happy Golden Years so that she could find out more about Almanzo!  I won't be re-reading this book, but it is one of the books recommended to read in conjunction with Our Star-Spangled Story.  I highly recommend all of the Little House books!!

(mid-1800s) By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman
We are in the middle of this book and it's definitely a keeper.  This book features a boy as one of the main characters which gives it a different flavor.  It is exciting and funny.  It's also educational for learning about life on a ship and how climates change while traveling through different latitudes.  Updated:  Still a keeper book!  The only thing I didn't like about our copy of the book is the illustration of two bare-chested men bare-knuckle fist fighting each other. 

(late 1800s)  Old Yeller by Fred Gipson
We are very close to finishing this book.  It is a coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy, Travis, who has to take care of his mother, little brother, and his home while his father is away on a cattle drive.  He acquires a dog, which he didn't want but grew to love.  I watched the Disney movie as a child, not much younger than Gracie, and I remember the ending more than the story.  We are really enjoying this book.  It has a lot of foreshadowing in it.  I'm afraid Gracie is going to have a meltdown when she realizes what happens to Old Yeller; we'll see.  We are planning on renting the movie on Amazon Prime tomorrow night.   Update:  Gracie didn't cry; but I did (not at the dog, but at the parents).  We both enjoyed the movie even though the ending was slightly different from the book.

(late 19th century)
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
I saw the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie based on this book years ago and loved it!  I later read the book and loved it, too.  There are at least four sequels which I will read interspersed among our future books.  They are small (60-90 pages or so) and will be quick reads.  I was happy that Gracie enjoyed this book.  It's a very sweet, gentle book that shows and evokes emotion through few, but well-stated words and dialogue. We have now read all five books in the series (Gracie calls them the Caleb books), and we really enjoyed them all.  The last one is probably my favorite, which surprised me because I have always loved the original Sarah, Plain and Tall. I am going to begin showing Gracie the DVDs of the movies which I bought off of Ebay, most likely this weekend. 

(?early 20th century?) Mountain Born by Elizabeth Yates
It is a little hard to gauge exactly when this book is set - which is not a bad thing because it highlights the timelessness of the story.  Given that the school year runs from post-harvest to pre-shearing, it easily could be set anywhere in the late 1800's to the early 20th century.  This is another sweet, gentle book that does not shy away from life lessons that children must learn.  There is some mention of the Bible in the book which adds to the value, but parents can easily draw biblical lessons from other portions of the book.  This is a Newberry Honor Book and is well-deserving of that honor.

I decided to insert this book into our read-aloud series since Thanksgiving is our next holiday.  I have heard that this is a great book.  We really enjoyed this book!  It gave, as far as I know, an accurate portrayal of his life without heavy topics for children to learn about.  A friend of mine who taught a homeschool lesson to our co-op children likened Squanto to Joseph in the Bible by relating how both of them went through many trials only to have God use them to help save the lives of many other people.  That made us appreciate this story even more.

Books We Will Be Reading in the Future
As we finish reading each of the following books, I will do a brief book review and move it to the section above.

(early 1900s) Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
Back in the mid-1990s when the internet was new and just beginning to take off, I joined an email group that talked about children's books.  I had long been an avid reader of children's books but found out about a new-to-me series called the Betsy-Tacy series which is set in the early 1900s. There are some fans who are every bit as fanatical about Maud Hart Lovelace as I am about Laura Ingalls Wilder!!  Anyway, I read the entire series and enjoyed it very much.  I will be reading Gracie the first four which covers Betsy, Tacy, and Tib's childhoods.  There are several others that cover their high school years (and beyond, if I remember correctly).  So far Gracie is enjoying this series.

(c. 1920) Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary
I had never heard of this book before seeing it listed in a recommended book list.

(mid-20th century) Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
Sequel:  Pinky Pye
I had never heard of this book before seeing it listed in a recommended book list.

(mid-20th century) The Moffats by Eleanor Estes
I'm pretty sure I read at least a couple of the books in this series when I was in 5th grade and enjoyed them.

(mid-20th century) A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy
I had never heard of this book before seeing it listed in a recommended book list.

(1940s - WWII) Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida
I had never heard of this book before seeing it listed in a recommended book list.

(1943 - WWII) The Victory Garden by Lee Kochenderfer
I had never heard of this book before seeing it listed in a recommended book list.

(mid-20th century) The Year of Mrs. Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
I had never heard of this book before seeing it listed in a recommended book list.

The Hundred Dresses by [Eleanor Estes, Louis Slobodkin]
(mid-20th century) The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
I know I've read this one before and enjoyed it.

(1955) Flood Friday by Lois Lenski
*Available on Kindle Unlimited
I had never heard of this book before seeing it listed in a recommended book list.  However, I've read others by Lois Lenski that I enjoyed.

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
I had never heard of this book before seeing it listed in a recommended book list.  I look forward to reading this as I admire that little girl's courage!

(late 20th century) Katy by Mary Evelyn Notgrass
This was written by the daughter of Ray and Charlene Notgrass who have authored excellent history curriculum for grades 1-12.

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy
I had never heard of this book before seeing it listed in a recommended book list.

Do you have any other good books to share?
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