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Teaching History With Novels

Teaching History with Novels

History is probably my favorite thing to study.  It was my favorite subject in high school and one of the most interesting parts of college.  What I love about history is that it’s everywhere.  You can’t study literature or art or music without also studying history.  In fact, in our homeschool, we have used music history, art history, even garden history to supplement (or count entirely toward) our history lessons.   We learn just as much from studying the arts of a culture as we do from studying its politics.  I mean, the two are often intertwined, aren’t they?

I crush hard on using novels to teach history, too.  I love to find books written during an era we’re studying so the boys can get the nuances of language and society as they learn about the history of a place.  It’s not as hard to do as you might think.  But there are also more modern works set during historical periods that can really transport a little back to that time.  There’s nothing better than falling back on a novel I enjoyed as a child except maybe finding a new one for the boys and I to enjoy together.  I have A Lot of favorites, but there are some that genuinely stand out as genius.

 

The Middle Ages

The Crystal Cave

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

Sure, this book is about the Arthurian Legends–specifically, the rise of Merlin.  But hang with me a sec.  See, I learned a whole heck of a lot about the politics of post-Rome Britain by reading this book and the three books that complete the series.  The boys and I read it together this summer, and it was so cool to introduce them to the realities of Saxon-embattled England and the other tribes that were trying to gain control of the island country.  I mean, maybe Merlin wasn’t real.  But the battles and wars that shaped England certainly were.

18th Century

Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

I loved this book when I had to read it in middle school, and the boys loved it when they had to read it in grade school.  There is, hands down, no better historical novel about the U.S. Revolutionary War in my opinion.  Inspiring, yeah, especially to a young person, because Johnny actually helps the Revolution and its key players.  I’m not kidding, we read this book 2-3 years ago, and the boys still remember all the characters.  Whenever they see injustice in the world, they love to say, “We have to fight against that.  So a man can stand up.”  If you don’t know the quote, read the book.  With your littles.  You will be saying it, too.

19th Century

David-Copperfield-by-Charles-Dickens

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

This book is set in the first half of the 19th century, and you can’t get better than Dickens for the nuances of the language, the disparity between rich and poor that has hounded human beings since time out of mind, and good, old-fashioned story-telling.  I particularly like this one because it follows both David’s childhood (and you will fall in love with this little boy, mama) and his adult life.  So you see 19th century England from the eyes of both a child and a grown-up.  Immersed. In. History.  Plus, Dickens

A tale of Two CitiesA Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I mean, I could have listed every Dickens novel written, but this one is special.  Truth be told, most of what I know about the French Revolution I learned by reading this superb, amazing, fabulous book.  Plus, Dickens.

 

Shades of Gray

Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder

This one tells the truth about the Civil War and the feelings that arose in the people who lived through it.  A 12-year-old boy is orphaned by the war and sent to live with his uncle in Virginia.  He’s all ready to hate his uncle, who refused to fight for either side.  Because that makes his uncle a coward, right?  Well, no.  Because his uncle stood up for what he personally believed in–that there shouldn’t have been a war.  Taking prejudice head-on, this beautiful book shows littles why they should never make assumptions about other people and that they should never think in absolutes.  There’s always another side to the story.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Yeah yeah.  Late 19th century shenanigans with the most dope, popular boy ever.  I shouldn’t even have to put this on the list.  Twain pulls you in and keeps you there.  And reminds us just how much society has changed.

20th Century

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

You might have to get a little creative in order to share this one with your littles, but wow, what a book!  I honestly can’t think of a better way to get first-hand knowledge of the glitz and glamour of the 1920s.  Just thinking about it makes me want to read it again.

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I don’t even know what to say.  This book ranks up at the top of my all-time favorites.  I like stories about people who stand up for each other, have I mentioned that?  Set in the 1930s, this beautiful, timeless book is a great look at what small-town life was like, what society was like, and how we should each and every one of us stand against prejudice of any kind.

Number the Stars

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

I love inspirational stories from the Holocaust.  I mean, I know how that sounds, but I love knowing that amidst a deluge of pain, there are people in the world who will stand up and resist even the scariest of scaries.  Maybe that’s why I love Dystopia so much.  Hmm.  Something to think about.  Anyway, Number the Stars is one of the best (because Lowry) stories of people standing against the Nazi regime and leading people to freedom and safety.

 

watsons go to birmingham

The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

If you’re studying civil rights and the 1960s, this book is the stuff.  An African-American family from Flint, Michigan has to move south to Birmingham, Alabama.  They get there just in time for true tragedy to strike.  Centered on the real 16th Street Baptist Church bombing during the Civil Rights Movement, this book shows us what it means to live in a time of hate and should probably remind us all to go easy on each other.  I wonder if I can make everyone read it by next Wednesday.

What to Read Wednesday

The most popular post from last week was:

 

What to Read Wednesday Popular Post

And now for the link up!

What to Read Wednesday mylearningtable.com

Our hosts will still share a themed selection of our favorite books each week.

If you’d like to join us as a co-host for What to Read Wednesday, please contact Anne.
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This list has our book themes for 2016, but you don’t have to stick to that to link up–any family-friendly posts are welcome. So, come on! Join in the fun!

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KT Brison
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KT Brison

KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys.Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.
KT Brison
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About KT Brison

KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys. Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.
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14 Comments

  1. Great list KT !
    Even though my youngest “little” is 19 now, my shelves are still full of books just like these…actually, all but one from your list. 🙂
    So, I’m off to find a copy of ‘Shades of Gray’ to add to my collection and to the reading for the Civil War Unit I just finished writing.
    Thanks for sharing !
    ~Chenoah
    Chenoah recently posted…Great Books for US HistoryMy Profile

  2. History is my favorite too, and novels are my favorite way to teach it! We must be kindred spirits. (I actually already knew that.) 🙂

    Thanks for linking this post up with Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com!
    Tina
    Tina at Mommynificent recently posted…Booknificent Thursday Link Up Party #163My Profile

  3. Thank you for sharing this list. I love to read historical fiction, too. I am trying to get my son to love reading as much as I do.

    • Setting a good example is the best way to do that! My oldest didn’t become a reader until high school, no matter what I did! He reads as avidly as I do now. It just takes some longer than others. 🙂 Read in front of him and keep good books around him–he’ll get it one day without even realizing it happened!

  4. Great books! I’ve read them all, I think. Love history and historical novels. Thanks for sharing at Funtastic Friday.

  5. Hi, enjoyed your list. I really love all these books too. Thanks for linking up with the #LMMLinkup this past week.
    Mary Hill recently posted…Great Giveaways for #LMML Participants and ReadersMy Profile

  6. To kill a mockingbird was probably one of my favorite books when I was in high school. I remember it being one of the few books on our required reading that I really enjoyed and wanted to keep reading.
    Mother of 3 recently posted…Art Project #36: Visiting the Art Museum.My Profile

  7. This link-up and post are like water in the desert! I love the link-up, and I love teaching history with novels. We do this in our homeschool. You’ve listed some of my favorites, too. I’m so excited to be reading Johnny Tremain with my younger children this year, and watching the movie, too!

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