This past school year we met with three other families once a week for our History Gathering. Each week we discussed the book we were reading, watched videos, did hands-on activities, and ate food that went along with our history studies.
We used Beautiful Feet as our spine for Modern American and World History, however, we changed it up a lot! This was due to the fact that we had a broader age range than the 7-8th grade curriculum’s target audience. We had a good many 5th graders too. Also, some of the books we’d already read before like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Number the Stars, so we wanted to replace those titles with something new.
We enjoyed a wide array of books that included biographies as well as high-quality fiction that allowed us to enter into the time period we were studying. We used our times of gathering together to talk about broader social events, timelines, and political complexities to add dimension and nuance to what was going on in our books. For instance, while reading George Washington Carver’s biography we discussed Reconstruction, the KKK, and post-Civil War history.
The following are the books we read this year:
Behind Rebel Lines by Seymour Reit
We enjoyed this book based on the real-life spy Emma Edmonds.
George Washington Carver: God’s Scientist by David Collins
I read this books as a kid and loved it! Told in first person, this is a fantastic look at an amazing man who was a scientist and Christian. He was innovative and imaginative and spent his life teaching farmers how to grow better and more profitable crops by rotating them and also created a market for crops such as peanuts and sweet potatoes.
Theodore Roosevelt by Genevieve Foster
We enjoyed this lively biography of Theodore Roosevelt’s life. The kids were quite taken with the fact he was weak and sickly as a child but purposefully sought to make himself stronger both mentally and physically.
Everyone really learned a lot about World War I as told through the experiences of a war horse, which made this book unique and engaging. We also enjoyed the movie after we finished the story.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
Honestly, this book was a bit disappointing. We replaced Roll of Thunder with this title because we’d already read it. It just seemed to lack a climax as far as the plot went. I wished we’d read The Watsons Go to Birmingham, instead, because I think it would have been a bit more engaging.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: In the Midst of Wickedness by Janet & Geoff Benge
One of my kids made a comment about all Germans being Nazis and I realized I needed to better educate them on this perspective. So, to go along with our history studies I also added this biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer so they could gain a more complex view of the situation within Germany during World War II and that not all citizens were complicit with the actions of the Nazi Party.
Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand
This book was hands down the favorite of the year! We read the Young Adult Adaptation due to some of the violence and the fact some of our students were in 5th grade. The kids were mesmerized by Louis Zamperini’s life and it inspired one of my kids to be more brave. We were constantly in awe of what he survived and grew more in appreciation for what our soldiers went through during World War II. It also helped them learn more about the Pacific Theater of war, which they were less familiar with as opposed to the European Theater.
Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi
This books was very depressing and we struggled through it. But, it also helped us gain understanding of the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II and then the fracturing of Korea into North and South as the Russians take over the northern portion.
Water Buffalo Days by Huynh Quang Nhuong
This was a sweet book about a boy’s relationship with his Water Buffalo, which in Vietnamese culture is part pet and part guard dog in the nature of their purpose for a family and their herd of buffalos.
Nine, Ten: A September 11th Story by Nora Raleigh Roberts
We finished up the year with 9/11 and read this book written for middle graders about a day I remember, but they do not. It was a little hard to keep track of who was who in this book that multiple story lines going on and multiple main characters. That was the main drawback to this book.
Even as students get older, using multiple modalities helps make learning memorable. The more senses we use, we tap into the cultural experiences of other nations and people just a little bit. We really loved learning about the Civil War in the U.S. through 9/11. The biographies, historical fictions, videos, food, and other resources helped us try to understand the experiences of the past and how many of these conflicts are very much still impacting present day.
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