History Books: The Settlement of Virginia

Dear Reader,

I blogged recently on which books we used when studying the exploration of America, now I want to share with you which ones we used to study the settlement of Virginia. If you look back at that earlier post, you will see how we approach history. As I said then, our history spine for this year is H.E. Marshall’sThis Country of Ours (TCOO). This post  outlines why I chose it over many other worthy options.

TCOO approaches the colonization of the future United States one region at a time, beginning with Virginia, so this is how we are tackling it also. I’ve never liked jumping around from place to place when studying history so this approach appeals to me anyway. Of course, if one sticks with one location at a time, then one ends up jumping back and forth through time but somehow this bothers me less.

Here then are the books I had my kids read on Virginia:

The Lost Colony of Roanoke by Jean Fritz — A favorite author. My 13-year-old read this book and enjoyed it.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke by Edward Dolan — I had my 8-year-old read this book. It was not a well-considered choice. I found that when it comes to books on Roanoke Island, I had to take what I could get at the library. I am not sure this is a living book. My daughter seemed to enjoy it though. The mystery of what happened to this colony fascinates children even when it is not told in the best manner.

James Towne: Struggle for Survival by Marcia Sewall — I had my 11-year-old read this. It is only about a 40 page book, but we divided it into a few sections. It tells the settlement’s story from the point of view of one of its settlers and includes quotes from original documents.

A Lion to Guard Us by Robert Clyde Bulla — This is a fictional novel, or perhaps I should say chapter book. Bulla is a favorite author and his works are always adventurous. It is the story of some children trying to reunite with their father who is in Jamestown. The story ends when they get to the colony but it does give a picture of life at the time.

Pocahontas by Ingrid and Edgar d’Aulaire — More favorite authors here. The d’Aulaires’ books are like long picture books. They contain very nice, colorful pictures and a fair amount of words.  It took my 8-year-old a few sessions to get through this one.

The Double Life of Pocahontas by Jean Fritz — My 13-year-old had liked Fritz’s book on exploration so I thought I’d give him this one on the Jamestown colony. The story is about much more than Pocahontas herself. The “double life” bit refers to the fact that she moved in both the Native and English worlds.

The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster — This is a longer book and like Foster’s other volumes covers  a lot more than just the life of the person in the title. Foster discusses most of what is happening in the world at the time, even in distant places. I used this as a read aloud to give some context of what was happening in Europe. I was selective and just read the bits that I thought were relevant because it is not a short book. Like all Foster’s books (that I have seen), it is well-written and is a wonderful example of a living history book.

John Smith of Virginia by Ronald Syme — My 11-year-old read this one.  This was not hard reading for her but was a little longer than most of Syme’s books. His biographies, and he has many of them, are engaging adventure stories.

The Serpent Never Sleeps by Scott O’Dell –My 11-year-old read this as her “literature” book which means that I did not make her narrate it to me. Because of this. I have less of a sense of how she liked it but O’Dell is a well-known and liked author from such classics as Island of the Blue Dolphins. This one is on Pocahontas and Jamestown.

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Spear — This was my 13-year-old’s literature book so again I did not get narrations on it. He seemed to enjoy it though and Spear is another trusted author. This book is not about Virginia but is about Native Americans and so I thought it was close enough for him to read at this time to get a sense of how they lived.

As always, I am sure there are other wonderful choices out there for this time period, but eventually one must choose, and I was happy with all of these choices.


7 responses to this post.

  1. […] have been beginning American history this year, starting with exploration and then the settlement of Jamestown, Plimoth, and Massachusetts. I will post the books we have used on the New England area soon, but I […]


  2. […] I have posted previously on the books we have used for the exploration of the Americas and the settlement of Virginia. I also did a post on my take on the Salem witchcraft trials. Now I would like to share with you […]


  3. […] this year. These are all on the settlement of the colonies. I have done posts previously on the settlement of Virginia and New England so these cover all the rest. We are still using H. E. Marshall’s This Country […]


  4. […] History Books: The Settlement of Virginia […]


  5. I was plundering your book lists this summer as I planned for U.S. History, and am still doing so. Thank you so much. Have you ever written about how you know whether a living book is a fair representation of what really happened? For instance, I love D’Aulaires’ books and have read all their US History biographies to my kids, but occasionally I felt as if for the sake of emotional momentum, the main character was presented in an exalted way. By contrast, I found Story of the World to be balanced and trustworthy, but it was less clearly a living book. I realize that we can edit as we read aloud, but if it is a story I don’t have a firm grasp of myself, I will be less able to confidently point out bias. Would love to hear your thoughts.


    • That’s a really good question, Maureen. I remember early on reading a couple of books with my kids. I know one was the Light and the Glory. I don’t remember what the other was. But there were some clear discrepancies between them — eg. different dates for events. I decided the Light and the Glory was less reliable and while I didn’t drop it right away, we didn’t go back to it or use others in that series.

      There are really a couple of issue here. One is just basic accuracy — have they done their homework? Are the basic facts right? The second issue is the matter of perspective or slant. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about basic facts, despite that one experience early on. Usually we are getting our info, at least the most important bits, from a couple of sources (like a spine book and then their individual reading) and I guess I just hope that anything big would be apparent. I try to get good books — recommended by Truthquest, though often it is just what’s at our library. To a certain extent some specifics don’t matter. We aren’t looking for facts so if, for instance, the number of people at the Battle of Gettysburg was wrong then it wouldn’t really matter because we don’t remember those sorts of details anyway.

      It really seems like what you are asking about though is not getting the facts right but about perspective. I don’t really believe anyone can be neutral on anything. Our word choice alone is going to be influenced by what we think and will come out on how we tell about events. I think you are right that often making something more of a living book means making it a personal story and a personal story (meaning about a single person) is going to have more emotion and seem more biased. The author is more likely to insert their own thoughts and feelings. I think whether this bothers us or not for a given book is probably more about whether we agree with the author’s slant or not. Think, for instance, of the various ways Christopher Columbus can be portrayed. There are certainly books or depictions that we have not liked for these reasons. Occasionally I will be very deliberate in what books I choose because I know I don’t like the way a subject is usually portrayed — this was true for the Puritans and the whole Salem witch thing. I did prereading for those and was very selective. Most of the time I don’t have time to preread and give it that much thought. If there is obvious bias, we usually discuss it. It’s good for kids to realize it’s out there and that there are two sides to a story. Sometimes I think we (and here I mean all homeschoolers) even like our biases. Think of books about Thomas Jefferson. How many kids’ books present him as an American hero? How many talk about his affair with his slave? How many really explain that a deist is not a good thing to be? Is it wrong to choose books that make him out to be a hero and ignore the other stuff?

      A very long answer to say that I do think about these things occasionally but I don’t worry about them much, If you are not confident in what you are reading, you can tell your kids that too — “Wow, they sure make X out to be a good guy. I wonder if he was really so . . .”

      Hope that helps some!


      • Thanks, Roberta. This was helpful. I appreciate your point that we should focus on the big picture facts, that multiple sources help expose errors and bias, and the idea that all writing is to some degree biased. I think you’re right about universal bias. It’s sad, though! I would like to think that there is nearly unvarnished living writing out there. Certainly we know that it is on a continuum; there is more balanced writing and less balanced. I will keep digging around (in Truthquest, perhaps) for more balanced living books because truthful writing is obedient to the 9th commandment, and I’d like it to be the goal for my kids. They should get used to seeking the truth of the matter, which will always point them to Christ. Strong Christian bias often bothers me more than non-Christian bias because we should know better than to unfairly slant our writing. Even though there are many sides to one story, a good writer of historical narratives will diligently seek out the truth of the story and present that. That is the particular challenge of historians, contrasted with the freedom of fiction writers. And you’re right; reading biased work provides experience in detecting slanted writing, so maybe it’s a win-win situation. Thanks for turning your thoughts to this question.


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