I have been trying to post this year on the books we have been using in our homeschool. Our approach to both science and history is to get a ton of books from the library and read the best ones we can find. Some we read aloud together, others the kids read on their own and narrate to me. With four kids at different levels, this can make for a lot of books. In the realm of history, 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 the books we have been using on the settlement of New England. We live in New England so this is a topic I wanted to spend a little more time on and also our library has a ton of options on it (relatively speaking). For a change, I am also including books we did not read. Some I wish we had had time for; others I rejected. But I figure a negative review is often as good as a positive one in helping others narrow their choices so hopefully these will prove useful to some of you.
So here then is my list of book on colonial New England:
This Country of Ours by H.E. Marshall — This is our main spine book that we read aloud together. See this post on history spines.
The World of Captain John Smith by Genevieve Foster — We have also been using this as a sort of second spine to give a more global context. Despite its title, the book does not limit itself to just the Virginia colony but covers events worldwide.
Stories of Massachusetts by Mara Pratt- I used this as a kind of spine too, to fill in a little more on Massachusetts. It is an older book which you can access free online (see link). It is fairly simple, probably an elementary level. It continues past colonial days so we may come back to it in the future. It has some nice stories in it that might be hard to find elsewhere, like how the King’s Chapel burying ground came to be.
Sweet Land of Liberty by Charles Coffin — This could be another spine book but I decided it was too hard to do as a family. I have been having my 13-year-old read chapters from it. It covers the settlement of America but also gives more context in terms of what the French are doing and how our conflicts with them began. I was concerned it would be too hard even for him, but he has done well with it. I usually have him do half a chapter at a time as it is quite dense.
Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken — This is a book I have discussed previously when I read it myself. It is on the Puritans. I had really enjoyed it and was pleased to be able to have my 13yo read it. I did not have him do every chapter and again usually split the chapters in half for him. He did well with this one also.
Year of the Pilgrims, 1620 by Genevieve Foster — This is easier reading than the other of Foster’s books I have looked at or used. I had my 11-year-old read it. It was fairly easy reading for her but I liked that it gave more of a global context again.
Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dagliesh– This one was for my 8-year-old. Dagliesh’s books tend to be lovely little things.
The House on Stink Alley by F.N. Monjo — My 10-year-old read this book about the pilgrims before they came to America. It is like a somewhat meaty chapter book.
John Billington: Friend of Squanto by Robert Clyde Bulla — Bulla is a favorite author. This book seemed easier than some of his. I had my 8yo read it. She really seemed to enjoy the story and was excited when the characters in her book were mentioned elsewhere in our reading.
“The Courtship of Miles Standish” bt Henry Wordsworth Longfellow — This is the famous long poem telling the story of Miles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla and their love triangle. It took us many sittings to read through it but the kids mostly understood it and enjoyed the story. When we had read it all, we also went online and watched the Looney Tunes version, “The Hardship of Miles Standish.” It is not so accurate but is good silly fun.
Who’s That Stepping in Plymouth Rock? by Jean Fritz — This is one of Fritz’s easier books. It can be read in one sitting. It is the story of Plymouth Rock itself.
John Alden and the Pilgrim Cow by Margaret Friskey — I used this as a read aloud. It is something like 10 chapters long and each one can be read in a sitting. It was a good story and easy for all to understand (I think my 8yo could have handled it). We did spend a lot of time wondering when the cow would come into it. It really covers quite a lot of ground and one could use it to study the Plymouth colony as a whole. It gives a nice picture of life there and is a true living book.
Pilgrim Stories by Margaret Pumphrey— This is an older book that I got through Heritage History for my Kindle. I had my 10yo read it two chapters at a time and that still was not too much for him. I believe it continues well past the days of Plymouth colony and I did not have him read the whole thing.
Ruth of Boston by James Otis — This is another Heritage History book (see link above) that I had my 11yo read. I started her off two chapters at a time and that hardly took her any time so I moved her up to three. Really it as still too easy a book for her. Though these books give a nice picture if life at the time and describe how people live, they are pretty simple. And yet they are close to 90 chapters long so it might take a younger child quite a bit of time to get through them. They could be done in sections though as they often cover a long period.
Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare — I had each of my older kids read a fictional book as their “literature” to go along with our study. This one was for my 13yo. We had actually listened to this book a few years back as an audio book in the car. I am not sure he remembered it though. Speare’s book is about a witchcraft scare in a Connecticut town, not Salem.
Calico Bush by Rachel Field — My 11yo read this as her “literature.” I believe it is about a girl in Maine. I do not have them narrate their literature selections so I get less feedback on it. She didn’t complain though.
Smallpox Strikes: Cotton Mather’s Bold Experiment by Norma Jean Lutz — This was a read aloud. It is the story of an apprentice boy and his family in Boston in about 1720 when there is a smallpox epidemic. Some real people come into the story too. I was actually a like skeptical going into this book because it is part of a series (American Adventure Series) and usually I find such things poorly written. This may not be the best written book, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. It gives a good picture of life at the time without being too obvious and tells a nice story too.
Profile of Old New England by Lewis A. Taft — This is a collection of short stories about early New England. I read some aloud. One would have to preread them and pick the ones that suit best. Some are violent.
Donn Fendler by Joseph Egan — This is not about colonial days about the true story of a boy lost on a mountain for nine days in the 1930s in Maine. I included it because I didn’t have much on Maine. We did it as a read aloud. It is fairly easy reading, told as it is in his own words. It is a very compelling story though. It is hard not to care about the boy. I cried at the end when he was saved.
Meet the Dudleys by John Leeper — This is a shortish book, about 55 pages. It tells how a Connecticut family lived. I am not sure about this but I think it may be put out by some historical site in Connecticut, it has that look and feel. But it does have a story to tell and I think it gave a nice picture of how they lived.
Finding Providence by Avi — This is an easy chapter book that I had my 8yo read. It was probably even too easy for her. But it tells the story of Roger Williams family and she seemed to really care about them. She also observed to me at one point that it was told from his son’s point of view so I was pleased that she seemed to understand that that would affect how the story was told.
The Bravest Woman in America by Marissa Moss — This is a picture book about a woman lighthouse keeper in Rhode Island. It does not quite fit the time, but I had my 8yo read it anyway.
Connecticut by Arthur Soderlind — I had my 13yo read this. It is a fairly dense book but he seemed to understand it. It goes beyond colonial days so I did not make him do the whole thing. It may not be the most compelling story but comes close to a living book for what one can find on the topic.
The Colonies series by Dennis Fradin — I had my 11yo read Rhode Island and my 10yo read New Hampshire. These have less of the look of living books. Each volume is written the same way so that for instance both the books we read cover the colonial period in the first 5 chapters, each chapter divided up the same way. So one might find it repetitive to read multiple volumes. They are not horrible reads though. They are better than other books I looked at on specific colonies.
Witches’ Children by Patricia Clapp — I really debated which fictional book to have my 11yo read on the Salem witch trials. There are a number of them out there which use that situation as their backdrop. I think this one was a good choice because she commented to me that it was “like a real book, not like one we read for school.” I think that was meant to be high praise.
The Tall Man from Boston by Marion Starkey — This is a long picture book but is the best one I’ve seen on the Salem witch trials (see this earlier post). I just edited out the bits at the beginning and end about Halloween as I read.
King Philip by Dennis Fradin — This is essentially a chapter book of some 60 pages on the Native American leader who started a bloody war with the New England colonists. Dennis Fradin also wrote the colonies series I mentioned above. It is not stellar writing, but it keeps the attention well enough and is not textbook-y. And it is hard to find anything on this episode of American history. It does begin by discussing the Plymouth colony and so one could skip a bit if that has already been covered.
We move now into books I looked at but did not end up using.
First among them is Flames over New England by Olga Hall-Quest. Like the previous book, this one is about King Philip’s war. It is a much more dense book (at 215 pages) and I thought about having my 13yo read it. I think it would have stretched him a bit and we had enough on our plates already so I decided regretfully to skip it. I would judge it to be high school level.
There are a couple of books about girls names Priscilla that I looked at: Priscilla Foster: The Story of a Salem Girl by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler and I, Priscilla by Evelyn Allen Hammett. The latter is about Connecticut so I don’t think there is any connection between them. Both looked good but I couldn’t find a time to fit them in. The former was simpler and I would have had my 8yo read it; the latter is longer and probably would have been for my 11yo. It is also journal style which for some reason I am not fond of.
Two other books which might be good for girls able to read longer books are Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth by Patricia Clapp and Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. The latter is about a doll and I have seen it recommended many places. The former I know little about but as I said above my daughter liked Clapp’s other book, Witches’ Children.
William’s House by Ginger Howard is a picture book about how a settler in the 1600s built his house. It looked good, though simple even for my youngest child.
There are many, many books out there on the Pilgrims. One that I considered using was Pilgrim Voices by Connie and Peter Roop. It uses the pilgrims own words ands includes the text of the Mayflower Compact.
It is hard to find good books on the Puritans. Two I looked at were The Puritan Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins and Puritan Adventure by Lois Lenski. I may sound unpleasable as I say this but the first seemed too goody-goody to me and the second seemed to have too harsh a view of the Puritans. But I did not read much of them and it may be others find them acceptable.
Lastly, I return to Salem. There are quite a number of books set in Salem at the time of the witchcraft trials. It seems to be a topic that fascinates children’s authors or perhaps that they think will fascinate their audiences. I looked at both Tituba of Salem Village by Ann Petry and Beyond the Burning Time by Kathryn Lasky. Either might have been okay but in the end, I was happy enough with the one I chose (Witches’ Children; see above).
And that’s my list. Long, isn’t it?