Living Books on the Build up to the Civil War

Dear Reader,

A new school year, a new crop of living books. As we continue to work our way through American history, my kids and I have been studying the last years before the American Civil War. As you may recall, last school year we made it through the presidency of James K. Polk (one of my new favorite presidents; did you know he was a Presbyterian?). This section covers Zachary Taylor through James Buchanan. For my complete list of lists of living books on American history see this post.

Living Books on the Build up to the Civil War (Taylor-Buchanan)

Spines — First a bit about spine books. If you are not familiar with the concept, try this post. I have two sets of spines this year, one more advanced series which I am reading aloud to all my kids (currently in grades 10,9,6 and 5 btw), and then the older, simpler books we were previously using which I read to just the younger two. The latter include This Country of Ours by H.E. Marshall and The Story of the Great Republic by Helene Geurber. For my older kids (and the younger ones have to listen too) I selected a series entitled The American Destiny, edited by Henry Steele Commager. (We had previously used Commager’s book on the Constitution and liked it very much.) This is a twenty volume set and volume six is the one that covers this time period. The reading is a bit lengthy for us to get through in the weeks I had allotted, but I am liking the series so far. At least for this portion of history it is not a chronological account of events but a discussion of issues (spoiler: the big issues are slavery and abolition). I find it a pretty fair and balanced approach on a controversial piece of history.

Volume 6 of The American Destiny

Volume 6 of The American Destiny

Presidential biographies by Mike Venezia — I read these aloud to my younger two. They are not true living books, imo, but they are fun. There are funny cartoon like pictures (as well as real ones). Venezia also has books on artists and others.

Venezia's volume on Zachary Taylor

Venezia’s volume on Zachary Taylor

This period isn’t all about slavery — it was the prime time for whaling too so let’s start with some books on that:

Holling's Seabird

Holling’s Seabird

Seabird by Holling C. Holling — This author is very popular with homeschoolers. I never used to like him but have come to appreciate some of his books. I wouldn’t say they are riveting but they do a good job of addressing  a subject. This one is really about the changes in sea travel as the generations of a family experience it, but it starts with a whaling ship. I’d call Holling’s books upper elementary level.

Evernote Snapshot 20150916 092358 (2)

Sperry's All Sail Set

Sperry’s All Sail Set

All Sail Set by Sperry — I was tempted to have my 6th grader read this book. It does look like a good, living book, but I opted for the next one instead as it looked just a wee bit easier and more likely to hold his attention.

Evernote Snapshot 20150916 144009

Whaler ‘Round the Horn by Stephen W. Meader — My 6th grader is reading this story of a boy who goes to sea on a whaling ship. He is doing a really good job narrating it and is telling me about different kinds of whales and the like. He is not normally a good narrator so I take this as a sign that the book has peaked his interest.

Evernote Snapshot 20150909 075354 (2)The True Adventures of Daniel Hall by Diane Stanley — This is a long picture book. I read it aloud to my younger two in two sittings. It is the true story of boy who went to sea on a whaler and ended up stranded in Siberia. This was a really good story. Honestly the writing style was not the most engaging; I found it a wee bit dry, but the story itself was so engaging I really enjoyed it. Oh, and I think the kids did too.

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The Story of the New England Whalers –This is one of a number of books from the Cornerstones of Freedom series that I had my younger two read. They are all about 40-50 pages and can easily be read in 2 sittings. I really like this series for making sure we at least get a brief introduction to topics we might otherwise miss. Be sure to get the old version of the series though — you will know them by their titles; they all seem to start with “The Story of” as far as I can discern — as I explained in this post (make sure to look at the comments for a full explanation).

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Riding the Pony Express by Clyde Robert Bulla — Here’s another fun topic from this era that kids will enjoy reading about. Bulla is a great author who has lots of historical fiction for kids. My fifth grader has been enjoying this one. I’d definitely call it upper elementary level (3rd-5th grade).

Evernote Snapshot 20150916 144013

The Sod House by Elizabeth Coatsworth — Another good book by another favorite author. Again this is upper elementary level and was read by my fifth grader. A family moves from the east to the frontier and lives in a sod house (surprise, surprise). They encounter problems with neighbors, but there is a happy ending when good new neighbors arrive from . . . dum, dum, dum — New England (yay!).

But we can’t avoid the big topic of the time forever. Here are some books on that whole slavery thing:

Evernote Snapshot 20150916 092359

Evernote Snapshot 20151008 165012

The Story of the Underground Railroad and The Story of John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry— More Cornerstones of Freedom books. See my comments above on their whaling book.

Evernote Snapshot 20150916 092359 (1)Harriet Beecher Stowe by Jean Fritz — Fritz is another author I like to look for. Her books range in level but this one I’d call middle school level. I had my 9th grader read it.

Evernote Snapshot 20150910 074936The Drinking Gourd by F.N. Monjo — As you can see in the picture, this is an “easy reader” type book. It was a little below my 5th grader’s level but Monjo is another favorite author and she seemed to enjoy the story. I would call it a 2nd-4th grade level.

Evernote Snapshot 20150909 075355Nettie’s Trip South by Ann Turner — This is a picture book which I read aloud to my younger two. Of course it was a little young for them as well. I thought the author did a very good job, though, if giving a young girl’s impressions of the slave trade after a journey south. It is not an unbiased book.

Evernote Snapshot 20150916 092358 (4)Bound for the North Star by Dennis Fradin — We actually ran out of time and no on read this book but I really liked the looks of it. It is a collection of stories from the Underground Railroad.

Evernote Snapshot 20151008 165012 (1)Brady by Jean Fritz — Another one by Jean Fritz. This one is historical fiction about a family on the Underground Railroad that helping slaves escape. It seemed like an exiting story. I had my 6th grader read it. I would call it middle school level though a 5th grader could probably handle it.

Evernote Snapshot 20151008 165013The Fight for Union by Margaret Coit — This is really a history of the time period, that is, the build up to the war. I had both my 6th and 9th graders read it. I consider it a find and definitely a living book.

Evernote Snapshot 20151008 165013 (1)A Volcano beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War against Slavery by Albert Marrin — I love Marrin’s books and almost always have my now 10th grader read one. I think you could do a whole history curriculum (at least for early American history) out of them. Despite the title, Marrin always brings in lots of events and people from the time period so there is a lot more than John Brown discussed here. Personally, I never knew much about John Brown himself. He was quite a wacko.

And that’s my list. Next time (you guessed it): the Civil War.


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