This is the latest installment in my series on the living books we have been using in our homeschool. You can find all the booklists here.
Living Books on the 1930s
This segment came for us between Thanksgiving and Christmas so I hope you will forgive me for not making all of it that we could. While I was surprised on how little of value I found on the Roaring 20s, there is seemingly no end of resources on the Great Depression; it is a time that has captured our imaginations and continues to fascinate. My goal in this section was to give more of a flavor of the time, a taste of what life in this difficult period was like, rather than to get caught up in the political and economic details and the barrage of acronyms (CCC, TVA, etc.).
Our spine, as it has been this year, was from the series Our Century. I have discussed the pros and cons of this series previously so I will not get into it again. Suffice it to say it provides a nice, if brief, overview of the major events ans trends.
A few years back I read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan which gives a wrenching account of the Dust Bowl. I could not wait for one of my kids to read this book. I assigned it to my 11th grader for this period. It is a non-fiction book but with lots of personal narratives. It is intended for popular reading for adults though it was not hard reading. I would call it high school level.
My 10th grader tends to be very busy with other things near the holidays so I went easy on her. I couldn’t believe she hadn’t read (or didn’t remember reading) Blue Willow by Doris Gates. Though I haven’t looked at it in years, I remember loving this book as a child. It was easy reading for her; I would call it middle school level. Sadly, she did not seem to love it.
My 7th grader read a non-fiction book: A Nation Fights Back: the Depression and its Aftermath by Irving Werstein. This is one of our favorite authors and he did not disappoint.
My 6th grader read Queenie Peavey by Robert Burch. She seemed to enjoy it. It was not hard reading for her. I would call it upper elementary-lower middle school.
I read a couple of long picture books aloud to my younger two. (Side note: Just because my kids are older, we haven’t given up picture books. Sometimes they provide a good introduction to another topic that we don’t have time to get into in depth. And when they are well-done, picture books can be wonderful, living books. By “longer picture books” I mean books that cannot usually be read in one sitting.)
Wingwalker by Rosemary Wells and Brian Selznick tells the story of a family who must leave Oklahoma and finds themselves in Minnesota (I believe) where the father becomes a wingwalker with the circus.
Fire in the Sky by Candice Ransom tells the story of the Hindenburg’s fateful last voyage. I did not think it was incredibly well-written but it was hard not to be moved by the events of the final chapters.
Some other picture books we considered but did not find time for are: When Grandpa Wore Knickers by Fern Brown and Andree Vilas Grabe and What You Know First by Patricia Maclachan.
Longer books you might want to consider: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, A Tree for Peter by Kate Seredy, Long Way from Chicago and Year Down Under by Richard Peck, Shiloh by Phyllis Naylor, and Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry (and many others) by Mildred Taylor. Many of these we had read previously. They are good books even if you are not studying this period.
And, of course, you can’t cover this era without mentioning John Steinbeck. My oldest read Of Mice and Men recently for literature. It is one of Steinbeck’s more manageable book for length. If you too are limited on time, the old Grapes of Wrath movie is a great choice too (see below).
If you are looking for more non-fiction, especially for older kids (middle to high school), some of our favorite authors have quiet a lot on this period:
Shattered Decade 1929 by Irving Werstein (so also Werstein’s book above; I have not seen this volume but most of Werstein’s books could be used in middle school)
Books by Albert Marrin (Most of Marrin’s books are high school level, but some are simpler and could be middle school.):
Years of Dust
FDR and the American Crisis
Movies on the 1930s:
We watched a number of movies relating to this period. The movie industry really took off in the 30s so one can find both movies made in the 30s and those set in the 30s.
Gone with the Wind – Though set in the Civil War and Reconstruction, Margaret Mitchell’s classic was both a best-selling book and movie in the 1930s. I made my kids discuss why people living through the Depression might have been so attracted to this story.
Bonnie and Clyde – Enough humor and violence for my kids. A slightly older movie, it does not really show much nudity or blood but there are a couple of “adult” scenes and Bonnie and Clyde’s deaths at the end are vivid (though again not bloody). The movie does a good job of showing that crime does not pay though it also hints at why people supported outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde at the time.
The Untouchables – Criminal activity was booming in the 30s. This movie tells the story of Scarface Al Capone and his capture. …
O Brother, Where Art Thou? – We watched this a few years ago. It is the story of Homer’s Odysseus set in 1930s America. Humorous and and ultimately wholesome. I don’t remember how much adult content there was, not too much I think. Great soundtrack too.
The Grapes of Wrath – We didn’t want to take the time to read Steinbeck’s (long) classic but the classic movie covers a lot of the bases. My kids enjoyed it.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl – We watched this movie last time we studied this era, when my kids were much younger. I am not a fan of the American Girl franchise but I think this movie is one of their better pieces. When we watched it, our neighbor’s house across the street was being foreclosed on.
To see what people in the 30s were watching (and for a more wholesome choice), try some Shirley Temple classics. The Little Colonel (set in post-Civil War south) is one of our favorites.
Happy reading (and watching)!