Posts Tagged ‘20th century history’

Living Books on the 1990s

Dear Reader,

This is part of my continuing series of posts on the books we have been using on our homeschool. Find all my booklists here.

As I mentioned in my post on the ’70s and ’80s, it is getting tougher as we get closer to present day to find good living books to use. I was caught off guard when I realized that our spine series ended at 1990 so I scrambled to order all the library books I could find for kids on the 1990s. I checked out as many as I could and began sorting through them to find something that I could read to my kids (grades 6-11) to give them an overview of the major events of the decade:

Looking at all these books makes me appreciate how much better our spine series (Our Century) really was, though it may not be considered living by some.

The two I ended up using are The one on the top left there — The 1990s: Decade in Photos: The Rise of Technology and A Cultural History of the United States through the Decades: the 1990s by Stuart A. Kallen (top row, third book over). Note that the first book has no author listed on the cover; this is not a good sign. It is the simpler of the two and is really elementary level. I used it because it gave a not-too-too- bad synopsis of some events tat the other book left out. Kallen’s book is fuller and goes more in depth but it is a cultural history if the US and touches less on international events.  My third choice from this lot would be History of the 1990s (top, right) but in the end I decided it was a bit worse than my other choices. I did keep out Fashions of a Decade: the 1990s but used it only to show pictures of the fashions and trends of the era. The three on the bottom row I did not like.

More and more of what we are studying has direct bearing on current events so I have begun to take a slightly different take in their individual reading. My goal is for my kids to begin to understand the issues behind the stories they might see in the news. When studying Watergate, I ran across a book that I really liked edited by a woman named Debra A. Miller. A library search revealed that she has a quite a number of volumes available. They are part of different series and so there is some variation in format. Many, like the one I used on Watergate, are compilations of primary sources with only brief, added introductions. These selections may be speeches or statements by politicians and various groups or articles for or against an issue. They seem to be intentionally well-balanced — for every opinion on one side of an issue, there are opinions on the other.

So I began by getting a number of books on various countries and having each child pick one.

1990s 1

We ended up with North Korea, Darfur, Pakistan, and Iran. There is some variation in how hard these books are. Certainly a high schooler could handle them. A middle schooler might have to stretch a bit more. I wouldn’t recommend them for elementary age. I did not require my children to read all of their book but selected the essays that I thought most relevant. I also gave them each some targeted narration questions; that is, rather than just “narrate this” I would say something like “on today’s readings I want you to tell me about nuclear weapons in Pakistan.” Because they are each reading about different countries, they also have to share what they’ve learned with their siblings.

After picking countries, we are moving on to issues. Debra Miller again has numerous books on the hot-button topics of the day:

Some topics are political, some cultural. Some are more appropriate for my younger kids; some are acceptable for high schoolers. As I write this, we are just beginning this process, but my intention is to do the same as we did with the books on countries — guided narrations and presentations to their siblings.

One last book on the ’90s:

1990s 2

I found this one on Hispanic America which I may have my 6th grader read in place of one of the issue books. It seems to give a good idea of the scope of what we mean wen we say “Hispanic” and the different cultures that encompasses.

Nebby

 

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Living Books on the 1970s and 1980s

Dear Reader,

I have fallen a bit behind so I am going to give you the books we’ve have been using on both the ’70s and ’80s at once. We moved through both decades fairly quickly anyway. You can find all my lists of living books here.

This is a tough chunk of history to find good books for. IMO older books are more well-written, but you just can’t be that old if you are on recent history, now can you?

Our spine for the year, a series called Our Century by Gareth Steven Publishing, only seems to go through the 1980s; at least, I don’t own the volume for the 1990s and I couldn’t find it in my library system.  We did use the two volume son the ’70s and ’80s to finish up this section. As I am currently looking around for other books on the 1990s, I am more impressed with this series. The volumes are written as a series of separate articles, some written like news stories. They often take the perspective of putting you right in the time — i.e. they use the present tense. Though this is not one continuous narrative, for an overview of the time, I think they are fairly interesting and, as you get closer and closer to modern day, it is hard to find that. I like that they have few sidebars and the like which more recent books tend to overdo.

We covered the Vietnam War with the 1960s so I am not going to touch on that here. We had also dealt with the Cold War in our study of the ’50s and ’60s.

The big domestic topic for the 1970s is Watergate.

If you have a high schooler and a lot of time, there is no substitute for Bob Woodwards and Carl Bernstein’s classic account of their investigation, All the President’s Men. I remember reading his book in high school myself though I also remember that a lot of it went over my head. We didn’t want to take the time so we watched the movie version. I know given the length of the book and the length of the move that there must be a lot left out but this is a very well-done movie. The action keeps going, it was easy for even my middle schcoolers to understand, and they really appreciated the story. I’d watch it even if you are reading the book (afterwards, of course).

Bob Woodward has also written another book, Secret Man, that traces the identity of their famous secret source “Deep Throat.” If you have  a high schooler and want to really go in-depth, you might consider this one. I thought it would be too much for my kids who only came into this with the barest sense of what Watergate was at all. I believe Woodward and Bernstein also wrote other books covering  the later days of the scandal and its aftermath as well.

At the other end of the spectrum, younger children might enjoy The Story of Watergate from the Cornerstones of Freedom series. This series gives nice introductions to a variety of topics at an upper-elementary to middle school level. Just be sure to get the older version of the series whose titles begin with “The Story of . . . ” The newer ones are much worse.

I read a portion of Art Buchwald’s “I am Not a Crook” and read selections aloud to my kids. It is amazing what you can learn about a time but reading political satire of it 😉 I don’t remember Watergate and my kids certainly knew little of the time but I found many of the short articles in this book entertaining and the ones I chose to read to my kids they also enjoyed. It’s definitely middle school and up and probably better for high schoolers.

Moving on to the Carter presidency, my 10th grader read What the Heck are you up to, Mr. President? by Kevin Mattson. This book tells the story of a speech Carter gave which should have been pivotal but wasn’t. From her narrations it does a really good job of telling about the issues of the day and she seemed to enjoy the book and understand it well. High school level again.

One of the big controversies of the time was the Iranian hostage crisis. I wanted to give my kids a sense of this not just for the historical value but also because Iran is still so much in the news. My 6th grader read America Held Hostage by Don Lawson which covers the Iran-Contra scandal as well. Amazon lists it as 7th-12th grade and I would say it was a bit of a stretch for her but it seemed like a decent book.

My 7th grader read Taken Hostage by David Farber. This too seemed like a solid book that gives a good intro to the issues.

My 11th grader read Shah of Shahs by Ryzard Kapuscinski. This book introduces the political situation in Iran rather than focusing solely on the hostage crisis.  It too seemed good. It could probably be done at a slightly earlier age, like early high school.

In fiction that gives a sense of the time, I had my 7th grader read When Zachary Beaver Comes to Town by Kimberley Willis Holt, the story of the fattest boy in the world who comes to a small Texas town and makes life more interesting for its residents. My 10th grader was upset when she saw him reading this for school and exclaimed, “Hey, I read that! I didn’t know it was a school book!”  When pressed, she admitted she had liked the book but she still felt tricked. I’d call it middle school level though honestly I’m not sure how much my kids learned about the 1970s from it.

My 6th grader read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This one is set in 1970s New York City and the protagonist’s mother is slated to appear on the game show $20,000 Pyramid. There are other plots about her friends and there is some mystery involved. It turns out you can still get old episodes of the $25,000 Pyramid on TV (the amount of the big prize changed over time) so my daughter got into those as she read the book, for better or worse. Se seemed to enjoy the story and I think it gave a better sense of the time than Zachary Beaver but I found her narrations hard to follow and I suspect it is not that well-written. Definitely middle school level or maybe upper elementary for a good reader.

I read Revolution is not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine aloud to my middle schoolers. It is the story of a Chinese girl during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I didn’t think it was the best-written book I’ve ever read but it did give a pretty good sense of what things were like then. I’d call it middle school level.

For myself I read Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This is the story of a boy growing up in Afghanistan through all the political changes there. I did learn a lot about the history of this very important place in today’s news. I began reading the book to see if it would be appropriate for one of my high schoolers. I decided not to let either of them read it yet. There are some very adult situations which are quite integral to the plot so read with care.

The big story for the 1980s is the end of the Soviet Union as such. My 6th grader read the Cornerstones of Freedom series again, The Story of the Fall of the Soviet Union. I also had her read Cause & Effect: the Fall of the Soviet Union by Don Nardo. It was in her words “okay.” I am not sure I would say it was spectacular but it seemed decent.

My 7th grader read The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union by John R. Matthews. It seemed again like a decent book.

My 10th grader read The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union (a popular title apparently) by Michael Kort. Her words : “It was okay for a school book.” She is very hard to get praise from so count this as a recommendation.

Nobody read The Age of Delirium but I did check it out. It looked long 😉 Amazon gives it good reviews but it definitely seems like high school level or above.

I am going to leave off here for now. Moving from the 1980s to the ’90s and beyond, I am having my children focus more on issues than events, but I will discuss the books we are using for that in my next post — stay tuned!

Nebby

 

 

 

Living Books on the 1910s and WWI

Dear Reader,

It’s time for the latest installment of “what we’ve been reading for history.” This time the topic is the 1910s including Word War I. You can find all my booklists for history and more here.

Living books on the 1910s and WWI

As I’ve said before, for our spine this year we are using the Our Century series. Though this not difficult reading – I’d call it upper elementary or early middle school level even – it serves out purposes this year, providing a introduction and overview in a relatively short amount of time. Though perhaps not a living book, it is not poorly written. Perhaps because it in an older series, it seems less dry and disjointed than similar but more modern books.

1910s-1

Though this period includes a major event – a World War no less – we didn’t take too much time on it. This makes me a little sad, especially as I reflect how long we spent on the Civil War last year, but with a goal of getting through 1900 to the present in one school year, we don’t have much choice. My goal was not to have my kids learn all the battles or even the flow of the war but to understand its causes (as much as anyone can!) and to know some big picture things like how the war was fought (trenches, aerial bombings) and major turning points (US enters; Russia exits).

I had my sixth grader read The Many Faces of WWI by Irving Werstien. Werstein is a favorite author and I look for his volumes when I can. I would call the level of his books generally middle school (as opposed to our other favorite author, Albert Marrin, who is more often than not high school level).

My 7th grader also read a Werstein book: Over Here, Over There: The Era of the First World War. Both did well with their narrations. I learned things from my 7th grader’s narrations, like how the Mexicans taunted the US in this period.

My 10th grader read The Story of the First World War by Red Reeder. I had not run across this author before but was pleased with the book. Since her older brother plays the bagpipes, my daughter ended up narrating many times the story of a bagpiper shot during the war (“Argh! I’m fine but me pipes, me pipes!”). A quick check on my library system shows that Reeder has books on all US wars through WWII, including many on the Civil War. I’ll definitely look for this author again. I’d place his books at the middle to early high school level.

I’m trying to have my 11th grader get a more global perspective so I had him read another Werstein book, Ten Days in November: The Russian Revolution. This is a slim volume but he actually had a mission trip in the middle of this segment of homeshcool so I was looking to get him through the subject without anything too burdensome.

As a family read aloud we did John Buchan’s The 39 Steps. This book is not explicitly about WWI but portrays a very similar situation in that lots of countries have complicate alliances and are being basically tricked or goaded into war. More than anything else I think it shows the paranoia people may have felt that hidden powers were controlling world events, and not for the good.

I read Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan  Gopal Mukerji to my younger two. The title character pigeon plays a role in the war. There is quite a lot beforehand which tells of life in India and pigeon keeping. I found it to be a very well-written book which was a pleasure to read. One could do it as geography too because it gives such a picture of the narrator’s life.  It does portray the native religion in a positive light if that sort of thing puts you off, though I would suggest just using it as a jumping off point for discussion.  Read aloud it could be done for upper elementary and older. On the subject of pigeons, if you are ever in Oklahoma City, I highly recommend their (free!) pigeon museum. It is small but quite well done.

A book I checked out but decided was more than anyone could squeeze in at this point was The Yanks are Coming: the United States in the First World War by Albert Marrin. If I had wanted my oldest to read something more on the US, I would have had him do this one. Marrin, as I have said, is a favorite author.

Though we haven’t watched much yet, I’d also like to mention some movies set in this era. The Humphrey Bogart classic African Queen is set during WWI. I watched it with my older two when the little ones were away and they enjoyed it.

I’d love to have us watch Sergeant York, a WWI movie which I remember seeing with my dad growing up. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have it accessible at the moment.

While looking for things to watch, I also ran across the Young Indiana Jones series. There are apparently two seasons, one set before WWI and one during WWI. From the reviews I read they are high school level for both violence and adult situations. We haven’t watched any yet but they sounded good.

Next up: the Roaring 20s.

Nebby

Living Books: 1900-WWI

Dear Reader,

This school year we are tackling the 1900s and 2000s. Kind of a big task since last year we only got through about 1860-1900. Obviously, we will not be spending as much time on the World Wars as we did on the Civil War. My main focus is on American history but for my oldest (11th grader) I am trying to incorporate more international events. The first chunk we took was  from the turn of the century to World War I. Though my kids are all in middle or high school this year, there may be some things below that work for elementary too. I am not above using an easy book if it is a good book or gives us what we need at the time. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on 1900-WWI

I greatly simplified our spine this year. Last year we got pretty bogged down in big thick spines. This year I want to spend more of our “together time” on Bible so I chose a pretty simple spine. Here it is:

1900s-1

I got this series of books from a library book sale some years ago. We actually used it many moons ago when we first did the 1900s. My kids were much younger then so you can see that it is not tough reading. Honestly, it is probably upper elementary level, even 3rd-5th grade. Yet I am using it with my 6th through 11th graders. Why? Part of the answer is in what I want a spine to do — it is an introduction, a fly-over of the period we are studying. My kids will each get more detail and more challenging reading and narration in their individual work. But the spine book makes sure that we are not missing major events. (Part of it is also a lack of good spines I can find on this period; many of the ones we have used in the past are older and actually stop before 1900.) This series may not look on the surface like living books, and perhaps it is not. But it is actually fairly well-written and I am happy enough with the content. It has some of the look of the sort of modern “busy” book that annoys the sock off of me, but it keeps the side blurbs to a minimum and the text itself is reasonably interesting.

There are a lot of topics one can cover for this period; a lot of social things — immigration, women’s rights, etc. — were going on. Since we are not spending too long on anything this year, I got each child a more comprehensive book. If you are looking for things on smaller topics, you can also check out some of my posts from last year on the end of the 1800s. Many of the issues span the century divide and were covered, at least in part, last year (immigration, for example, is one we touched on last year).

I had my 6th grader read two shorter books:

Jean Fritz is a favorite author. Her books vary in length. Each of these is probably at a 4th-6th grade level, a longer chapter book basically.

My 7th grader read Albert Marrin’s Spanish American War:

1900-4

I like Marrin because he tends to cover a lot of ground even in a book that is ostensibly on one narrow subject. This one might not have had the range of some of his but it was still good. Usually, I use Marrin’s books in  high school but this one didn’t seem too tough.

My 10th grader also read a Marrin book:

1900-7

Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America is more typical of a Marrin book in that it gives the flavor or an era. She seemed to enjoy many of the stories and learned interesting tidbits about TR.

My 11th grader focused on the Boxer Rebellion in China. I looked at two books on this topic, The Boxer Rebellion by Diana Preston and The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China by David Silbey. Though Preston’s book looked good, I opted for Silbey’s as it was shorter and fit better into our schedule.

One more book on China I looked at was China’s Long March by Jean Fritz (again):

1900-6

In the end I chose not to use this book (yet?) because it is really more about the 1930s. I am mentioning it here in case you are looking for more on China and also because I am not sure if we will have time to get to it later.

Since our spine isn’t long, I read a few other books aloud to my kids.

For brief intros to various topics I love the Cornerstones of Freedom series. Be sure to get the older editions which all begin The Story of . . . The newer ones are not living books(IMO)!

Arctic exploration was also a topic at this time:

Both of these are books we have read when my kids were littler too. Curlee’s Into the Ice is an overview of Arctic exploration. Black Whiteness is about Admiral Byrd in the Antarctic.  It is a more poetic and heart-wrenching account. (It is also set in the 1930s but I included it here anyway.)

Lastly, here are some books I looked at but didn’t end up using:

Werstien is another favorite author (look for him in my WWI booklist coming soon!). This particular volume is more of a pictorial history though there is an introduction which one could read. It might be a good choice for the boy who is into the specifics of military things. Rebel in Petticoats is about the move for women’s rights. It looked good but I couldn’t find time for it.

Until next time–

Nebby

 

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