Posts Tagged ‘homeschooling high school’

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.



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!





Living Books on the 1960s

Dear Reader,

You can find all my posts on the living books we’ve been using for history (and other subjects!) here.

Our spine series is, as it has been this year Our Century. You can look at those earlier posts to find out more about it and why we are using it.

The big topic for the 1960s is the Vietnam War. But there are  a few other topics as well so let’s start with those:

I couldn’t find a lot of living books on the Cuban Missile Crisis. I chose the one in the middle — Cuban Missile Crisis: In the Shadow of Nuclear War by R. Conrad Stein — above for my 6th grader to read. Stein is an author I have used before (but only from other series, I think). He does pretty well with making history interesting, not too dry.

Living through the Cuban Missile Crisis is actually a series of essays and first-hand resources. I didn’t end up using it but it could be good if you’d like your child to use original sources.

I checked out Thirteen Days Ninety Miles by Norman H. Finkelstein but it seemed to dry to me; my eyes began to glaze over on the first page. Did you ever notice how living books let the facts come at you slowly? I think this would be a hard book to read if you don’t already have some background knowledge of the people and events of the time.

I like the series Cornerstones of Freedom for brief intros to various topics we don’t have more time for. Be sure to look for the ones that begin “The Story of . . .” They are older and better-written. There are probably more on this time period but these are the two my library system had. FYI these are really elementary level books.

Turning then to the big topic, Vietnam, I was able to find quite a lot on both the war and the society or culture.

My 10th grader is reading Albert Marrin’s America and Vietnam: The Elephant and the Tiger. Marrin’s book are mostly high school level (though some are simpler). He does a good job of incorporating a lot of elements and strands in a cohesive narrative of his topic. We use his books a lot.

(My 11th grader, btw, is still working on a book on the Cold War, a more comprehensive account that will take him longer.)

My 7th grader is reading Captive Warriors: A Vietnam POW’s Story by Sam Johnson. This is an autobiographical account. It would not be for the squeamish but seems quite well-done.

I looked at but did not use A Place Called Heartbreak by Walter Dean Myers and The Wall by Eve Bunting. The latter is (you may have guessed) about the Memorial Wall. Bunting is an author I like but this is really a not too hard picture book and my kids are too old for it. Myers’ book is a chapter book for grades 3-5 or so. Again, I thought my kids were beyond it. I am not sure how good the writing is but it looks like a story at least, not just facts.

The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland is another picture book which we skipped; this one is about a family escaping civil war in Vietnam.

My 6th grader read A Boat to Nowhere by Maureen Crane Wartski. It tells the tale of a family of boat people fleeing the Communists.

For a read aloud for my younger two I debated between The Land I Lost and Water Buffalo Days both by Quang Nhuong Hyunh. They both looked so good. I chose The Land I Lost. It tells about life for a boy in Vietnam before the war and is humorous  and entertaining. I can’t speak for Water Buffalo Days but I suspect all books by this author will please.

Happy Reading!


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