Category Archives: History

Books with historical basis or with historical information

Day 41 – Valentine’s Day Is

For extended reading time tonight, our activity was making valentines. In honor of the approaching holiday, and to help explain the activity, our storybook this evening was “Valentine’s Day Is…” by Gail Gibbons.valentine

In Ms. Gibbons’ book we read a little of the the history behind Valentine’s day, heard about the symbols people typically associate with the holiday, and saw the many ways people celebrate it. There are colorful illustrations in the book and a simple enough narrative to keep younger listeners engaged while providing them a pretty thorough introduction to the holiday. At last, an explanation for all those pink and red hearts that appear all over Target shortly after New Year’s Day! Our little one was quite interested in this book, and loved making valentines after we read it.

As I have noted in prior posts, we have always been pleased to find good “storybooks” that are grounded in reality and provide information about how and why the world around us works the way it does. Gail Gibbons has written a slew of these kinds of books, most of which are available at our public library. I expect we will see her name come up frequently through the year.

Day 27 – Leonardo and the Flying Boy

Before reading time tonight, we went on a family “outing” to the movies to watch a Fathom Event showing of “Florence and the Ufizzi Gallery”. It was suggested by our oldest’s history teacher, and we were not disappointed. After stocking up on popcorn, we were able to sit back in the movie theater and go on a tour of some of the greatest works of art in Florence, Italy – works by Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, etc. Seeing these creations on the big screen was awe-inspiring. While the music was a bit too loud at times, it was well chosen and served to make the event feel even more monumental. There were a couple paintings toward the end that were especially gory and fascinating on that scale: the Medusa shield by Caravaggio, and Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. Overall, a fully worthwhile experience, and our youngest actually made it all the way through (albeit with a little help from an iPad).

Inspired by our virtual tour of Florence, we made a last-minute substitution for tonight’s book to insert a favorite by Lawrence Anholt. Mr. Anholt has a series of picture books drawing on historical accounts to bring together great artists and children.Leonardo “Leonardo and the Flying Boy” introduces us to Leonardo da Vinci and two of his young apprentices: Zoro (short for Zoroaste) and Salai. The book is mostly about Zoro, who is the “Flying Boy” of the book’s title. Alongside Zoro, the reader sees inside Leonardo’s workshop and notebooks, hears about his restless intellect and his countless inventions, and eventually experiences flying…if only briefly…when Zoro takes a nighttime joy ride with one of Leonardo’s many mechanical creations. Anholt’s books are very engaging, telling stories out of history and making famous artists accessible to children. I also highly recommend going on past the end of Anholt’s story to read about the history behind the book.

We were able to make some more headway this evening in Wuthering Heights as well, with some help from our trusty paints. By this time in our reading, we have lost the elder Catherine Linton (nee: Earnshaw), her sister-in-law (Isabella), and her older brother (Hindley). Heathcliff has already wrought significant emotional (and financial) damage on Linton and Earnshaw alike, has turned his nephew Hareton into an uneducated brute, and is well on his way to causing further devastation. It’s a bleak story, but the richness of the writing makes it too entertaining to look away.


Day 20 – Sarah Morton’s Day

Today’s storybook, “Sarah Morton’s Day” by Kate Waters, described a day in the life of the Pilgrim girl of the title, living in Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts in 1627. Sarah MortonThe story, told in the first person by Sarah herself, is illustrated with photographs in a style reminiscent of the “Little Animal” books from our Favorites list. The photo illustrations really seemed to capture the attention of our youngest – holding her rapt throughout the book. Given her rambunctiousness the rest of this evening, that undivided attention to the book was particularly notable. We may have to look for some more books illustrated with photos like these.

Mixed in among all the information about life as a Pilgrim in Plimoth was a recipe for “17th Century Indian Corn Bread”. It was simple enough, and we tried it out, but what we got was glorified polenta. Our eldest claimed it was tasty with some salt, but it can’t hold a candle to Bee Bim Bop.

This evening in extended read aloud, Mr. Lockwood has finally made it back to Thrushcross Grange, where he cajoles the housekeeper, Mrs. Dean, into telling him more about the childhood of his mysterious landlord. Mrs. Dean, who grew up with Heathcliff and with the Earnshaw family who adopted him, is full of stories. Heathcliff was a “gypsy boy” plucked off the streets of Liverpool by his adoptive father (the elder Mr. Earnshaw). He is inseparable from his adopted sister Catherine – who is his partner in crime. Meanwhile, he is is hated by his adopted brother Hindley; Mr. Earnshaw showers love on Heathcliff often at the expense of his own son. It’s a recipe for disaster if I ever saw one. By the time we finished the evening we could see the storm clouds gathering: upon his father’s death, Hindley takes over the estate, Heathcliff is relegated to the status of servant, and Catherine begins to form a bond with their neighbors, the Lintons. The Lintons’ status makes them more “appropriate” companions for Catherine than Heathcliff…at least as far as Hindley and the Lintons are concerned and Heathcliff is increasingly alienated and resentful.

Day 18 – “What Was Your Dream, Dr. King?”

This evening we read the first of what we hope to be many holiday themed books this year. Today, our first holiday “theme” was Martin Luther King Day – and we picked out a couple books (one of which we read aloud ourselves and one of which was read to us).

Our first book was read to us by LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow – via YouTube : “A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by David Adler.MLK To watch the video, we pulled the computer monitor up to the dinner table and heard about how Martin Luther King, Jr. became the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. We followed up the YouTube video with our own book: “What Was Your Dream, Dr King?” by Mary Kay Carson, which asked and answered questions about Martin Luther King’s life, his philosophy, and his accomplishments. mLK2Both books provided not only a great opportunity to learn more about MLK, but the background discussion of the legacy of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s provided a nice bookend to our first two extended read-aloud books: “Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

For extended read-aloud, we began “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller – a “great American novel” that I really enjoyed reading when I was in high-school with a title that has become part of the English language in its own right – that’s some catch, that Catch-22.Catch 22 Unfortunately, I think it was not to be…at least for now. We had some trouble getting everyone’s attention this evening – whether it was the book or not, I think we will look for something different tomorrow and save this one for later. It’s still a great book, but maybe not the right book for the time being.

Day 15 – Escape from Pompeii

This evening we read “Escape from Pompeii” by Christina Balit, which tells the story of two young Pompeii-ans, Tranio and his friend Livia, who flee the doomed city when Vesuvius begins her legendary eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD (or CE…whatever your preference). Excape from PompeiiBalit introduces us to these two youngsters for long enough to give us a window into their daily life, before sending them running to the harbor to watch their hometown consumed by ash from the deck of a Greek ship. The illustrations are intricate and colorful, and reminiscent of ancient Greek or Roman art. Despite the fact that our main characters escape, and the fact that they are raised by the kind Greek captain on whose boat they stow away, the mood on the final page of the story is sorrowful…as Tranio and Livia visit the site where Pompeii used to stand and wonder if its story will ever be told. For a more hopeful ending, I recommend that you go on and read the Epilogue together to find out how Pompeii was later discovered by archaeologists, and how much we have learned from the people and things that were so uniquely preserved in Vesuvius’ ash.

In Huck Finn this evening, the Duke and King finally got around to doing what we had been afraid they would ever since arriving on the raft: they sold out Jim as a runaway slave in order to collect a reward that they themselves had manufactured out of thin air with a counterfeit “wanted” poster. The Duke and King use some misdirection to outmaneuver Huck – who must now figure out how to free Jim from Silas Phelps, the farmer who “bought” Jim off of the King for $40. When we finished reading, Huck was on his way to the Phelps farm trusting in “Providence” to give him the words he needs when the time comes.  Meanwhile the Duke and King are preparing to reprise one of their favorite scams (the “Royal Nonesuch”) because the King has already spent his ill-gotten gains on alcohol and is now broke again.