19th century history

What we’re doing this year (2019-2020)

We’re studying the 19th century this year! It’s a big, complicated century with a lot to cover. Below are the books we are using to immerse ourselves in this fascinating century, with a focus on American history.

Most of our books we read all together (with me reading aloud to both children), but each student also has some age-appropriate selections of their own. At this point, Rusty (4th grade) is able to read those selections on his own (followed by a narration to me), and I am still reading aloud to Dottie (1st grade). In addition to what is listed here, we are reading literature and nature selections for each term that are not necessarily linked to the historical era.

Reading together (me reading aloud to both children)

  • History spines (read over course of the year)
    • Story of the World, vol. 4 by Susan Wise Bauer — This is the series we’ve been using as a history spine for world history the first time we go through the sequence. We are just reading the first half of this book this year (through Chapter 18), saving the rest for when we study the 20th century next year. This book is global in its scope, but Rusty is going much deeper into American history in his spine, and our other readings are mostly focused on important stories and people from the United States (with a few exceptions). This book series is not perfect. It tackles large swaths of history, and as a result the books can feel like they jump all over the place. But the ideas are current with contemporary thoughts about historical people and events, and they provide children with the concepts and names to start contextualizing how historical events and people “fit together.” The quality of the text is good — not excellent, but definitely good. They are also available as audio books read by Jim Weiss.
  • History stories/tales (read over the course of the year)
    • Game of Silence by Louise Erdrich — The second in a series of historical novels about an Ojibwe family, set in 1849-1850 on Lake Superior.
    • American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne — Retellings of famous American folktales, accompanied by beautiful illustrations
    • The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton — Retellings of black folktales (many with African roots), accompanied by gorgeous illustrations
    • Wild Treasure: The Story of David Douglas by Adrien Stoutenburg and Laura Nelson Baker — This is one of our Oregon-focused books, a novelized biography of botanist David Douglas, who spent considerable time working with the flora here in the Pacific Northwest (and whose name is now on many of our key species)
  • Historical picture books & biographies (topical in nature, usually read in 1-3 sittings)
    • Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroder
    • Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeannete Winter
    • Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story
    • Charles Dickens: The Man who Had Great Expectations by Diane Stanley
    • Picture the Past: Life on the Oregon Trail by Sally Senzell Isaacs
    • The Way West: Journal of a Pioneer Woman by Amelia Stewart Knight & Michael McCurdy
    • The True Adventures of Daniel Hall by Diane Stanley
    • Darwin: with Glimpses into His Private Journal & Letters by Alice McGinty
    • Coolies by Yin
    • Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People by S.D. Nelson
    • The Last Princess: The Story of Princess Kaiulani by Diane Stanley
    • The Story of the Statue of Liberty by Betsy Maestro
  • Literature from the 19th century
    • A Treasury of Poetry for Young People — A compilation of six books in the “Poetry for Young People” series, featuring six American poets from the 19th century: Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman.
    • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain — We are listening to this as an audiobook in the car
    • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens — Audiobook in the car
    • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott — Audiobook in the car

Rusty reading on his own (4th grade)

  • History spines
    • A History of US, vol. 5: Liberty for All? 1820–1860 by Joy Hakim — Rusty’s history spines consist of the A History of US series by Joy Hakim. I think this is an excellent series that is very comprehensive in its coverage. Its focus on stories makes it engaging, but it is meaty and rich too. The length is perfect for Rusty to read one book per term with one chapter per day.
    • A History of US, vol. 6: War, Terrible War: 1855–1865
    • A History of US, vol. 7: Reconstructing America: 1865–1890
  • Additional history/geography books
    • Shipwrecked! The true adventures of a Japanese Boy by Rhoda Blumberg — This is a fun and surprising true story about how a Japanese boy was shipwrecked on a fishing expedition, which led to him eventually becoming a world traveler and important liaison between Japan and the west as it opened its doors.
    • The Incredible yet True Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt by Volker Mehnert — A biography of Humboldt written for a younger audience with beautiful illustrations. It’s not a perfect book, but I am personally fascinated by the work of the 19th century scientific explorers and their impact on how we see the world today.
  • Literature from the 19th century
    • Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
    • Call of the Wild by Jack London

Books just for Dottie (1st grade)

  • Seabird by Holling C. Holling — A creative introduction to the world of sailing, whaling and the evolution of transportation over the 19th and 20th century.
  • Usborne Encyclopedia of World History — Relevant selections to match what we are reading about in other books.

Ideas for future immersion in 19th century history

Based on our current history schedule, the next time we study this era, my daughter will be in 6th grade, and my son will be in 9th grade. I anticipate that the biggest changes will be in my son’s reading list, will likely go into much greater depth and we may branch out beyond American history dive to deeper into some of the bigger political complexities of the era (such as the huge scope and impact of the British Empire during this time). I’m sure I will also find some great new books to read, but it’s likely my daughter’s reading list will look for very similar to what her brother read (including the Joy Hakim series).

Additional just living 19th century history book ideas

I’ve sorted these into broad maturity categories (elementary, middle/high school, upper high school/parent), based on how I will likely assign them to our children — although we will read many together. (The most mature books are ones I will probably be reading on my own, because I like to immerse myself in our eras as well!) I encourage you to gauge whether an excellent book might be suitable to read aloud with many children. Truly living books often have interest well beyond their “intended” audience age level, especially if read aloud. Some of these are non-fiction history spines or support texts; others are literature from the era. I aim to have a mix of all of these in our year!

Elementary level books

  • History “spines”
    • Story of the World, vol. 4 (first half) by Susan Wise Bauer — We may revisit this text again as an audiobook.
    • History of US, volumes 5-7 by Joy Hakim
  • History “support” texts
    • See above list from this year
  • Literature from the era
    • See above list from this year

Middle/high school level books

  • History “spines”
    • The Way People Live series by Lucent Books — There are many options for me to choose from in this series, including many about ancient history (Life on the Underground Railroad, Life on the Pony Express, Life in Charles Dickens’s England, and more). The books are each written by a single author and have a clear narrative flow that is usually very engaging, with a focus on daily life and people in the context of big historical events. The stated goal of the series is to discover “the humanity in us all” and to replace stereotypes with accurate information about pockets of human culture. To use these as “spines,” I will schedule one or two per term for my older child (so three to six for the year) and pair them with a history timeline to contextualize how the pieces fit together.
  • History “support” texts
    • I’m still collecting ideas!
  • Literature from the era
    • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley — I know that I want my son to read this book, which is phenomenal.
    • There are so many wonderful works to choose from! The 19th century was a golden era for literature. I will need to get closer to us studying to choose the appropriate selections for him at the time.

“Upper high school/parent” level books

  • Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells by Ida B. Wells — The unfinished memoirs of the amazing, tireless anti-lynching activist.
  • 19th century literature!