How about another installment of my “Literature Based Education” series?
I’m sure that a lot of you have read my thoughts over the last few posts on history and wondered “WHERE exactly is the LITERATURE you claim to love so much??”
Today is your day! Today I’m going to share with you my favorite ancient history literature resources for all ages :)
While the following are categorized into “groups” according to their ages, older children and adults can easily enjoy and learn from those “below” their level as can younger children learn from books for older children with direction and discussion with the parent. I also fully admit that I haven’t read or utilized all of these resources. So take my age recommendations with a grain of salt.
As I mentioned on Monday, I have been really happy with Story of the World. I feel like this can easily fall under the “literature” category as well as a text. I have also heard some good things about A Child’s History of the World (I actually own a copy but have never used it because I have been so content with SOW.
I have also found the illustrated histories to be helpful. There are a few different books to choose from and they can often be found at the library. They are excellent for pre-readers to just sit and look at. The DK Eyewitness books are especially popular around here.
Egypt is one of the oldest recorded civilizations, so that is as good a place to start as any :) Tales of Ancient Egypt, Pyramids, Tutenkhamen’s Gift, Ancient Egypt (Make it Work), and Egyptian Gods and Goddesses are just a few of the resources out there for studying ancient Egypt. They have stories and activities that keep active little kids engaged and excited :) There are also several pieces of classic literature that you can read aloud to the family (as a bonus, several of these are FREE for the kindle). Letters from Egypt and Peeps At Many Lands: Ancient Egypt, for example.
Mythology is fascinating to children and an excellent way to get them excited to learn about ancient cultures. I highly recommend using mythology as a jumping off point to get kids excited about learning about the ancient world. My only word of caution is to use your discretion as a parent to make the distinction between the real God that you worship and the mythological gods the Egyptians did. This is an excellent way to teach respect for other religions and cultures.
I highly suggest checking a few out of the library so you can look them over ahead of time, but my kids (and I) LOVE these books. I love them because they are filled with information and perspective. My kids love them for two reasons… blood and guts. They love nothing more than being able to say “EEEEWWWW!”
Speaking of books children love…
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is a classic! I remember perusing this book as a child. My children love it as well.
Mary Pope Osborne has retold the Odyssey for children. Seriously, we could Ancient Greece and Rome alone for years.
Then there are the epics! The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic that has stood the test of time and has been adapted to children.
And China… who isn’t fascinated by Ancient China?
There are a lot of different fictional books for young readers as well. I enjoy the Magic Tree House books along with the usual readers. Magic Tree House has both fictional stories and non-fictional supplements.
Once you are working with older kids you can use all of the previous resources and add a few more goodies. While you can often read the following aloud to younger children, sometimes it’s helpful to be able to hand it over and have them read on their own :) Just look at what we have for older elementary and middle school years. Famous Men of Rome, Famous Men of Greece, Galen and the Gateway to Medicine, Archimedes and the Door of Science, and Herodotus and the Road to History. I have also been impressed with the variety and depth of the Yesterday’s Classics collection which has several biographical (and occasionally fictional) books. Many of the books in the collection can be found on Gutenberg.org for free, but not all of them. A few of these are:
- Herodotus and the Road to History
- Stories of the East from Herodotus, Illustrated Edition
- Our Little Spartan Cousin of Long Ago
- Old Greek Folk Stories Told Anew: A First Book of Greek Mythology
- West African Folk-Tales
- Our Young Folks’ Plutarch
- Our Little Athenian Cousin of Long Ago
- Indian Fables
- The Story of Rome
- The Story of the Persian War from Herodotus, Illustrated Edition
Several of the Yesterday’s Classics books can be downloaded for free for Kindle or from Gutenberg.org, however not all of them. For those of us who prefer paper in hand, you can get them in paperback as well :)
There are also countless of historical fiction books that can allow you to take a realistic and heartfelt peak inside ancient cultures. Twice Freed, Bronze Bow, The Golden Goblet, Caesar’s Gallic War, and Mara, Daughter of the Nile are a few of the often recommended books.
Rick Riordan has taken mythology to a new level. Touching on Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology and I find his books to be an excellent resource. Make sure you do your research because some of the content can be objectionable and needs to be discussed with your children as they read. If you are at all uncomfortable or concerned you can read them first and or use them as family read alouds so that you can edit content and/or discuss as needed.
I personally read the offending portions of the latest book and felt comfortable letting Lucy (11) read them and talked about it with her afterwards. Discussion rather than “banning” is the very best way to handle sensitive issues. This is where you, as a parent, can make sure that your values (no matter what they are) are imparted onto your children as is your right as a parent. That is the wonderful thing about family education! My beliefs and values are not forced upon your children and yours are not forced upon mine!
For the more experienced students (high school and above) it’s time to pull out the big guns. No more story books about great literature… now is the time to dig deep into the original classics that have stood the test of time.
If we have taken the time to understand the history and dip into the older language of many of the pre-1920 literary resources I have listed so far, you should be well prepared to attack the originals. The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, are just a few of the well known pieces of literature that come directly from the mouth of those living in Ancient times.
Then if we want to get into the non “literary” classics we can read the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Euclid. You can see why I hate the segregation of subjects. With one book we can learn history, math, logic, philosophy, poetry, science, and more. There really is NO need to pretend these things are separate.
To be fair, not many of us are quite ready to take on Euclid (I’ve started… I haven’t finished), but Shakespeare is within anyone’s grasp (though he’s admittedly not as easy as Rick Riordan). Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and Julius Caesar are Shakespeare’s Roman histories.
But let’s be perfectly honest, if you (as a teacher and adult) do nothing but stick with the Yesterday’s Classics collection you will know far more about Ancient History than the average bear.
You may have noticed that I have, thus far, left a HUGE part of history unmentioned.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an excellent source for ancient history.
The Bible. Believe it or not, the Bible is NOT just a religious book. Not only is it filled with character lessons and excellent values for personal growth in general, but there is a wealth of information about the history and culture of Judaism and early Christianity , which are two of, if not THE, most impactful civilizations in our world’s history. Obviously I believe it is a religious text inspired by God… but even if you were to read it as an educational text only, you would learn a lot.
Ok here is the unvarnished truth from one lover of history to another. A majority of recorded ancient history is intertwined with the history of Jews and early Christianity including but not limited to Egypt, Assyria, Mesopotamia, and (if you are LDS) even the Native Americans. Unfortunately in the quest for “separation of church and state” our modern culture has developed an unnatural fear of anything that smells of mainstream religion. Certain religions have the luxury of respect and admiration of those who don’t believe, however Judaism and Christianity don’t fall under that category. In our haste to divorce ourselves from all things of faith, we have forgotten the incredible advancements that the Judeo-Christian culture has given to civilization (Islam has made some massive contributions as well, but Islam falls under the “Middle Ages” category rather than the “Ancient History” I am discussing today). Coming from my (admittedly) Western-centric worldview, monotheism alone allowed for the world to begin moving away from human sacrifice and slavery, and invited unification within previously chaotic nations. The health advancements given to us with Judaism alone is certainly worth mentioning (the health and cleanliness code given in the Law of Moses was unlike anything that had ever been seen up to that point and the difference in health and life expediency was evident).
What is my point? Just because you don’t believe in a religion doesn’t mean the culture isn’t worthwhile. You may not believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, but the Law of Moses has had HUGE impacts on the world as a whole. You may not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–but their descendants were instrumental and well documented in the histories of both Assyria and Babylon (neither of whose conquests can be denied).
You don’t have to believe the same things that they do in order to deeply admire and respect the ancient Jewish and Christian cultures. Don’t be afraid to study them just because you aren’t into their theology. Being able to see the world from the point of view of those two major religions will only help you in your understanding and respect of such cultures. And please, don’t for a second think that just because a curriculum or study program includes religious studies, it is substandard or bias.
But back to the Bible, I prefer the King James Version of the Old and New Testament. In my opinion the beautiful language cannot be equaled.
Well there you have it. A tiny scratch on the surface of Ancient History literature. All of these and many more are located in my History store :)