Many people hate history because it's often presented in the most austere and dull manner possible—an aging professor with elbow patches plods through a lecture about dead people as though they were dead during the events he's describing, and as though he is the only thing left living from the period. Christine Miller advocates a much livelier approach, one in which kids read books that present history as a fascinating adventure, one in which they become acquainted with historical figures instead of memorizing facts about them.This isher attempt to help others share this view of history.
All Through the Ages is an amazing booklist, a compilation of over 7,000 of the best living books and great literature, culled from a number of respected sources, including:
How Does This Work?
There are two main sections to this book. The first is Chronological History, and the second is Geographical History. Both are extended booklists that are further subdivided into specific eras (for the first part) and specific locations (for the second part). For each major subdivision (say, Ancient Rome), there are a number of categories: Overview of the Era, Specific Events, Biographies, Historical Fiction, Literature and Culture. All the categories are the same for Chronological History and Geographical History, except in the second section Overview of the Era becomes Overview of the Region.
These lists are all further divided according to reading level. Though the author has specified four reading levels—grades 1-3,4-6, 7-9, and 10-12—she makes it clear that you shouldn't restrict your students only to books that fall into their specific grade. The grade ranges are meant to indicate reading level, or age at which a student should be able to read and comprehend the text on his own. The grade 10-12 range does include some material that may be inappropriate for younger kids, but for the most part if your 5th grader reads at an 8th grade level, don't restrict him to books on the 4-6 grade lists.
After each title is the name of the author as well as a parenthetical remark describing the contents of the book or the figure or event it's about. Of course when you compile a book-sized booklist there will be significant overlap of titles, but if you look at the comprehensive title index in the back you'll see how little overlap there actually is. This is really a phenomenal achievement: Miller has brought together a reference so complete you'll probably never have time to read through the entire list, let alone read every title on it.
Three much smaller lists near the end round out aspects of history often left uncovered in a traditional textbook. The History of Science and Mathematics, History of the Visual Arts and Music and Great Books of Western Civilization and the Christian Tradition lists will appeal especially to those who want an alternative to "name and date" history education (presumably anyone who seriously uses this book).
A number of timelines and some informative essays can be found throughout which provide context for certain events and places. This is by no means a curriculum guide or lesson planner, but these supplementary materials can be useful when mapping out a year's history readings. This approach to history will take quite a bit of work for the teacher, as she will have to select the titles her students will read, and then organize assignments and lessons around them. Though this can be time consuming, it can also be far more rewarding than simply tossing your kids a boring textbook, having them read a selected portion, and testing them on it at the end of the week.
Our Honest Opinion:
If you're looking for a fresh way to teach history and don't know where to begin, this is the book for you. While it doesn't have a bunch of lesson plans laid out for your convenience, the method of history instruction the author espouses is almost antithetical to that kind of teaching anyway. Students are to learn organically, not in a canned environment, and if they forget some of the material along the way there's no real harm done. Chances are they'll remember a lot more in the long run, though, if they're reading books that interest them instead of ones that make roasting on a slow fire seem fun.
The author offers a brief suggestion for grade-range history instruction in the introduction. This is intended to be a helpful suggestion rather than a fixed course of study. In the end, this entire volume is simply a helpful suggestion; what you make of it is up to you. Though the author is a Christian, the books listed offer a wide variety of perspectives. This is maybe the most valuable aspect of using multiple texts rather than a single prescribed course—students aren't stuck with a single biased viewpoint and will have to learn to make evaluations on their own, and that's half the point of education in the first place.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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