Story of the World is a four-volume series covering world history from Creation to the Present. The titles and scope are as follows:
Ancient Times: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor
The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance
Early Modern Times: From Elizabeth the First to the Forty-Niners
The Modern Age: From Victoria's Empire to the End of the USSR
The author, Susan Wise Bauer, uses narration and story-telling to present history to children. The books are straightforward and meant to be read aloud to children in grades 1-4, approximately. Fifth and sixth grade students might enjoy reading them on their own, along with supplemental material. The Activity Books allow you to turn the readers into "school," with review questions, a variety of crafts and activities, maps, drawings and more. Tests and audio books are also available.
How Do These Work?
The books are a more or less chronological collection of stories about people and events around the world (though a strict chronology is not always followed). Each book contains 42 chapters and each of those (on average 10 to 15 pages long) covers a specific time period. At the beginning of each chapter, the book asks questions meant to bring the reader (or listener) into the story. For example: Where do you live? Where do you sleep? Do you sleep in the same bed every night, or do you move into a new house every week? These questions get the student to think about his own situation and provide a basis for comparison.
Since the books are meant for young children, don't expect too much depth, and be prepared for an enthusiastic style that can come across as childish or condescending to an older or bright student. For many children the tone is just right, like a mother telling her own children stories.
The Activity Guides add an extra layer to the books, allowing students to dig deeper, and providing the means to make doing that fairly easy for the teacher. For each chapter in the book, the Activity Guide offers:
Review Questions (with answers)
Corresponding Literature Suggestions
Additional History Reading
Story of the World has had fairly wide exposure to homeschoolers, due in part to the fact that Susan Wise Bauer is co-author of The Well-Trained Mind, a popular introduction to classical education. As a result of its wide exposure, many people have tried the series, and their response is far from unanimous. We have been speaking to customers about it for several years now, and have read reviews from a number of different sources. Here we offer small excerpts from reviews that offer some different (and common) perspectives on the series:
People who like it say:
"History can be dull for children. Bauer has really made it exciting in this book. Bauer has taken time to speak to the minds of children to engage them in the adventure of World History." (This is excerpted from a much longer, very helpful review on Epinions.com. To read it in full, click here)
"Bauer has struck a perfect balance between making history comprehensible and interesting to a young mind, without being boring or "cutsie." She also manages to deal with the gore and unpleasantries of history as lightly as possible without ignoring them."
"The chapters are short enough that they don't wear us out, and they always stimulate our interest and yield valuable conversations."
"I purchased this book to read to my speech-delayed four year old hoping only to expose her to something more educational than children's picture books every once and a while. I figured I would have to force her to listen to Story of the World, and then reward her with Sesame Street after, but that is not the case. SHE brings ME the book and is eager to talk about what we read afterward, which is helping her expressive language skills (something we have been working on for two years). There are few pictures, so there is not much for her to look at, so she just cuddles with me on the couch—it's wonderful time spent together."
"Susan Wise Bauer has done a wonderful job of making ancient history accessible to child and adult alike. My second grader has absorbed history better with this text than with any other. She looks forward to reading the next chapter and answering questions and doing the fun projects from the activity book (an absolute must when using the text). I have found that the activity book is like a FIAR curriculum. Each chapter is another unit study, touching on geography, historical significance, and cultural aspects of that period of time."
"This book is an answer to hundreds of hours of searching. It is very interesting, even for a young elementary child—and quite thorough... It is written in a conversational tone, like a mother telling a story to a child. It ties the child's life to the study of history. A first grader who likes to listen to stories would do well with it, but it would work even better with any history-phobic older elementary children. I will probably even have my Junior High school kids read quickly through it as an easy, fun review or overview. I have homeschooled for five years and wish I had had it sooner!"
People who don't like it say:
"I was a classics major in college, and have studied this period, its languages, literature, history and culture in moderate detail. I have often found myself correcting the book or pointing out what is established fact and what is simply a story. This has resulted in a lot of interesting discussions, but I wouldn't feel comfortable with my daughter reading this book independently, as it would easily engender a fragmentary understanding at best or foster strange misconceptions at worst..." (This is excerpted from a much longer, very helpful review on Amazon.com. To read it in full, click here)
"What a disappointment! My lower elementary children do not need the detail in this book and my older children find the tone condescending. I'd be embarrassed to read this to my children." "Christian homeschoolers may not find it Bible-centered enough. A few Bible stories are woven in (Abraham, Joseph, etc.), but that is not the emphasis and the telling of those stories isn't always exactly as told in the Bible.
"Ms. Bauer should have the courage of her convictions, and call this book what it is—little more than a children's Bible. To call it the story of the world is dishonest. The religions of the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians are referred to as myths, Hinduism is trashed as nothing more than an evil caste system, while she treats the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus as historical fact. On top of this, the book is not even well written. It is patronizing, judgmental, extremely subjective, and what's with all the exclamation points?"
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