Ah, the Age of Exploration. For a boy, it’s such a romantic time: adventure, drama and danger. It was also a heartbreaking moment in human history, one in which explorers and their kings decided to “harvest” entire populations for their own use. On the other hand, there were interesting moments of compassion, as well as some missionary work. In an attempt to give the kids a well-rounded view, we read from several sources. As I mentioned before, I won’t be talking about our “teaching texts” (our living books that cover history in a more comprehensive manner) in these posts, so this isn’t a look at our history program – just some of the books we enjoyed for enrichment last week. This week, we’re studying the Aztecs and a little more of the Renaissance and Reformation. Look for that post next week!
Around the World in a Hundred Years, Jean Fritz (Biography, Grades 4-6)
Jean Fritz, a biographer for children, wrote a fantastic book covering the major explorers of the 15th century, from Henry the Navigator to Magellan. Each explorer was given his own chapter, illustrated by Anthony Bacon Venti. Venti’s illustrations are wonderful, and the biographies are engaging. Fritz has a gift for writing for children in a manner that is not condescending, and that points out the absurd aspects of human nature in an amusing manner. That said, she is fairly cynical about the Christian faith. Perhaps her skeptical jabs were not directed at Christianity, but rather, the faith of these particular men. (I know her parents were missionaries in China and that is where she was raised). Either way, I was glad I read this aloud so that the boys and I could discuss her comments as they came up. I had planned to have them read Fritz’s Where are You Going, Christopher Columbus?, but after a week of this overview, I’d had all the cynicism I could take. So, I decided to assign The Sower Series’ Christopher Columbus by Bennie Rhodes.
Christopher Columbus, Bennie Rhodes (Biography, Grades 4-6, The Sowers)
I enjoyed this well-researched biography, and my kids thought it was very exciting. Written from a Christian perspective from the time Columbus was a child, it emphasized Columbus’ decision to become a Christ-bearer at an early age, his love of the sailing, and his entrepreneurial nature. I appreciated the emphasis on Columbus’ Christian faith (and his desire to share his God), as well as the fact that Rhodes represented Columbus as a terrible administrator, and a naive explorer. Columbus seemed to think the natives his men encountered should be overjoyed to have the sailors building fortresses and raiding the land for wealth. This spurred lots of conversations in our home.
Prince Henry the Navigator, Leonard Everett Fisher (Biography, Grades 1-3)
An engaging read about one of the first men to determine to explore the seas. I appreciated the fact that this discussed Henry’s involvement in the African slave trade. It gave my children and I an opportunity to discuss motive, good intentions, and integrity. We also talked about the current slave trade.
First Voyage to America, Christopher Columbus (Entries from the Captain’s Log, Grades 1-3)
It was fascinating to read the actual entries from Columbus’ captain’s log. The kids were a little confused by the fact that he referred to himself in the 3rd person, but quickly adjusted. There are a number of authentic woodcuts included as the illustrations. I highly recommend getting the story straight from the explorer’s mouth.
Maps: Getting from Here to There, Harvey Weiss (Non-Fiction, Elementary)
This was a fitting addition to our study of the Age of Exploration. Weiss discusses the way maps are made, as well as many of the essential elements of maps. The sepia illustrations are nice, and really help explain the points he’s making. He begins and ends the book with an alien, explaining the need for maps by pointing out that otherwise the alien wouldn’t be able to find his way around. That was… weird, but not an overbearing theme. Overall, I appreciated the book and will use it again in our study of maps.
Saint George and the Dragon, Margaret Hodges (Fiction, Grades 1-3)
My youngest was enthralled with this book. He loves chivalry! It was an interesting version, complete with a Faery Queen, a brave lady seeking to save her people, an aging king, a brave knight, and a nearly indestructible dragon. After 3 days of fighting, Knight George wins out, the dragon is vanquished, and the hand of the brave princess is won. This is a Caldecott award winning book. The illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman are spectacular, though violent. One page has two naked little fairies in the borders.
The King’s Book explores the translation of the King James Version of the Bible from the viewpoint of one of the translator’s 14 year old son. It is a fascinating story of already-existing different English versions, translator rivalry, the persecution of the Catholic Church, and Francis Bacon’s revisionism (to make the Bible “more poetic”). Worth mentioning is the fact that Nat, the main character, encountered a practitioner of cabala, the Judaic system of mysticism. Vernon never really resolves his encounter in the book, in fact she ties it into Nat’s confusion over translation issues and he actually sounds as though he is favorable toward the practice. As someone who finds witchcraft of any kind abhorant, I wish Vernon had handled it differently, yet I found this a good topic to discuss with the boys. This book makes no attempt to answer the many questions it raises; rather, it leaves the young reader to puzzle them out. That may be fitting. After all, we adults are still puzzling over translation issues, denominations and Church authority and scholarship.
What did your family read last week?