Books We Read: King Henry VIII’s World, the Huguenots and John Calvin

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This week, we delved further into the world of Henry VIII and the Reformation in England, Switzerland and the Northern countries.  We also continued our study of Shakespeare and Reformation Hymns.  I will share a couple of those resources in a few weeks. (Again, this isn’t a comprehensive list of our resources… just some of the extra reading we enjoyed.)

Next week, we’re studying the Counter Reformation and the Netherlands – with some Shakespeare thrown in. Look for that post next week!

Huguenot Garden, Douglas M. Jones III (Historical Fiction, Grades 4-6)

I may stand alone in my opinion of this book.  After all, it received a 1995 CS Lewis Noteworthy Children’s Book Honor, it scored high marks from a reviewer in World magazine, it is on many qualified book lists…  Yet, I disliked it so much, my children won’t be reading it.  I may have had them read the book if the only problem had been the poor writing and condescending tone (there is nothing I dislike more than talking down to children).  I did rather like the portrayal of a wholesome, God-fearing family, and the inclusion of the Gospel message.  It was when the author removed Scripture from context and began preaching doctrinal ideals that I find to be un-Scriptural that I had a real issue (such as using God’s promise to Abraham to make his descendants as numerous as the sand and stars to justify infant baptism).  I told myself that historical fiction is, of course, written from the viewpoint of the person living in that moment in time.  However, I decided my children (2nd and 3rd grade) may be confused by the tone of the book, despite the fact that we always discuss what we read. 

My decision left me with a dilemma.  Apparently there are almost no 4-6 grade books about the Huguenots.  The Huguenot’s played a significant role in France’s history, and I felt study of them worthwhile.

There is a G.A. Henty book, Saint Barthol0mew’s Eve.  It is available online at the Gutenberg Project, or by free audiobook here.

Saint Bartholomew’s Eve, G. A. Henty  (Historical Fiction, Grades 4-6)

I decided that we’d listen to a free audiobook version of Saint Bartholomew’s Eve.  It’s fun to mix it up once in a while with an audiobook, and Henty’s books are slightly intimidating when compared to today’s 4-6 grade books!  However, 4 chapters in, we called it a day.  Henty’s chapters are 30 minutes long on the audiobook, and there are 22 of them – way too much for one week.  Additionally, Henty spent the entire four chapters focusing on the difference between the French and the British, and talking about the benefits of going to war.  It was too much for me.  We cut our losses and reduced ourselves to one literature book for the week.

John Welch: The Man Who Couldn’t Be Stopped, Ethel Barrett (Fictionalized Biography, Grades 4-6)

I loved this book!  What a fantastically exciting biography of a man I’d never heard of.  John Welch ran away from home as a young boy to live as a thief, then returned home as a repentant prodigal – and became a minister.  Oh, what a minister he was.  The man spent most of each night on his knees, praying.  God spoke to him, and he was something of a prophet, sharing the information God gave him.  Barrett’s depiction of Welch reminds me of a Pentacostal preacher… from the 1600’s!  Welch’s life was full of spectacular events, and his faith was inspiring.

The Royal Diaries:  Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor: England 1544, Kathryn Lasky  (Fictionalized Biography, Grades 4-6)

We actually read this in the fall, but the boys built a lot of their understanding of the period on this book.  King Henry VIII, and his six wives, are fairly important figures in the Reformation.  This was an excellent novel.  In spite of the fact that it covered the life a princess, both my boys were transfixed and begged to hear more.  Elizabeth was a brilliant, isolated young woman who eventually ended the religious persecution in England (made horrific by her older sister – Bloody Mary).  She also encouraged the arts, and was quite fond of Shakespeare.  (In fact, without her as a benefactor, I understand today’s arts might look a little different!)  We’re reading a lot of Shakespeare these days, so the book has just been an excellent addition to our studies.

Brilliant Brits: Henry VIII, Richard Brassey (Biography, Grades 1-3)

What a brilliant little biography about Henry VIII!  :)  This paints a picture of a narcissistic, slothful and gluttonous king without preaching or connecting the dots for the children.  The book is cheerfully illustrated and colorful and follows Henry from the age of 3 up until his death.  Brassey covers Henry’s multiple marriages, his abandonment of the Catholic church and his subsequent creation of the Church of England.

Courage and Conviction; Volume 3: Chronicles of the Reformation Church, Mindy and Brandon Withrow (Church History, Grades 4-6)

See more about the History Lives series in Church History Worth Selling Your Silverware For. I couldn’t imagine not including this excellent book in our studies of the Reformation, so I am reading it aloud as we go.

This week, we read “John Calvin: To take a wife”, a fictionalized biographical sketch about Calvin’s search for a wife, the loss of his four children, and nine years later, his wife. We also read the article “Big Changes in the Reformation World” which covered the changing aspects of the world at the time of the Reformation: society, art, culture, and science.  We read another biographical sketch: “Katherine Parr: For such a time as this”, about the Reformed faith of King Henry VIII’s last wife. This last story highlighted her attempt to influence the king in favor of the Protestant Church, which nearly cost the queen her life.  Lastly, we read “Thomas Cranmer: Candles in England”, which covered the martyrdom of Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer.  The Withrows addressed Cranmer’s cowardice (and reasoning) over his service as Archbishop of the Church of England – refusing to confront or advise Henry VIII on his multiple marriages, divorces, and executions.  They also address Cranmer’s recantation and then his final profession of faith.  It’s an interesting story.

Romans (The Bible!)

The boys have been discussing Romans all week while playing with LEGOs, sword fighting, and creating a comic book.  Nothing could make me happier.  They’re reading 2 chapters a day, 5 days a week to complete the New Testament in less than a school year.

What did your family read last week?

~Danika Cooley


  1. says

    I love your reading selections. How do you make the time to read so much?

    I’m sure that there are suitable Huguenot readers. Just had a look on our shelves. I haven’t read any of these for ages but think that “Rich toward God” by Barbara Hallihan may well be suitable. I can’t find it at present but Beth Coombe Harris’ “Invincible Refugees” is about the same theme.

    Deborah Alcock’s “Done and dared in old France” is a great read but may be too old. There is a mild romantic theme at the end. Very proper but might not appeal to younger boys!

    • says


      Thank you so much for the suggestions! It seemed strange to me that I couldn’t find anything appropriate about such an important period of time. We’ll work on finding those books.

      The boys spend about an hour and a half a day reading (including Bible), 4 or 5 days a week (depending on the books). They read right after breakfast when they’re still feeling a little low-key, and then we move on to other subjects. I probably read aloud to them another 4 or 5 hours a week total (history, Church history, science, and more literature and biographies). It’s a lot of reading! We still finish school before they would if they were attending an institutional school, and they enjoy the stories. I suspect that as we move into dialectic and rhetoric level reading, we won’t have quite as much variety, as the work will be more difficult, both in terms of reading, and in the other subjects. Right now, we just have science, language arts, math, and two languages additionally. Because we do those at a 2nd and 3rd grade level, they allow time for the reading.

      I pre-read their books on the treadmill. Two birds, one stone… :)

      Thank you again for the book suggestions!

      ~ Danika

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