Book Review: Living Through the Mexican-American War

 I’m always on the lookout for engaging books to use with my history curriculum. Sometimes it’s hard to find a good book that’s affordable, covers a topic with enough depth and yet isn’t something a student has to “slog” through. Non-fiction can be especially challenging because I have fairly high standards. Each book has to be something Otter is going to connect to (unless there really isn’t anything else to choose from and it’s something I want to cover!).

I recently was on the lookout for a book on the Mexican-American War – a conflict that still has some present day repercussions and one that I think is generally ignored in most history programs but shouldn’t be! Living Through the Mexican-American War by John DiConsiglio does a great job of presenting this conflict as well as other related stories covering the years 1821-1849. The book itself is colorful and has a nice layout. There is a mix of maps, photos, illustrations and colored sidebars that bring some visual interest to the pages. I like the added touch of the “burnt/worn” edges look on each page. It’s details like this that set this particular book above the rest I’ve looked at for this topic.

The Mexican-American War

Even though it’s 80 pages long, Living Through the Mexican-American War is a fairly quick read that shouldn’t take your students more than a day or two to finish. Or, if you prefer to use it as a read-aloud, you can easily get through it in a week.

All throughout the book more difficult words and terms are presented in bold and defined via a glossary in the back. Here are a few examples:

  • Whig Party
  • Manifest Destiny
  • sovereign
  • chaparral
  • fortified
  • adobe
  • guerrilla
  • dysentery

If you like to combine assignments, it would be super-easy to pick out words your student isn’t familiar with and assign them for vocabulary study.

Based on the vocabulary and the writing style, I’d say this book targets the upper elementary to middle school age bracket, although I think it’s perfectly appropriate for high schoolers as well. Even I learned a thing or two after reading it and it’s written/presented in such a way that I think most students will retain most of it.

There is also a small “Find Out More” section in the back with a list of books, websites and DVD’s to explore, if interested.

I feel the book does a good job at presenting both sides of the Mexican-American War. It gives you a great understanding of the circumstances surrounding it from various perspectives and not only gives an overview of incidents like the Battle of the Alamo but various sections cover some of the people involved and topics like weaponry and hardships. There is even a section about Sarah Borginnis “The Heroine of Fort Brown” so your girls don’t have to feel too left out amidst all the battle-talk.

The Mexican American War

The Mexican-American War happened because of a variety of factors and if affected different people in a variety of ways. Living Through the Mexican-American War doesn’t shy away from these topics and yet covers them in an age-appropriate way. Portions of the book cover various interesting facts about things like yellow fever, deserters, Irish immigrants, the Donner Party and more. It’s written in a way that shows your students how all of these different things were connected. I like that.

Since there are no previews that I can find online, I’ve pasted an example of a small section below so you can get a feel for the writing style.

Mexican American War

After reading through the book I’ve decided it’s a winner! I’m planning on including it in my Awesome Timeline History Schedule, which will be posted here in the next several months (hopefully!) on my website. It’s an excellent resource that should help any student learn about this important part of our nation’s history. Click here to take a look at it on Amazon.

*Note: We received this book for free after I requested it for the purpose of reviewing it. However, our review was not in anyway influenced by this fact. All our reviews reflect only our personal opinion(s) of materials. We aren’t experts! We’re just a homeschooling family with ideas of our own about what works and what doesn’t for US. smile

In the Hands of a Child Renaissance Project Pack Lapbook

Wow! It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on my website or blog! I’ve finally found a minute to post a review of In the Hands of a Child’s Renaissance Project Pack Lapbook.

My rating:

my rating

Otter’s rating:

Otter's rating

 

Renaissance lapbook

This 72 page, affordable lapbook project pack from In the Hands of a Child has everything you need for a 7 day unit study on the Renaissance! It’s designed for grades 6-12, although I think it could easily be adapted down to 4th grade.

I’ve always liked lapbooks. They offer a hands-on, interactive way of learning a subject. Lapbooks are crafty, they break up writing into manageable chunks and they look GREAT as a finished project.

In the Hands of a Child contacted me and asked me if I was interested in reviewing one of their lapbooks. I jumped at the chance. Our history study was heading into the Renaissance and this offer came along at the right time! Over the years we’ve finished lots of lapbook projects. Some have been absolute hits (like this one I made for nutrition) and others have been disastrous flops! Here are my impressions of this particular lapbook project pack.

My project pack came as a PDF. Instead of printing out the entire thing I only printed out the items/elements I wanted to use and read the instructions from my computer.

Graphics / Illustrations:

  • All of the graphics and illustrations are in black and white or grayscale.
    Pros Cons
    Printing only in black helps save expensive color ink. Some may find black and white graphics boring.
    A creative child may enjoy coloring things in. A kid who doesn’t like coloring might think it’s busywork to decorate his lapbook.

The sample lapbook displayed inside shows most of the lapbook elements printed on colored paper, which kind of jazzes things up a bit more (note: the picture below only shows part of the lapbook). I think the sample actually looks quite nice:

Renaissance lapbook

Everything appears to be clip art-based with different fonts for variety. This is not a beautifully “hand” illustrated lapbook like the ones featured at Homeschool in the Woods. However, the graphics are mostly crisp, clean and print well.

Content:

  • This lapbook covers a wide variety of topics from the Renaissance. All of the research for each lapbook element has been done for you and put together in an easy-to-read format sprinkled with pictures and clip art. Culture, art & artists, religion, architecture, music, literature, government, and exploration are all explored.

activities

Because the lapbook is intended to cover only a 7 day period, nothing is covered in great depth. However, you get a good overview of the main topics and what the Renaissance was all about. I think this lapbook would be a good addition to just about any history curriculum and it could stand alone as well if you didn’t want to linger in this particular time period too long.

Lapbook Elements:

  • There are quite a few different lapbook elements to create (20 in all). A few of the items you can make are:
    • Booklet for vocabulary words
    • Flip flap book about Renaissance facts
    • Venn book comparing the Middle Ages to the Renaissance period
    • Shape book about Gutenberg
  • All of the lapbook elements come with written instructions on how to construct each one. I thought it was a little inconvenient that the instructions were separate from the actual lapbook element pages (all instructions are together in the beginning of the lapbook guide), but you could easily print the instructions out for reference. Perhaps it was designed this way so that they aren’t cluttering up each project page.
  • Answers for each lapbook element are contained at the end of the guidebook. Most of the answers are suggestions showing what your child could write on each project piece.
  • Reluctant writers may like how each element breaks down the task of writing into a smaller chunk. Instead of writing papers, information is displayed on each lapbook element.

Fun Factor:

Crafty kids who love to cut, paste and color will most likely enjoy completing this lapbook. Kids who like their schoolwork to be cut-and-dry will probably groan their way through it. If you already know your children like lapbooks, then I think this particular one will probably go over pretty well. It’s one of the better ones I’ve seen for this topic. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the most awesome activity we’ve ever done in our entire school career) I’d give this lapbook about a 6 1/2. Otter rated it as a 2. When I asked him why, he said there was too much writing and he didn’t think it was varied enough (with drawing or cut/paste activities, etc.). He also disliked the lack of color.

Overall Impression:

I think the In the Hands of a Child Renaissance Project Pack Lapbook is a solid choice if you are a fan of lapbooks or want to give one a try to add some variety to your studies. I think this particular project pack is a great overview of the Renaissance with plenty of activities at an affordable price. This is definitely something I would have considered purchasing to supplement our history lessons and add in a hands-on element. It’s well put together and saves a LOT of time! Unfortunately though, Otter doesn’t like it at all and while I like the content, I’m not in love with all of the graphics. I think it’s a professional product but not as polished as I personally would like it to be.

Check out the free sample at the In the Hands of a Child website and see for yourself whether it would work for you and yours!

*Note: All our reviews reflect only our personal opinion(s) of materials. We aren’t experts! We’re just a homeschooling family with 3 kids and ideas of our own about what works and what doesn’t for US. smile

Siege Tower

I like to include a variety of projects and extras for most of our school subjects. As one mom who recently wrote me put it…it’s the “whipped cream and cherry on top” of our studies! Here’s a recent project Otter made for history:

 

It’s one thing to read about a siege tower. It’s quite another to actually construct one and see how it works first hand. That’s some major whipped cream and cherry action right there.

You can order your own siege tower from Pathfinders here.

We are moving out of the middle ages now and heading into the Renaissance. My Awesome Timeline History Schedule has been a great success and I look forward to continuing with it. If you’d like a copy, send me an email.

Timeline Figures Template & Sample

I’ve been working on making timeline figures for Otter’s timeline notebook. I thought I’d share the template with everyone else with a sample of how it works. Feel free to download and use to make your own timeline figures for any period of history.
It’s easy to clear the template for your own use. I’ve included instructions on how to do that quickly (1 click!) for Microsoft Word and Open Office users.

Timeline figure template in .doc format

Timeline figure template in .docx format

Timeline figure template in .odt (Open Office) format (This template has a few differences than the Microsoft template. I had to adjust a few things. Also, shapes and text boxes from Word don’t show up in Open Office. However, the main parts of the template should work fine. I have no way of checking though if the embedded font worked at the top of the page!)

Timeline figures template
A little bit more about timelines…

I’ve found that a timeline is a very wonderful tool for not only seeing the big picture of history, but also as a way to help foster the retention of everything we’ve studied. As Otter thumbs through the pages of his timeline notebook, he’s able to see how everything fits together AND at the same time review all of the wonderful books we’ve read since we paste the covers in on a regular basis. Timelines don’t have to be tied to your history classes. You can also paste in scientists and achievements from your science curriculum, artists (and even the works they created), composers from your music studies and novels you read for literature, if they fall into a historical time period. If you get your children into the habit of pulling out their timeline on a regular basis for a variety of school subjects, they’ll start to really understand how things fit together in the past. Also, when they finally graduate, they will have a lovely scrapbook featuring their many learning adventures over the years!

Learning about Egypt

In history we are finally wrapping up ancient Egypt! Here are some pictures of some recent projects:

This papyrus kit was a big hit. You get real bundles of papyrus, a plain sheet of papyrus paper and another sheet with a printed outline on it of an Egyptian scene you can color or paint. The kit comes with instructions on how to make your own sheet of papyrus paper. We ordered ours from Rainbow Resource.
We never did successfully create a piece of paper from the plant fibers, but the kit was still worthwhile to get to look at/feel a sheet of real papyrus paper (which is quite rough and sturdy!) and to see the plant material that makes it.

Papyrus kit

Here’s a map of Egyptian sites on the Nile from Remembering God’s Awesome Acts. I didn’t schedule this book into Otter’s ancient history schedule even though I think it makes a good supplement. We just didn’t have the time or interest to use all of it. If your student really wants to dig into early Biblical history and Egypt, you might want to check it out.

map

This Lift The Lid On Mummies kit comes with lots of mummy making “stuff”. I bought it years ago to use with the “big kids. Now it was Otter’s turn, but he didn’t like it as much as the others had.

Lift the Lid on Mummies

This is a lift the flap Rosetta Stone with a hieroglyphic translation exercise:

Rosetta stone

I’ve been working with Otter on narrating summaries. After I read a selection from our history to him, I ask him questions about it (to help him pick out the “main” facts). Then I have him narrate out loud. After that he writes his narrations down on notebooking pages and files them in his history notebook:

Notebooking pages

For a great article on narration, click here to go to Jimmie’s Squidoo page.

Here is Moses from Famous Figures of Ancient Times: Movable Paper Figures to Cut, Color, and Assemble:

Moses

Otter also painted King Tut. We used a simple lesson from the Art Projects For Kids website. I love some of the art lessons on Kathy’s site and plan to visit again soon for some lesson ideas!

The paint container in the pictures was made from the bottom of a plastic milk jug. It’s perfect- it even has raised areas inside to keep the colors of the paint separate.

How to Draw King Tut

Otter also colored a map of the 12 tribes of Israel instead of the scheduled map lesson in Mystery of History. You can download it for free from Bible History Online.

map

History Pocket Projects

Here are some more pics of Otter’s recent projects for ancient history from History Pockets.

A pop-up Egyptian courtyard :

Pop up

A cut & paste tomb:

Egyptian tomb

A flip-flap booklet of Egyptian gods and goddesses:

Egyptian gods

A pyramid shape book:

pyramid

An ancient Egyptian person
(with sheer “cloth” *cough* -toilet paper- clothing overlay)

egyptian

Otter usually does his History Pocket projects during our read-alouds. It keeps his hands busy and his mind focused on the stories or information that is being read.

After I read to him, I usually ask him questions about what we read and he also often provides a narration that summarizes the material.

One of the books we finished last week is:

A Place in the Sun

A Place in the Sun

This adventure story is about Senmut, a boy in ancient Egypt. After his father is bitten by a Cobra, Senmut attempts to carve a statue of the healer goddess Sekhmet with the hopes it will cure his father. While working, he thoughtlessly tosses a tool and accidentally kills a sacred dove. Senmut is sent to the mines for his crime. Will he survive his harsh sentence? Will he ever see his father alive again?

Read the first chapters at Google Books.

I scheduled this book as a reader, although I actually did it as a read-aloud due to the Egyptian spirituality that is woven throughout the story. I wanted to be on hand to edit out or explain/discuss portions because I didn’t feel comfortable with a lot of it. It’s a worthwhile story though, because it gives a realistic picture of ancient Egyptian beliefs, how lives were ruled by these beliefs, and makes this ancient culture more accessible to young readers.

Otter’s rating: 5 stars

Ancient History Projects

We’ve been really busy lately. Here are some pictures of Otter’s most recent projects:

This project was from the Story of the World Activity book. Otter worked on it while we did one of our read-alouds.

A Mohenjo-Daro house made of “bricks”

Mohenjo-Daro house

You can see some pictures of this ancient city here.

Another thing we did was learn the ancient Egyptian game of Senet. Here is the game board from History Pockets. We also played versions of the game online. Guess who won? It wasn’t me!

Learn how to play Senet

Play senet against a computer

Senet

Here’s a project Otter REALLY loved: making an “ancient” map. We took one of our Mystery of History maps, crumpled it up, dabbed it with wet tea bags and then burned the edges. Just a note for the future: outline the edges of the map areas in permanent marker! Ours “washed” away with the application of the tea bags (duh).

map

I also dug out some pages and lessons from Remembering God’s Awesome Acts. I purchased it in the past for the “big” kids and they completed about half of the workbook. It’s been sitting on the shelf ever since and the last half fits perfectly with what we’re currently studying. The program mixes Bible lessons with history, art, logic, geography, culture and more. One of the lessons was about Egyptian art. Here’s Otter’s picture he drew after looking over the different art elements:

Egyptian art

As far as website news, I designed the “art” for the ancient history section. You can see it here on my rough working page for ancient history books.

Apple Mummy Project

Today Otter started an apple mummy project! I considered making a chicken mummy, but that seemed so wasteful… so we settled on making apple mummies instead.

Otter set up the supplies:

  • 1 cup Epsom salt
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 4 containers (we used disposable cups)
  • Something to label the cups with (we used a permanent marker)
  • One apple
  • Knife
  • Cutting board

Apple Mummy

Otter cut the apple into quarters (4 pieces).

Apple mummy experiment

We then labeled the cups with the following labels: control, salt, baking soda, and Epsom salts.

After that, each individual piece of apple was weighed and its weight was recorded on the cup that it went into.

Apple mummy project

Otter poured the substances into the cups over the apples. The cup labeled control didn’t have anything added to it (other than the apple slice).

Apple mummy

So now the apple slices are ready to be put in a place where they won’t be disturbed for 2-3 weeks! When we pull them out, we’ll instantly weigh each piece and compare it to its original weight. We’ll determine which substance did the best job of drying the apple.

How to make an apple mummy

 

Famous Figures of Ancient Times

Famous figures

I ordered this book: Famous Figures of Ancient Times: Movable Paper Figures to Cut, Color, and Assemble, because I wanted to help Otter remember some of the people we are studying this year. I wasn’t sure if it would really be worthwhile to make the figures in the book, but after making two of them (Narmer and Sargon the Great), I’m really glad I scheduled this in.

The book has figures of famous people throughout ancient history to cut out and assemble. You have a choice of cutting out figures that are already colored, or ones that are black and white that you can color yourself. I really like having that option! Each figure has moveable joints and the name of the figure on the back. The front of the book has a short summary of each person and his accomplishments.

Otter cut out the figures while I did our read-alouds. Afterwards, he acted out little bits of our history lesson. We put each figure into a plastic sheet protector in his history notebook when he was done playing with them.

Otter remembers who each person is SO MUCH better than if we had just read about each one of them. Each figure is a concrete reminder of what he’s been learning about.

Here’s a blurry picture of King Narmer hanging out in Otter’s History Pocket:

King Narmer

Here’s Sargon the Great (who was accosted by King Narmer’s flail as he traipsed across Otter’s desk, lol):

Sargon the Great

I’ve scheduled in the remaining figures to complement our studies from Mystery of History and Story of the World as we go along through the year.

The author is coming out with more books in the future and I plan on getting them! Check out her website to see more figures, an example of the biographies from the front of the book and some additional titles that are coming soon.