High School American History Update

american history booksThis is what it looks like as I’m working on a curriculum! The people at the library know me by name, lol….This pile doesn’t even show the books I’ve already returned or the books I’ve managed to get on my Kindle (my reading preference).

american history books

I’m reading through TONS of books for the future high school American history curriculum to decide what I want to use and what I don’t! I’ve already culled quite a few and have added others to the YES list. 

I’m glad I’m a fast reader. Usually I can read an average of 400-500 pages a day (give or take). I’m making sure every book choice meets my standards and has that “interest” factor. My husband and I will also be watching quite a few movies in the weeks to come. Let me know in the comments if you have any early American history favorites!

I’ve also started working on the study guide! YES, there will be a study guide with this program as there is with chemistry and physics. I plan on putting some comics in this one to add a little humor and to help students remember concepts. I can’t wait to share more!!

The History Shelf – A New Part of Our Website!

The History Shelf







We have a new part of our website up: The History Shelf. Ever want to read a book or watch a movie set in a specific time period but don’t know where to start searching? With the History Shelf you can choose a time period via the timeline and browse books and videos for all ages in a visual, easy to browse manner. There are books listed for all ages with separate columns for adults and children to make browsing your choices easier.

If you are homeschooling, browse the timeline to find literature and video supplements for your favorite history program. Or, if you just want to find something for yourself to read or watch, it’s as easy as looking up the time period and clicking on the book or movie cover for more information on each book title and movie.

I LOVE history and will continue to add tons more books and videos to the History Shelf.

Feel free to post and share the graphic above if you want to spread the word!

Happy reading and watching!

Illusion by Frank Peretti

Illusion: A Novel

*Read at the end about a chance to get your own free copy!!*

Frank Peretti’s newest novel is a sit-and-read-it-in-until-you-finish kind of book. The kind you want to hurry up and find out what is going to happen, never mind that it’s time to cook dinner. Dinner? Overrated. I’m not finished reading. Make yourself a sandwich or something. wink (O.K., I’m kidding about that, but JUST BARELY).

The novel starts out in 2010. Dane Collins just lost his wife Mandy in a fiery, tragic car accident…or so he thinks. In the midst of mourning he moves to a ranch in Idaho that he and his wife bought to retire on after a successful career as a magic act.

Suddenly, you are in 1970 with Mandy as a 19-year old college student at the fair with her friends until somehow she’s standing in 2010, right in the same spot, dressed in a hospital gown with unfamiliar faces passing by. Everything looks the same; and yet different. A very confused and distraught Mandy gets admitted to a mental hospital where she looks on in awe at computers and cell phones (like right out of Star Trek!), wondering how she got where she is. As it begins to sink in what’s happened, she discovers a strange ability to become invisible and escapes to scrabble out a living on the streets doing a street performer’s magic act as Eloise.

Mandy runs into Dane on the street as she plies him with a Gypsy card trick. He gives her a few tips, unable to just walk off until they’ve had a more than brief exchange. He leaves, thinking he’ll never run into that cold, young girl again but does after Mandy learns she has amazing abilities. Somehow she’s able to manipulate objects and takes her street act into a coffee shop while drawing increasingly larger crowds.

As the story progresses, Dane and Mandy’s lives become more and more intertwined and they take on a mentor/ protégé relationship as he agrees to coach her magic act. There’s always a tension running between them though where they are drawn to one another but don’t understand why and certainly can’t act on it due to a 40-year age span. Dane is painfully reminded of his wife every time he looks at Mandy. There’s something about her that is so familiar. The author was really able to convey their love for one another that reached across the bending of time and space and the confusion they felt as they both struggled with the connection in their own way.

Illusion is not a romance, though. It’s more of a science fiction meets magic meets evil government secret project kind of book with Christian undertones. Throughout the entire novel Mandy’s abilities grow and the pace picks up as Dane realizes who she might really be and that there is a man following her. Secrets slowly unfold and there are new twists and turns that keep you turning the page.

Frank Peretti has written an engaging and memorable story of life, death, mystery, the bending of time, love and restoration. This is my first time reading Peretti and now that I have, I’m jumping on the fan bandwagon. You can be sure I’m going to dip into his other books and look forward to whatever he’s writing next!

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for free in exchange for my review. The above review is entirely my opinion and was in no way influenced by the fact that I got the book for free!

***Head back over here on Monday, April 9th for your chance to win a brand spanking new FREE copy of Frank Peretti’s new novel: Illusion.***

Click here to read our other book reviews.

Free copy of Illusion by Frank Peretti

My daughter is hosting the Illusion novel giveaway on her blog. Head on over there  and leave a comment on her blog post to be entered! The giveaway will be open for 2 weeks. If you win, we’ll send you a brand-new advanced reader’s edition of Frank Peretti’s new novel: Illusion. (Sorry we are late for the giveaway!)

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

A Review / Opinion of The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible

Lucado Study Bible

The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible, NKJV

Every morning, when we start our school day, I read to Otter from the Bible. It’s a great way to start the day and it teaches that we give God precedence over everything else we do. We always start with Him first.
While I think Bible curriculum, devotionals and Bible lessons & books are great for kids, nothing can beat spending time in God’s word itself. We usually read one chapter from the Old Testament, one from the New, as well as a daily chapter from Psalms and then Proverbs (4 chapters total). We have several copies of the Bible, but one of my new favorites is the Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible.
It’s an attractive Bible that has verses arranged in a single column format, which means it reads like a “real” book instead of chopping up the verses into little sections. Headings are in a bold maroon which makes finding passages much easier than a traditional Bible (at least for me!).
There are lots of extra goodies in the form of side notes that really help you get more out of what you are reading. These notes help explain the context of the chapters (what’s going on here?) and then go more in depth to help you pull out the points, truths or lessons to be learned as well as an application section to help you better apply the things you just read to your own life. There are also full page devotions and articles that help you see the bigger picture of how everything ties together.
I like how at the beginning of each book you are given a run-down on the who/what/when/where with a small outline of the contents. These introductions are good to help you and your students focus better on what is being read. It gives the foundation for you to fill in. There is also a devotional index so you can quickly look up topics that need to be quickly addressed (stubbornness, kindness, etc.) as well as a “where to turn when” index (when you doubt your faith, when you lack patience, etc.). All of the “extras” are written so that I think they would be accessible to not only adults, but also to most children. If you have a child who has outgrown some of the “kiddy” Bibles, I think it would make an excellent step up, especially for a child in the 13-17 years age range. It doesn’t have all the flashy kid and teen oriented type of notes, but there is lots of good, solid and helpful guidance and information that may appeal to kids who are a little more serious in their approach to Bible study.
If you are looking for a good Bible to use with your kids (or just yourself!), you might be interested in giving this one a look. You can download a free 53 page chapter here and see if it might fit your Bible reading needs. I’ve personally claimed this one as my own!

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255


I review for BookSneeze®

Flight of Shadows Book Review

Flight of ShadowsSet in the future only several generations from our own, Flight of the Shadows describes an America that has been reshaped into a new society with four distinct classes of people. Walled cities are made up of the Influentials, a class with all of the wealth and power which is served by the Industrials: herded out at the end of a work day to return to dismal shanty-towns- their faces tattooed for easy identification. The illegals live like wild animals, sneaking around and taking what they can – and then there are the invisibles. People fitting in nowhere, hiding from whatever and whomever.
Caitlyn, the main character, is hiding with good reason. A product of genetic experimentation, she escaped from Appalachia- a Christian dystopia where some of the inhabitants manage to get out in a kind of Underground Railroad. A psychotic bounty hunter is on her trail, as is the government of America who wants the secret hidden in her D.N.A.
Caitlyn meets up with Razor, someone with secrets of his own. Never quite sure if she can trust him, the two are caught up in trying to elude those who are tracking her as she slowly discovers just who she really is and why others want her. She has to make a choice… One that will affect her, those she loves and even the future of human destiny.
When I first started reading Flight of Shadows, I didn’t realize it was a sequel to a book called Broken Angel, but that didn’t spoil the story as it stands well on its own. I think what I found the most fascinating was the author’s vision of America’s future touched by darker tinges of science, oppression, government control and the future results of modern day problems like illegal immigrants. This is not a pretty story. There is violence and adult themes. It drew me in though and had a lot of thought provoking themes woven throughout about science and culture. This book is published by a Christian publishing house, and though there was a few bits of Christianity sprinkled throughout mainly in dialogue between characters, it didn’t strike me as an overtly Christian book. It doesn’t shy away from topics and situations that are just plain brutal and/or disturbing. I don’t recommend you leave it laying around for the kids, but if you like science fiction and want a provocative read, you might want to check it out yourself!

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Book Review: Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for RealRecently I received a free copy of the book Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back through BookSneeze.com in exchange for my honest review. It’s an account of a little boy named Colton who had an emergency appendectomy and in the following months dropped a bombshell on his family. He claimed he had gone to heaven and had a lot of interesting information to back it up -like the fact that he had met his sister who had been miscarried 2 months into his mother’s pregnancy – something he had never been told about. He also somehow knew what his parents were doing when he was out on the operating table. He shared details about his great grandfather he had never met, as well as details about heaven itself that match what the Bible says. There were lots of other bits and pieces that spilled out over the course of 2 years that gave an overall beautiful and interesting picture of heaven – many which most 4-year-olds could never dream up, even in a family where your dad is a pastor (as Colton’s dad is).

I approached this book with a healthy dose of skepticism. A little boy, almost 4 years old, coming back from heaven? It sounds like made-up stuff. Certainly not impossible, but something I wasn’t too sure about. After reading the Burpo family’s story, I can’t say I believe everything, but, the entire story was interesting enough to capture my attention for the 2 hours in which I devoured all 157 pages. I did have a problem with a couple of Colton’s descriptions – like the fact that everyone had wings (not just angels) and that everyone flew. I don’t see any evidence of that in the Bible. Perhaps if Colton did have this experience, he interjected/mixed in a few of his own 4-year-old interpretations and thoughts into his experience. I guess I spent most of the time wondering if his father made up a lot of the story or if young Colton was sharing bits and pieces he had picked up here and there in a way that made it seem like he had actually gone to heaven. Maybe he did go! I guess you have to read the book to come to your own conclusion!

Heaven is for Real is a quick, but thought provoking read. Although I personally spent the entire time wondering if the story was genuine or not, I came away with a sense that, if it was, it’s likely to be a real encouragement to those who have lost a loved one or are just wondering what heaven might be like. If not, it at least gets you thinking about the subject and for me it made me think that heaven is going to be greater than anything I could ever imagine – whether it matches Colton’s description or not!

Purity Study

We want to help Otter pursue purity and integrity and one of the tools we are using to help teach him some important principles is The Squire and the Scroll: A Tale of the Rewards of a Pure Heart. We plan on using both the story book and the lesson book.

The combination of these two books cover some really important material to teach your preteen boy(s). Here are some examples of the topics covered:

  • Keeping your heart and mind pure
  • Obeying God’s Word
  • Making right decisions
  • Accepting the protection of authority
  • Staying on the right path
  • Choosing good friends
  • Controlling your tongue
  • Being compassionate
  • Overcoming and growing from difficult things in your life
  • Forgiveness
  • Being a good example
  • Protecting the hearts of young ladies
  • Integrity

I’ve started creating some lapbook materials to go with the lessons in the Life Lessons book to help Otter better retain the material. When he’s done studying these lessons, he’ll have a concrete reminder of all the things he’s been learning.

If you have a girl, you may be interested in the set of books for young ladies by the same author:

Books for a Reluctant Reader

Otter is a reluctant reader. It’s not that he doesn’t like books. He loves books. He just has a difficult time retaining details in longer chapter books or anything he is unfamiliar with. He is very literal and so he often does better with non-fiction. It also helps to have books that contain pictures to help him “imagine” specific details. That’s made a challenge for me to find lots of books that capture his attention and hold his interest to keep him reading to the end. Even though he isn’t reading a lot of “typical” chapter books, he is reading a LOT of material – just in smaller chunks.

One series I found that Otter absolutely LOVES are books by Mike Venezia. Otter has a few things he has always been very interested in: presidents, space, science, coins, composers and history dates (specifically when people were born). When I choose books for him, I try to keep these interests in mind as a motivator. Recently he was the lucky recipient of every single one of the Venezia president books.

Books by Mike Venezia

He’s already devoured a bunch of them. Here are just a couple of the titles:


John F. Kennedy: Thirty-fifth President, 1961-1963


Ronald Reagan (Getting to Know the Us Presidents)

The books are about 32 pages long with large, easy to read text. There is a mixture of photographs, art and humorous, memorable cartoons. Each books gives some information about the featured president’s childhood and talks about some major events in their lives and term(s) as president. Even though they are designed for elementary aged children, my high schoolers have enjoyed them as well when we were doing Tapestry of Grace’s 20th Century study.

Otter also has all of Venezia’s composer books. Venezia also has a series on artists and some new books about inventors and scientists.

SaddlebackAnother series that has recently captured Otter’s attention are the Saddleback American graphic history books. These books are like comic books with lots of visual interest and bite size chunks of history that are easy to retain. Your mind associates the bits of historical fact with pictures and so it’s easier to recall specific events. Otter said if there were only 5 stars to give this series, he would give it 6. I found him curled up on the couch this morning with one “just because” and so I think I have to agree with his rating. wink

You can preview one of the books, America Becomes a World Power: 1890-1930 online at Google books.

You can also look at quite a few free samples of different Saddleback series at the official website.

Here are some other books I’ve found that work very well for Otter:

24/7 Science
24 7 science
24 / 7 science behind the scenes

24/7: Science Behind the Scenes Series

This series of books has several different themes: spies, forensics, medical files and mystery files. We don’t own any of the mystery files books since they cover some issues that go against our personal beliefs like UFO’s, etc. The reading level is supposed to be grades 5-7 with the subject matter appealing to even high schoolers.

“Each title focuses on the science and technology used to solve real-life crimes and heart-stopping mysteries. From killer wallpaper to deadly pets, from parasites to mosquitoes, these high-interest books build vocabulary, foster scientific knowledge, and develop inquiry skills through the use of charts, timelines, briefing notes, case files, primary sources, and captivating storytelling. Watch your inquisitive students become scientific sleuths as they read actual cases, study clues, and take a shot at crime scene investigations – all while sharpening their critical thinking and analytical skills.”
quoted from the scholastic website

These books appeal to Otter on a number of different levels. They are colorful with lots of great photographs, pictures and sidebars and appeal to his love of science.

Another series that has been a hit the Usborne young reading series 3. These are beautiful hard bound books – each with a satin book mark and wonderfully illustrated. They are 64 pages long and broken up into manageable chapters.


See inside this book!

Yet another great series is DK Eyewitness Classics. These books take abridged versions of classic stories and help them come alive with a multitude of illustrations, explanations, background information in colorful sidebars and more to help add depth and understanding to what your student is reading.

Little Women


I’ll post some more titles that have worked for Otter in the future, including some more traditional chapter books.