ages 9 – 12


5M4B disclosure

Superstars of HistoryI’m a huge history buff. I love getting all the references people make to history, and yes, history was one of my favorite subjects in school to the point that I was *thisclose* to having a history major in college, as well. My kids enjoy history, as well, but even in 4th and 5th grades, they haven’t gotten very much exposure to many history lessons in school. Superstars of History by R. J. Grant is just the ticket.

This softcover book filled with illustrations covers many famous figures in history, and (rightly in my mind) details them starting with the most ancient and working up to the most recent “historical” figures. As with most history, this covers primarily men as women for so much of history had little import. Cleopatra is included, as is Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and four others (out of a total of 40 historical figures in the book).

Each person is allotted two pages within the book, just enough to pique a child’s interest without making it feel like they’re “studying” something. The first page is a cartoon illustration (by Simon Basher, for those who are familiar with his work) that makes it clear why the person is famous – a warrior, doctor, scientist, etc – as well as a quote that sums up their beliefs or achievements, such as, “King of kings am I” from Ramses II. The second page includes quick hits about the person in question, a timeline of their lives, their legacy, a brief lesson on why they were famous, and other quick facts.

It’s enough to provide some insight and familiarity, and after reading this book, my children were both interested in finding more books about their favorite people. For my son, this included Josef Stalin, as the book includes the “baddies” of history, as well as those famous for more positive reason. They aren’t glorified in this book, but the bit of good they did do isn’t fully ignored, such as Stalin joining the Allies in fighting against Hitler and the rest of the Axis.

Mostly because of the less savory characters included in the book – Stalin and Hitler, obviously, but also Mao Zedong – I would hesitate to give it to a younger elementary child. To explain the Master Race, which is briefly alluded to in the book and the mass killing of 6 million by Hitler, as well as his committing suicide, among other true facts that shouldn’t necessarily be glossed over, is not a conversation I’m quite ready to have with a six year old. My nine and eleven year olds, however, are more comfortable with the topics and are less likely to overgeneralize the atrocities mentioned in the book.

Interestingly, it truly is only the most recent three ruthless leaders who are discussed in a negative way. Other conquerors, who most definitely used terror and cruel tactics had their ill deeds called out less explicitly, perhaps as history has dimmed the impact of what those leaders did to unify China (Qin Shihuanngdi) or take over half of Asia (Alexander the Great) or invade most of Europe and Britain (Julius Caesar), among others. Simply because it happened long ago doesn’t mean that it wasn’t as absolutely horrifying.

That said, this is a great little book to introduce middle and late elementary school kids to history. It’s a quick read and good reference book to get an idea of what these historical figures are like and to see in how many different ways people of various backgrounds truly made a difference in history.

Written by Michelle of Honest & Truly! who is grateful to have never lived in an invaded country and enjoy the fruits of the labors of so many of these historical figures. See how she lives her life (as a not famous person) on her blog Honest & Truly! and follow along with her on Twitter where she is also @HonestAndTruly.


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4 New Series to Share with Your Child Now

I read some great middle grade novels this year. I shared many of them with my son Kyle who loved them as well. Several of our favorites are first books in brand new series. I’ve featured four of them over at 5 Minutes for Mom today. If you click through, I hope you’ll find just the right book to put in the hands of a child you love.
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Paddington in the Pages

Are your kids excited about the new Paddington movie? Judging from the previews, it veers from the book significantly, but I think it opens up the door to share some of the classic — or new — stories with them. Harper Collins sent me some new books with an obvious tie-in with the movie, some reprints and others all new, that are specially targeted to toddlers, preschoolers, and independent readers: Paddington Bear All Day Board Book and Paddington Bear Goes to Market Board Book are classic stories by Michael Bond reprinted for the first time as board books. They are slim books and a great 6 x 6 size, which would be perfect to slip into your purse or diaper bag. The stories are sweet
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I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79

I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79 is the latest edition in the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis. Each of the books takes the reader into a historical disaster and shares many details of what happened and how people may have escaped. Tarshis does a huge amount of historical research to get as much detail into the situation as possible. It’s amazing how much you can get from a quick 112 page book. In this iteration, two Roman slaves have been brought to Pompeii after their kind and learned master dies. Marcus and his father Tata are separated, with Marcus staying with his old master’s brutal nephew and Tata being sold to gladiators. Times are brutal for any not of the ruling class, and
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Sleuth on Skates

Sophie Marguerite Catriona Seade is the bane of her parents’ existence. Their favorite phrases consist of, “Sigh. The problem with Sophie is that she’s a (negative word) little (obscure name).” Fortunately, she goes by Sesame and has quite a precocious attitude towards life in Sleuth on Skates by Clementine Beauvais. She’s always wanted to be a roller skating detective, and finally there is a mystery for her to solve in sleepy Cambridge. Sophie’s parents both work for the university, with her mom the Head of Christ’s College and her dad is the college chaplain. They are busy with their lives and are always surprised when Sesame shows up in unexpected places on her skates. When a student goes missing, her parents go the traditional route, but
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Another Collection of Oxford Children’s Classics

As I type this, it’s late in the evening of December 14th, and my husband and I just said to each other, “We really should start Christmas shopping.” This is par for the course for us. What about you? Do you comfortably do some shopping in the week before Christmas, or do you start in July and finish by November? Regardless of when you begin shopping, books are always great gifts for the people in your life. I personally think all families should have their own copies of the classics, and most do, but often they are old tattered copies from the parents’ childhoods (true confession: our family tends to be like this). Oxford is continuing to republish children’s classics in fun, bright new editions,
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David Baldacci on his switch from adult legal thrillers to fantasy for kids #ReadBaldacci

I’d be willing to wager that most of you are familiar with David Baldacci’s work as a best-selling fiction author. Even if you haven’t read one of his legal thrillers, it’s likely that someone in your family has, or you’ve at least seen his books featured in airport bookstores, grocery stores or on the bestseller list. I was thrilled to be able to participate in a group conference call interview with him last week. This year he published two books The Finisher for older middle grade readers and young adults, and The Escape, a John Puller novel. I was curious about the switch, not only in genre but in the target age group. Baldacci spoke passionately about this new direction: I’ve always felt that a
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Guys Read: True Stories

Spiders, shipwreck, elephants, dental care, singing the blues: you’ll be wiser about all of these topics when you read Guys Read: True Stories, the newest collection edited by Jon Scieszka. This is a collection of nonfiction works, which my 5th grade son happily devoured. As a part of his curriculum, they have explore different kinds of reading which includes fiction, non-fiction and poetry. This was the first book I suggested, and the short small bites of informative writing whetted his appetite for me. He’s been surprised to find that he enjoys biographies “as long as the writing is good.” The collection has “good writing” from Scieszka, Nathan Hale, Candace Fleming, Nathan Hale, Thanhha Lai, Sy Montgomery and more. And just like the writers aren’t all
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The Biggest Burp Ever, poems for kids by Kenn Nesbitt

I love funny poems, and my 10 year old son and I have been a big fan of Kenn Nesbitt’s for a long time (see below for our thoughts on his other books). Since he’s moved into self-publishing, the covers have changed, but the poems haven’t. They are still funny and relatable. The line drawings inside are from the same illustrator who did the cover I assume, but in black and white, they look much less juvenile and are great accompaniments to the poems. When my son began reading The Biggest Burp Ever: Funny Poems for Kids, he laughed (as always), and then called me over when he was reading “I Didn’t Go Camping.” This poem tells the story of all the things a child
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Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata #Giveaway

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata is a heart-warming and honest story. Twelve-year-old Jaden was adopted from Romania four years ago from the orphanage where he grew up, when he was abandoned by his mother. Although his parents are loving and kind, Jaden doesn’t feel love, either from them or for them. Of course the truth is that he doesn’t know what love is, but hearing it through his own thoughts brings a new perspective. That’s one of the things I love about reading middle grade and young adult fiction. Skillful authors like Kahohata do such a wonderful job of capturing those thoughts and emotions of that particular moment in time, leaving behind the filter of adult experience. When Jaden’s parents go to Kazakhstan
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Absolutely Truly, a Pumpkin Falls Mystery #Giveaway

Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery is a fun novel, with the exciting plot element of a mysterious treasure hunt. It’s the type of children’s novel I like best — one like The Penderwicks which has a modern setting, but somehow a classic feel. Truly Lovejoy and her family (yes, it’s a family name) have moved to her grandparents’ house in New Hampshire to help run the family bookstore. Truly’s dad was just about to leave the army when he was injured, changing their plans to settle down in Texas for good. This is a novel featuring topics that will resonate with many kids — moving, making new friends, being different (Truly is only 12 and recently shot up to 6 feet tall), being part
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Smithsonian Discover and Young Explorers Series #Giveaway

If you’re still on the hunt for educational holiday gift ideas for the elementary school aged children in your life, the Smithsonian Discover and Young Explorers series give glimpses into themes of their world famous museums in book and puzzle form. Smithsonian Discover: Flight and Smithsonian Discover: Space are fabulous gifts for enthusiastic learners from about age 8 and up. Mixing historical information about the history of flight and scientific explanations for how various flight machines work, along with models for paper airplanes and even a large poster celebrating the concept of flight, Flight is a wonderful hands-on resource perfect for the emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Space follows the same format with the inclusion of fact cards and a poster, as well, with the focus on aspects
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