Thanks go to Character Concepts for providing the products featured in this review and giveaway.
I’ve been enjoying reading a new history book with my three younger children this year:
by Rick & Marilyn Boyer
grade range: 4-6
text format: full-color paperback, 8-1/2” x 11”, 384 pages
Price: $49.98 from Character Concepts
This is a full-color 34 chapter yearlong text covering American history from the war of independence to the founding of the republic, written from a Christian viewpoint. A few important documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are included in the Appendices, as well as glossary and endnotes.
The accompanying teacher guide contains a suggested schedule that can be used over 4 or 5 days per week, questions and activities for each chapter, quarterly and bonus quizzes, answers, a timeline, and patriotic songs that can be learned throughout the year. There is also a list of suggested (but purely optional) supplemental books and audios.
Let’s take a closer look at the text.
Each chapter is 8 pages long, with a full-color full-page image on the first page. The remaining 7 pages are divided into 3 sections for ease of splitting up the reading over the week.
The book has a textbook format, with occasional pull quotes and boxes with additional information or scriptural references in the side margins.
Most pages have one or more images of graphics and most of these are period artwork of important people discussed in the chapter.
Each chapter also features a “Storytime with Uncle Rick.” These typically recount a specific event or spotlight a particular person mentioned in the chapter.
The pages are quite thin and remind me more of a consumable book, however I suspect that a lot of thought was put into balancing the cost of the final product and using full-color. A thicker or glossy paper would have necessarily increased the cost quite a bit.
The writing has a narrative quality to it, which makes it a good candidate for a read aloud or for independent reading. The vocabulary level seems appropriate for the intended grade level (4-6) for a read aloud. However, children at the lower end of that range may struggle a bit to read it independently depending upon their reading level and vocabulary. There is a vocabulary list near the end of the book that defines unfamiliar words, however it is brief (only 3 pages). I found that when I randomly looked up some words that occur in the first few chapters and were not clarified within the text itself, many of these were also not in the vocabulary list. A few examples: tyranny, denominational, and entreaty.
Let’s take a closer look at the Teacher’s Guide.
The front of the guide contains a detailed suggested schedule for using this as a yearlong program. Each chapter has a 1-page 2-sided worksheet that corresponds to it which includes 15 comprehension questions and suggested activities. The schedule breaks down the readings to 3 days per week, with 1 or 2 additional days used for answering questions and/or doing the activities. Alternatively, the questions can be answered as you work through the text (the schedule tells you which questions correspond to which sections in the chapter).
The questions are straight comprehension questions for the most part which can be answered from the reading.
For the activities, every chapter has a “journal entry.” This is essentially a writing prompt where the student imagines his/herself as a person living at the time and what or how they might have acted or felt in a particular situation. Here’s the prompt from chapter 6:
Pretend you knew one of the men who died fighting on Breed’s Hill. Write about your sadness that he died, and about his bravery. How many British soldiers was he able to shoot down? How long the night before had he stayed up to help build the fort?
A little over half of the chapters also have an additional activity suggested. These vary from memorizing a patriotic song (printed in the back of the book), to building a fort out of dough and M&Ms, to making your own font page of a newspaper at the time, etc. Some of the memorization activities could be stretched out over multiple weeks.
Also included are quarterly quizzes (5 questions each) and a lengthy “Who Am I” bonus quiz.
The teacher guide is 3-hole punched and perforated so that the worksheets can be removed from the book and used and/or copied. I have not removed any of the pages, so I don’t know how cleanly they come out. I would love to see an included pdf of just the worksheets and quizzes---it would make use of the reproducibles so much easier.
The publisher grants permission to the purchaser to make copies of the reproducible portions of the teacher guide for up to 10 students. It may not be saved or shared electronically.
How are we using America’s Struggle?
When I received this set for review, I already had my year’s history program in place (we are studying medieval world history), so I am not using this as our full history curriculum. I do like Charlotte Mason’s technique of studying both national and world history at the same time and since my three younger kids did do an overview of all of all of American history last year, I thought it would be fun to add a more in-depth look at this particular time period as an extra.
I read aloud the book to my 2nd grader, 5th grader, and 7th grader. We discuss what we’ve read, sometimes using the questions on the corresponding worksheet. We do not use the activities as that would be too much in addition to our other studies. I typically read part or all of a chapter while they are eating lunch, so we read this once or twice a week. I find that the chapters are short enough that I can read an entire chapter in maybe 30-45 minutes.
What do we think?
For the most part we like it a lot. Since it is an extra, I would drop it if the kids were not enjoying it, but so far they want to continue on. We like that the narrative focuses more on the people rather than dates---it helps to bring the story alive.
We just finished chapter 6, but I could easily finish it at a faster paced if we read it more days each week.
As much as we like it, there are a few things that detract from our enjoyment of America’s Struggle:
We felt the lack of maps and diagrams. It’s unusual for a history textbook to not have maps, but this one doesn’t (there is one historic map near the back of the book that shows the republic). It would be helpful to have maps or diagrams particularly when the text is describing the intricacies of a particular battle or the strategic reasons the patriots wanted to secure an area (The Battle of Bunker Hill comes to mind). We do like the inclusion of so many portraits and of artwork, we would just like to see maps also.
The text and teacher guide both need an edit. I don’t normally point out small errors I find in curricula, simply because every book I ever read has had at least a handful, but occasionally I review a program that I feel would really benefit from additional editing. In America’s Struggle, I found numerous typographical errors (on one page a patriot’s name was spelled 3 different ways), writing that could use some tightening up (redundant sentences or redundant word choice within sentences), comprehension questions and activities that occasionally don’t match up with the material covered in the chapter, etc. Since I am reading the book aloud, I’m able to do some editing on the fly to compensate for these issues, but I would love to see a new edition where these things are fixed.
What we really like about America’s Struggle:
We like the focus on people, including their motivations and their character. History is a story, which sometimes gets lost when there is too much emphasis on dates and places.
The narrative is engaging for multiple ages. My 2nd grader is probably not getting it all, but she’s sticking around during the readings. My 5th grader is also enjoying it. My 7th grader finds it interesting and does not find that the text talks down to her.
The program is flexible. The questions, activities, and suggested supplements fill it out nicely to make a yearlong study, but if you just want to read about this period in America’s history, the book works great as a stand alone. I think it would also work well for 7th or 8th graders for independent reading if you want something a little extra to add in.
The program is affordable ($49.98 if you buy the text and teacher guide together from Character Concepts). I can add extras if I want, but they are not necessary to have a complete program. So many history programs require adding a bunch of books or other things to be complete and it’s refreshing to just buy one book and one teacher guide to have what you need.
Okay, now on to the giveaway!
Deadline to enter: Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 11:59 pm EST
Method of entry: Rafflecopter widget below
This giveaway is open to U.S. residents, ages 18 and over. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond with the necessary information or a new winner will be selected.
Disclosure: The products featured in this review and to be given away have been provided by Character Concepts. No other compensation was received and this post does not contain affiliate links. All opinions expressed here are my own and I always give my honest opinion on review products.