Homeschool Tidbits: My Top 5 History Spines

January 12, 2024

Welcome to Build Your Library’s Homeschool Tidbits: Episode 64 – My Top 5 History Spines! In this weekly video series, I will briefly delve into a homeschooling topic. I will share some of my knowledge and expertise as a long-time homeschooling mother of 4 children. Three of whom have graduated high school and one who is a college graduate!

It’s no secret that I love history. That’s why I created History Book By Book, after all. I love learning about the past and reading about how people have lived throughout time and how their decisions reverberate. It has always been my favorite subject to teach my children. I’ve been homeschooling for just over 20 years, and in that time, we have used quite a few different history spines.

While I’ve always homeschooled using quality literature, we have tried out many different history books over the years. I thought reflecting and reviewing some of our favorites would be fun today! I’m going to give you the pros and cons of each so you can decide which books will work best for your family!

Usborne Internet-linked World History Encyclopedia

This is, by far, my family’s most used resource. What I love about it is its simplicity while covering the main beats of history. The artwork is typical of Usborne; my kids always liked how bright and colorful it was. This is an excellent resource for notebooking, lapbooking, and keeping a timeline. It’s also great to have on hand for research.

The most significant downside of this book would have to be the internet links. The links have been hit or miss; sometimes, they don’t work. But honestly, that isn’t a big deal to me because we’ve gotten the most traction from the book itself. And we can always do a Google or YouTube search for similar resources online if we need more.

Story of the World

It’s time to get controversial, but I still love this series. I’ve used it with all four of my children, and it cannot be beat for narrative history. The writing is what makes it the best, in my opinion. Susan Wise Bauer knows how to tell a story and break it down so children can understand without dumbing it down. Is it a perfect resource? No. But if you are looking for perfection, you’ll be looking forever.

What makes this series controversial is the first book, in which stories from the bible are covered. Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are taught alongside other mythologies and histories. I think these are important to know, and I’m not opposed to teaching them secularly. But if that’s not your cup of tea, or you want to wait until your children are older, those chapters are easily skipped.

The real downside is that this series is pretty Eurocentric. You will likely need to include other resources and books alongside it to cover a more diverse world history. Just like the additional resources listed and scheduled in the Build Your Library curriculum.

How to Survive Middle School US/World History

This one is relatively new to us. I read the US History book with my daughter last year, and we’re doing the World History book this year as we study the History of Science.

What I love about this series is the big questions they ask. Each chapter is broken down into bite-sized chunks and always ends with a question to get you thinking deeper. They also use primary sources to get you thinking. And these aren’t comprehension questions. They are big, chewy questions that make you stop and talk about what you are learning. Depending on your need, you could easily use these questions as discussion starters or essay questions.

I also really appreciate that they both include sections on how to study history like a historian and why you should study history.

The downside is that both books are crash-course-style history. They don’t go as deep as I’d like and don’t work well as a stand-alone text. You will need to add other books and material to flesh it out into an entire course.

A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America

This is by far my favorite US History text. I’ve used both the adult and the young reader’s versions. While I prefer the adult text, both are of excellent quality.

I love the diverse lens the author uses to study American history. This is different from your standard history text. It’s not about memorizing names and dates but rather understanding the US through the people who built it – Indigenous peoples, immigrants, and African Americans. The author takes a story that most of us think we know and flips it on its head. I love that. This kind of history text is important, particularly for studying American history, BECAUSE it gives so many different perspectives.

My only negative is that this is not a comprehensive text, so it doesn’t work as your only spine. But paired with a few other texts and lots of great literature – this book will enhance your history studies.

History Quest

Finally, I want to talk about History Quest. This one is also relatively new to me, and I’ve only used the Ancient History and the US History texts with my youngest, but we both enjoyed it. The narrative is written in a similar storytelling style to Story of the World, which makes it a great read-aloud history book.

What I loved most about this series was the History Hops. I love historical fiction and time travel, so reading a history text that included those elements was enjoyable. Each chapter ends with a History Hop where you travel through time and meet people from different periods of history. It’s a great way to put yourself in the story and make history relatable! I also appreciated how intentionally diverse History Quest is – both in the scope of world history covered as well as in the US history text. They include a lot of voices and perspectives, which is great to see in an elementary-level history course.

As much as I love it, there are a few downsides. I think the chapters are a bit too long for the age range. It’s easy enough to break them down, but it requires more work. My other negative is more nit-picky, but I like having a 4-year history cycle for the elementary years. Because they only plan on writing four books, and one of them is a US history text, there will be a Modern Times book that will cover everything from late 1600 or so through today, which is a LOT of material to cover in one book. Even so, I look forward to seeing what they do with that!

So there you have it – those are my top 5 history spines! I’ve used all of these books in our homeschool and found great value in each of them. Let me know in the comments which history spines have been your favorites!

Coming up next…

I hope you found this Tidbit helpful! Come back next week for more homeschooling inspiration!

Until then, happy reading!

Disclosure: This list contains affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.

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Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full-year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 21 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves sharing her love of literature. She and her family also make incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books, and more on YouTube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.

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Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history?

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