Childhood of Famous Americans: Living Books for Young Learners

COFA.png

Over twenty years ago, a veteran home educator suggested I read titles from the Childhood of Famous Americans series to my children.  Doing so would bring history—real problems solved by real people—alive, she claimed.

I purchased our first COFA and the children and I curled up on the couch to read. The book fueled questions, fostered wonder, and begged my children to read more. What a find!

That mom was right!

The Childhood of Famous Americans (COFA) series, praised by parents, teachers, and librarians for over sixty-five years, was first introduced to the public in the 1940s and continued to be printed into the 1960s by Bobbs-Merrill. Originally printed in hardback form, these fictionalized biographies (suitable for independent readers third grade and up or to be read aloud to any age) became instant favorites and were reintroduced in an infamous red, white and blue paperback form in the 1980s.

These books have engaged my children since the early 1990's.

Our family prefers the original hardcover books. Their large font invited emergent readers to read and allows younger eyes to comfortably read the text. Sadly, the hardcovers are now out of print. However, they can be found in online sales or in used bookstores.  If we cannot get our eyes and hands on these hard-bound treasures, we look for the well-known red, white and blue covers.

COFA3.png

Over the years, whenever we began new unit of study or a learner developed a new interested, we tried to find a COFA title to personalize learning. These books have allowed our young learners to learn history through real people, real problems, and real solutions. When we study a specific era, I use this list. With over 170 COFAs to choose from, there is sure to be one to be woven into any study.

Recently, the COFA flame was recently rekindled as one of my youngest children wanted to read about “real baseball players”.  I immediately looked through the stacks of COFAs on our shelves. Indeed, we had a paperback cover copy of Roberto Clemente: Young Baseball Player and a hard cover copy of Knute Rockne: Young Athlete.  I pulled those from our collection.

COFA4.png

I am thankful for that experienced mom’s recommendation to begin reading books from the COFA series. Since that day, we’ve been eagerly reading about the childhood lives of famous Americans, learning some very interesting lesser-known facts about people we have come to admire.

More about the Childhood of Famous Americans series:

  • The books are fictionalized, though based on information about the childhoods of these famous Americans.
  • Children find the books inviting because of their focus on the childhood life of people they know only as adults.
  • Each book is packed with noteworthy experiences, personality traits, and adventures from the growing up years of famous inventors, scientists, statesmen, and explorers.
  • Children gain understanding of how a person’s experiences and personal gifts contribute to and impact the lives of other people.  
  • By the end of each book, the reader is left with the desire to find out what happened next, a perfect lead to further study.


In recent years, several publishers are working to bring the once-out-of-print-titles back to life. A great endeavor, however in the process some of the books have undergone editing and rewording. One publisher, Patria Press, began reprinting the stories in 2002, renaming the series Young Patriots. 

COFA2.png



Want to learn more about the heroes and heroines who shaped our country?

Find a COFA title and relax on a comfy couch. You and your children will discover inspiring details from the lives of the men and women whom we often know only through their adult accomplishments.

Beans in a Baggie

Thirty years ago, several amazing, veteran, early childhood educators mentored me--a new teacher. I was ecstatic as they shared their tried and true lessons. One I remember vividly is growing a beans in baggies. Little learners ran to the window every day to see if their beans had sprouted. When they did, there was celebration. 

Since that time, I have recreated this activity with all of my children, each time teaching to their unique interests, their unique bent. One time I placed all the materials on the table and allowed the child to figure out the experiment. Another time I quickly drew picture instructions on scrap paper. Yet another time we read a non-fiction book about planting seeds. Each time we've done it a bit different. No matter the learning style or the prefered modality of input, every learner has loved observing his or her first sprouts in a bag. It's wonder! It's discovery! It's learning!

Every. Moment. Matters. 

These are the results of our most recent bean-in-a-bag experiment. 

Gather sandwich-sized zipper baggies, one per child. Write the child's name on the baggie with a permanent marker. 

Look for lima beans in the pantry. Purchase limas if necessary. 

bean2.png

Fold the paper towel in quarters and place in the baggie. Place five beans inside the baggie and on the paper towel. Using a spray bottle, add ten squirts. Zip the baggie.

Tape to a sunny window. 

Carefully observe the bean several times a day. Baby sprouts are fragile. Ask questions.

  • What is happening?
  • How are the beans changing?
  • Do all the beans look the same? What is different?
  • What do you think the beans will look like tomorrow? 
  • What will happen to the sprout? 

Fostering the Excitement

Where there's interest, learning follows.

Enthusiasm breeds learning. Enthusiasm increases retention. If excitement has been building as a result of anticipating what might happen to the beans or if the beans have sprouted and shouts of joy rise to the roof tops, consider next steps to further learning. 

Consider:

  • Drawing observations in a blank book. 
  • Measuring--very carefully--the sprout with a ruler or tape measure (a personal favorite). 
  • Planting other seeds in starter trays, window boxes, or backyard gardens
  • Learning the parts of a bean
  • Researching what plants need to grow
  • Reading a few good books

What happens when experiments don't go as anticipated? 

Happens all the time. Failed experiments are a part of science. When things go awry, new opportunities present themselves. There are new problems, new questions, and potential solutions. These moments are equally important to our children as they learn collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.

Seize these learning moments. They matter. 

So, on Day 3--as soon as we woke--we checked our beans. MOLD! Ugh! I was disappointed. My learners were discouraged. What would we do? 

Brainstorm. Find an solution. 

We asked questions. Researched. Visited the local garden shop. 

The solution? Peat pods. 

We started over with new materials. The results were amazing. And, our discovery was so exciting we knew we needed to share the learning fun.

We decided to offer a planting station in our booth at FPEA. It was a huge success!

A failed experiment led to a solution and a new idea which benefited others.

That's learning at its best!

Teaching High School American History and American Literature with Living Books

I am often asked how we teach American History and American Literature in high school. 

Actually, we have used different means and methods with each of our high school learners, dependent on their interests, learning styles, and in some cases, learning challenges. 

This blog post addresses one of those methods; the method we used with our reader who LOVED history. 

With our son's interest in reading and history, we divided American History into Early American (to 1850) and Modern (from 1850 to present) so we could allow time for him to dig deeper. After extensive research (based on my love for education as well as the fear I was doing enough--yes, I have been there!), I developed literature lists for American, British, and World Literature courses. These lists provided my son with reading suggestions to get him started, a springboard of sorts. His desire to learn history prompted him to seek out additional titles. My motto became, 

"You read it, I will give you credit."

For readers interested in the list of works from which we used toward either American History or Survey of American Literature, our reading list (remember it was a springboard from which he could jump in for more) is below. The American, British, and World literature lists are included in my book, Celebrate High School

Please keep in mind as you read through this list, our son was a self-motivated reader with an interest in the subject. Not all young adults will share this interest or learning preference. In addition to his independent reading, we used a textbook as a spine of topics. Though he started the year reading some of the text, by the end of the year he was reading more primary source documents, living history selections, and biographical pieces than text. He also had amazing opportunities to tour many of the Civil War battlefields and visited Washington, D. C., Boston, Plymouth, Philadelphia, and New York City. God provided for his love of history through many experiential opportunities. We realize not all learners will have these experiences but trust there will be other provisions for your family. 

This method worked for our oldest son. I tweak the process for each young adult, asking for their input. Please, don't use what is written here as a comparison for what your student should or shouldn't be doing. Learners are unique and high school is not a one-size-fits-all experience. 

Comparing ourselves or our children to others leads to discouragement and discontent, neither of which are valuable.

Our examples are only intended as encouragement, to give an idea of what worked for us and what you might be able to create (or adjust) for your high schooler. Our young adult was (and still is) a reader, but your young adult may have an opportunity to intern with a local historical site or job shadow a museum curator. Use what God provides for your learner and pray about how he is preparing your young adult for the future plans He has, not for the ones we best intention.

Our American Literature list:

Alcott, Louisa May, Little Men

Alcott, Louisa May, Little Women

Barton, David, Bulletproof George Washington

Baum, L. Frank, The Wizard of Oz

Bierce, Ambrose, Civil War Stories

Cather, Willa, My Antonia*

Cather, Willa, O Pioneers!*

Cooper, James Fenimore, The Last of the Mohicans*

Crane, Stephen, The Red Badge of Courage*    

de Tocqueville, Alexis, Democracy in America*

Dewey, John, Democracy and Education*

Douglass, Frederick, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass*

Edwards, Jonathan, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God*

Faulkner, William, The Sound and the Fury*

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Great Gatsby*

Franklin, Benjamin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin*

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, The Scarlet Letter

Hemingway, Ernest, A Farewell to Arms*

Hemingway, Ernest, For Whom the Bell Tolls*

Hemingway, Ernest, The Old Man and the Sea*

Hemingway, Ernest, The Sun Also Rises*

Hurston, Zora Neale, Their Eyes Were Watching God*

Irving, Washington, The Legend of Rip Van Winkle

Keller, Helen, The Story of My Life*

Lee, Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird

McCullough, David, 1776

McCullough, David, John Adams

McCullough, David, The Wright Brothers

Melville, Herman, Moby Dick

Miller, Arthur, The Crucible

Miller, Arthur, The Death of a Salesman

Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan, The Yearling

O.Henry, The Gift of the Magi

Steinbeck, John, Of Mice and Men*

Steinbeck, John, The Grapes of Wrath*

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom’s Cabin*

Thoreau, Henry David, Civil Disobedience*

Thoreau, Henry David, Walden*

Thurber, James, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Twain, Mark, Life on the Mississippi

Washington, Booker T., Up From Slavery

Wilder, Thornton, Our Town*

Williams, Tennessee, The Glass Menagerie*

In addition to this literature list, we use primary source documents including speeches and journals.

Here are some examples. There are plenty of resources available on the internet (which could be a great catalyst for a discussion on reliable sources.

50 Core Documents, Teaching AmericanHistory.org

Primary Source Documents in American History

National Archives

Journals of Lewis and Clark

The Story of A Common Soldier- Kindle ebook

The Journal of James Audubon

Orville Wright's journal entry

This post is based on the experience of our oldest son. It is not intended as legal advice and is written with the knowledge that parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children. 

 

Living Books in High School

When we started our homeschooling high school journey in 2003, I was determined not to leave the learning power of Living Books behind in the elementary and middle school years. 

Living Books belong in high school!

While preparing a workshop I will present at the 2017 FPEA Convention, May 25-27, I decided to give Celebrate Simple readers some quick ideas we used as we incorporated Living Books into high school course content. Our high school learners were greatly impacted by the Living Books they chose. In fact, several titles greatly impacted career choices and life goals.

livingbooks11.jpg

When we began our high school journey, the first content area in which we incorporated Living Books was history. This seemed a natural choice since we had been using Living Books--biographies, autobiographies, and historical fiction--to accent our history studies in the elementary and middle school years. 

Adding Living Books to our science studies was also a natural fit, especially for learners who had interest in specialty areas or who wanted to dig deeper to learn more about scientists and inventors. As our young adults advanced through the high school years, we branched out into adult and college level materials. 

Reaching our creatives with written materials was a challenge at times, unless the reading was related their artistic gifting or interest. If you find yourself in that quandary, know that you are not alone and that your efforts are worth the time spent trying to find them great, applicable reads.

And, I had to let go of my more rigid definition of what a Living Book was in order to be open to the plethora of possibilities I would  have otherwise discounted.

The power of the story--not my definition of Living Book--impacted the life of the reader. 

What about an athlete who loves to read? How can Living Books be interwoven in a personal fitness or weight training course? And, what about an athlete who would rather play ball than read?

Living Books have the power to pull in even the most reluctant reader! 

Living Books can give life to any subject, if we allow them the opportunity to do so. Recently, one daughter began to lean toward personal growth and leadership materials, while another continued on her pursuit of all things medical. Why not include Living Books in that area, too!

If you are in Orlando over Memorial Day weekend, I would love for you to join me in my workshop, Keeping High School Alive with Living Books, at the FPEA Convention. This workshop will offer insight as to how Living Books bring high school studies to life and influence choices learners make beyond the tassel turning. The workshop will be packed with specific ideas in regards course content, book titles, and life-learning experiences. Hope to see you there! 

 

 

Interests Fuel Life-Long Learning

Dogs.

It's everything dogs for our littlest learner. 

She's curious about what dogs eat (getting eye level--but not too close--to watch ours furry friend eat). She's curious about how why they pant, how they feel to touch. She wants to know everything about every dog she sees, large or small.

Sitting in the dentist office last week, waiting for big sister to finish her appointment, I found a treasure--an attention grabbing-just-what-we-needed-at-that-moment treasure. 

A book featuring photographs of dogs. 

I handed it to our youngest. I knew it would keep her attention. 

It was a "mom hung the moon" moment.

She looked at me. Her eyes seemed to say, "Thank you for caring about my interest!"

The excitement on her face. The eagerness in her learning. The pure joy!

As she paged through the book, I engaged with her about the pictures on each page. She'd look at me and smile. With every smile, I thought about two workshops I have been writing for an upcoming speaking engagement; one workshop for parents of elementary learners and one workshop for parents of middle schoolers.

Relationships and curiosity fuel learning.

Like adults, children need relationships. Couple that with natural curiosity--questioning anything and everything--and there is a recipe for building a love for life-long learning. 

How do we keep a person's natural curiosity aflame for life?

Ask questions. When the art of questioning is modeled, it is readily available for learning.

I am not natural questioner. I like to teach; to tell. As a consequence, the parenting years hit me hard. The more I told and commanded, the more frustrated my children became. And, I noticed they stopped asking questions and waited to be told to do things--waiting to do school work and chores until they were told. Stepping back from the situation (and asking for Mike's input) I realized my children had valuable ideas, valid questions. They needed a mom who listen and then ask questions; a who would practice the art of questioning. At that point, I decided to be intentional about asking more questions and encouraging my children to to the same. I asked questions like:

  • I wonder how that works?
  • I wonder why the hermit crab needed a new shell?
  • I wonder what will happen if we add more soap?

I had to work hard at replacing my teaching/telling bent (saving it for where that bent was really needed) with an intentionality to listen and engage my children in thoughtful questioning. Though it took a bit of time to turn the cart around, I began to hear my children returning to their natural bent of asking questions. Definitely worth my effort.

Find answers. With questioning comes the need to find answers.

If I was going to be intent on encouraging critical thinking skills and the art questioning, I would also have to purposeful in helping my children find answers. And, as the children grew we had to have conversations about where to find accurate information; to ponder whether an author had the knowledge and experience to speak to a topic. 

We began to build a home library of reference and resource materials--field guides, a Magiscope, a heavy-duty magnifying glass, kitchen scales, history books, classic literature. In some cases, we found apps to be the best resource, for example Sky View and Sky Map. We talked to our children about the importance of primary source documents and role played how to carry on conversations with people--should they want to ask questions of someone. In addition, as our children entered middle and high school, we discussed volunteering and job shadowing. These opportunities encouraged our young adults to answer their questions about career interests by talking to professionals in the field.

Be observant. Interests are not always obvious.

Some interests are obvious, like my daughter's curiosity with dogs. Others are a bit more hidden, sometimes even unknown to the beholder! To discover the interests of some of my children, I had to watch, listen, and be open to how they spent their time (versus controlling every minute of their day).  In my watching and listening, I began to ask myself questions. 

  • Was my child wanting to take things apart and put them back together?
  • Was a particular career intriguing to my child?
  • When we were at a church event or field trip who did my child gravitate toward certain people--children or adult?
  • What did my child do to fill extra time in the day?
  • Did my child have an ability to put together colors, lines and shapes or craft inspirational poetry?

My littlest learner is not yet old enough to verbalize her questions, yet her curiosity is evident in her facial expressions and gestures, through her hand clapping and dancing. Her reaction--her joy in learning--invites us to ask her questions, interact with her excitement, and fuel her curiosity by providing resources (like finding her dog books at the library). In doing so, her siblings, Mike and I are learning to help her dig deeper into her interest. As a result, our curiosity about how she learns is fostered. It is a cycle of interest-fueling learning. 

 

And it is a beautiful life-learning cycle. 

It's intentional, real, and relational. 

 

 

 

Using Living Books in High School for Credit

I am often asked how I design classes for our high school young adults.

Actually, I don't design all their classes, only ones where there is a special interest, an intrinsically motivated independent study, a travel experience which sparks learning, or in a case where we can't find a traditional curriculum fitting our learning goals.

We have used several approaches to formulating classes based on strengths, interests and the future plans of the young adult.

Our oldest son had a great interest and gift for learning history. This was, by my understanding, his favorite subject in school. He read constantly, checking out books at the library and spending saved monies at museum and historical landmark book shops. He outsourced his dad, a public school history teacher, very early. By the time he reached high school, there really wasn't a curriculum available to challenge him. I had to research accelerated reading lists, college course syllabi, and talk with historians to find resources for him. It was a challenge, but a privilege to help him grow yet further in his learning.

With his interest in history, we divided American History into Early American (to 1850) and Modern (from 1850 to present), and World History into Ancient (to the Reformation) and Modern (from the Reformation to present) so we could allow time for him to dig deeper into his interest. I developed literature selection lists for each course, providing him reading suggestions to get him started. His desire to learn history prompted him to seek out additional titles. My motto became, 

"You read it, I will give you credit."

For readers interested in the detail of what we constituted Ancient World History/Survey of Ancient Literature, our reading list (remember it was a springboard from which he could jump in for more) is below.

Please keep in mind as you read through the list, he was a self-motivated reader with an interest in the subject. Not all young adults will share this interest or learning preference. In addition to his independent reading, we used a textbook as a spine of topics. Though he started the year reading some of the text, by the end of the year he was reading more primary source documents, living history selections, and biographical pieces than text. He also had the amazing opportunity to travel to Rome, including tours of several sites inside the ancient city wall. 

This method works for us. I tweak the process with each young adult. Please, don't use what is written here as a comparison for what your student should or shouldn't be doing.

Comparing ourselves or our children to others leads to discouragement and discontent, neither of which are valuable.

Our examples are only intended as encouragement, to give an idea of what worked for us, and what you might be able to create (or adjust) for your high schooler. Our young adult was (and still is) a reader, but your young adult may have an opportunity to intern with a local businessman or a museum curator. Use what God provides for you and pray about how he is preparing your young adult for the future plans He has, not for the ones we best intention.

Our ancient world history/ancient literature list:

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Oedipus Rex, Sophocles

Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles

Antigone, Sophocles

Mysteries of Ancient China, Rawson

Mythology, Hamilton

The Roman Way, Hamilton

The Greek Way, Hamilton

The Death of Socrates, Plato

Ben Hur, Lew Wallace

For the Temple, Henty

The Young Cathaginan, Henty

The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone, Giblin

In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, Wood

The Republic, Plato

The Histories by Herodotus

The Eagle of the Ninth, Sutcliff

Anna of Byzantium, Barrett

The City of God, Augustine

I, Claudius, Graves

Claudius the God, Graves

Don Quixote, Cervantes

Julius Caesar, Shakespeare

Sign up for our Celebrate High School newsletter and get a free printable Ancient Literature check-off list.

I am so excited about a NEW  workshop I've added to my conference speaking topics--Keeping High School ALIVE with Living Books. Can't wait to share how Living Books can continue to impact learning all the way through high school.

Check out my speaking topics page. 

*The information in this blog post is not intended as legal or educational advice. It is simply a journal of what worked for us. Parents are responsible to oversee their child's home education.

 

This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children. 

Summer Reading List

Summer’s here!

Vacations. Mission trips. Summer evenings reading on the couch.

Summer brings new opportunities, needed refreshment and necessary refueling...and the TIME to do such.

Family members looking for summer reads?

Our summer reading list continues to grow, some titles added this month, others compiled over the years. My lists have been published magazines, state newsletters, Appendix D of  You HAVE to Read This One: Raising a Contagious Reader and Celebrate High School (high school lists categorized American, British, world and ancient).

Parents often ask, "How do we chose books?" 

Choosing a book depends upon many factors, some unique to an individual or circumstances, however the most universal depend upon 

  • a student’s reading ability, age and maturity
  • a family’s values and worldview
  • a whether a book is to be read aloud or read independently.

All these factors, or a combination of these factors, help determine what titles may be appropriate for your children. 

Summer picture books for little learners

  • Arnosky, Jim, All About Turtles
  • Arnosky, Jim,  Deer at the Brook
  • Berkes, Marianne, Over in the Ocean in the Coral Reef
  • Carle, Eric, A House for Hermit Crab
  • Carle, Eric, Mister Seahorse
  • Carle, Eric, Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth
  • Gibbons, Gail, Ducks
  • Gibbons, Gail, The Berry Book
  • Krauss, Ruth, The Carrot Seed
  • Lionni, Leo, Swimmy
  • McCloskey, Robert, Blueberries for Sal
  • McCloskey, Robert, Lentil
  • McCloskey, Robert,  Make Way for Ducklings
  • Zion, Gene, Harry by the Sea

Chapter books for middle elementary to middle school readers

The spectrum of age and maturity of students in grades four through eight is great. As a guide, selections marked (2-4) may be considered acceptable read-aloud titles for grades 2-4. I have marked titles considered more difficult—by vocabulary, sentence structure or content— with (M). Parents may decide to wait until grades 7-8 to introduce these books. As always, if in doubt, read the book first.

  • Alcott, Louisa May, Little Women (M)
  • Bagnold, Enid, National Velvet
  • Barrie, J. M., Peter Pan
  • Baum, L. Frank, The Wizard of Oz
  • Beechick, Ruth, Adam and His Kin
  • Brink, Carol Ryrie, Caddie Woodlawn
  • Bulla, Clyde Robert, A Lion to Guard Us (M)
  • Carroll, Lewis, Alice in Wonderland (M)
  • Crane, Stephen, The Red Badge of Courage (M)
  • D'Angeli, Marguette, The Door in the Wall
  • Dalgliesh, Alice, The Courage of Sarah Noble (2-4)
  • duBois, William Pene, The Twenty-One Balloons (M)
  • Edmunds, Walter D, The Matchlock Gun (2-4)
  • Forbes, Esther, Johnny Tremain (M)
  • Fritz, Jean, The Cabin Faced West (2-4)
  • George, Jean Craighead, My Side of the Mountain
  • Green, Roger Lancelyn, The Tale of Troy (M)
  • Henty, G. A., For the Temple (M)
  • Latham, Jean Lee, Carry on Mr. Bowditch (M)
  • Lenski, Lois, Strawberry Girl (2-4)
  • Norton, Mary, The Borrowers (2-4)
  • Sheldon, George, The Cricket in Times Square
  • Swift, Jonathan, Gulliver's Travels (M)
  • White, E. B., Stuart Little

Summer reads for high school young adults

A comprehensive list is included in Celebrate High School.

  • Aristolte, Complete Works
  • Austin, Jane, Pride and Prejudice
  • Bronte, Charlotte, Jane Eyre
  • Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tales
  • Chesterton, G. K., Favorite Father Brown Stories
  • Cierco, Orations
  • Cooper, James Fenimore, The Last of the Mohicans
  • de Tocqueville, Alexis, Democracy in America
  • Dickens, Charles, The Tale of Two Cities
  • Faulkner, William, The Sound and the Fury
  • Foxe, John, The Book of Martyrs
  • Graves, Robert, Claudius, the God
  • Green, Roger Lancelyn, Tales of Ancient Egypt
  • Hamilton, Edith, Mythology
  • Hemmingway, Ernest, Farewell to Arms
  • Homer, The Odyssey
  • Hurston, Zora Neale, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Keller, Helen, The Story of My Life
  • Lewis, C. S., The Screwtape Letters
  • Mc Cullough, John Adams
  • Plato, The Republic
  • Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan, The Yearling
  • Scott, Sir Walter, Ivanhoe
  • Shakespeare, William, Julius Casear
  • Steinbeck, John, The Grapes of Wrath
  • Stevenson, Robert Lewis, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Thoreau, Henry David, Walden
  • Verne, Jules, Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • Virgil, The Aeneid
  • Washington, Booker T., Up from Slavery

Happy summer reading!