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Speak to Me: Great American Texts Demystified

Randy Howe
Kaplan Publishing

1 Liberty Plaza
24th Floor
New York, NY 10006

Speak to Me is a 5 ½ x 8 ½ inch glossy soft cover book of 230 pages, plus an "About the Author" page, 2 page "Table of Contents", 3 page "Introduction", and 3 pages on "How to Use This Book." It includes excerpts or full text of 16 Historical and Political Documents broken down in terms today's students can understand more easily. Readers gain vocabulary, learn about the various authors of each text, and are given names of a comparable person that students will recognize who might have written the document if it were written today. Dates are provided in color tabs for each of the sixteen sections and cartoon sketches of individuals are included throughout the pages. Each section includes a summary, portion of text or the entire text, and a brief thought on "Who Would Write It Today". Extra information is spread throughout the book in short "In Addition," and "What Others Have Said" writings that provide interesting information. Each section starts with a brief "In 50 Words or Less!" that offers a concise explanation of the text. Provided in chronological order the sixteen texts include: The Mayflower Compact, the Introduction to Thomas Paine's Common Sense, The Declaration of Independence, Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, The Bill of Rights, an Excerpt from Marbury v. Madison, "The Star Spangled Banner," an Excerpt from the Monroe Doctrine, Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" Speech, The Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, an Excerpt from Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an Excerpt from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, an Excerpt from Brown v. Board of Education, President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, and President Ronald Reagan's Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate. An Appendix, The People Behind the Historical Texts, provides a one page explanation of the authors and contributors of the sixteen texts. As many of the included texts contain complicated language today's students may find difficult, colorful illustrations and easy-to-understand explanations are used to educate middle school students and those who love history, regardless of age, as to the meaning behind the texts. Just as our forefathers would never have understood text messaging comments like LOL or TTYL, students today may misinterpret the meaning of "quartering" in the Declaration of Independence, or may wonder why Lincoln used "four score and seven years ago" rather than just saying 87, explanations can be found in Speak To Me. Pages are presented for each text with the actual piece to be studied on a blue background and explanation of the text on white pages. Readers are able to completely read a text all in blue before returning to the explanation of it.

For use in gaining a better understanding of the included historical texts, Speak To Me is suited for use by middle school students, but may easily be used by parent teachers to prepare for teaching in elementary years when children are first exposed to these texts. The book provides an entertaining way to gain information that includes an explanatory summary of each text appropriate for middle school and high school students. The vocabulary is more difficult than elementary grades, but this is more due to the included texts than the writing of the book itself. We still prefer to memorize The Preamble and The Gettysburg address in third or fourth grades, certainly we should also better define the writing therein and help our children truly grasp the information. Definitions are provided within the explanation of each piece along with great explanations for phrases and terms associated with the time frame of each text. Students will be amused by the different choices of comparable people to write similar documents today; Bill Gates writing the Declaration of Independence or Katie Couric writing the Star Spangled Banner will bring about further research on these individuals and wonderful family discussion. Perhaps assigning a report of comparison between the author and suggested possible author of today will provide an interesting assignment. We found Speak To Me to be incredibly informative. It contains just enough material to better educate the reader on each text, without becoming overwhelming or droning on and on about each piece or author. Further research will easily expand any included text however a given home school desires, allowing for the flexibility we enjoy in our home school. The "In 50 Words or Less!" section is a wonderful way to gain better understanding very quickly and would be ideal for high school students to read through before ACT/SAT exams as a refresher. We did miss biblical references or direct credit to God for many of the works and the authors who wrote them, but as a piece coming from a secular educational publishing entity it is not surprising, just noted. Some of the suggestions about people today writing some of the material seemed a little ridiculous to me and somehow took away from the individualism of the fantastic authors who changed our history with these pieces, but in an effort to keep today's students connected to history's texts, I understand the idea. Unfortunately, the use of Michael Moore, Homer Simpson, and television shows like "Survivor," led me to rarely use that portion of the book.

Our family found Speak to Me to be an excellent addition to our library and will use it extensively with a broad range of age groups in our home, from upper elementary through high school. I found myself reading to gain a better understanding of these texts myself. Although I learned about them in public school, I was left with such a vague understanding of most that I find Speak to Me to be a wonderful source of information. The sixteen included texts are a wonderful range of material and include larger works we can include in extended study in literature classes in higher grades. This book will be a reference resource for government courses, language arts in lower grades and literature study in upper grades, and social studies and history classes at the full range of grade levels. Kaplan has been known for years as a leader in educational testing, this addition to their offerings certainly shows desire to further education. As careful parents, I encourage pre-reading any portion of this book before assigning private reading, as there is much in political and social information that should be screened to determine appropriateness for your home school. There is a guarantee in the front of the book, so if you end up dissatisfied, you may return it with receipt for a refund. From the Introduction, readers will find light humor and an ease of reading for today's older students of the text messaging generation that will draw them in to the material. The discussion of how times have changed, while people are still similar today to you and I, is a wonderful beginning to an excellent resource for readers of all ages to increase their knowledge of the included texts. Our family always misses biblical references and an overall respect for God in any book, but as this is a resource book and our government and history curriculum we currently use includes the Christian Worldview we teach, this book still makes an acceptable reference work for our family. Speak To Me, Great American Texts Demystified is an excellent book for home libraries and for use in home schools, either as a resource by teachers alone or for fantastic reading by both teachers and students.

Product Review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February, 2009

Speak to Me: Great American Texts Demystified is an excellent book for any student, young or old, who is interested in history. Randy Howe takes the reader through 16 classic texts and helps demystify the complicated language used. He provides fun explanations and great illustrations, not to mention easy-to-understand discussions that help the student understand what the text really means. The texts included in the book are:

  1. The Mayflower Compact
  2. Thomas Paine's Common Sense
  3. The Declaration of Independence
  4. Preamble to the U.S. Constitution
  5. The Bill of Rights
  6. Excerpt from Marbury v. Madison
  7. "The Star Spangled Banner"
  8. The Monroe Doctrine
  9. The Gettysburg Address
  10. The Emancipation Proclamation
  11. Sojourner's Truth "Ain't I a Woman?" Speech
  12. Excerpt from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle
  13. Excerpt from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn
  14. John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Speech
  15. Excerpt from Brown v. Board of Education
  16. Ronald Reagan's Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate
This is a book that should find a home on every homeschool family's shelf. Whether a student is learning about a period of history, studying a specific text written during that time, or preparing a speech that incorporates one of these classic texts, this is a great reference book. In our home, I found one of my boys lounging in a comfortable place reading the book. When asked if he was trying to look studious, he replied, "This is really a neat book." He proceeded to tell me what he was reading about. I don't think there's any better recommendation than that.

Product review by Dr. Heather W. Allen, Senior Analytical Consultant, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2008

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