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Ancient History: A Literature Approach / Ancient History Timeline Review by Jennifer Loucks

Rea Berg and Rebecca Manor
Beautiful Feet Books
1306 Mill St.
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Beautiful Feet has published a marvelous literature guide to ancient history. It's really two guides: one for the intermediate level (grades 5-8) and one for senior high. The two levels are printed separately in the book, with intermediate first. Both levels use Streams of Civilization for a basic historical narrative as well as 12-13 literature books, which are the heart of the course. Some are retellings of myths, and some are historical fiction. For example, both levels read Foster's Augustus Caesar's World, D'Aulaires' Greek myths, and The Children's Homer by Padraic Colum. Intermediate students get to enjoy The Bronze Bow and David Macaulay's Pyramid and City. High schoolers read a Henty novel, Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis?, and two Shakespeare plays.

The intermediate guide has 71 lessons, and the senior high guide has 91 lessons. The goal is to complete three lessons per week, but the lessons vary in length; teachers will need to adjust the lessons to fit their own schedule. The lessons are teacher-directed. Literature selections should be read aloud and discussed by means of the questions provided (although high schoolers can read independently, if necessary). Students keep a notebook and are directed as to what to put in it, such as definitions, some copywork, and reading responses. Some comprehension questions (with answers in the back) are included as well; students write their answers in the notebook. Students also complete writing/research assignments, about five paragraphs for intermediate students and five pages for high schoolers. The timeline kit contains illustrations to color, cut out, and paste onto a cardstock strip.

In every way, this guide is very well produced. If you're new to the idea of studying history through literature, you will enjoy the eloquent introduction about the power of literature. The introduction also argues for delaying the study of the ancient world until the upper elementary grades; I found Mrs. Berg's arguments convincing and well written. I like the simple, old-fashioned color scheme and black-and-white illustrations. The timeline illustrations are particularly well done, with heavy papers that are a pleasure to work with. I also liked the wide range of discussion questions, covering literary elements, ideas and themes, and a biblical worldview. This guide uses accessible yet substantial literature choices that are not intimidating for a busy homeschool parent. But they contain lots of thought-provoking material at the same time. I think that uneven length of lessons could make planning a bit more difficult, and some instructions are very sketchy, requiring more work for the teacher (for example: "Do some research on Hillel and Gamaliel. Record in notebook."). So you will want to look ahead at the lessons to adjust them or find more materials of your own.

Parents of high schoolers may this study guide to be somewhat limited. It is not a Great Books study, if that's what you want. Students do not read primary historical sources or Homer's or Caesar's actual works, only adaptations. The guide is also not very conducive to independent work for high schoolers. Students can read the books and complete notebook work alone, but to get the most out of discussion questions they should meet with a teacher. If these points fit your priorities and teaching style, you will find challenging, interesting literature selections accompanied by very useful discussion questions. You will certainly have everything you need to help your student get the most out of these excellent literary works.

Product review by Jennifer Loucks, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2009