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The World of William Penn Review by Susan K. Marlow

Genevieve Foster
Beautiful Feet Books
1306 Mill Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

"History is drama . . . with men and nations as the actors. Why not present it with all the players who belong together on the stage at once rather than only one character on the stage at a time?"

This was the vision of American author Genevieve Foster (born in 1893). She believed children should learn history horizontally, so she set out to write a number of "World" titles, some of which won the Newbery Honor Medal in their day. Beautiful Feet Books has done homeschoolers a huge favor by reprinting these excellent books for our home libraries. In fact, one of the first things I did after reading William Penn was look at the copyright date. I was thinking, "How did I miss this book when I taught my children U.S. History?" When I saw the copyright (reprint) of 2008, I felt cheated that my children had not had this wonderful approach to history.

The World of William Penn is just what title implies: his world. The 190-page soft cover book begins with William Penn's early life and how it came about that he--a Quaker--should be granted the colony of Pennsylvania by the head of the Church of England (Charles II). The author quickly moves on to what was happening in the rest of the world at the time. Not just in the Americas, but as far away as China. She doesn't randomly pick these places but chooses them to weave the world tapestry together--thread by thread--and show how the American colonies were affected by world rulers and events thousands of miles away.

Read about French explorers of the Mississippi River, King Louis XIV of France, the emperor of India who built the Taj Mahal (I didn't know that famous tomb was built during the days of the American colonies, did you?), the great Manchu emperor of China, Isaac Newton, Edmund Halley (Halley's Comet), and Peter the Great of Russia. Learn how "small" the Old World really was, in spite of the great distances that separated nations. Most of these people knew each other in some way. William Penn rubbed shoulders with Isaac Newton and the Russian czar; he knew the king of England personally as well.

One fun discovery was the illustration of the royal family tree of England. All these kings and queens were related to each other! For example, King Louis of France was King Charles' (England) first cousin. In The World of William Penn, students (grades four and up) learn not only what wars were being fought but why they were being fought: royal family "feuds" that boiled over to the Colonies (because whatever affected Europe affected the Americas). Another factor was "wheeling and dealing" between kings and queens over land in the New World. For example, one day King Louis the XIV decided he wanted to increase the size and importance of France. He declared war on Holland and went off to play "glorious warrior." Just like that. Think of the death, the cost of the war, the fear this king caused just so he could glorify himself. Other European wars--for reasons just as selfish--spilled over into the Colonies (the French and Indian War, for instance).

The World of William Penn is so intriguing, I read it in one sitting. It is a unit study by itself (for under $15.00), covering important people and events of the American colonial period between 1660 and the early 1700s. It would be easy to construct a large timeline to go along with the book, to visually see how these people "fit" together. A large, blank map of the world would also make a great add-on for this book. Extended research activities based on the characters could keep your school day lively for at least a month!

I highly recommend The World of William Penn, especially for those of you on a budget. And I'm really wishing I'd had this resource a few years ago.

Product review by Susan K. Marlow, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November 2009