Favorite Early Modern Books for Grades 4–6

Here are some favorite early modern history
books for your fourth through sixth graders.
The Early Modern time period includes many
fascinating people and events. And what better
way to study them than through living books—books
that make them come alive in your child’s
mind; books that touch their emotions and
fire their imaginations; books that are well
written and brimming with ideas, not just
dry facts.
Today I want to share some of my top picks
for fourth through sixth graders studying
this time period, about 1550—1850.
You decide whether you want to read them aloud
together or assign them as independent reading.
That decision will be based on your individual
child’s reading skills right now. If your
child is ready to start making the transition
into reading his school books for himself,
you might do a mixture. Read some chapters
aloud and assign others for independent reading.
Perhaps start by assigning an independent
reading once or twice a week. As your child
gains confidence and reading fluency, you
can step it up to alternating the chapters:
read one together, assign the next, then read
one together, and assign the next. Of course,
if your child is a fluent reader, feel free
to assign all of the chapters for independent
reading. However you approach it, the content
of these books will be living, interesting,
and appropriate for your fourth through sixth
graders. Plus, you will find them interesting
too, I’m sure.
I’ll be sharing titles for both American history
and world history. It’s helpful to study American
history in the context of world history, because
the events are often interrelated. Your child
will gain a great understanding of the bigger
picture when you read both alongside each
other. That’s how the Simply Charlotte Mason
curriculum is set up. And if you would find
open-and-go lesson plans helpful, the Early
Modern and Epistles guide will give you the
list of all of our recommended books for the
time period for all the grades and break them
down into daily plans detailing which books
to read, in which order, and how much to read
each day.
I’ve already covered the spine books for the
whole Family and extra great books for grades
1–3 in previous episodes. Today we’re focusing
on extra books for grades 4–6 that highlight
certain people or events during the Early
Modern time period.
Let’s start with American history. If you
don’t need the American history books, check
the time stamp in the notes. It will let you
know where the world history book reviews
The Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty
This is a classic Landmark book. If you ever
see a Landmark book, take notice. The Landmark
books are wonderful living history books written
for about fifth- or sixth-grade readers. They
were a staple in children’s libraries and
schools for many years. Each one is written
by an expert in his or her field who is also
an excellent writer. One set of Landmarks
covers significant events and people in American
history, and another set of them focuses on
world history. Sadly, many of them are out
of print now (so look for them used), but
a few are still being published. The Landing
of the Pilgrims is still in print and it is
a fabulous retelling of young William Bradford
and his friends who sailed to America to start
a new life with religious freedom. The book
is divided into three parts. Part One relives
the background story of why the Separatists
left England, their time in Holland, and their
decision to sail to the New World. Part Two
unfolds the voyage, their search for a suitable
place to settle, and their meeting Samoset
and Chief Massasoit. Part Three begins with
the Mayflower’s returning to England and ends
twenty years later. An outstanding living
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George
This Newberry Honor book is a historical fiction
that highlights a 13-year-old boy’s growing
relationship with a nearby Native American
Indian clan, the Beaver clan. When Matt’s
father leaves him alone to guard their newly
built cabin in the wilderness, he must discover
how to survive in the forest. Attean, a young
boy in the Beaver clan, helps him to learn
those necessary skills. Throughout the story,
Matt gets to know his new friend’s heritage
and way of life, as well as the clan’s growing
problem in adapting to the new settlers and
the changing frontier. It’s a wonderful story
of responsibility, survival, and personal
A Young Patriot: The American Revolution as
Experienced by One Boy by Jim Murphy
If you’re searching for a fabulous living
book on the Revolutionary War, take a good
look at this one. Jim Murphy is one of my
favorite authors on American history. His
books are meticulously researched yet don’t
get bogged down in those details, because
he writes in such a wonderfully living way.
Rather than give an impersonal broad overview
of the war, A Young Patriot is about a 15-year-old
Connecticut farm boy who enlists in the Continental
Army in 1776. Your student will experience
army life on a personal level of daily misery,
boredom, confusion, terror, and an occasional
triumph. Authentic time-period illustrations
are included, as well as a brief chronology
of the American Revolution in the back of
the book.
Let’s move on to world history. I have five
biographies to recommend for world history
and a bonus title. Three of the books are
by Diane Stanley:
Good Queen Bess: The Story of Elizabeth I
of England
Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare
and Peter the Great is a bonus title.
Diane Stanley’s books may look like simple
picture books, but they contain a lot of details
and a considerable amount of text. You may
recall that I recommended her books on Leonardo
da Vinci and Michelangelo for the Middle Ages
and Renaissance time period. She has other
titles as well. Don’t let the thinner width
and large pictures fool you; these are substantial
biographies and are best read and narrated
in shorter sections with some time in between
to process all the wonderful knowledge your
children will gain about these people in history.
Along Came Galileo by Jeanne Bendick
This is a great biography, with mostly short
chapters, for fourth through sixth graders,
and the author’s sketches add much to the
narrative. Plus, her personal comments keep
things real. For example, when she relates
Aristotle’s model of the world (p. 18), she
adds a picture of that scientist and his model;
but she also tags on a little note that “nobody
really knows what those ancient scientists
looked like.” At the end of each chapter is
a statement by Galileo pertaining to the topic
that was just read. Those little touches all
help to make this book a gem. That being said,
let me give you two parental cautions. First,
on page 41, the author states that Kepler
believed in astrology and that his mother
was accused of being a witch. Second, the
book has the occasional reference to the world’s
being millions of years old. I encourage you
to use those passages as good opportunities
for discussion with your growing student.
And enjoy this fabulous retelling of Galileo’s
life, his love for asking questions, and his
quest for the answers.
The Ocean of Truth: The Story of Sir Isaac
Newton by Joyce McPherson
Joyce McPherson is a homeschooling mother
of five, who has written several great biographies
about prominent people in history. She used
Isaac Newton’s original writings, along with
his contemporaries’ writings, to supply the
anecdotes and many of the conversations in
this living story of his life. It’s an interesting
and accessible biography written on a fifth
or sixth grade reading level.
The Story of Napoleon by H. E. Marshall
Many of you are familiar with Henrietta Marshall’s
history narratives. She had a knack for writing
in a living way that appeals to children yet
does not talk down to them. Her excellent
story of Napoleon Bonaparte masterfully retells
his life, from his humble beginning on the
island of Corsica to his becoming emperor
of more than half of Europe. The narrative
focuses on his victorious military campaigns,
his disastrous Russian campaign, his exile
to the island of Elba, his final loss at Waterloo,
and his last days on the lonely island of
St. Helena. The book is in public domain,
so you should be able to find it free online,
or you can readily purchase a printed copy
if you want one.
Those are my top picks for fourth through
sixth graders for Early Modern history. How
about you? Got any favorite living books that
you would like to share with us on this time
period? Leave a comment and let’s talk books.
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Thanks for joining me. See you next time!

  • I'm brazilian. My challange is find "living books" about Brasil and our history.
    I'm looking for… Strongly… Public Domain might be the solution.

  • We love The Sign of the Beaver… amazing book. Diane Stanley's books are wonderful as well.Adding some of these to our list this year.

  • Thank you for another wonderful podcast. Your recommendation on Ancient History books were very wise and we enjoyed them. We are moving on to Ancient Rome.

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