Saturday, September 10, 2011

History in Literary Language

History in Literary Language

The Lady-of-the-House and the Man-of-the-House tucked their young children into bed with a story. Then they climbed down the stairs into the kitchen for a hot drink. The Man-of-the-House took his tall mug into the living room. A minute later the Lady-of-the-House followed.

“Where’d you find that?” she asked as she entered the room. “It’s been missing for ages.”

He smiled as he held up the remote control. “Under the seat cushion.” He continued, “with a pencil stub and some popcorn.” 

With this shortfall in her cleaning routine staring her in the face the Lady-of-the-House said curtly, “Please get up. I need to sweep out the sofa.”

“Right now?” responded the Man-of-the-House with a slight raise of one eyebrow. “I just got comfortable.” He held out his arm inviting her to sit down and get comfortable too. He spoke calmly and glibly. “Let’s watch something before it gets too late.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s eight ten. There may be something on PBS. We haven’t checked in a long time. There might be something good on.”

“Okay.” The Lady-of-the-House acquiesced.  

“Hmm, it’s a documentary,” stated the Man-of-the-House, “about the Vikings it looks like.”

“Oh, the children and I just finished reading about Leif, Eric the Red’s son. Is there a blank video around somewhere? We could record this for the children.” The Man-of-the-House obliged her. He pushed a video into the slot.

A dignified man with a gray bread and a suit to match was talking. He sat in a leather chair at a desk made of fine-grained walnut. He spoke with authority. He was a professor. Behind him the dark wood paneling gleamed. A beautiful shot of a windswept hillside on the coast of Nova Scotia showed the site of what was once a dig. Under the rubble of moss and lichen covered rock a tiny artifact had once been uncovered. Back in his study the professor spoke again. The Lady-of-the-House was waiting to hear something significantly more than what she and her children had read in their children’s books. She grew impatient. The Man-of-the-House was bored but endured. After some minutes more the Lady-of-the-House said, “That’s enough. No use taping this.”


“We learned similar facts in our children’s books and in a more interesting manner.” Being a bookman the Man-of-the-House understood.

Much more recently the Man-of-the-House shot a photograph for his wife of Leif-the-Lucky on the Atlantic coast while on vacation - to amuse you – and to highlight a love of living books. 

During rare moments when a busy home teacher is able to sit comfortably somewhere she is likely to be found on the sofa with a picture book in hand, her children close beside her. Cozy and sweet? Yes, it is. These cozy times, however, should not be underestimated in their power to train children in the habit of attention. Reading aloud from a picture book can be a wonderful way of introducing a subject, especially history. 

A knowledge of history is gained through the unfolding of a story. For this reason, children understand history best through literary language. Focusing on the story of history allows children to develop their powers of imagination. The use of imagination will be an advantage to the intellectual activity of a student in the school years that follow, when there are fewer pictures in his books. Save the serious side of history, the details of politics and philosophy, for the older student. 

Through a well-written story, such as Leif the Lucky, children in the elementary years can learn to see the connections between events, and to trace causes.

Children can be asked to tell a few paragraphs back in their own words by narrating. “Describe the place that Leif explored and called Vineland.” Along with the enjoyment of the story comes the mental benefit gained through narrating it. Hearing her student narrate is the best way for a teacher to find out what he knows. 

The D’Aularie biographies are a set of picture books created by a husband and wife team about 50 years ago. These books by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire are part of a sequence of living books within the Early American History course guide by Rea Berg published by Beautiful Feet Books.

When Nigel, the 22-year-old son of the Lady-of-the-House, was 8 he followed the course. The pictures, filled in with colored pencil and the drawing of the longboat, are from Nigel’s history notebook. The guide recommends photocopying key black and white illustrations to be glued into the notebook and colored. The student writes a simple caption under his picture. The Lady-of-the-House wrote the captions out for Nigel to copy. This was his history writing for the day – in pencil that is. His longer writing was what he composed in his oral narration.

A pile of fill-in-the-blank paperwork is apt to eventually be discarded. A notebook of entries becomes a keepsake.

Barbarous atrocities by Viking pirates who raided the coast of England are unmentioned in Leif The Lucky. Sea voyages are emphasized. The later influence of Christianity is made plain and not intentionally swept under the rug as history writers do today. Even though the Vikings are part of Europe’s medieval history they have a small part to play in America’s distant past. The D’Aulaire’s drawings of the Vikings with American Indians makes this memorable. Reference is made to danger but there are lots more smiles in this book than anything else.

On page 172 of Philosophy of Education Miss Charlotte Mason reminds us that a knowledge of history belongs to the person who can tell what ‘tis all about.

“. . . so the teacher reads and the children ‘tell’ paragraph after paragraph, passage by passage. The teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell.’  
The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. . . .  
She will bear in mind that the child . . . has begun the serious business of his education, that it does not matter much whether he understands this word or that, but that it matters a great deal that he should learn to deal directly with books. Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and what he cannot tell, he does not know.”

Click D’Aulaire to see other titles.

Comments are welcome,
Karen Andreola


  1. I remember this story and remember also, reading it aloud to my boys.

    Thank you so much for sharing such an entertaining story :D

    ps: I doubt your cleaning skills are in need of changing ;D

    maria b.

  2. Glad to hear I am not alone in finding lost things in the couch! :)

    The greatest gift I received from your book and from Charlotte Mason, was the understanding of reading living books to learn. We especially love history - we are enjoying Genevieve Foster this year. Narration is a brilliant way to know what your children are learning.

    Thanks for sharing today!


  3. This was wonderful! Ahhh, there is nothing like a book or a story to transport us to another place or age, or both...

  4. Thank you for the trip down Memory Lane!

    I'm not home teaching this year. Both my children are in college now. I had wondered if I would be sad... So far, no sadness. Definitely some nostalgia, however. Happily, I have two great-nieces who love to read books.

    My children still maintain that they learned more from Mrs. Frizzle than from any school textbook until they began 9th grade work. Hooray for interesting, informative, passionate authors!


  5. Have you had a child that struggled with basic reading? I have had eight children and three of them to this point have struggled. Two overcame it by the time they were middle school age but I hated that they missed so much of personal reading. Now I have another daughter who struggles. She loves books and is motivated just seems so difficult for her. However, we will keep slowly pursuing the goal!

  6. Dear Susan,

    Sorry to hear of the children's struggles with reading. Each of my three children learned at a different pace. I remember listening to them read aloud to me every day. It was work but they did this work willingly - even if at a snail's pace - because they had a true fondness for stories of adventure. In "A Charlotte Mason Companion" I mention the reading scheme we used, "The Oxford Reading Tree." My children refer to them as the "Kipper" stories.

    It isn't a Christian scheme so some might not like the "magic" key aspect that transports the children to other lands and other times.

    This scheme from England gave them a good and pleasant grounding with sight-words.

    Yes, keep plodding steadily along.
    Karen A.

  7. I love the picture of Leif on the beach. :)

    I also have a slow reader, but she's very keen to be read to and narrates back readily. Little steps often do work.

  8. I'd like to add to my comment above that although reading went smoothly, higher math during the high school years had definite bumps in the road.
    Karen A.

  9. Karen,

    What a lovely post! I just recently read Leif to my little man and we finished Christopher Columbus yesterday. He kept giggling about Christopher tricking the Indians with the eclipse! ;o) I love the notebook pages that you shared!

    Love, Heather

  10. This book is in our stack for this year's history study!
    Just discovered your blog, and want to say how much I appreciate your Charlotte Mason Companion book. It's great to be able to pull it off the shelf and read a chapter or two when I need some fresh inspiration on the homeschooling journey. Thank you!

  11. Yes, Higher Math definitely needs a well-trained teacher and a good foundation. After graduating my older two I switched to Math U See and Teaching Textbooks for Math with my other children. I wish I had chosen to do that earlier! I've even learned some things I must have missed in my "public education."

  12. okay dokey.

    I can see clearly now that your blog posts are turning into a little novel in itself.

    I get that.

    I like it.

    I shall come visit moments with mother culture with an open mind that the lessons of blackberry inn and the lessons when my pockets were full of pinecones will live on and on and on with Carol right here on this blog;-)

    You truly have a sweet gift with story telling and words Karen.

    Loved this little lesson {I got} from this post on story telling those living books.


  13. I just wanted to say that just yesterday, we used your book "Story Starters" for the first time in our homeschool...and I loved it!! I am using it with my 8th and 9th grade children. They have had difficulty in the past with creative writing. I chose a story starter for each of them, based upon their interests and styles (one boy, one girl). They were a bit apprehensive at first, but once they got started on their writing project, they didnt want to stop! They each did SO well! I was so pleased with how it inspired them to be creative in their writing! Thank you for such a great resource! Blessings to your sweet family!

  14. Thank you, Karen for this lovely post on Leif the Lucky! What fun it was to find it on your blog as I was searching around for Viking related ideas! Cheers to you and yours!
    Rea Berg

  15. This is an excellent post that wants me to read Leif the Lucky. I cannot remember if we read it when the children were little. Somewhere along the way, we lost narration in the craziness of our lifestyle after the Joplin tornado. We were not hit, but we helped extensively at the church to help those who were.
    I doubt my 16 year old remembers narration. Do you think she's too old?
    Your friend,

    1. You can pick up with narration where you left off. Older students may gain a greater sense of accomplishment narrating on paper or in a Microsoft Word document. My husband is a "natural" at speaking his narrations around the house everyday. I find sharing with him at breakfast, what I've read the night before, a difficulty. Give me a keyboard and I'm at ease.

    2. I actually wonder if it might be good for me to practice narration myself. I may know about what I've read, but I cannot always explain it to another.
      Thanks for answering me.

    3. Yes, in my new book "Mother Culture" I explain how narration can be used to "craft and understanding" of whatever we are reading, experiencing or observing.