Even among my fellow teachers, I am known as a nerd. That’s why I’m willing to share this story with you. My reputation is already made.
Our textbooks at school are useless; filled with the wrong facts and totally dense writing that’s hard to follow. I never use them, unless I need a map or an illustration. Instead I use a series of books I found last year at the Bank Street Bookstore, called The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child. They’re designed to use for homeschooling middle schoolers, but I find they’re at just about the perfect reading level to be readable for my 9th and 10th graders, while still having a few vocabulary words they don’t know. There are four volumes, and the most ancient is written for younger children, in a very narrative way (i.e., “You are on a magic carpet, flying over the Roman Empire. What do you see? You see…”) while the fourth volume, which is mainly 20th century history, has lots of simple primary sources worked through the chapters.
I can’t say enough nice things about these books. The prose is clear and concise, while still covering everything I need to teach. Every single chapter includes a map — and often two — to help comprehension. Using these books has eliminated my need to rewrite entire chapters of history in my own words, which is how I spent most of my time last year. These books have saved me hours and hours of planning time, and I happily try to sell them to any social studies teacher who happens by. In fact, I read them for fun, and our English teachers use them to give the students background on whatever book they happen to be covering. (One caveat: they are, at times, a little bit eurocentric, but distinctly less so than the Regents exam.)
All this is to lead up to last night, when I was in a bookstore, and saw the name Susam Wise Bauer on a hardcover book in the “New in History” section. I gasped out loud. “Oh my god; she wrote one for grownups??” I demanded of no one in particular, and proceded to flip through the book while making noises I normally make when I eat ice cream, or watch The Princess Bride. Then I called two different people to tell them how excited I was about the book.
One of the facets of my nerdiness is that I am a fan girl of some non-fiction authors. Richard Dawkins, for example, takes up a full shelf in my living room. I check Simon Singh’s website for updates about new books. I haven’t gotten all of Barbara Tuchman’s books yet, but I’m working on it. You get the idea. And now my favorite history writer for kids has written a giant tome for adults, and I couldn’t be more excited. Why didn’t I know about this before vacation, when I could have spent several days doing nothing but reading?
I am so excited for this weekend!