Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fantastic History Read-Aloud

On one of the message boards I frequent a member posted about a book she'd picked up, A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich. She raved about it and said it was suitable for secular homeschoolers. On her recommendation I ordered it and since it was one of the few books I didn't pack, I picked it up to read aloud to the kids last week.



What a fantastic book! First written in 1935 this little book is packed with fantastic writing, colourful stories and lots of humour. The author knows how to use an image when needed; the exploration of history is compared to dropping a light down a well where we can only see a parts of the well at any point in the light's descent and eventually, we can't even see the light. That doesn't mean he gets flowery though. This guy is my favourite kind of writer, one that can edit his writing down to the bare minimum needed to get an idea across and yet still leave the reader full images and curiosity.

Gombrich's style makes reading A Little History of the World aloud a real joy. It has a conversational tone that engages the kids and let me relax in a way I couldn't with Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. The sidetracks and explanations in Bryson's book, although also full of humour, sometimes lost us a bit. But that's only to be expected. Bryson wrote a work for adults while Gombrich is writing for children. But "writing for children," doesn't mean Gombrich talks down to kids. It means he constructs a warm tone, doesn't overload the reader/listener with too many dates and frequently draws connections between characters in history so a child can construct a mental timeline.

This book does talk about pre-history and espouses an Old Earth or evolutionary view but it's such a joy that I wouldn't want a YE creationist to skip it just on that account. It also discusses some aspects of biblical history as history (although not to the extent of Wise-Bauer's Story of the World) but again, it's such a joy that it would be a shame to dismiss it because of that.

Gombrich died in 2001 so I can't write the man any fan letters. But I can and will plug his book to anyone who wants a well-written and engaging approach to history for their kids. And I can offer up a thank you to the man for leaving this book behind for us to discover.

6 comments:

Lorraine M said...

And this is why I love you...

Off to figure out where I can get this book now...

:-)

Lorraine M said...

Dawn, I found an excerpt from it at http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/excerpts/gombrich_little.pdf if anyone wants a peek before buying.

Summer said...

Thank you for sharing this book! A friend sent me a copy of Story of the World that she found in a thrift shop a few weeks ago, and it looks OK. But I'm not big on how religion centered it is. Going to check this out now.

Dawn said...

No problem Summer and Lorraine. I have confidence you guys will thank me even more when you get into the book a bit. :D

And thanks for the link Lorraine!

Anonymous said...

There are free lesson plans to use with Gombrich's book over at Bringuplearners.com. Look under the free curriculum section and go into Mosaic Curriculum.

Karen G.

Yvonne said...

I followed a link to your blog. Thanks for this recom. My son adores history and I love the old stuff. Wonderful blog.