Great Books Fuel Unit Studies
- Friday, May 02, 2014
After a seven-hour seminar about KONOS, I plopped into a chair at my friend Bev’s house while she fixed dinner. From the kitchen she yelled, “There is a box of books beside your chair to look at, if you feel like it.” Books? I sat up and pulled the box onto my lap and began sifting through the stack. The books were all books referenced in my KONOS units, even some that were out of print! Bev related how she had seen an ad in the paper announcing schools closing and free library books being given away. When the sale commenced, she was there with boxes in hand.
At first, she selected books recommended by KONOS and the Honey for a Child’s Heart bibliography, Newbery Award books, and Caldecott Medal winners. Then she began pulling classics such as Heidi. She kept pulling for days—until she filled her garage! When her husband lost his job, she tried to sell the books to an online used bookseller but was offered only pennies a pound. Before I knew it, a friend and I had bought five thousand books and were selling them in my backyard to homeschoolers in Dallas—but not before we had each chosen three hundred books with which to start our own personal library! Books make homeschooling moms happy.
Units Need Three Types of Books
Pre-Internet times and homeschooling on a shoestring made library cards golden in those early homeschooling days. Since I lived at the library 24/7, finding books to go with each KONOS unit, I should have earned a degree in library science! Each unit needed three types of books: information books, classic literature books, and easy readers. The easy readers were great if you could find them on the unit topic but not worth straining over. There are tons of information books about the American Revolution, but be careful! Look for information books that teach you tidbits that you did not know, such as The Colonial Craftsmen: And the Beginnings of American Industry by Tunis or the Picture Book of the Continental Soldier by Wilber, where he shows musket loading and cartridge rolling. I finally learned why soldiers bite the end of their cartridge and what a “flash in the pan” meant literally!
The classics and award winners provided unit literature books. Of course The Secret Garden by Burnett is a must for the “Orderliness: Plants” unit, while ...And Now Miguel by Krumgold about a 12-year-old boy who wants to help with the sheep in the mountains fits the “Trust: Sheep” unit perfectly. Excellent book choices don’t merely match unit topic to book topic; rather, a combination of a topic match and choosing books of unforgettable, richly developed characters and plot is essential. For “Obedience: Horses,” one would think Black Beauty by Sewell would be a natural, but King of the Wind goes past being a heartwarming story. It is a Newbery Award-winning true story written in novel format about a heroic horse that founds the lineage of thoroughbred horses. I never read it to my kids without crying. The Wheel on the School by DeJong, about six Dutch school children trying to find a wheel for the roof of their school to attract storks to their village, is memorable for the wonderfully crafted characters and the plot of childlike means to find a wheel—perfect for the “Bird” unit!
Vicarious Living Through Literature
We cannot go back and experience historic events firsthand, and there are many things we do not want to experience, but we do want to understand. Literature provides readers vicarious living for historical units. I would not teach the Civil War without including Hunt’s Across Five Aprils. Not only does it chronicle the five years of the Civil War, but through one family’s saga, you understand feelings of Northerners, Southerners, and those pulled both ways by the war. Through Corrie ten Boom’s eyes in The Hiding Place, you understand the atrocities of Hitler’s concentration camps. Newbery Award winner Out of the Dust by Hesse, written in free verse, paints a picture of how teenager Billie Jo fought economic and mental despair during the Depression. My mother gave Hesse’s book to me with this note penned: “So you will know what I lived through.”
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