Favorite Early Modern Books for Grades 4–6

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 posts. 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 begin.

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 book.

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare 

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 growth.

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.