I love sharing great book recommendations with other homeschoolers. Today I’ll be sharing my top picks for grades 4–6 who are studying modern times, about 1850 to the present. I already reviewed books that will give an overview of that time period for the whole family to enjoy together. Today I want to zero in on some additional titles that focus on specific people and events.
I’ll be sharing both American history and world history books, so you can give your 4th–6th grader a global perspective and help him understand that American history did not happen in a vacuum. Much of it affected other countries, and other countries’ people and events affected the U.S. too.
All of my favorite books for this time period are scheduled in the Modern Times and Epistles, Revelation lesson plan book. That will give you daily reading itineraries for all the grades, so you know which books to use on which days and how much to read each time.
Abe Lincoln: Log Cabin to White House by Sterling North
This one is from the fabulous Landmark book series. I’m so glad this one is still in print. (Word to the wise: if you find any used Landmark books, take a closer look. Most of them are great living history books.) Abe Lincoln: Log Cabin to White House focuses on the years leading up to Lincoln’s presidency. It traces the events that happened in his life and how those events both shaped his character and revealed his character. The final chapter summarizes his role in the Civil War and his assassination. Written by an excellent author, this book is a great biography of a great man for grades 4–6.
Always Inventing: A Photobiography of Alexander Graham Bell by Tom L. Matthew
I really like photobiographies. Looking at the actual photographs makes a lasting impact and helps that person’s life seem more real and personal. This biography covers Bell’s invention of the telephone, of course, but it also emphasizes his work with the deaf and his other inventions; such as, a metal detector that was used when President Garfield was shot and several different experiments he tried with flight. You will also discover his ties to National Geographic, which publishes this book. (By the way, there is a Landmark book called Mr. Bell Invents the Telephone that is really good but, sadly, out of print. If you can find a copy, it would make a great companion to this photobiography. With the story in that book and the photos in this book, it would make a winning combination. But then, this photobiography continues and tells more about his life after the telephone invention.)
I Have a Dream: The Story of Martin Luther King by Margaret Davidson
I reviewed this book in my top picks for grades 1–3 on modern times. I like to recommend it for grades 4–6 also. It is appropriate and interesting for all the elementary grades. If you have children in both age groups, read it aloud to all of them together.
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh
Most stories about the moon landing focus on the astronauts and what happened in outer space. This book gives a larger perspective and attempts to show that the moon landing was the result of a collaboration by thousands of people. As the author puts it in his note in the back: “The stories herein are but snapshots. Just a handful of players pulled from the bench of the greatest team ever. Just a few of the 400,000 people (imagine about ten large stadiums full of fans) who set out to do an impossible task: to land man on the moon and return him safely home.” The large photographs and first-person quotations, along with the look behind the scenes on this epic moment in history, make this book a treasure for all ages.
And here are two Bonus Titles for American history.
The Wright Brothers: Pioneers by American Aviation by Quentin Reynolds
Yet another Landmark book, this one is still in print, happily. The work of Orville and Wilbur Wright is told in story form with a lot of great encouragement for the practice of self-education. The habits of diligence, persistence, and respect will be reinforced as your student follows these brothers through their ups and downs, both literally and figuratively. I also love how this story quietly but consistently presents the idea of siblings who recognize each other’s strengths and choose to work together with loyalty and love.
George Washington Carver by David Collins
This biography is one of The Sowers collection, which emphasizes the Christian beliefs and character of each person written about. The biography is written in story form and follows George Washington Carver from his life as a young slave boy through his endless pursuit of learning, his tireless work at Tuskegee Institute, and his death as an honored scientist and agriculturalist. The author says that he chose to write about Carver because Carver had “a strong Christian influence” in his life that led him “to serve other people and make a better world for all of us.”
The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
An award-winning story of life on the home front for a Hungarian family during World War I, this book will strike a chord with your students. The first part helps the reader enter into everyday life on a farm, along with the main characters’ ties to family and their hopes and dreams for the future. All seems normal, until the father is called up to fight with his countrymen and life changes for those left behind. The main characters must grow up all the sooner in order to take care of the farm and all of the relatives. They also face added responsibilities of caring for Russian soldiers and German war orphans who take refuge there. The reader is powerfully drawn into the everyday reality of how war changes life for everybody, not just those who fight in the battles.
Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan
Here is a wonderful novel tied to World War II. Peter’s tiny Norwegian village is hiding nine million dollars worth of gold to help their country fight for freedom. When Nazi troops invade the village, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before they find the gold. But then Peter’s uncle devises an ingenious, but dangerous, plan: Peter and his friends can slip the gold past the guards and carry it to safety hidden on their snow sleds. It’s an exciting tale full of courage and wits and determination that may, or may not, be based on a true story.
Now, let me just give you a reminder that these books that I’m reviewing are meant to be additional reads on the time period. The two books Stories of America, Volume 2, and Stories of the Nations, Volume 2, are going to be your main spine books to cover modern times for the whole family. I reviewed those books in an earlier post. Those two books will give the overview of key people and events during the time period. They provide the broader perspective. Then you can bring in these additional reads on the side to expand on that knowledge and to dive deeper into a specific person or event. For example, this next recommended book . . .
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
This book is based on a true story and actually has two story lines running in parallel. The novel reveals the stories of two children in Sudan: one walks eight hours every day to fetch water from a pond for her family; the other walks away from his war-torn village and across Africa, searching for his family and for safety. The two different story threads, that intersect at the end, are printed in different type and different colors, so your student should have no problem distinguishing which thread he is reading. Know that there are some difficult events told in these stories. They are not sensationalized, but the heavy feelings that the main characters experience because of those troubling events are related. In that sense, this book has a different feel than Snow Treasure, but I believe both are appropriate for grades 4–6. And I think this book can plant powerful seeds of ideas for good in your student’s heart.
The Bonus Title for world history is called Where Poppies Grow: A World War I Companion by Linda Granfield.
This book makes a great supplement to The Singing Tree novel that I mentioned earlier. Where The Singing Tree focuses on the home front, this book gives more of a taste of life on the battle front. It’s laid out like a scrapbook with lots of photographs and captions along with short descriptions of what it was like to be a soldier in World War I, yet in a way that is appropriate for elementary students in grades 4–6.
If you’re finding these reviews helpful, be sure to check out the previous posts in which I shared my top picks for other history time periods—Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Early Modern —across the grade levels.