Obsessed By Russia…and Living Books

12 Jun

At present we are totally immersed in Russian history and loving it.  Nope, it wasn’t in our plan and no child was dragged into it kicking or screaming.  We are just following our curiosity and thriving on it.

Living books are the key.  If we had to read this stuff in a text book I think I’d put the boys to sleep and scratch out my own eyes!  But that’s just not fair to the topic as Russia is such an amazing and mysterious place.  (I highly recommend a stop there.)  Thankfully living books build our interest in new topics and keep us on the edge of our chair and begging for more.

Learning does not have to be child-led.  Homeschooling Mummas just need to use the right bait to get the kids (and Mumma) salivating and I have found no better bait than living books.  Much better than worms, wouldn’t you say?!

The other great thing about living books is that they don’t satisfy our curiosity.  They merely introduce people, places and periods.  They always leave us with questions that needs answers…and the trail begins.    Then books we’d probably not pick up and read ordinarily, maybe even a textbook at a pinch, are pored through for extra details.

And no we don’t want our living books turned into movies.  Please no!  We’d much rather a documentary where we can meet the real life people and places or at least hear about them.  People look at what we watch as a family and can’t imagine us enjoying something like four hours worth of “The Land of Tsars”.  But once your interest has been piqued it’s fascinating.  Remember we’ve already met these people in living books so it’s a bit like watching a friend’s home movie.  Add popcorn and the kids will think it’s a movie night!  🙂

My boys will listen to just about any story I read so living books have become my faithful jumping off point for History and Geography.  It works marvelously.  Much better than History curriculums I’ve used in the past.

We are so in love with Russia at the moment, thanks to living books, and fascinating by everything about its past – the land, the people, the Tsars, the revolution, the demise of the last Romanov Tsar, Lenin, Stalin, and even Communism.  Everything around here, for weeks in fact, has been about Russia.

No we’re not quite at our Russian-saturation point, but I’ve already pondered where I think we’ll head next.  I’m thinking the French Revolution might be a natural detour since we’re in revolution mode after the Russian Revolution.  I’ve already ordered the living books!!  I don’t think we’ll stay too long in France though as we could easily stray too far from our original plan…which is WW1 and WW2.  But a quick couple of books, to compare revolutions, will be just the ticket I think.  Then we’ll head back to wrap up WW1 with the Treaty of Versailles and then jump into WW2.

The only other thing I need is more hours in the day for read alouds, audio stories and great reads.  Anyone want to lend me some of their 24??  🙂


Posted by on June 12, 2013 in History, Homeschooling Thoughts, My Library


5 responses to “Obsessed By Russia…and Living Books

  1. Melda

    June 12, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Hi Tracey,

    I’m just wondering what you mean exactly by ‘living books’? Is this a series as such? Or maybe just non-fiction books which aren’t a text book?

    I’m very interested because I spend a lot of time reading with my daughter (7) and she loves everything history, science or preferrably both. At the moment we’re totally immersed in Leonardo da Vinci and thanks to book depository and the council library we’ve read our way through at least 6-7 books about him. Even from such a young age, I really want to stress the importance of using multiple sources to get our info. Prior to Leo, we went through big phases on Darwin and then Newton. I can’t believe how much I’ve learnt!

    Seeing that you’ve been studying WWI and WWII, I thought I’d let you know of a series I stumbled across which is a historical choose your own adventure series. We own both the WWI and II books and while they are easy reading and quite short, it is another genre to balance out the non-fiction. They are written in fiction form, with the reader as a main character but (to my knowledge) they are historically accurate. My daughter can sit down and read through 4-5 different endings in one sitting, so they may be too easy for your older boys, but worth mentioning and only $4 or $5ish from book depository! :o)

    A happy day to you,


  2. Tracey

    June 13, 2013 at 12:17 am

    A living book can be either a fiction or non-fiction title. It just means a great quality piece of literature, generally written by someone with passion for the content. It’s a term that Charlotte Mason uses.

    But generally the living books that launch us the furtherest in History have been historical fiction, however there have been a few well done non-fiction titles too.

    I agree with you about reading widely on a topic too. We have stumbled across many an inaccuracy in books – non-fiction books, usually ones written down to kids. We quite enjoy finding them now. It makes for a great discussion. They are very often found in non-living books – those series of non-fiction books written for the school library…the kind that our public libraries love. 🙂

    What’s the name of the WW1 and WW2 book series? I am curious now. 🙂

    • Melda

      June 13, 2013 at 7:49 am

      Thanks Tracey.
      The series is called “You Choose – An Interactive History Adventure”. They each have a different author but the publisher is Capstone. Our WWII one is by Elizabeth Raum.
      One thing I love about these books is the feel of them – the literal feel of them. It is really nice paper 🙂

  3. Sheryll

    June 14, 2013 at 6:40 am

    My question is how do you decide what books to purchase? Is there a particular place you go for good recommendations? Right now I am busy planning for medieval history and there are just so many books I am finding it overwhelming. I’ve been combining lists from various sources and the books that appear on all the lists are the ones I tend to purchase. It’s frustrating when we are really interested in a topic and then have to wait a couple of weeks for the book to arrive, so I try to have them on hand before we get there.

    Another question- where do you find documentaries? Are you recording them or finding them on youtube, the library, etc.?

    • Tracey

      June 14, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      Book hunting can be a hit and miss skill but you get better with experience. I don’t find any one list useful at all because books really depend on the reader. I’ve had so many books recommended to me that I couldn’t believe people thought that highly of them. I still find book titles valuable though – whether from lists or recommendations – as it’s these lists that get me started on my hunts. But really Amazon is my ‘go-to’ place. (I love Amazon’s “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed” section. I always scroll through this and follow links. Sometimes I’ll even click related topics that I don’t like just to look at more recommendations where a treasure may be hidden.)

      Truly I just hunt around trying to get a good look at each book – samples are my favourite thing and I’ll hunt all over for a website that shows something of the insides. I also read the blurbs and reviews. Once I’ve got as much information about a book as I can I decide whether it’s a yes or no. I often like to sleep on my choices too. Once you’ve looked at that many books they all start to look alike so a fresh mind is invaluable.

      Generally I find novels easier to buy than non-fiction titles. Only occasionally do I make a mistake on novels. Some can be disappointing but generally if a blurb excites me then the book will too and if I can read a little of it I can get a feel for the quality of the writing too. But non-fiction…well that’s a challenge. Generally I stick with series I know and already love or borrow these from the library. History NF is a little easier to buy thankfully. But generally I make the most errors in NF purchases. But that’s just how the cookie crumbles when we can’t actually handle the books we want to read. Mind you I tend to buy many of my NF titles in real life stores so I can actually flick through the books.

      So I don’t really have any ‘helpful’ tips that make the process easier. For me I love book browsing so the job is a thrill for me.

      For documentaries I mostly utilise the library. However on occasion I have had to buy a few. If I want a Christian perspective I always have to purchase the dvd. And if I desperately want something specific on a topic and the library doesn’t have anything, then I’ll purchase something. But generally I try not to have to buy the documentaries. Oh and youtube is often useful too but it’s not my first port of call. Mind you tonight the boys and I watched an animation of “The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship” on youtube (we read the book today). We have one of those Smart tv thingies and if the thing was easier to navigate we might use youtube more often. Basically I use whatever method produces results, the library being the first port of call generally.

      Now, Sheryll if you lived up here on the Gold Coast you could come and borrow from my shelves. I have a whole shelf dedicate to the medieval period. Actually I’m looking forward to recycling through History so I can really get stuck into more reading. When we first went through the ancients and medieval period the boys were much younger so what we could enjoy was much simpler. But first I’m thinking we might look at the eastern countries which tend to get overlooked in our history rotations. So much to do, so little time. 🙂


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