A couple of weeks ago I pointed to a few lists of recommended books to help parents and teachers find texts that would suck children in to the wonders of reading. The lists included primarily popular and classic literature. Will Fitzhugh reminded me today that such lists are incomplete without the kinds of captivating tales—fiction and non-fiction—that are based on history.
Fitzhugh, who has devoted his career to publishing the outstanding history research papers of high school students in the renowned Concord Review, gets agitated by all the well-funded efforts to promote reading that fail to acknowledge the value of non-fiction books, or writing activities that don’t seem to have any substance. And understandably so when you consider the extremely low standards of some of the school assignments and student contests Fitzhugh passes along to me regularly.
Here are a couple of his recommendations for high school students: Miracle at Philadelphia for freshmen, Mornings on Horseback for sophomores, Undaunted Courage or Truman for juniors, and perhaps
The Path Between the Seas or Martin Gilbert’s one-volume
biography of Winston Churchill or Washington’s Crossing for seniors.
Now, I read Truman a few years back, and it’s fabulous!. But I think the sheer size of the nearly 1,000-page tome by David McCullogh might intimidate a lot of teenagers. Fitzhugh suggests that students be required to read history books of appropriate difficulty each year, and that they choose the books that interest them. Point is that there are countless books about history written for every age level and any variety of topics, so there should be something to engage and challenge every student.
“There are oodles and oodles of good history books,” Fitzhugh says. “I would just hope that each year students would tackle a longer and more serious history book.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.