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Living Books List: Ancient History

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Over the next couple of months, I will share some Living Books Lists based on topic. To start, I’m sharing some spine ideas for Ancient History, this includes Plutarch and the Seven Wonders of the World.

I will have other Living Books History lists for specific topics of Mesopotamia, Greek, Roman, the Eastern countries like China, Japan, and India, as well. But for now, here’s an overview of some great foundational books that can help you or your child get to know their rich ancient history!

ancient books living books

Beautiful Feet Books has a beautiful Ancient History Intermediate Pack that I highly recommend.  Their guides are exquisite, and the literature choices cannot be beat!  I have scoured many of theses books and cannot wait to get them into my children’s hands when they are developmentally ready for the material.

You may want to pick up A Child’s History of the World by Hillyer. This is a beautiful living history book, narratively written for any child. Written in 1924, it is not influenced by modern culture and is a classic in Charlotte Mason circles. You’ll need to skip the first couple of chapters, but beyond this there is nothing questionable for a Christian reader.

There are two Story of the World series. I will begin with the older version, The Story of the World series, by M. B. Synge. The first in the series is On the Shores of the Great Sea which focuses on the civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea from the time of Abraham to the birth of Christ. Histories of the Ancient Israelites, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Scythians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans are all expounded upon. This living text shares stories of many historical figures and we plan to tackle these later in our homeschool journey. The next books are: The Discovery of New Worlds, The Awakening of Europe, The Struggle of Sea Power, The Growth of the British Empire. Ages 9 to adult.

Next is the Story of the World series by Susan Wise Bauer — a wonderful read aloud for the whole family. This four-book lively account of world history is one we listen to each year on the wonderful “liquid gold” audio with the voice of Jim Weiss. I highly recommend going to your local library to see if they have these if you decide you cannot purchase. We invested in these and play them in the car, which has worked well for long or short car rides as it consists of many short stories of common people and larger historical figures who lived during the time.   There are Volume 1: Ancient Times Book and CD, Volume 2: The Middle Ages Book and CD, Volume 3: Early Modern Times Book and CD, Volume 4: The Modern Age Book and CD.  Activity books are also available. Ages 6 – 14.

John H. Haaren’s Famous Men series has been redone by Memoria Press. Memorial Press has a beautiful student guide (and teacher guide) if you prefer a question and answer run down after each chapter. Famous Men of Greece, Famous Men of Rome, Famous Men of the Middle Ages, and Famous Men of Modern Times.

If you have older readers (fifth grade and up), you may be interested in Dorothy Mills accounts, which are also excellently written: The Book of the Ancient World, The Book of Ancient Greeks, The Book of the Ancient Romans, The Middles Ages.

We also love this quick Beginners Set from Usborne. Quick fact books with photographs and illustrations and bite-size chunks of information. While these are not “living” texts, they are exciting for readers and even non-readers! Includes: Ancient Greeks, Castles, Celts, Digging Up the Past, Egyptians, Iron Age, Maya, Romans, Stone Age, and Vikings.

Usborne history beginners set

Usborne history beginners set

And of course, no living book list would be complete for the ancient world without a significant mention of Plutarch. Charlotte Mason emphasized beginning readings of Plutarch’s Lives starting in fourth grade (Form II). You can listen to the “why” and “what” of the Plutarch question to discover if these lives would be beneficial for further reading. His introduction to each life within their own historical context are exceptional.

We will start with Plutarch’s Lives for Boys and Girls by W. H. Weston, though there are many choices. Selected lives from Plutarch retold in this volume include six Greeks (Aristides, Themistocles, Pelopidas, Timoleon, Alexander, Philopoemen) and six Romans (Coriolanus, Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus, Caius Marius, Julius Caesar, and Brutus).

While F. J. Gould wrote two volumes for younger children, The Children’s Plutarch: Tales of the Greeks and Tales of the Romans separately, Weston’s prose is much richer and for a maturer audience. So the Gould version may be beneficial to pick up for the younger child ages 8 and up.

We have recently picked up The Annotated Plutarch by Rachel Lebowitz. This is an amazing resource for studying Plutarch, for young or old! This volume includes the original text of Plutarch’s Life, edited for length and content, annotations, definitions, and pronunciations in the margins, an introduction with biographical information about Plutarch himself, walking through the understanding of the key players, prologue with essential background information about Publicola and the times in which he lived, and an epilogue which connects Plutarch’s text to modern events and gives the student some important ideas to think about!

“Plutarch’s Life of Publicola carries the torch of liberty from Ancient Rome to modern-day. A brutal act sparked the overthrow of a monarchy and ushered in a new government dedicated to liberty and freedom. No, it isn’t the American Revolution, but the two events have more in common than you might think!” (Lebowitz).

annotated plutarch

A mention of of Jim Weiss is in order, we purchased a few other CDs that he has created for Peacehill Press. We are so impressed with his storytelling skills and the kids listen to these when going to bed. The following would work well for Cycle 1:

We also have many Usborne reference books that we adore!  My children love scouring these books, and they are wonderful even for the ones that are not yet confident readers, as the illustrations are very engaging and they can learn history on their own just from looking at the pictures!

Timelines of World History: This book is an absolute gem and I recommend it to anyone!  I did a comparison and most timeline events are covered!

Time Traveler: This books goes back in time into Egyptian, Roman (and Medieval and Vikings) civilizations.

Encyclopedia of World History has four sections covering the Ancient World, Medieval World, Prehistoric World, and The Last 500 Years. It is a wonderful overview of many of the civilizations studied (the prehistoric section does mention evolution) in the Classical Conversations timeline.

Ancient World:  This wonderfully illustrated books takes the reader through all the civilizations he has learned about — we love looking and the pictures and reading the small chunks of information.  There is also a Medieval World.


The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Mary Hoffman: This lovely living book shares the journey of one small boy and his trip around the Ancient World. This is the book I have chosen to purchase as it is a living text with lovely illustrations rather than dry images and/or text. This is the Amazon synopsis: In this exciting tour of the ancient world, Callimachus, Royal Librarian of Alexandria, is researching a new book and decides to take his young apprentice Philip on his Mediterranean journey. As Philip marvels at the most breathtaking and beautiful buildings, gardens, and statues ever built — at Giza, Babylon, Olympia, Ephesus, Halicarnassus, and Rhodes, he knows that he will remember this trip for the rest of his life. But when they sail home to Alexandria, there is one more surprise waiting. Mary Hoffman’s storytelling, based on the latest research, blends with M.P. Robertson’s creative reconstructions in this inspiring introduction to the ancient wonders.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Peter Clayton and Martin Price: This book is very in depth and is more for reference than a living book to read with children; it does share black and white illustrations and lays out each Wonder in its context.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Diana Bentley: This encyclopedia type reference books is interesting with various illustration and text and will entertain your reader about the Seven Wonders.

What Ancient History living books spine will you start with your child? You only need one from the above list to begin!

ancient history spine books

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One Comment

  1. Hi! love these suggestions! Currently planning on CHOW and I noticed what I think may be a typo in your article. It’s written by V. M. Hillyer, not “Haarer”.

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