Tag Archives: The Story of the English

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to AO…

As you know from earlier posts, I am an Ambleside Online girl. I love the organization of the materials, love the Advisory and the many women who give of themselves to make things run smoothly and I love the community!

However… (ahem)… I have found that I don’t love some of the selected books. I won’t go into detail at this point, but suffice it to say that some of the selections have felt a bit… stodgy?… or a bit… dry?… which is likely just a personal taste issue since I know AO searches for the best living books around.

Let me tell you about a book substitution I’ve tried this year that has really worked for us.

Second grade (Year 2) history is covered in AO by H.E. Marshall’s ‘An Island Story’. I was prepared to LOVE this book- and to this day, I refer to England as ‘the little island’. However, about the time that the White Ship was going down in the channel, I began feeling like the book was simply recounting one battle after another- and each chapter was really long. I was bored. And so was Alex.

So I had to revisit Dear Charlotte’s principals to remind myself that this particular author was not capturing my son’s attention and helping him make connections within the material- I also remember that the wonderful ladies at AO remind us that the book list alone does not a CM curriculum make- it is truly more than the sum of its parts.  I went in search of an appropriate alternative and- thank you Amazon Kindle!- found ‘The Story of the English’ Volumes I and II by Helene Guerber.

Story of the EnglishWe began this book by matching the included chapters to those in AIS. It is closely matched- we began this book at the start of the second semester and went right back to the very beginning of English history. Along with this book, we began a visual timeline- just a simple computer file in which we keep a picture that represents the major event or person in each chapter. We set a brisk pace of three chapters a week so we could finish the year about where AIS would let off at the end of Year 2. This means we do have to spill over into Volume II, but by just a few chapters.

I feel like ‘The Story of the English’ is superior to ‘An Island Story’. Why? Well, first of all, the language is clearer, but in no way talks down to the children. The stories are more succinct, allowing us to gain a feel and flavor of the person or event without dragging us through ‘fluff language’ (that is, language that, to the average reader, would often lead them down the many unnecessary, winding, and often cumbersome paths of language- just like this parenthetical sentence), and there is much more than an account of battle after battle after battle. For example, we have been able to learn about the culture and importance of the Druids to ancient English peoples, have come to celebrate the translation of scripture into the vernacular by both the Venerable Bede and Wycliffe, studied the Bayeux Tapestry, the Magna Carta, Eleanor Crosses, and the formation of Parliament, explored the architecture of the Tower of London and Canterbury Cathedral and much more, all by simply following the chapters in ‘The Story of the English’.  To be fair, as we didn’t finish AIS, I can’t be positive that many of these religious, architectural, artistic and literary events aren’t covered as well as the political and military history of the land, but I do notice enough differences in content and tone that I’m glad we made the switch.


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