Two new books and one new insight that are really going to help me this year in my mission to teach literature-based, topically-organized 20th-century American history. I have a rough schedule, but now it's time to select books and other materials.
First the insight, which Hannah and I hashed out at the playground last week. I can solve the problem of hagiography of U. S. Presidential biographies simply by examining the modern results of some of their policies. In the case of F. D. Roosevelt in specific (which is what caused me to moan and groan about hagiography), all we really need to do to balance the false heroic treatment of the man and his policies in the biographies is find a good, comprehensive article of the problems with Social Security today. That should give us a chance to discuss a lot of good issues (economics, the best-laid plans of mice and men, etc.) and will also mesh really well with our planned approach, which is to show how the historical events of the twentieth century have created the issues we are dealing with today.
Now, book number one:
When the Wall Came Down: The Berlin Wall and the Fall of Soviet Communism by Serge Schmemann
This looks really great -- lots of maps and photographs and excerpts from New York Times articles and personal stories. It covers the history of post-WWII Europe with just the right amount of scope, and brings it up to personal memoir of the fall of the Berlin wall. Exactly what we are looking for. It's not written specifically for children, but I can deal with that with our fifth-graders.
The Day the Sky Fell: A History of Terrorism by Milton Meltzer
I figured it would take me a long time to pull together enough resources to cover "The Roots of the War On Terror," so I scheduled it at the end of the year. Not so anymore: this book, which is yet another in the fabulous Landmark Series of nonfiction books for older kids, covers exactly what I need. We can now take several weeks to read this book, stopping to supplement with multimedia or maps now and again, and discussing, discussing, discussing. It explains why terrorism is so effective and so hard to fight, and it goes all the way back to 19th-century anarchists as well as all the way up to September 11.