The Heroes of History books from YWAM Publishing are engaging biographies for children, written about people from the discovery of the new world through to the present. Sticking with our early American history theme that we’ve been doing this year, I chose a book about William Penn for this review, entitled William Penn: Liberty and Justice for All. We also received an intensive unit study guide, which was an extremely thorough adjunct to the book itself.
Bear in mind that these resources are geared toward ages 10 and up, and my oldest child is only 6. However, it was very easy to adapt for our children.
This article originally appeared on my old blog, Townsley Times. If you came here looking for this particular article but thought you were going to a different site, never fear, you’re actually in the right place. 🙂
William Penn Biography
I’m happy to report that my girls, ages 6 and 4, were largely able to sit through entire chapters of me reading this aloud. I expected to only do a couple pages before they started zoning out, getting antsy, or walking away entirely. Nope, they did not do any of that! I wouldn’t say they were paying rapt attention and comprehending everything, but it held their interest for far longer than I expected it to. They had more difficulty with the longer chapters but overall, they were interested by it!
The biography takes you through Penn’s life, from boyhood under his father’s influence, his international moves, his brief studies at various post-secondary schools, finding his religion, and facing jailtime for it, to his journey to colonial America, the founding of Pennsylvania as a landowner, and the tragic downward spiral of his life before he died. For us, it led to not just discussions about history and religion, but talks of if we should apologize for our opinions or beliefs, concepts of justice, and if people who believe differently are somehow lesser. Big topics for my kiddos but topics they need to start hearing about if we are to be unapologetic followers of Christ.
There is plenty of dialogue and descriptions that keep things interesting. It is written like a novel, and I found myself not wanting to put it down, although of course my kids can’t go at my pace. It would be a good (and quick) read for adults, too, at 17 chapters in length, over 198 pages. I didn’t take a lot of interest in history in school but the book and activities like those found in the study guide really have my interest piqued now! And I can only hope it has the same effect on my children.
PIN IT FOR LATER! Continued below….
Other tangents we went off on while reading the book:
- Oliver Cromwell
- history of the Church of England (we used to attend an Anglican church) and how we can pray directly to God
- quills and ink for writing
- the plague and ways to prevent the spread of disease
…and that’s just from the first few chapters!
The very first scene (a flash forward) describes Penn entering an infamous prison and seeing a “torture chamber” with a rack. The book briefly describes what is done with the rack in somewhat gruesome detail. As a parent of young children picking up a book to check out or purchase, I wouldn’t choose to expose them to that if it was a fiction book! But since it is non-fiction and it’s from a Christian publisher, I decided we would take it in stride. It’s not merely for shock value, it’s detailing what he experienced.
There were a handful of other times where I was a bit wary of reading it aloud to them but we just briefly talked about it and didn’t fixate on any of that stuff (such as the posthumous execution of Oliver Cromwell). I would agree with YWAM’s recommendation of it being most appropriate for ages 10 and up for this reason. But you know your kids and know what they can handle! Mine were fine.
William Penn Unit Study Guide
WOW! That was my first reaction when I downloaded the study guide for the William Penn book (okay, I probably just raised my eyebrows in surprise and excitement). You could probably take a full semester to do your chosen activities from the guide and slowly read through the book. Truthfully, there is enough for several years of related studies as well, depending how many rabbit holes you go down. There is THAT much included!
For each chapter, there are four critical thinking questions. Most of these I was able to use with my kiddos still but I used them more as a guide for me to explain things to them versus asking them questions and expecting them to give the correct answer. So for us, they were discussion questions. It helped them to better appreciate and keep track of what was going on in the book. The answers are all included separately in the guide.
There are also recommendations for hands-on learning, including a “display corner” where you display various items to use as you read through (these are not included in the guide). These might be a map of the region, a picture of William Penn, pictures of old stamps, his family tree, info about Pennsylvania, that kind of thing. I didn’t do a whole corner but I did find some old maps online to print out (there was a small map of the mid-Atlantic area at the front of the book as well) and some pictures of William Penn. We started on a family tree for him also. The study guide is a digital product, so I was able to snag the image they included of him to use for the family tree. Older kids could find these things for themselves, improving their research skills. If you use a bulletin board, these items would be perfect for it (e.g., if you don’t have a corner to use).
The guide also outlines what you could do for a final project to bring together all the knowledge the kids have learned and present it. It could be done as a family or as a larger group like in a co-op setting.
Other suggestions included in the William Penn unit study guide include essay questions and creative writing topics, crafts and audio/visual projects, field trip ideas, vocab, geography activities, making a timeline, and a mindmap of ideas for related themes to cover, such as the Bill of Rights.
What I appreciate about this is that you can make this unit study into exactly what you want it to be. Using the resources in the guide (and their suggestions for tailoring it to varying age groups), you could make this as long or as short as you want; as in-depth or as “skimmed” as your kids can handle.
I printed this out with four pages of the study guide to one printed page and used my new coil binder to add a spiral to it for ease of use. I know it will get more use down the road as we come back to things as the kids get older. This is a history resource your family could easily use from lower elementary into high school.
Between the book and the study guide, this is a very affordable way to cover a wide variety of topics but also get an in-depth look at one man’s life and the changes he brought about.
Other Options from YWAM’s Heroes of History Series
Our second choice of book and study guide would have been Meriwether Lewis: Off the Edge of the Map, and we will for sure be getting that one when we talk about westward expansion. They also offer mix and match sets for a reduced rate, so we may take advantage of that and grab some books for future history unit studies. Another cool thing they offer is the audio of some of the books. We have come to love audio books so I’ll be checking that out at some point as well.
You can find out more about the Heroes of History series as well as their Christian Heroes line (also written by Janet and Geoff Benge) by reading through the other reviews by Homeschool Review Crew members. There were 100 of us on this review so chances are, someone has been reviewing a biography you’d be interested in for your own homeschool!