Why I like Genevieve Foster's The World of Columbus and Sons {review}

Posted on May 23, 2012 at 8:40 AM

 Studying about history is contagious. I am not going to try to talk you into spending more time studying history because then I would have to tell you why to study history and that is so boring {snore}. Besides, you are probably an educator of some type and already know we should be studying history.

Instead, I want to share why we are passionate about history from the way I feel about the book The World of Columbus and Sons and how we used it in studying about the early Renaissance period. I am still sharing my free note booking pages and mini books on it but want to give you a peek into the story.

Why did we choose this book or series of books? Besides the fact they are good for the junior high to high school level, they are rich with background information and colorful characters that are introduced throughout the life of Columbus. The approach to history as a story, I feel, always makes it more appealing to young and old alike. PLEASE spare me the dates {okay I like them and we need them} but make them relevant to what we are studying. Introducing lively and not so lively characters during his life gives us pegs to hang dates on. Tie it to something that has meaning and the book helps us to do that as people come along in his life.

Another reason we chose this book is because we wanted to understand the everyday life of Columbus and his world. The events, the people, the tragedies, the discoveries, the arts and religion are all gently woven throughout his life. Like her other books, Ms. Foster takes one character and relates him to other things going on in the world at that time. It is hard to live your life in any time period and not be affected by other events going on around the world. My older sons always ask of any story, Was it corruption or greed that affected the outcome of any event ? {leave it to boys to wonder that but I do too} or How did Columbus feel when he had to wait for seven years to speak to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella? Again, it's not about just learning dates, it's about feeling the spirit of Columbus being at his lowest point in life to triumph. Did he weep when he couldn't get an audience with the Spanish monarchs? Did he pray on bended knee when he got the backing to explore? What do we learn about endurance and heartbreak? Imagine the Bible research on those topics.

{Discoveries by Columbus}

It is not about being naive either because the book shares about the atrocious Inquisition and how Columbus took slaves. What other topic could incite wars or debates except slavery or religious oppression? Passion folks I am telling you passion. Candor is a sweet attraction for me to history books because so many stories only give you the triumphs and not the flaws of the characters.

{Spanish Inquisition}

Exploration is a large thread that is told over and over again in this book. Part of exploring calls for detective skills. Challenging and overcoming views from the past that that the earth was flat and is viewed now as round in 1492 makes geography a mystery to be solved instead of a subject.

{Martin Behaim Globe}

One more idea that drew us to choose this book is that we wanted to focus on a shorter time period of the main character but not lose the bigger picture of the events going on in the rest of the world.

When studying history, topics can tend to stay broad. For example, it is hard to study history and not cover a 100 years or so at a time. If you want to diverge, finding other topics and events can be time consuming. This story adds in key events and then you can decide if you want to casually mention them or have them as a subject of an essay.

Columbus was born in 1451 and died in 1506 at the age of 55. Aiming at one spot in history like 55 years allows your highschoolers to experience the time period in depth without losing their spot in the timeline of the story. There is no way we can study about all the events going on. By focusing on a more limited topic, we have come away having a deeper appreciation for Columbus and the Renaissance period.

Helpful tips in using this book. Because so many characters and events are folded into the story and at times quickly, it is helpful if you read before hand to familiarize yourself with the events. Adding in background information on new characters involved or events will enrich your study.

I found it very helpful that we had all ready cycled through a 4 year study of history using a program like Story of the World and History Odyssey when my oldest son was younger. My older son had a framework of events and characters to draw from. For my younger sons, I was able to add important information and background details since all of my sons read this book together from 5th grader to highschooler. Subjects like navigation, weaving, fighting pirates and learning about the geography of Italy makes it easy to incorporate learning for your younger children.

I could see how though if a student started with this book without a prior understanding of some of the events, it would be challenging and perhaps take some of the fun out of learning history. It would not be impossible, but I would encourage you to mentor even your high school students by helping them to build a framework on whatever topic you are reading about.

Because of the constant going back/forth between countries and characters, I feel it is imperative that the teacher look ahead to see if there is some way the groundwork for each chapter can be laid out. Too, I found it beneficial for us to orally review what we have learned prior to studying that day.

The last tip is to use the index. It is much overlooked. The index has two sections. One is people and the other one is events, places, books, maps and topics. That was a key to helping me develop another topic or unit study that we wanted to focus on. In addition, it helps you to be sure you have covered key features of the life of Columbus.

The index for Columbus reads, in part, like this:

as a boy; sailor-to-be; first voyage; in Portugal; voyage to Iceland; marriage; studies; receives letter from Toscanelli; and one from King John; goes to Spain; to Portugal; to Spain again; goes to Granada; receives commission from Spanish monarchs; etc.

This allowed us to see key events that were coming up or to review the past evens in the life of Columbus.

How the book is divided up:

The book is divided up into 4 sections. The section divisions make it is easier to tie in key events and relate them to the life of Columbus. Also at the beginning of each section is where you find pictures of the people who were living at that time.

The sections are listed like this:

Part I. When Columbus was a Boy in Genoa

{People and Events that took place between 1451 - 1474}

Part II. When Columbus was in Portugal and Spain

{People and Events that took place between 1474 - 1492}

Part III. When Columbus was Sailing from Spain

{People and Events that took place between 1492 - 1500}

Part IV. When Columbus made his Final Voyage

{People and Events that took place between 1500 and 1522}

The pictures and visuals are a must to review and study. We flip back constantly to each section to review and my older sons preferred to draw some of the characters and maps onto a notebook sheet.

How we used this book. We followed the Literature Guide by Beautiful Feet and because we study history together, all ages, we added some notebook pages, coloring pages and minibooks that really any level could use. It just really depends on how depth you want to be in your study. It is important to note that the guides are just question/ answer format and do not have background information compared to say a teacher's manual like Tapestry of Grace. Again, this is what we wanted this year.

I hope this helps you to get better acquainted with Genevieve Foster's series of books. Challenging yes, boring no.

Key to being a good teacher of history is a suspenseful story. They are infectious and memorable. Have you had such an experience in teaching history?

I thought about this today when teaching any subject but especially history..

"A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history."

~Mahatma Gandhi ~


Categories: Review of Homeschool Products, World History