Reading Your Way Through World History: Ancient Times
Catholic Homeschool Book List: Ancient History
History need not be taught through history textbooks alone. Literature can provide an engaging and memorable opening to the world of history! Whether you are using online Catholic homeschool classes, history textbooks, or looking to build a literature-based history curriculum without a core textbook, adding a dose of historical fiction can be just what is needed!
It would be too much to do every historical period and region in a single post, so today I am going to start with the ancient world—Egypt, Mesopotamia, Israel, Greece, and early Rome. The books listed here are recommended for 4th-8th grade, though some are geared towards the upper or lower end of that spectrum.
Please note, because many of these books deal with pre-Christian pagan cultures, there may be elements of paganism incorporated into the stories. As always, do your research before purchasing!
Gilgamesh: Man’s First Story by Bernarda Bryson. The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh is the first literary work of mankind. Retold by Bernadra Bryson, this book features colorful illustrations depicting the adventures of the King of Uruk. His friendship with Enkidu, struggle with Humbaba, and the Sumerian flood are all recounted in this classic adaptation
The Golden Bull: A Mesopotamian Adventure by Marjorie Cowley. Situated in the Mesopotamian city of Ur around 3000 B.C., The Golden Bull tells the tale of two children who are forced to flee their homeland to escape famine. This realistic story depicts the beauty and harshness of life in ancient Mesopotamia. 224 pages, recommended for ages 9-12.
The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. This classic book from 1986 tells the story of Ranofer, a young boy of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes. Ranofer wants only to become a master goldsmith like his father, but first he must escape the captivity of his evil half brother. Ranofer’s fortunes will change when he finds a mysterious golden goblet.
Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Mara is a slave girl living in Egypt during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut. Her education makes her a valuable asset, and in order to obtain her freedom, she will have to play the dangerous role of double spy in an epic saga that goes right up to the throne of Egypt. At 279 pages, its suitable for your older middle school students.
Tirzah by Lucille Travis. The tale of Tirzah is set in ancient Egypt during the time of the Israelite captivity. After suffering the brutality of Egyptian taskmasters her entire life, Tirzah follows Moses out of Egypt to the climactic showdown with the forces of Pharaoh by the shores of the Red Sea. 160 pages, recommended for grades 3-8.
Hittite Warrior by Joanne Williamson. Hittite Warrior tells the story of the young Hittite Uriah Tarhund, who is forced to flee his homeland from the Greeks. He takes up residence in Canaan, only to get a gruesome firsthand look at the dark worship of Moloch. Uriah’s adventure will eventually lead him to Israel and the Hebrew God.
The Fugitive King by Elizabeth Rice Handford. This classic book from 1978 tells the young life of David of Bethlehem, tracing his journey from a shepherd boy of Judah to the King of Israel. At 126 pages, it is a nice little work for students just beginning to break into chapter books. Forty-four years after its release, it is still as engaging as ever.
God King: A Story in the Days of King Hezekiah by Joanne Williamson and Daria Sockey. God King follows the adventures of an Egyptian prince Taharka who finds himself in exile in the land of Israel. Facing conquest by the brutal Assyrians, the prince will need to decide if he will help the Israelite king Hezekiah against the ruthless Sennacherib of Assyria.
Victory on the Walls: A Story of Nehemiah by Freida Clark Hyman. It is the late 5th century B.C. The Jews have returned from their long captivity in Babylon and must undertake the rebuilding of Jerusalem under their leader Nehemiah. Told through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy, Victory on the Walls is story of devotion and daring in ancient Jerusalem.
Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff. This story is set in bronze age Britain, a fierce society where physical prowess is everything. What, then, will become of young Drem, a boy born with a withered arm? Will Drem be able to overcome his disability to find his place in British tribal society, or will he be cast out? 207 pages, suitable for 5th grade and up.
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis. Till We Have Faces is a historical fiction novel of the great C.S. Lewis set in the bronze age near east. It offers a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche through the eyes of Psyche’s sister, Orual. The story deals with a variety of human passions and the desire of man to see God. It is widely considered one of Lewis’s best novels.
Children’s Homer: The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy by Padraig Colum. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are some of the most beloved tales of western civilization. Padraig Colum’s masterful retelling of these Greek classics makes them accessible for younger readers in a book that is sure to delight and enthrall.
Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren. First published at the turn of the 20th century, John Haaren’s Famous Men of Greece has been a consistent favorite of parents, teachers, and children for learning the stories of the important men of ancient Greece. The book covers mythological and historical figures in a compelling narrative style that is easy to engage with. Features lovely color illustrations.
Famous Men of Rome by John Haaren. Haaren’s sequel to his book of Greek lives follows the stories of the larger-than-life heroes who built up the Roman civilization. Famous Men of Rome is written int he same narrative style as Famous Men of Greece and is lavishly illustrated. An excellent introduction to Roman history through the lives of its greatest heroes.
Mystery of the Roman Ransom by Henry Winterfeld. This book is a mystery story set in ancient Rome. It follows the adventures of a group of friends, schoolboys, who get enmeshed in a political plot against the Roman Senate. The boys must use their ingenuity to solve a mystery—and save one of their father’s from assassination.
Caesar’s Gallic War by Olivia Coolidge. British author Olivia Coolidge was a masterful storyteller. In this retelling of Julius Caesar’s classic account of the Roman Wars in Gaul, Coolidge dramatizes the already dramatic campaign of Caesar against Vercingetorix. This is historical fiction at its best.
Of course, I am also going to plug my Story of Civilization Volume 1: The Ancient World, which contains 30+ historical fiction vignettes covering ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, Assyria, and more!
There is really so much fantastic historical fiction out there to supplement or create a stellar literature-based history program. I’ll be back again with more recommendations for other historical periods, but in the meantime, what do you recommend? Join the Homeschool Connections Community to start a conversation about this blogpost.
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