Year 3: American History

**I didn’t like how my idea below worked out, so please also take a look at my updated post on edits to Year 3.**


This year my daughter started Ambleside Online’s Year 3 curriculum. We are learning so much history! Komroff’s Marco Polo (the children’s version) has been a very interesting read. My daughter has really enjoyed the emphasis on Queen Elizabeth in Our Island Story, and we read both Michelangelo by Diane Stanley and the first part of Leonardo DaVinci by Emily Hahn.

American history, however, is where we began to have some…troubles.  The history spine that is scheduled by Ambleside Online is This Country of Ours y H.E. Marshall, the same author as Our Island Story.  We have grown to love OIS, so I didn’t really pre-read TCOO, assuming that it would be fine.

The way that Marshall narrates the meeting of the Native Americans and the colonists in America just doesn’t settle well with me. While Marshall does a good job of telling the overarching narrative, the language used is not language that I want my kids picking up and using. The cultural and political scene in America is so…dang…sensitive right now when it comes to racism!

I respect the AO advisory, and on the forums it has been repeatedly stated that we do well by not only reading books from our own era. Understanding the events from a different point of view is valuable, however…

While I understand that the vocabulary that Marshall uses to describe Native Americans was typical of her era, what bothers me most is the way that the Native Americans’ motives are interpreted. Their actions are portrayed alternately as child-like and “fiendish” (just one adjective used). This makes sense with the ideas floating around during that era around the “noble primitive” versus the “savage.”  Their actions never make much sense. They’re either fighting for no good reason, just to “crush [their] enemies”, or they’re acting like innocent children, “taking [the captain] by the hand” and “making offerings to the pillar which [the captain] had set up.”  So, Marshall doesn’t know the reason for the Native Americans’ behaviors, and she adds her own interpretations which further these two opposing stereotypes. Certainly, I don’t blame her for writing this way. It was just a part of her era’s way of thinking, and I don’t expect her to think like we do in modern times.

Unfortunately, TCOO isn’t the only Ambleside Online book that portrays Native Americans this way.  I have posted previously about substitutions and/or additions that I’ve made over the past couple of years to address this same issue.


For a history spine, I have added Joy Hakim’s series A History of US. The first two volumes cover the Year 3 history topics: The First Americans and Making Thirteen Colonies.  Hakim isn’t as skilled at storytelling as Marshall, so I couldn’t do a straight-across substitution. Like Marshall, her own interpretations show the strong influence of her era (the modern left). Since almost every book in the Ambleside Online curriculum is a classic (and therefore tends to lean toward today’s political right), I don’t mind this little injection of ideas so that my kids get exposed to both.  Other families might feel differently.

Basically, TCOO chapters that don’t include Native Americans are fine and we read them as scheduled. I have replaced all of the chapters that include Native Americans. I have also added separate readings about Africans and the impact of the slave trade because that is mentioned only in one brief sentence in TCOO. The best book that I found about the slave trade told from an African point-of-view is Never Forgotten by Patricia McKissack. A-MAZ-ING book!

I have typed up my substitutions in a handy table of reference so other families can take a look and see if it works for them. Click the link to download the PDF version: Substitutions for TCOO AO Y3

I always try to keep as much of the originally scheduled content as I can when making substitutions, so I hope that this helps for those families who feel the need for a change like I did!

10 responses to “Year 3: American History

  1. I always appreciate reading why people choose certain books as substitutes and/or supplements. I’d never heard of Never Forgotten. I’m looking forward to checking that out. 🙂


    • It’s written in the style of a griot, which is the traditional storytelling poem used in West Africa (maybe other parts of Africa, too?). I think it’s beautiful language which is so hard to find in modern books!


  2. A book we read this year (my kids are ages 10 and 12, but we’re about Year 4 in terms of our history) was Answering the Cry for Freedom: African Americans During the American Revolution by Woelfle. FANTASTIC (13 short bios: the subjects were freedmen, slaves, pro-British, pro-US, etc.). My kids are going to read a folktale/week next year from Hamilton’s The People Could Fly, and this year they read from a Native American folk tale book in addition to Bullfinch. It takes some work, but there are great resources out there to balance the wonderful spines at AO. Thanks for the substation ideas–I found your blog post through the AO forums b/c I was wondering about Hakim’s History of US as a possible switch for next year.


    • Thanks for the recommendations! I will definitely check them out! I have The People Could Fly already, but I haven’t read much of it. I will have to pull it out… Hakim’s style isn’t truly in the realm of “Living Book” gold, but it at least earns a bronze for me since she covers all of the topics I needed and my daughter narrates well from it. So, I am going with it! (Can you tell I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics? 😀 ).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A question for you…. did you happen to use AO for Year 2? I’m just starting to make a list of books we need to get and TCOO is on there. Did you find this to be an issue that year as well if you did it?


    • Hi Rebecca,

      Yes, this is our second round through Year 2. TCOO is an optional book in that year. With my daughter I read the second half of Viking Tale and Columbus by the D’Aulaires instead because I hadn’t purchased TCOO yet. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not pre-reading the D’Aulaires’ version of Columbus, and I was caught off-guard by the portrayal of the Arawaks. They are the “naked, red-skinned savages” who “threw themselves on the ground and worshipped Columbus”. They “thought the gods had descended from heaven on white-winged birds”. Columbus and his men are referred to as “gods” at least five times. They eventually say that the Indians “soon understood these were no gods”, but that was after the idea had been reinforced multiple times. Truly, we don’t know what the Arawak people thought, and I don’t want those ideas put into my kids’ heads. Also, the author implied that Columbus advocated against his men trying to enslave the native people, but I have read in his own journals that he thought the natives would make good slaves.

      TCOO is actually the better option of the two in terms of telling Columbus’ story, as long as you don’t mind the use of the word “savages” a couple of times. For my son, I am planning to read TCOO instead. I am looking for a book that portrays the Arawak’s side of the story to supplement it because their story is simply not told in TCOO whereas in the D’Aulaire version, there are ideas added in by the author that are not necessary and stereotypical. I will share if/when I find something better!


      • I should have said the Arawak and/or the Taino people. I can’t remember if there was another group, but I am researching books to see if there is a good option. 🙂


      • Thank you so, so much!! This is all so helpful! We finished the D’Aulaire Pocahontas a while ago and it was pretty, but still pretty one-sided. Washington was slightly better, but I felt the need to follow up with my son about the slave aspect. I will definitely keep all of these comments and the Y3 substitutions you offer above in mind. This is wonderful – thank you again!


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