From Sea to Shining Sea

The Story of America
Book cover: 'From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of America'
Copyright: 
2003
Publisher: 
Catholic Schools Textbook Project
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
462 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Resource Type: 
Review: 

We just finished a great history year, my two middle-schoolers and I. We tackled American History and used as our textbook Catholic School Textbook Project's From Sea to Shining Sea. I divide our school year into four quarters, so we had exactly five chapters per quarter. Every Wednesday afternoon we sat down in the sunny, bright living room and I would begin reading a chapter aloud. My two middle-schoolers would then each a take turn reading and we would have the chapter read in just over an hour. They used an atlas to find and trace the historical routes covered that session.

After the usual discussion, during which I would blurt out questions such as “Imagine if they had never made it there…” and when they would wonder about such things as “How could they do that?”, we would move on to the quizzes and tests in the teachers’ manual. We did those orally and I would have them take turns answering the questions. If one could not answer the other could help. At the end of the quarter we would review the material and I would write up a test using the sample test questions for guidance. Although these end-of-quarter exams were several pages long, they had little problem answering the questions, as we had reviewed the material.

We learned much about American History this year thanks to this book. Better yet, they loved it! Each week they looked forward to history. It was our three-way time together. Between the two elementary schooler and two high schoolers at home, the middle-schoolers enjoyed having mom all for themselves on Wednesday afternoons. So they could expand their history study a bit further, each week I used the local library online to select and put on hold materials about about the historical characters we were studying. During our weekly trip to the library we picked up these books and left them out in our library pile in the living room. I would see them reading the books for pleasure before nightly family prayer.

The book offered, we thought, the right amount of information. More would have been too much; less, too little. The chapters were meaty and long, but with one devoted afternoon we did not have trouble reading the whole thing. We stopped the reading occasionally to comment on what was going on, and the “yellow blurbs” as we called them, always offered some food for extra discussions as they provide glimpses of life or special people or events in that time period of American History.

The twenty chapters follow the history of the United States from the Pre-Columbian travels of St. Brendan the Navigator and the Vikings, and continue chronologically until the last chapter entitled “Catholics in America”, which discusses figures such as Dorothy Day and J. F. Kennedy. The paper is glossy, the layout attractive and colorful, and the illustrations are generous and interesting. Each chapter offers Summary, a Chapter Checkpoint, Activities and “The American Larder” with interesting facts about things culinary of that specific time period. The companion volume, still in beta version at the time of the this review, offers more summary paragraphs, answer to the chapters’ questions and sample quizzes and tests to each chapter. I used it consistently throughout the year.

The list of contributors is impressive with such names as Professor James Hitchcock from St. Louis University, the Nashville Dominicans and several Catholic academics. It is indeed a delight to use an attractive, new textbook for History that is not secular or anti-Catholic. The Catholic School Textbook Project should be congratulated in their work to fill a dire need in Catholic education today.

The opening paragraphs give a sense of how story-like this textbook is:

'What are the three things God loves, Mother?' the young boy asked. 'Child,' the holy nun replied, 'God loves the true faith that comes from a pure heart. He loves the simple religious life and the generous kindness of Christian love.'

'And what does God hate?' the child then asked.

'Three things He hates,' she replied. 'God hates a scowling face. He hates stubborn wrongdoing, and too much trust in money.'

Thus, St. Ita taught the young boy, Brendan. It was a lesson he learned well. So great was his faith that he took on the religious life of a monk. Though he lived in poverty, Brendan was joyful. He loved neither riches, nor comforts. He lived a life of penance, and what little he had, he generously shared with the poor. When the good Bishop Erc ordained him a priest, Brendan took on a most heroic task: he left his homeland and friends and traveled to foreign lands to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In addition to the story-like format (my 2nd and 5th graders are really enjoying it as a read-aloud), the text has a number of excellent attributes:

  • It ties in interesting and pertinent material that clarifies the historical details (like the 1976 voyage of Tim Severin that helped validate the legends of the voyages of St. Brendan in the 5th century)
  • It is beautiful and appealing with full-color illustrations, photographs from historical re-enactments, and plenty of maps.
  • It is a complete history course in that it incorporates stories of great Catholic leaders and how their faith influenced them alongside the basics of American history expected of any good American history text.

The book emphasizes the early discoveries of America, the explorers, colonial life and the history of the United States from the American Revolution through the Civil War. It also touches upon Catholic influences in American History in the 19th and 20th centuries.

I'm very, very impressed with this text and look forward to reading the rest. My children (grades 2 and 5) have been enjoying it as a read-aloud as well. I would like to note that there are some aspects of American history that aren't pretty and might be troubling to sensitive children. An example I came across in this text is a brief explanation of the ritualistic human sacrifices performed by the Aztecs. It is essential to understanding that time period in history and is explained in an appropriate fashion, but might require some supervision on the part of parents.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
5-29-2007
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