The Story of the World (SOTW) by Susan Wise Bauer presents world history through storytelling in this four-volume series. While these books are written at increasing levels of difficulty, they might be read aloud to younger children and read independently by older. The SOTW books are available in your choice of hardcover, paperback(lay-flat binding), PDF downloads, and audiobook on CD or MP3 download.
Many will recognize Bauer as one of the authors of The Well-Trained Mind (www.wwnorton.com)—an exceptionally useful book on providing a classical education. This history series is intended to be used within the context of just such an education, even though it will also work within more traditional approaches.
The SOTW books have only a few black-and-white illustrations and a good number of maps, although more images are being added to new editions as they are published. These are not colorful, history picture books for browsing since they are intended to either be read aloud or used for independent reading by older students.
The SOTW books are intended to be used as spine books around which you can build a complete study. To help you do just that, the author has also created activity books for each volume. These activity books serve as curriculum guides, providing parents with detailed information for creating multi-sensory lessons that can be used across a wide spread of grade levels. For each lesson, there is a compilation of questions, narration exercises, reading lists (for both history and literature), map work, coloring pages, and activities to accompany each section of the text.
Reproducible student pages in SOTW activity books are segregated from lesson plans into their own section, which makes copying easier. You are given permission to copy these pages for only your family. However, the publisher sells the reproducible pages as separate packets which might be worth purchasing.
You will find some very unusual project ideas in the activity books such as mummifying a chicken and making Greek tattoos with pure henna. Reproducible blackline masters in the activity books are used for all sorts of things—mapwork, board games, paper dolls, making a lighthouse, and more. Another useful feature is “Review Cards”—reproducible pages with illustrations and blocks of information on each card. They are to be copied onto card stock and cut out. (I would suggest enlarging each page slightly before copying.) These cards can be used as flashcards to review key ideas.
I particularly like the review questions that begin each section. These help children focus on the reading from the text. The narration exercises are also very helpful for parents who have trouble figuring out how to implement narration techniques. The guide truly supports the grammar stage of classical learning with its focus on information and comprehension.
In all four SOTW volumes, cross references are included to The Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World, The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, The Usborne Book of World History, and The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History. You would do well to purchase at least one of these additional basic resources. These books supply the colorful illustrations lacking in the core history books as well as more complete historical information on some topics. Other recommended books should be available through your local library, but they are optional.
For each of the four SOTW volumes, there is also an activity book (available in both softcover and downloadable PDF versions), extra sets of looseleaf student pages, and test booklets with answer keys.
Volume 1: Ancient Times
Volume 1: Ancient Times addresses the time period from the earliest nomads (given a date of about 6000 B.C.) up through the last emperor of ancient Rome—no cavemen or Neanderthals included! While the target audience is grades one through four, this book’s 338 pages provide a lot of material in comparison to most world history texts for these grades. Nevertheless, coverage is not comprehensive because chapters are devoted to lengthy stories about key characters or events rather than tidbits about everything. On the other hand, the book does span civilizations around the world, including India, China, and West Africa in addition to the usual cast of western civilizations.
The presentation is not overtly Christian, although it recognizes and includes Christianity. Stories of gods and goddesses from other civilizations are retold without value judgments as to their validity. However, the author’s own Christianity is still evident in the heavy weighting of biblical stories—lengthy accounts about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and the beginnings of Christianity, as well as the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The entire activity book for the first volume is 320 pages in length, and the reproducible pages account for 127 of those pages.
Volume 2: The Middle Ages
Volume 2, which covers from the Fall of Rome to the Renaissance, is very much like the first volume but is written for an audience in grades two through five. In her delightful style, Bauer covers a huge amount of territory with selective highlights that actually provide good introductory coverage. She hits touchy territory when it comes to the Reformation although she tries to balance her presentation better than do most authors. However, I suspect some Catholics might want to skip or “edit” her chapter on Martin Luther.
The activity book for Volume 2 is even larger than the activity book for the first volume with 280 lesson plan pages plus another 182 student activity pages as compared to the 320 total pages of the activity book for Volume 1.
Volume 3: Early Modern Times
Volume 3 covers the era of England's Queen Elizabeth I through the California Gold Rush and the forty-niners. It continues in the same fashion as the previous volumes, targeting grades three through six. However, it seems a little scattered because it ambitiously tries to cover a huge swath of worldwide history in about 420 pages. It seems even more selective and limited in topics covered than previous volumes, although featured topics each get enough attention to present an engaging story. The activity book offers suggestions for expanding on any topics you wish with supplemental books and activities. There’s much to be said for this approach in contrast to history texts that cover far more information but with little or no depth on any of the topics. Note that there is a 2020 revised edition of this book. The primary changes are additional images and improved typesetting. Note that the original edition had a Native American man on the cover, while the revised edition has a Native American woman on the cover.
Volume 4: The Modern Age
Volume 4 continues from 1850 up through the 1990s. Meant for grades four through eight, this volume is more like a history text than the other books. It uses storytelling within the context of relating historical events rather than telling selected stories, making it more comprehensive in coverage than earlier books. In my opinion, this is one of the best options for world history for upper elementary through junior high levels. One issue that might give some parents pause is one of omission. Religion and its influence are seldom mentioned. Nevertheless, this is a very engaging history resource that should work for most families.
The activity book for Volume 4 teaches students how to outline what they read in the text. Halfway through the book, students begin to write from the outlines, recalling and writing details to expand their outline into a composition. This activity book also adds The Usborne History of The Twentieth Century as another reference resource.
Both The Story of the World texts on their own and the expanded courses created by using the activity books are valuable contributions that fill a need for Christian-friendly but classically-oriented history study.
The publisher’s website has samples you can view as well as information about ancillary products.