Living books for the Renaissance and Reformation

Living books for the Renaissance and Reformation

When planning for homeschool history studies of the Renaissance and Reformation, it’s important to select living books that don’t gloss over the topics. Indeed, if it does, then it is not a living book. Biographies are better than textbooks, and historical fiction provides the vibrancy often needed when studying in-depth ideas such as those that characterise this era. Good quality living books will fuel some robust discussions with your children and that’s when learning really happens, because their minds are engaged.

As always, a well organised program such as  Truthquest History will help guide your reading schedule, provide commentary for discussion and assignments to complete. Here’s our list of living books to help you with planning your homeschool study of the Renaissance and Reformation. 

Famous Men of the Renaissance & Reformation

We used Famous Men of the Renaissance and Reformation as a spine while using Truthquest History. It uses biographies, which is the best way to tell the story of the Reformation since it was triggered by the changed lives and mindsets of men. The Renaissance was the lead-up to the Reformation and is therefore important to learn as background at a minimum, though is of course worth studying for the impact it had in its own right. I recommend choosing some more in-depth biographies as assigned reading or read alouds, along with this book as since it is about a religious era, opinions and viewpoints matter a lot. You may not agree with some historians’ views and so it’s important to get material that supports your views and other material that may help round out other views, etc. Whatever other books you add to this book, use Famous Men of the Renaissance and Reformation as your timeline.

Greenleaf Guide to Famous Men of the Renaissance and Reformation

This guide has background information, discussion questions and suggested activities to accompany Famous Men of the Renaissance & Reformation. It will give you a structure for your study and help you make sense of this period and how to place the biographies within the time period.

See below for the supplement to this course.

Voices of the Renaissance and Reformation : Primary Source Documents

Biographies are great, but if you really want to know the famous men, you should read their own words. This compilation of source documents will let you hear them speak for themselves – discuss and make up your own minds. Read from Petrarch, Valla, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Savonarola, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Erasmus, Wyclif, Hus, Luther, Zwingli, Sattler, Tyndale, Cromwell, More, Calvin, Knox and Luther.

Truthquest History: Renaissance, Reformation and Exploration

Truthquest is more a “thinking” program than a “writing” program that focuses on lots of reading. It provides a comprehensive list of living books for Renaissance and Reformation and fits very nicely with a Charlotte Mason style of learning.

Its premise is that God is the author of all that happens; he is the centre of history, not man. It helps reveal how God has set the stage for the gospel for all men for all time.

This course gives you a comprehensive list of living books read alouds, spines and reference. Miller’s commentary throughout is engaging and rich.

For more information on this course, read our review.

The Beggars’ Bible

Louise Vernon has written several books for children on Reformation figures. This one is about Wycliffe and his translation of the Bible. This accomplishment formed a basis for the Reformation in making the Bible accessible to the common man.

Vernon weaves fictional characters in with biographical details to create an engaging story of true events. Her books are targeted at 9-14-year-olds.

Artist of the Reformation

If you’re studying the Renaissance, you will also study art. Albrecht Durer was a contemporary of Martin Luther, and made a significant contribution to the forwarding of the Reformation. Combine this biography with studying the artworks of Albrecht Durer.

From the blurb: “Dürer was counted among the leading intellectuals of the sixteenth century. He witnessed the coming Reformation and made the acquaintance of men such as Erasmus, Martin Luther, Melanchthon, and the Emperor Maximilian. Though he created works of art for wealthy patrons, he made his woodcuts affordable for ordinary people. In this way, Dürer brought the Bible to a wide audience through his brilliant illustrations of the book of Revelation and other themes.” 

Good Queen Bess

by Diane Stanley

Queen Elizabeth I was born at the height of the controversy with Martin Luther that her father, Henry VIII dealt with. It was an age of religious strife, “in which plots and factions were everywhere and private beliefs could be punished by death.” This is the story of a monarch that outwitted her counsellors but steered her country to a glorious era of peace and security that would be called the Elizabethan Age.

Beautifully illustrated, as are all of Stanley’s books, this is a picture book for younger children aged 6-8. Also worth checking out are: Leonardo Da Vinci and Bard of Avon: The Story of William Shakespeare.

River of Grace

You simply cannot study the Reformation without reading about the life of John Calvin. As the leader of the second generation of the Protestant Reformation his work was to impact not just Christianity but the whole world for centuries.

This biography “focuses on Calvin’s childhood and youth, tracing his days at the university and the circumstances of his conversion. She traces his early and precocious leadership of the Protestants in France, and his flight to Basel, Strassburg, and Geneva when King Francis I began executing Protestants. The result is a warm and affectionate picture of the leader of the second generation of the Protestant Reformation.”

John Knox

John Knox was the leader of the Scottish Reformation – a bold stalwart for Protestantism. Simonetta Carr’s biographies of men of Christendom are not your ordinary picture books. These hardcover books are full of rich illustrations accompanied by in-depth text that doesn’t dumb down the story,  but is very accessible for 8-12 year olds and older. These biographies are a must-have in your homeschool library.

Titles for this period also include John Calvin, Lady Jane Grey and Martin Luther.

Duncan’s War

The first of a historical fiction series about the Second Reformation in Scotland. It covers the history of the Scottish Covenanters. This is a rare time in history when a king (Charles II) signed a national covenant agreeing that Christ was the King of the nation and the king is subject to Him. Charles II broke that covenant and this series follows that part of history.

Other titles include King’s Arrow and Rebel’s Keep.

You can read a bit more about this series in our article Series books to get hooked on.

Activity books

Michelangelo for Kids : His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities

Another of Simonetta Carr’s books, this one follows the life of Michelangelo from his childhood in rural Italy through his teenage years to old age. It’s a great choice to add to your collection of living books for the Renaissance and Reformation.

Your kids will learn about his back-breaking work in creating his very special art. Learn about Michelangelo’s techniques and understand exactly what made his work so great. There are 21 fun hands-on activities that demonstrate Michelangelo’s various artistic mediums as well as the era in which he lived. Make homemade paint, learn the cross-hatching technique used by Michelangelo, make an antique statue, build a model fortification, compose a Renaissance-style poem and more.

Leonardo Da Vinci Paint Cards

Dover’s books of paint cards are a great resource for studying individual artists and picture study.

In this set, there are 24 of Da Vinci’s most famous works in pocket-size cards that you can pop on the fridge, on your child’s desk or use as flash cards if you want to learn all the names of the works. They are also great for your children to peruse as you read a biography of Da Vinci.

Construction kits of Da Vinci’s inventions are also a great hands-on activity for studying the Renaissance.

Color Your Own Italian Renaissance Paintings

Colouring books are excellent for teaching familiarity with works of art. Your child will need to pay close attention to the details of the work of art. This hands-on activity, along with picture study and artist study, is a great tool for art appreciaton. 

Italian art works are perhaps the most famous of the Renaissance and your study just wouldn’t be comprehensive if you didn’t include some of them.  This coloring book will kick start you into this aspect and give you a spine to work from.

Books for teens and yourself

The Renaissance: A Short History

by Paul Johnson

“Paul Johnson… explains the economic, technological, and social developments that provide a backdrop to the [Renaissance’s] achievements and focuses closely on the lives and works of its most important figures.”

This is a short book and I read it aloud to my teens. It gives insight into the lives of artists, their techniques and the people they worked for, which invariably includes a description of “how things worked” during this period. If you choose not to read it to your kids, read it yourself as a background and boost to your own knowledge.

Martin Luther

by Eric Metaxas

This meticulous biography is not for the faint hearted. Although it goes in depth into the development of Luther’s theology, it is also detailed about his personal life, making it very readable. However, if you’re not the type to labour through theological issues, this may not be the best pick for you. I loved it, and I thlnk it is worth the labour to really see how this one man tackled a giant and won (all in God’s amazing plan and with his help and grace). Martin Luther’s legacy reaches into our modern era of politics and culture, so in that respect it is important reading.

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