Baldwin’s stories are highly anecdotal in nature, and many have a gentle moral. They do not tell complete histories or biographies, but usually only touch upon a single anecdote in a famous person’s life. For example, the stories of “Columbus and the Egg”, and “Bruce and the Spider”, tell only of a single incident in the lives of these famous characters, but at a level of great interest to a young reader. The stories are selected to lay the foundation for broader studies, since nearly all are alluded to frequently in literary, as well as historical works.
America’s Best Loved Historical Readers
During the month of December, Heritage History is offering a free download of Thirty More Famous Stories Retold. This book is the third of a series of historical readers by James Baldwin, who was, perhaps, America’s most popular writer of elementary texts in the early 20th century. Baldwin’s books were loved by teachers because they taught important lessons about human nature as well as classical stories from history. But they were loved even more by students because they were written using easy to understand language and focusing on details of importance to children.
Although Baldwin wrote dozens of historical readers for students of all ages, Famous Stories, was probably his best known and most widely read series. The three books in the series, Fifty Famous Stories Retold, Fifty Famous People, and Thirty More Famous Stories Retold, were used as history “readers” in elementary grades in schools through out the United States from the time they were published in the 1890’s to the mid-fifties. They are written at a second to fourth grade level and retell dozens of true stories, about half from American history, and the rest from world history.
A quick review of the Contents of these books provides a good insight into the historical stories selected for this series. “King Alfred and the Cakes”, “Washington and his Hatchet”, “Horatius and the Bridge”, “Damon and Pythias”, “Cornelia’s Jewels”, “Columbus and the Egg”, “King John and Arthur”, “Newton and the Apple”, and “Solomon and Croesus”, are a few of the selections. As you can see, they introduce a wide variety of characters from all of world history.
Fifty Famous Stories Retold is the simplest of the three. It employs a simple vocabulary and short paragraphs, so it is appealing to very early readers. Fifty Famous People is similar in selection but includes more personal anecdotes, such as stories from the childhood of famous heroes that gives insight into their character. Thirty More Famous Stories Retold features stories of invention and discovery and was intended for slightly more sophisticated students. The richer vocabulary and more complicated plot elements in these stories gradually accustom children to following a longer narrative. All three of Baldwin’s readers are included in Heritage History’s Young Readers Classical Library.
About the Author
James Baldwin was one of the most influential educators and authors in late nineteenth century America. Beginning as an elementary teacher, he became the superintendent of the Indiana Public Schools in its early years, and spent his career helping to produce history and literature readers used in schools throughout the United States. At one time it was estimated that almost half of the books used in public schools were written or edited by Baldwin and most of his career was spent dedicated to producing good quality classic books for use in schools.