Recently I mentioned to my son that I had just received my certificate to teach social studies in the state of New Jersey. Duly unimpressed by my Ivy League credentials, his immediate response was, “You don’t really know anything, do you?” I’d like to say I had a quick-witted, knowledgeable retort at the ready but no such luck. After thinking (well, sulking) about it for awhile I realized what my reply should have been: “No, but I know how to look things up.”
The truth is I don’t have the complete history of civilization memorized. And what I learned in college is a lot fuzzier than it used to be. But the research skills I gained there are still very much intact. In my writing area, I have numerous books within arms reach to go to as soon as I need to remember or have a better understanding of something. Not surprisingly, many of my most often used reference materials are children’s nonfiction.
Thinking about a new topic and want to put it in historical perspective? I always reach for Joy Hakim’s A History of US. It’s beautifully written and will inevitably tell you what you want to know and something else you hadn’t thought of before. (If anyone is looking for a holiday gift for a favorite blogger, I’d love the complete 11 volume set. For now I make do with a couple of volumes and a trip to the library).
I always seem to have yet another question about a President so I use Presidents. A Time for Learning Book by Melissa Blackwell Burke. I think I haphazardly picked this book up on sale in a Target or Kmart but I’ve had it for years and pull it off the shelf often. My American History Desk Reference by Scholastic is a used copy I scooped up for $4.95 on a wonderful trip to Powell’s bookstore in Portland. Tons of everything one needs in here, including a fascinating facts column for each state. Yes, I sometimes read those just for the fun of it.
I’ve lent out Kathleen Krull’s A Kids’ Guide to America’s Bill of Rights several times but I’m very persnickety about having it returned to me. Although people would like to believe that three years of law school means that a person can knowledgably answer any question on American jurisprudence that is unfortunately not the case. This book certainly helps.
I also use children’s nonfiction for everything from knitting, to crafting, to word synonyms. These books fill my shelves and provide much of what I need to stuff the knowledge gap. I have another book on my shelf, one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s biographies entitled, This I Remember. For me, that would be a much bigger problem.