Living Books

Living Books: Underground Railroad and Freedom from Slavery

I read slowly and carefully while my children hung to my every word.

The running, hiding, and terror, in the story,  edged my kids on to root for the poor colored family that was trying to find the way to freedom and happiness. 

All too soon, in the middle of an exciting moment, I had to place the bookmark in our chapter and shut the book, announcing that this is where we needed to stop for now.

Their cries of “No, No! Keep reading! Please?!” Made my husband and I smile. Not only was this quality family time together, but we were all learning about the underground railroad.

Living Book list about the underground railroad and getting freedom from slavery

Living books in your homeschool is a great and memorable way to teach your child about all sorts of topics. If you’re unsure what a living book is and how to use them in your homeschool this article will help you out. How to use Living Books Effectively in Your Homeschool. 

The following books are ones that I’ve picked up at yard sales or book sales, and they are really good. Our family has really enjoyed them, and if you can borrow them from the library or purchase them on the internet, your kids can enjoy them too. 

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

Amos Fortune; Free Man

Written by Elizabeth Yates

This story is based on a true story, about a fifteen year old boy in a tribal village in Africa. He is prince of this African tribe, but is taken captive by slave traders from America. He watches his parents die, and is torn apart from his disabled little sister.

In America, he is given the name of Amos, and is sold as a slave. This book tells the story of how Amos worked hard, obeyed his masters, saved his money, and thought about others.

Amos’ life mission was to work hard and long enough to buy his own freedom and then to buy the freedom of others, particularly of disabled young ladies.

Amos’ problems never stopped as he dealt with racial prejudice, and the injustices that people caused him. But, Amos rises above it all, and teaches the reader that love toward others is the most important, and that is how to have true freedom.

This is an excellent book.

Your child will be introduced to tribal customs and life in an African village, and as Amos learns the trade of tanning, your child will be learning about that as well.

There are no pictures in this book, but Elizabeth Yates does a good job of making the story come alive with her vivid details.

Living Book descriptions about the underground railroad and freedom from slavery

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Frederick Douglas

Stealing South: A Story of the Underground Railroad

Written by Katherine Ayres

Sixteen year old Will is ready to leave home and make his own way in the world.

Following in his family’s footsteps, of helping runaway slaves, Will promises to help a separated slave find his other family members and get them north to the free states.
Will’s eyes are open to the horrible reality of slave breeding, but through this topic, Will is able to assist a whole wagon load of slaves escape the south.

A picture of book covers from stories about the underground railroad and freedom from slavery

This is a good book that will keep you reading.

The topic of slave breeding  took me by surprise because I had never thought about that aspect of slavery and of farmers making a profit, literally by selling their good “slave-stock” for higher dollar amounts.

Katherine Ayres does a good job of making the story come alive, but I wish that she would have watched Will’s vocabulary more, as he says “durn it” quite a bit.

Will’s experiences keep the reader reading, as the poor child  has plenty of trials to go through, as he becomes a peddler in the south.

He faces his own medical emergencies, getting lost, being chased by mean men, being chased by dogs, and swimming for his life against raging river currents.

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”
 – Robert Louis Stevenson

From Slave to Soldier: Based on a True Civil War Story

Written by Deborah Hopkinson
This book is a Ready to Read, Level Three book: Rich vocabulary, more-challenging stories, and longer chapters.

This wonderful reader includes a colorful map at the beginning showing your learner the free states and the slave states. There is plenty of colorful illustrations that help your elementary-age child figure out the words of the story.

Little Johnny works hard every day at his chores, to please his master.

He takes care of the cows and helps make butter. Unfortunately, Johnny receives no thanks for his long days of work, and even at times gets punished when something doesn’t go right.

When Johnny comes across some union soldiers out in a field, Johnny has to make up his mind if he wants to go back to his master, or join the army and be free. Johnny chooses the army, and soon finds himself working hard with the mule teams.

Living book summaries that have been written about the underground railroad and freedom from slavery

Johnny has to prove himself to the others, that he can drive the mules, as a flash flood is washing out a bridge that he is crossing.

In the end, Johnny really does become a free army man, and the captain gives him his own uniform.

This story is based on the real life of John McCline.

It is a good book for a little person, with just enough suspense to make it great, but not too scary.

“The person who deserves most pity is a lonesome one on a rainy day who doesn’t know how to read.” – Benjamin Franklin

The Drinking Gourd: The Story of the Underground Railroad

Written by: F.N. Monjo
An I Can Read book, Level 3, for grades 2-4

Little Tommy is sure to get into trouble because he just can’t sit still during the church service.

When he disrupts the entire congregation and the service, his dad sends him home.
Once home, Tommy discovers there are runaway slaves hiding out in his dad’s barn.

Tommy is given a big job to hide and then drive the hiding slaves to the next station on the railroad.

Picture of the book cover for The Drinking Gourd

How does Tommy know that squirming and getting in trouble at church is the exact thing he needed to get out from under the sheriff’s watchful eye?

This book is filled with great pictures and large text. It is perfect for the beginning reader.

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” – Walt Disney

Riverboat Adventure Series (Also known as The Freedom Seekers)

This extraordinary series of six books will have you on the edge of your seat as soon as you start page one.

You won’t want to miss any book in this set.

The titles are:
1. Escape into the Night
2. Race for Freedom
3. Midnight Rescue
4. The Swindler’s Treasure
5. Mysterious Signal
6. The Fiddler’s Secret
This series was written by Louis Walfrid Johnson
For ages 8-13

After the death of her mother, thirteen year-old Libby Norstad gets to travel full-time with her dad on his boat, The Christina.

Mr. Norstad, uses his boat to hide and transport runaway slaves up north. Caleb, Mr. Norstad’s fourteen year-old cabin boy, is a helping hand to the hiding slaves, and soon Libby realizes that something on the ship isn’t what it seems.

When Libby learns the harsh reality of slavery, and the ability to help slaves, Libby pleads with her dad and Caleb to help out on the underground railroad.

Unfortunately, Libby’s mouth and actions get ahead of her thinking and she says and does things that jeopardize the safety of her “cargo”.

Many different people ride on The Christina, and Libby and Caleb often find themselves in dangerous situations with slave catchers on board.

Pictures of book covers from stories about the underground railroad and freedom from slavery

Within all of the books, Libby and Caleb attempt to rescue Jordan and his entire family and get them north. They must not be spotted and caught by the awful dangerous Riggs, Jordan’s slave catcher.

With disguises, detours, and disasters, they barely miss being captured.

All the while, Mr. Norstad runs a tight ship, hiding fugitives, battling storms, dealing with sabatoge, and almost losing The Christina with financial troubles.

Libby learns to deal with anger, jealousy, and fear by trusting in God. Louis Walfrid Johnson does an excellent job within the stories, weaving in biblical principals and the gospel message.

There are a few pencil drawn pictures throughout each book that are very well done, and add just enough visual help to keep the characters real in our minds.

Each book comes with a layout of The Christina, which is really interesting to look at.

While reading, your child will be exposed to plenty of boat terminology and seaman terms.

Also, many river names and states are mentioned as the Norstads and Caleb travel.

Some books have really good maps in the beginning so you can follow along as The Christina travels north.

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How to Homeschool Effectively with Living Books

Finding curriculum for your homeschooled child can sometimes be an overwhelming task. There are a lot of different choices and styles out there, and today, I want to help you investigate using living books for your kids and help you see that they are an excellent option to teach with.

What is a living book?

Good question to start off with! A living book can be fiction, non-fiction, or even a biography.
The book brings the subject and people to life. Hence the word “living”. Living books are so much more than this though.

They are memorable, they capture our interests, they hook us in and stimulate our feelings. They make us think, but are also very enjoyable.

For me personally, a great living book will also have a lot of conversation between the characters, and the characters will also portray good morals and values that would set excellent examples for my children.

Let me give you two choices and see if you can guess which one would qualify as a portion in a living book.

Meriwether Lewis sat quietly on the ground, his back against the rough bark of a large tree. Nearby, the Missouri River gently rippled, as it flowed away from him.
He glanced at the towering mountains that loomed ahead of him on his journey.
“How are we going to do it?”, thought Lewis. “How are we supposed to get over those mountains?”
Lewis’ brow furrowed as he contemplated the next movements for his team, the Corps of Discovery.
They needed to get over those mountains as fast as they could, before winter set in. Hopefully the Pacific Ocean was just on the other side of them.

Now compare that to this:
The Lewis and Clark Expedition from May 1804 to September 1806, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States. It began near St. Louis, made its way westward, and passed through the Continental Divide of the Americas to reach the Pacific coast. The Corps of Discovery was a selected group of US Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark. (Wikipedia)

Could you tell which section would possibly be found in a living book? I hope so! It was the first section. There was emotion, a conflict, some conversation/thoughts, and details of the scenery. Could you picture the scene in your mind? 

What did you picture when you read the section from wikipedia?


1. Your child can and will learn with living books.
Let me ask you a question. Do you have an easier time remembering a story that was told to you, or a list of facts? For me and my children, it’s the story.

When a book becomes so interesting that the child just doesn’t want to stop reading it, learning will occur. Their brain is taking in all of the words, details, and mental imagery, and the topic, subject, or person is literally coming to life in their mind. They will remember it.

When you read the story out loud to them, they will actively listen and remember it as their mind pictures the story happening, and the conflict resolving. They won’t be bored with a living book, and their mind won’t wander like it will with boring facts.

2. Their interest in a book will drive them to want to learn more about that topic or person.
For instance, as I was growing up, I was very interested in the medical field. I began reading stories about people that had overcome great physical or mental obstacles in their life, and these people went on to make their life wonderful!

It wasn’t just the triumph over tragedy saga that caught my attention, it was the physical therapy that they had to go through, the surgeries, the hospital settings, the psychiatrists, the wounds and treatments, etc. 

Just by reading about people having to get those kinds of things done, I was learning about different diseases, diagnoses, and medical terminology. 

These stories just kept fueling my desire to learn more and more and more! And by the way, I was blessed to be able to graduate from nursing school, and I enjoy using my nursing skills to help others.


Unfortunately, there are some disadvantages of using just living books.
1. The biggest one for me was the fear that I was not covering all of the topics that a secular or even a private school social studies textbook was.

I learned quickly though, that even if I didn’t cover a large time period or a large topic list, that my kids were remembering more of just these topics than what a public school kid was by reading through a textbook quickly.

I grew up in a public school, and I can tell you the truth. I have learned so much more with these living books than I ever did in my school classrooms.

2. Good books are hard to get rid of! This means that you’ll have to find room to store them. I know that I have a ton of stories that I want to save for my grandchildren one day. I want them to have the same happiness reading them as I have had.

3. Lesson planning with living books takes work. You have to plan ahead your activities, book sections to read, videos to watch, etc. But… it’s worth it, if you have the time to plan it out yourself.


First choose a topic or person. Suppose you already have an interest in Clara Barton. (Gotta keep with the medical stuff, ya know?) So, start at the library and get a few books on her.
When you flip through the book, I always look to see if there is conversation. I don’t like to see: she did this, and then she did that, etc. That gets boring.

You want signs of life in the book. As you peruse the pages, look at their language. I always do a quick skim and look for curse words. I put those books back.
If the book has pictures in it, that is perfectly fine. 

I love books that have maps or diagrams in the front, and also historical notes in the back. Sometimes there will be real-life pictures in those historical notes.
These kinds of books are usually keepers. 

When you get home, if the book you’re interested in is short enough, go ahead and read it.  Keep a pen and paper handy to write down some further study notes and any ideas you may come up with.

For example, every story has a setting.  Since you’re reading about a topic or person, you’ll want your child to learn where that place is on the map.  So that is number one.

Next, what is the date of the event or person’s life span? When you figure that out, you can start a timeline of the event/person’s life, or see what else was happening in the world around this time as well.

Third, as you read make a list of topics or ideas that come to mind that you could use for creative ideas.

For example, with Meriwether Lewis he kept a journal of the animals and plants that he saw. So, while your learning about Lewis, have your child keep a nature journal. Learn to draw trees, plants, and animals. 

You can even use different kinds of mediums to do your art with. Such as markers, watercolor paints, pencil, and colored pencil. If drawing isn’t your style, use modeling clay and sculpt some birds or squirrels!

Clara Barton ideas are fun for me. Have your child bandage you up. They could practice wrapping up your forehead, or putting your arm in a sling. Don’t forget to let your child take a picture!

After your story is over and if the topic was interesting, you’ll want to gather some supplemental items. If you want to read another book on that person, go ahead. Check out YouTube, the History channel, Nova, and Discovery. The library also has videos and if your library has online videos, these are nice to use as well. 

You can gather craft books or search online for different crafts for that era, or even look for recipes to try for different types of food.

Lapbooking is good to do if your child likes to cut and paste. These types of folders are wonderful to look at in years to come.

 I always enjoyed notebooking. Keeping your maps, written work, and timelines organized in one place. This is a great keepsake as well.
Whatever you do, don’t make this mistake that I did!


Testing isn’t always essay questions or multiple choice. You can find out if your child is remembering details just by talking with him/her. 

The Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling stresses the importance of narration. Narration is the skill of summarizing and then verbalizing what you have heard and learned. 

I did this a little bit with my kids, but basically I just asked them what they remembered from our reading yesterday. Any other type of open-ended questions also works well.

When you do the lapbooking or notebooking this is also a good way to evaluate your child. It’s not a test but just the action of your child writing down what they remember is good for them.


The library is a great place to start. Keep your ears open for books sales coming up in your area, and attend those. You can also find some good bargains at yard sales. Look for covers that pertain to either a real life person, or a historical event. 

Living book lists can be found online and are also a great place to start if you want to buy online or from amazon. 

When you get a book title you may be interested in, see if there is a book review written on that book online.

 I have a book review and free workbook and answer key written for Abraham Lincoln Gets His Chance. This book is available free with Amazon’s kindle edition.  



Over the years I’ve collected more books and more books and more books. I have learned to keep my books organized. Nothing is worse than having to hunt through your home for one little paper backed book that you know you have “somewhere”. 

My system starts with all of the biographies. I have them arranged alphabetically by last name. 

Next I have my books arranged by event. The events are in chronological order. So all of the World War I books are in front of World War II, etc. 

It gets tricky with people like Abraham Lincoln. Do you put him in the biography section or with the Civil War?

I chose to keep Lincoln with the Civil War, and Washington with the Revolutionary War, etc. I figured my biography section was for people that only had one or two books to their name. Lincoln and Washington have a ton, so I put them all together in one group with “their” war. 

Finally, I like to collect series. When you find a great book, it’s always nice to have book 2, 3, & 4! I keep my series together. Usually they deal with the same event, and are easy to find on the shelf. 

Sometimes the same publisher prints different people’s biographies. You may end up with ten biographies that all look similar on the spines. Since these are biographies I do separate them. 

And for the final tip about your library, I have found that when you remove a book, or let someone borrow a book, use a sticky note to write the book title, date, and person that borrowed it and place the sticky note where the book will be replaced. It works wonders to help keep your library organized!

Using living books has been a wonderful addition to my homeschool. I hope that you find as much fulfillment with them as I have. 

Due to my love for these types of stories, I will be posting living book reviews along with study guides and workbooks on this site. You don’t want to miss any of it! 

If you wish to subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll be the first to know when a new review and guide is being made available.

 I look forward to meeting you. Happy reading!

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Homeschool Book Review of Abe Lincoln Gets His Chance

Abe Lincoln Gets His Chance. Free study guide and answer key
Click here to get your free workbook and answer key!

Abe Lincoln Gets His Chance was written by Frances Cavanah in 1959. 

This great book is currently free in Amazon’s kindle edition! Also, I have a corresponding workbook and answer key available for free!

This is a fictional story based on real facts about Lincoln’s life from the time he was born, until the time he was elected president.

Because of the larger vocabulary at times, I would recommend this book for a third grade reading level. 

What makes this book, a living book, in my opinion, is that there is plenty of conversation between characters, which really makes Lincoln’s life come to life, on each page.

Frances Cavanah has intertwined Lincoln’s thirst for knowledge and the way that he was able to learn independently, by reading books, very creatively in the story, and this is continually brought up. I think that this is a good reminder to children the importance of reading and continual learning.

“My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.” – Abe Lincoln

The different settings of Lincoln’s life, while growing up, are very detailed, and gives the reader an excellent realization of how life really was back then. 

I would highly recommend this book. It keeps your interest, it grabs your attention from the very first chapter, and children will remember the facts and personal character traits of our fourteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. 

At the time of this review, Abe Lincoln Gets His Chance is free with Amazon’s kindle edition!

And don’t forget, if you would like to use the study guide workbook and have the answer key, they are free!

Download your free workbook and study guide for Abe Lincoln Gets His Chance
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