12 Living Books for Ancient History

Living Book List for Ancient History

Living Books for Ancient History

I’ve been teaching Ancient History through art and literature in my co-op class this year. You’ll find the hands on art projects to go with these books in my Art Around the Ancient World series. I purposely wanted to stay away from historical fiction for this list; my focus has been on stories that either take place in ancient times or that are folktales or myths from an ancient civilization. They were quite challenging to find. But I’m very happy with the list that resulted!

A Living Book List for Ancient History

I wanted the children to get a feel for the culture and civilization just from these stories. I wanted books appropriate for 3rd to 5th graders that I could read in a class period (so no chapter books) and still have time for maps, timeline and the projects. I wanted the stories to have literary value- not an empty picture book but a living story! The children have been enjoying these stories quite a bit. After or during our reading, I talk about about different literary forms and genres, oral traditions, mythology and more. These books can be read aloud together as a family, between siblings, or independently.

Nomads/ Hunters and Gatherers-

This was a delightfully story that presented classic conflict, climax and a resolution story. In fact, the story presents a delightful pattern of repeated conflict. We used it in our own homeschool for a mini unit and field trip on the ice age. A fun art activity to go with it is to create your own cave and rock paintings.

The First Dog by Jan BrettThe First Dog

Sumerians, Assyrians & Babylonians

This story was a wonderful choice for Mesopotamia. It was the perfect story to introduce literary themes. We spent a bit of time on this area discussing cuneiform and later on other art and artifacts from Assyria and Babylon.  We made some outstanding art projects for the cradle of civilization. For Sumeria we made cylinder seals and for Assyria and Babylon we made glue paintings to look like Ancient Near East metalworking. 

Gilgamesh the King (The Gilgamesh Trilogy)

Ancient Egypt-

For Egypt you’ll have many books to choose from. Why this book? Because I loved the nature of it. It’s simple charm was delightful and the children could easily relate to a cat who just wanted to be a cat. We discussed Ancient Egyptian art, hieroglyphs and beliefs and rituals. Art projects for Egypt to come. Saving the best for last!

Temple Cat

Ancient Israel-

Most of the children already knew their bible stories so it was a great reference for the ancient world around Israel. Already familiar with the story, it provided a context for laying out the areas and civilization around the Israelites. The book is a good retelling of this familiar story. We especially enjoyed the art work in the book and it’s design. There is also a book on Moses by the same author called The Moses Basket. We didn’t have time to read it, but it looked just as good.

The Coat of Many Colors

Ancient China-

This book is a great choice for Ancient China.  We didn’t actually read this book in our co-op but I have looked at it and if time had provided it would have been my first choice. My substitute taught a class on Tangrams for China. And if you prefer to go that route an excellent book is The Warlord’s Puzzle or if you can’t find that one, Grandfather Tang’s Story .

The Master Swordsman & the Magic Doorway: Two Legends from Ancient China

 West Africa-

West Africa was fun to cover. We talked about oral traditions of the Ancient West Africans and many other civilizations. With no ancient writing, history knows little about these people. But they have such a rich culture that is evident in their folklore and tales. Anansi the spider is just one of many tales. The children liked the personification of Anansi and his children and the book offered lots of literary components to discuss. We made Akuaba Doll Scratch Art  for our project.

West African Lesson For KidsAnansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti

Minoan & Mycenaean-

This was the Greek myth I chose for the Minoan civilization. Of course I chose it because of it taking place on Crete but it also followed nicely after our Phoenician study.  We discussed myths and legends and made Minotaur masks!

The Hero and the Minotaur

 Medes and Persians-

I’m not sure how far back this legend really goes, but since the main focus of my class is on literature, I felt it would certainly represent the culture and be a wonderful selection. I was right. My first look at this book from author Tomi dePaola did not disappoint.  I can’t wait to do the to do the weaving project I’ve planned with my class.

The Legend of the Persian Carpet

Ancient Greece-

An old favorite from homeschooling my older children. It’s important to add a bit of living math into the line up! The perfect book for a study on the golden Age of Greece.

What’s Your Angle, Pythagoras?

Mauryan Empire- Ancient India

Demi has some really wonderful books. I could have also used her book on Budda for this class. But since I plan to talk about the spice trade and for the project do a spice jar activity, I thought it would be good to also include a story from Hinduism. We will also look at artifacts from History of the World in 1,000 Objects (pgs. 98-99). Another book that I highly recommend by Demi for it’s beauty and content is Mother Teresa

The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna

Ancient America- Nazca

While this book doesn’t come directly from the Olmec or the Nazca, it certainly does represent the people of the Amazon. I love the art work which works well to complement the art project I have planned for a Nazca Line Art Activity.

 Jabutí the Tortoise: A Trickster Tale from the Amazon

Ancient Rome-

I haven’t gotten this book yet but it’s on my wish list! Isn’t the cover amazing! And the illustrations inside make a perfect compliment to my Roman Mosaic Art Lesson. It’s also a great book to show how the Ancient world changed over time with Egypt now being under foreign rule. Throughout my course I’ve been pointing the kids back and forth to the areas and people we have already learned about. A timeline is in order here and that’s next on my do list!


What living stories are the top of your book list for Ancient History?


  • Tara Burton

    Thank you very much for all these book ideas! They couldn’t have come at a more opportune time! We are right in the middle of the about 545 bc so altho most of these books will cover history we’ve already looked at – that is fine! I think it will be great review! I am going to pick up 8 of them at my local library tomorrow!

    Thanks again!
    tara 🙂