Recently we read our first book from the Heroes of History series of books -- Ben Carson: A Chance at Life. We've also been using materials from the corresponding Unit Study Curriculum Guide.
All of us agreed that reading the story of Ben Carson was a fabulous way to start off this school year. As we progressed through the book, we realized that the subtitle, "A Chance at Life" has a double meaning. Many people know Ben Carson as a famous pediatric neurosurgeon who has given many children a second chance at life (and as a potential Presidential candidate). Additionally, the book stories of how his mother gave him a chance at a better life by encouraging him to study and not to settle for not living up to his full potential. When young Ben Carson had the worst grades in his elementary school class, his mother told him, "With God's help you can wipe that im right off the word impossible and make it possible." We've repeated that line often around our house in the past few weeks.
Lauren's favorite parts of the book came later, after Ben Carson had become a doctor. She loves hearing about medical procedures, and she was thrilled that this book gave details for several of the surgeries that Ben Carson pioneered. Addison liked seeing the way that Ben Carson lived out his philosophy that everyone is responsible for determining their own destiny. He could have used his childhood experiences in poor, predominately black schools in Detroit as an excuse, but instead he studied even harder. He did not become a world-renowned doctor because of luck; this book shows all of the effort and hard work he put into achieving his goals.
In addition to simply reading the book to the kids, we also had the opportunity to use the Unit Study Curriculum Guide. Although we primarily just read the book, there were enough resources in the guide to turn the book into a full unit study lasting for several weeks and covering nearly every subject. Each chapter had a set of questions relating directly to the book -- some factual questions most suitable for younger children as well as some opinion questions suitable for older children. For instance, in the chapter talking about Dr. Carson's attempt to separate a set of adult conjoined twins, one question asked us to consider the moral and ethical implications of attempting such a risky surgery when the ladies' lives were not in imminent danger. Was their desire for better lives (lives separated from each other) worth the risk? Should they be able to make that decision or should that decision be left up to the medical community?
The guide includes suggestions for research projects relating to subjects address in the book. I did laugh when I saw the suggestion to take a field trip to a hospital as part of a study about Ben Carson. (We'll pass on this one -- Lauren's transplant coordinator just told her that her next goal was to avoid coming to the hospital for a whole month.) The study guide also has printable maps, a basic biographical facts sheet about Ben Carson, a timeline worksheet about his life, and more.
While looking through the bonus materials included in the Unit Study Curriculum Guide, I came across a schedule for using YWAM Heroes of History books as the basis for a US History course that would last either one or two years. Lauren has loved this book (and the Christian Heroes books) so much that the idea of studying the biographies of famous Americans for the next few years is very appealing to me. With the Unit Study Curriculum Guides, I can turn each book into a unit study lasting four to six weeks per books. It certainly sounds like a fun adventure to take with her!
Throughout both the book and the guide, we were constantly reminded of the important role Christianity played in Dr. Ben Carson's life. We read stories of his troubled childhood, his vow to read his Bible daily, and the way he prayed for his patients. Although we could have read his story and been inspired to work harder, it is all the more meaningful when we realize how his goal was to live up to his God-given potential and how he relied on God throughout all the good times and bad (through the calm and through the storm, so to speak).
The Heroes of History books are recommended by the publisher for ages 10 and up, but I've found that they are suitable as a read-aloud for younger children. When I checked the reading level using an online tool, I found that our particular book was written at roughly a 6th to 8th grade reading level. (My interpretation of these figures is that the difficulty is primarily due to lengthy sentences, not long words or difficult vocabulary.)
Ben Carson: A Chance at Life costs $7.50 for a paperback copy (192 pages). It is also available in digital versions (ePub, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble) for the same price. The Unit Study Curriculum Guide costs $5.49 to download.
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