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In today’s episode, we talk about the wonderful free resource just released by Emily Cook from Build Your Library called History Book by Book. It’s an absolutely fantastic resource for homeschool parents looking to find good books targeting specific historical times. We talk about the website, some features embedded within, and reference our written interview with Emily Cook (below).

History Book by Book:
Our Interview with Emily Cook:
Written Interview with Emily Cook on HBbB: Homeschool Together Blog

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Show Notes

Interview with Emily Cook

The following is a written interview with Emily Cook from Build Your Library. For more information on her wonderful site History Book by Book see

1.    How long have you been thinking of History Book by Book and how much time and effort went into this site?

This has been something I’ve thought about for probably the last 10 years. I have always lamented that it’s a ton of work to find historical fiction and history books by topic, and wouldn’t it be great if someone made an organized database? There have been a few I found over the years, but the bulk of the literature on those lists was old and no longer maintained and included many out-of-print or obscure titles. Why wasn’t there a site with updated booklists? So last year I started seriously thinking about what I’d want in such a resource. Should it be a book? A website? How will it be organized? What kind of specialized booklists should it feature?  I started compiling notes and booklists, and then about four months ago, my husband (who is much more tech-savvy) and I began working on building the website. History Book by Book is by no means a completed work – it is a labor of love and one that I will be constantly updating and adding to as I discover new titles.

2.    What is your vision for this site?  

I want to create a useful and free resource, not just for homeschool parents, but one that could be used by anyone interested in reading and studying history. As an adult, I still get excited when I discover a historical fact or learn something new about a period in history. It always makes me want to seek out more information. This website is a great starting place for that! I also want to make it easier for homeschool parents to find plenty of reading options for any period in history. This will be an easy tool to use to find books categorized by reading level, time period, geographic region, or historical topic.

I’m always hearing from parents that they wish there was an additional booklist with reading suggestions aimed at adults. As a homeschool parent, I know I sometimes like to delve deeper into the subject matter we’re reading together in the Build Your Library lesson plans. Now, with History Book By Book, they can find new reading material to match their children’s studies at a more adult level. Homeschooling for parents!

3.    What does it mean for a book to be considered “living” and why is that important for HBBB?

A living book is one that is well-written by an author passionate about their subject matter. It is a story that sticks with you, that makes you think, that comes alive in your imagination. It’s important to me that I choose the best books to include in the History Book By Book database. I research every title and try to read as many as possible myself, even reviewing them when possible.

We want to give our children a literary feast when it comes to their education – and we never want history to be boring. I’m collecting the best of the best for you, saving you precious time that you can now spend enjoying great literature and reading with your children!

4.    How do you intend homeschooling parents and families to use this site? Do you envision pairing this site with Build Your Library?

I wanted to create the resource I spent so many years searching for – a site that made it fast and easy to find great books both for homeschooling and our own educational enrichment. You can find books by topic (for example women’s suffrage, African American history), by time period, or by geographic area. I’ve gone out of my way to include as many new titles as possible – there are so many fantastic books being published today! This resource is completely free to use – it is reader-supported, meaning if you use our affiliate links to either Amazon or Bookshop, we earn a small commission. That helps us keep the site up and running.

Right now, History Book By Book is its own separate entity, but it compliments the Build Your Library curriculum beautifully. I don’t refer to HBBB in the BYL lesson plans, but it is there for parents to use to supplement any topic where curiosity arises.

5.    What was the curation process to determine which books “make the cut”?

I spend a lot of time researching books. It is literally my job (which is the best job ever!) Whenever I’m working on writing a level or unit study for BYL, I discover so many great books that just can’t schedule into the 36-week lesson plans. HBBB gives me a place to include all those great titles.

Whenever possible I do try to read them myself, but I can only get through so many books. When I can’t read the whole book, I’ll read reviews from various websites or sample chapters if available. I also keep a copious amount of booklists from titles I find from so many different sources. If a book has a lot of buzz around it, or really great reviews, I’ll research it further to add it to the database.  

6.    Do you intend to grow the site beyond the book lists to include other content?

Yes, we definitely plan on having a section for historical movies and TV. We currently have one movie listed as a placeholder, but we are currently concentrating on the book side of the site right now. My husband and I love watching historical dramas and I think it would be great to have a resource of historical movies and television shows that are organized the same way we set up the booklists. I’d also like to eventually have a blog to discuss history-related content – things like comparing history spines, how to make history come alive, that sort of thing.

7.    Tell us about the “Random Book” button.

That’s just a fun feature – if you aren’t looking for something specific and just want a book recommendation, you can click that button, and it will pull a random book from the database. If the book that pops up isn’t something you are interested in, you can click random again, or conduct a more specific search.

I also feature a Book of the Week selection on the home page. These are titles I’m especially excited about sharing and are always going to be books I’ve read and reviewed.

8.    HBBB covers nearly 1,000 books, if you had to pick your top three that are must-reads, which would they be?

Well, that’s a tough one to answer! My answer will be different depending on the day. Since you just want three, I’ll organize them by age level:

Younger Elementary: Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile by Tomie de Paola (a family favorite)

Middle Grade: The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

YA/Adult: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

We also feature three booklists with my daughter’s and my top 10 favorite historical fiction titles, favorite authors, as well as all the books each of us has personally reviewed. Regina’s list isn’t quite a top 10 yet, but she’s only 12 and has a lot of books to discover still. These lists are ever-evolving and changing as new favorites are discovered. Though honestly, it is challenging to decide which titles to bump if we want to add new ones to the list! It is a fun little side project and I thought users would be interested in seeing our current favorites. You can find that by searching for “Favorites of Emily” (Sarah, Regina).

9.    What is the one crucial takeaway that you want families to have about HBBB?

My hope is that this resource will make teaching history a joy in your homeschool! I adore history and historical fiction and learning about how people have (or haven’t) changed across time. It is such an important part of everyone’s education, but it is often relegated to being just another boring subject because too often, history is taught just by memorizing names and dates. I seek to put a face and a personality to those names and give children a reason for those dates to stick in their memory.

Historical fiction gives them the ability to put themselves into the story. That goes a lot further than just keeping track of names and dates. I hope that with History Book By Book you can find a thousand (and more) ways to enhance both your children’s study of history as well as your own.