Preferred Style:

Mobile: No images
Low Quality (Default): Small Images
High Quality: Large images, shadows, colors. Do not attempt on dial-up.

If you have a recommendation for a new color scheme, please tell us about it via the Contact Us page.

A Child's History of the World

by Virgil M. Hillyer

Reviewed by Martha Robinson

Purchase details: A Child's History of the World by Virgil M. Hillyer. Revised edition hardcover with lesson manual and workbook, $62. Workbook and lesson manual only, $48. Text only, $28. Available from Calvert School. Buy the 1951 edition via's Amazon affiliate link.

A Child's History of the World is a classic. Written shortly after World War I by Calvert School's first Head Master, this history storybook combines charm with facts to stimulate young minds and leave them yearning for more information. Calvert School now offers a revised version with a student workbook and lesson manual as a supplement for any curriculum.

A Child's History of the World , containing 91 chapters that start at the beginning of time and reach to the present, has had numerous revisions since its first appearance. After many years of experience teaching students and revising and rewriting lessons, Mr. Hillyer published the original A Child's History of the World in 1924. Virgil Hillyer died in 1931, and his work was revised and additional history that occurred since the first publication was added for the 1951 edition, updated by the Assistant Head Masters at Calvert School at that time, Edward G. Huey and Archibald Hart. In 1994, the book was revised and enlarged by Suzanne Ellery Greene Chapelle. According to Bob Graham, Calvert Public Relations, "Some information was added to include more ancient history (Africa, mostly)."

According to Mr. Hillyer, the purpose of this "basal history study" for nine year olds is to "have the pupil able to start with Primitive Man and give a summary of World History to the present time, with dates and chief events without prompting, questioning, hesitation, or mistake." Mr. Hillyer suggests that students who do not have a firm grasp on dates and names have suffered from "superficial teaching and superficial learning." The student should be "required to retell each story after he has read it and should be repeatedly questioned on names and dates as well as stories, to make sure he is retaining and assimilating what he hears."

Many homeschooling parents are concerned about whether this book is written from a Christian perspective. In the introduction, Mr. Hillyer mentions that, as a child, he heard of Christ and His times only in Sunday school. They were "to me mere fiction without reality. They were not mentioned in any history that I knew and therefore, so I thought, must belong not to a realm in time and space, but to a spiritual realm." He weaves a story in this book that relates Biblical history in the context of other events and people of the same time.

Evolution is not specifically addressed in A Child's History of the World. Mr. Hillyer asks us to think back to when there was no world at all -- "only the stars, and God, who made the stars." He then suggests that the earth was created by a spark thrown off from the sun and that tiny plants, animals in the sea, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and finally humans came. Mr. Hillyer then moves on to a discussion of what life was like for primitive man and the discovery of fire, bronze, and iron in Chapters Two and Three. He offers an overview of the "cradle of civilization," in Chapter Four.

In Chapter 5, "Real History Begins," the terms "B.C." and "A.D." and the creation of written history are discussed. After touching on ancient Egypt and Babylonia, the author moves on to a chapter entitled the "Jews Search for a Home," in which stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Samuel are briefly recounted. Mr. Hillyer continues with a comprehensive overview of civilizations around the Mediterranean. While European history has more pages devoted to it in the book, he also addresses China, India, Africa, South America, Latin America, and the Caribbean. All of the stories are engaging and yet filled with important facts.

Mr. Hillyer's presentation takes us back to an earlier time when writers considered discussion of the Bible and faith to be a standard part of life. In Chapter 17 about the Assyrians, Mr. Hillyer mentions that the huge statues in Ninevah are "what are called cherubs in the Bible." When relating the story of China, he compares Confucius's teachings with the comment, "This sounds something like one of the Ten Commandments: Honor thy father and thy mother." He says, "Confucius also taught the Golden Rule that you are taught today, only instead of saying, Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, he said, Do not do to others what you would not want others to do to you." He tells the story of Christ's life in simple, factual terms in the chapter devoted to Him. Much later in the chapter on Constantine, the author tells the story of St. Helena and talks about the Nicene Creed, "which many Christians still say every Sunday." In the middle ages, knights are said to have sworn "to fight for the Christian religion."

Unfortunately, in the later sections of the book, editorial "signs of our times" and political correctness have crept in. Singling out of African American contributions occurs even though the events do not particularly add to the story. For example, in chapter 82, "The Age of Miracles," the combustion engine is mentioned with no discussion of inventor, and the next paragraph brings up the popularity of automobiles with the comment, "An African American named Garrett Morgan invented the three-color traffic signal and patented it in 1923." The paragraph after that discusses Thomas Alva Edison. In the final chapter of the book, after failing to mention the name of the discoverer of the smallpox vaccine or anything beyond the name of Albert Einstein, the following sentence appears: "And blood plasma -- an African American, Charles Drew, figured out how to store this in blood banks so it, too, could be used to save the wounded fighting men."

In the last paragraph of "The Age of Miracles,"chapter, the author draws far reaching conclusions that attempt to compare the people of 1,000 years ago with today.

"Life is faster and more exciting; but it is more difficult and more dangerous. Instead of singing or playing the violin, or piano, we turn on the stereo or the radio and miss the chief joy in music, the joy of making it ourselves. Instead of the jogging drive in an old buggy behind a horse that goes along through the countryside almost by himself, we speed on in dangerous autos, to which we must pay constant, undivided attention or be wrecked. Instead of pure air, we often have pollution."

The author of the revised chapters continues to harp on the topic of environmentalism. After a discussion of the Industrial Revolution and colonization, the following paragraphs appear:

"You know that sometimes changes aren't always all good. One bad thing that happened because of the Industrial Revolution was the taking of colonies by the rich industrialized countries. Another bad result of the Industrial Revolution is still troubling us today. That is pollution. Also, many natural resources are being used up or destroyed. Pollution and the loss of natural resources are called environmental problems. We know that factories that make wonderful things sometimes discharge poisons into the air that we breathe and the water we drink. That is pollution. People can get sick from breathing polluted air and drinking polluted water. We know that over the years, many of the earth's forests have been cut down so the wood from the trees could be used for building houses and furniture and for making paper. When a forest is destroyed or an ocean is polluted, then the animals that live there have no place to live any more, and so they die out. Wen there are no more animals of any given kind, we say that they are extinct. Today, a number of animals are in danger of becoming extinct, either because they are being killed or because their homes are being destroyed. Can you name any of these animals?"

In the conclusion of this chapter, the author refers to the "four big things to remember about the Industrial Revolution," the last two of which are that "the industrialized nations became so rich and powerful that they could control most of the rest of the world" and that "we still have to solve environmental problems that were caused by the Industrial Revolution."

In the final chapter of the book, the author brings up the topic of environmentalism again when speaking of the future:

"Perhaps by then people will know how to build factories that don't poison the air and water and to use earth's resources wisely so we don't run out. And perhaps people will have learned to share, so that everyone in the whole wide world has enough food to eat and a decent place to live. Perhaps, best of all, people by then will know how to settle their problems without fighting wars."

Another area of concern for conservative parents may be in the discussion of the Viet Nam war. A factual account of the events that led our country to become involved and the outcome of the war are told. The paragraph below follows that account:

"The wars in Korea and Vietnam had been very costly. Many men, women, and even children lost their lives. Many other people were injured. All the countries involved had to spend a lot of money on guns and ammunition, airplanes and bombs, and all the equipment they needed to fight. This was money that they could not spend on other things -- like food and homes and schools and hospitals."

A Child's History of the World Workbook -- The spiral-bound, paperback workbook offers 292 pages of activities divided into three sections. The first 137 pages are fill-in-the-blank outlines of the reading. While these outlines may help the student recall events of the chapter, they will not take the place of narration of the story as Mr. Hillyer recommended. I would advise that parents check the work pages for political correctness and to make sure that the point of the story has been expressed in the outline. For example, the work page for Chapter 34, "The Noblest Roman of Them All," is an outline of Julius Caesar's life. The point Mr. Hillyer mentions at the end of the story, the identity of the "Noblest Roman" -- Brutus, is not covered at all in the outline. One could easily miss Mr. Hillyer's point if only using the worksheets.

The second section of the workbook has a timeline that begins in 2,400 B.C. and ends in 2000 A.D. The student is supposed to remove this from the book and glue it together for display on the wall. One page of "cut and paste timeline pictures" is included.

"Enrichment activities" are in the last section of the workbook. Word scrambles, crossword puzzles, hands-on projects like making Babylonian bread and crafts of many kinds, poetry, and other activities add fun to the material. There are 107 tasks that correspond to the lessons in the Lesson Manual.

A Child's History of the World Lesson Manual -- This spiral-bound, paperback has 90 step-by-step lesson plans for A Child's History of the World . The numbering plan on the lessons corresponds to a "complete" Calvert program for fourth grade by having the lesson number match the day that the child would do history work. Consequently, the manual skips from lesson 1 to lesson 3 to lesson 5 to lesson 6 and so on.

Each lesson includes a list of student assignments and materials for the enrichment activities at the top of the page. It then shows an objective for the lesson and some suggested introductory questions to ask your child before reading the story. In the first lesson the following note is made: "Please feel free during the next chapters to discuss a different theory your family may hold about the origin of the world." After the introductory questions, the "instruction" section tells the parent to read the story with the child and have the child do the workbook outline page. Then, basic discussion questions with answers in parentheses are provided for the parent. Last, one or more enrichment activities are assigned in the workbook or described in the lesson manual. Additional books related to the time period are occasionally recommended.

Answer keys to the workbook outlines and enrichment activities are in the back of the Lesson Manual.

Recommendation: A Child's History of the World is a delightful way to introduce an elementary-aged child to world history. The stories are brief, yet engaging, and will hold the interest of even the youngest school children. The introduction of "political correctness" in the revision is disappointing, but can be worked around by the involved parent. This book makes an excellent read-aloud book for all children.

The support materials, the workbook and lesson plans, are easy to adapt to the family's needs. I especially liked some of the suggested enrichment activities. I urge parents to act upon Mr. Hillyers recommendation to have the child narrate the story as the primary method for remembering the material, rather than relying on the "fill-in-the-blank" approach of the workbook outlines.

All in all, A Child's History of the World study program offers families a well-laid out, thorough introduction to world history that is bound to spark interest in further studies. resources related to this review:'s History Resources Section for ideas, links, living books, and more!
Review of Child's History of the World CD-ROM
Review of the Young American Patriots series of historical fiction
Review of the Trailblazer Books of Christian-based historical fiction
Review of the Famous Men series
Review of Ancient Greece CD-ROM by Calvert School
Review of King Arthur Through the Ages CD-ROM by Calvert School

Find more helpful reviews on's Review Page Index!

Reviews represent the opinions of the authors rather than the views of