Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines: A High-Flying Renaissance Curriculum

4 Things I Love About This Book

Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines by Deborah Mazzotta Prum

It’s Easy to Use

During our homeschool time, we read a little more than 1 of the 16 total chapters each week; due to the fact we were on a tight timeline, we needed to finish our study in 12 weeks. With many chapters only 3-4 pages in length, the book is very concise. Though we were moving quickly, we never felt overwhelmed. Author Deborah Mazzotta Prum contextualizes the broad time period with a discussion of the pre-Renaissance, and then moves onto the Medici family and beyond. She even wrote a chapter on women of the Renaissance.

Stories Are Opened Up in a Simple, Yet Funny Way

The other Renaissance story-based curriculum I had considered to cover this time was Story of the World, Volume 2: The Middle Ages. In homeschool, families can enter into a rich read aloud space, because they have more time and freedom with their schedule. Prum’s book fits in line with the read aloud advantage. She writes in a witty, “the reader is intelligent” voice which makes it a joy to read. Major historical events are touched on. From her introductory story about Leonardo da Vinci through the last chapter on Galileo, she leads readers along and recaps the journey in the Epilogue.

It’s Complete…and Interesting

As an artist, I appreciated the attention to the arts both in terms of painting, architecture, and music. There are full chapters on artists and inventors such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael; and parts of chapters on Brunelleschi (architect of the Duomo in Florence), Donatello, and Boticelli; and northern Renaissance artists such as Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Durer, and Pieter Bruegel (my favorite!). She also covers the life and works of Shakespeare and Cervantes. I never had great coverage of the Renaissance in middle or high school. I wish this resource was available while I was in grade school.

The new information for me was the chapter on music. She covers sacred and the newer secular music that artists such as Palestrina, Josquin Desprez, and John Dowland wrote. Incidentally, about 15 years ago, I got a copy of the artist Sting’s CD, The Journey and the Labyrinth, which features the music of John Dowland. I knew I liked Dowland’s songs, and that the music was old. However, I did not realize the context of music it came out of. Thanks to Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines, I realize that this melancholic music — exploring themes of love and sadness — was groundbreaking for its time. I love it when I learn things while teaching my own kids!

Amazing Layout — Tons of Pictures With a Readable Font Size

One of the aspects that is key to this time period is pictures! How can students discuss this time period—so full of art, amazing architectural monuments, and scientific drawings—and not have pictures? In fact, this is the reason I choose this book over Story of the World Volume 2, because this preference of mine. This book is perfect for visual learners; younger kids will appreciate cartoon drawings which are fun and keep the story moving.

How I Used This Book

  1. I bought one copy for myself and one for each of my kids, and we read our books aloud together. I used this book when my son was in 3rd grade and my daughter was in 6th grade.
  2. Each week we added to a Timeline Mobile. See my article on how I like to culminate curriculum.
  3. Using the Teacher’s Guide (purchased separately), I generated vocabulary lists that I photocopied for my kids (from People, Words and Phrases, and Works of Art in each chapter of the guide). They each wrote one paragraph each week using a set number of words; more for my 6th grader, less for my 3rd grader.
  4. I went on Google Images to grab some political maps of the historical time period so we could explore the reaches of noteworthy countries. If I was writing the Teacher’s Guide, I would add some outline maps for students.
  5. We checked out some of the Resources that Ms. Prum provides at the end of the book from the library.
  6. I stumbled upon a movie – Great Cathedral Mysteryabout the building of the Duomo in Florence from our library.
  7. As we went through the chapter on music, I printed out some lyrics from Dowland’s songs, which helped my kids to more easily follow along. Also, we watched Sting and Eden Karmamazov’s Journey and the Labyrinth movie, which extended the chapter on music.
  8. When we learned about artists such as Durer, at the suggestion of the Teacher’s Guide, I had my kids create a woodcut-style print on a linoleum block. This was a lot of fun! See this lesson plan on how to create similar prints on styrofoam pieces.
  9. The Teacher’s Guide also has some Culminating Activities, as well as some quizzes in matching and multiple choice formats. I didn’t notice these when we were going through the curriculum:( They are very helpful and would work well for 5th-8th grade students.
  10. It so happens we had a trip to Europe planned 6 months after this unit. After going through this historical time period, we also studied the countries we were going to (which touched nicely on the Northern Renaissance): Spain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. We learned some country facts, ate some of the foods, and watched some Rick Steves travel videos.

Both Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines, and the Teacher’s Guide are both very usable for the classroom. In fact, the Teacher’s Guide is perfect for the classroom environment; there are a variety of activities that would be engaging and fun for group projects. I found the reading comprehension questions were more on the level of solid middle school students.

Deborah Prum’s Recent Books

Check out these newer books by author Deborah Prum, Fatty in the Back Seat (young adult novel) and Czars and Czarinas (Russian history in the engaging iBooks format). I hope to read some of them soon!

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