We had a perfectly adequate summer off, doing Vacation Bible School and, um, trips to the hospital, and when the second week of August hit, I up and started our school. We obviously weren’t getting any more summer accomplished, and I thought maybe if we started fall activities, summer would go away and leave us alone. It was time.

It’s working, surprisingly enough. I had a sore throat the whole week, but other than that, we were so happy. Meg blossomed under the structure and intellectual stimulation, or something like that, and Kate cheerfully puttered around the edges, and I was all, yay ancient Rome! I love nouns! Yay math workbooks! Hurray for nature studies! School is much more interesting than cooking and cleaning!

Meg and I have been reading through The Rotten Romans by Terry Deary. It’s written in a breezy, entertaining style, full of comic strips and “What would you do if you were Vercingetorix???” quizzes. The advantage to this is that Meg is really enjoying it. The disadvantage is it’s really written for the gross-out boy crowd, which we are not, so I keep quietly editing. There’ll be time enough for Spartacus’s slave revolt and that charming subsequent mass crucifixion when we aren’t six and two.

Meg has an unexpected knack for military strategy. She gets it from her father. I will forever treasure the day she was sword-fighting with her little boy friends and chased after one of them, waving a foam sword and shrieking, “No, no! Don’t retreat, you’re WINNING!” So she’s following right along with the Romans and the Britons backseat-driving their sieges. The book mentioned that the Britons were iron miners, which triggered her Minecraft reasoning. In Minecraft, when you dig for iron, you often come across lava, which can be picked up in a bucket. Meg suggested the Britons pour lava over the town walls to chase off the Roman siege. That certainly would have been effective. I disappointed her deeply by saying we can’t make buckets that hold lava in the real world. We agreed that boiling oil and tar was an acceptable substitute, which Vercingetorix did use, but it was not as good.

And then the book started talking about Boudicca.

I actually do know something about Boudicca, because I studied and translated the original sources for a Latin paper in college. I know, for instance, that the two main sources are Tacitus, whose father-in-law was present for her revolt, and Dio Cassius, who lived about 150 years later and whom I remember as a purveyor of tall tales for bored Romans. Dio Cassius has most of the entertaining details, including the dramatic bits about Boudicca being six feet tall with wild red hair, but he’s just not as reliable, historically speaking.

I was really excited when The Rotten Romans started quoting Dio Cassius. A children’s book! Quoting an actual source! Major bonus points! Okay, it was Dio Cassius, and that’s not a great translation, but still! Then The Rotten Romans went into Tacitus’s account of the battle, dismissed his casualty counts as utter nonsense, and went so far as to accuse Tacitus of fibbing. It actually spent a couple of paragraphs talking about judging the reliability of your sources. I was impressed again that a children’s book would go into that, because children’s histories are often sloppy—but seriously? You dismiss Tacitus and quote Dio Cassius without batting an eye? Priorities, people!

So bless her heart, in her first week of first grade, Meg got to learn about Vercingetorix, Roman siege tactics, Boudicca’s revolt, and how Tacitus was a way better historian than Dio Cassius and you shouldn’t believe everything you read in history books. Meg, incidentally, holds to the theory that Tacitus and Dio Cassius were both wrong, and actually the Romans killed Boudicca.

Next I think we’ll start on Plutarch. He says “Sulla” is a nickname that means “Pimply.”

Photo Credit: iStock.