HOW HISTORICAL FICTION CAN TURN YOUNG HISTORY HATERS INTO HISTORY LOVERS
Why do some kids like history and others hate it?
It’s all in the presentation.
If a child’s first experience with history is a teacher who sees it as a series of dates and facts to be memorized and gives the impression he or she would prefer to be teaching any other subject going, the child is unlikely to hold it in high esteem either. But if the teacher approaches history like a stand-up comedian, imparting humorous or disgusting (but kid-pleasing) pieces of historic information à la Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories, or in the manner of a medieval bard telling a tale in hushed or dramatic tones, the subject becomes far more attractive.
There’s no way to predict if a child’s first history teacher is going to be a fact machine or a storyteller, but if he or she is already well acquainted with, and well disposed towards, history, it won’t much matter. Fortunate young history enthusiasts will happily absorb all a storyteller has to offer and the less fortunate ones will just ride out their time with a fact machine and pray to get Mr. or Ms. History Buff next year.
One way for parents and caregivers to turn children into history enthusiasts is to remember that the word ‘history’ contains the word ‘story’. As Rudyard Kipling once said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” And the earlier the stories start, the better. Well-illustrated picture books can subtly introduce children to bygone times before they’re even old enough to grasp what bygone times are, luring them into the past with interesting characters in interesting surroundings. Grandparents or great-grandparents can provide further ‘olden days’ stories as they recount incidents from their childhoods. Those who come from eras in which the memorization of poetry was a curriculum mainstay can give an added feel for history through expressive renditions of long, narrative poems that enable to children to conjure up images of other eras. (Alfred Noyes’s The Highwayman”, Thomas Campbell’s, “Lord Ullin’s Daughter”, and Rose Hartwick Thorpe’s “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight” were among those my mother considered suitable bedtime fare for her offspring.)
For those thus prepared, books with historical settings will be familiar territory when they’re ready to choose their own reading material, and for many, fiction is more enticing than non-fiction. Straightforward historical fiction gives young readers a chance to relate to historical happenings from the mind-set of someone living in those times, and time travel fiction inserts modern characters into historical events and allows them to interact with historical figures while still keeping a modern perspective from which to contrast their lives. Kids like both, and pick up information about food, clothing, work, recreation, beliefs, customs, and countless other aspects of earlier time periods without even realizing it.
I explore other ways to get kids to engage with history on my blog, Time Travelling With Kids, which can be found at: http://reneeduke.wordpress.com/
My own historical novels for middle graders are The Disappearing Rose (15th-Century England: the mystery of the Princes in the Tower) and The Mud Rose (Victorian England: Street urchins vs. Jack the Ripper), the first two books in my (eventually) five-book Time Rose series.
Both are available for purchase at: