Young Adult Literature

Historical Fiction, Granting Perspective

Let me take you back several years ago to when I came home from 7th grade world history class complaining about all of the dates I had to memorize because (*insert bratty eye roll here*) who even cares about all of this stuff that happened a hundred years ago? Little did I know that I was asking for a life lesson from my dad. He simply explained the importance of history is knowing history – in and out – because if we do not remember the mistakes of past generations, how do we know to not repeat them? How can we know ways to move forward and not backyard? What signs can we look for as indicators of dictators or oppressive circumstances? I remember this conversation completely transforming my perspective on studying history. Instead, it sparked my interest and the stories of those who lived history. Therefore, I believe that we must articulate the importance history, and consequently, historical fiction is in our classrooms. Although we must emphasize the “fiction” part of historical fiction because can’t have students thinking the individual’s stories are historical fat, it is an awesome way to provide students with perspective. By setting the scene during a particular time in history, for example, Nazi-occupied Holland like in The Girl In The Blue Coat, the reader is provided with a perspective and a new sense of empathy for a historical period.

Throughout the timeline of historical fiction, you are able to pinpoint different patterns of themes that occur, and I noticed the recurring interest in stories written about royalty and Medieval times. We see this pattern again in television as well as literature in shows like The Tudors. Although the content of The Tudors would not be appropriate to view in a classroom setting, I think that the hype surrounding these shows based in historical settings should help the cultural appeal to books that are historically focused. Historical fiction most definitely has a place in the bookshelves any classroom because we should promote literature that can impact students’ world views and historical fiction provides opportunities to grant perspective to our students. This genre also grants a space to work with other subjects and collaborate with the history department in your school. How great would it be to create a more well-rounded curriculum for students where they can learn about WWII in history class then jump over to literature class and read a novel from the perspective of a person in a Nazi-occupied region? Learning the facts with added perspective with an engaging book can only help students learn and keep them interested in the material.

After reading The Girl In The Blue Coat, I can see historical fiction as an opportunity to engage students in history and not just for nerdy readers like me. The importance of history has never been lost on me, but the ability for fiction to tell the untold stories of history grants so much room for growth in our students’ literary and academic lives.

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5 thoughts on “Historical Fiction, Granting Perspective

  1. Jamie! You always write your posts so beautifully. I love the lesson that your dad shared with you so many years ago. My dad is also a lover of history, and I can hear him saying the very same things to me. I believe that historical fiction is such a great way to expand upon what students are learning in the history classrooms. When readers see the individual stories that historical fiction novels present, they have a new view and a new connection to make between the past and the present. These novels make history relatable and real for students! After spending this week looking at historical fiction, I realize the importance that it should have in our classrooms (I think you see the importance too!).

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  2. I really like the idea that works in this genre can be used to help expand students’ understandings of history that they may be learning about in their SS class. Though we cannot and would not teach history through these texts, since they are works of fiction, it would definitely be an opportunity to help students gain perspective.

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  3. Hi Jamie!

    I’m so glad your dad gave you that lesson cause he’s right! And maybe those are the kinds of things we should tell our students about because I swear, after taking so many history classes throughout my life varying from region to region and using various modes like art or written accounts or whatever, I am able to understand so many things now as I’ve gotten older! And while traveling I’ve noticed I’ve had to explain to people the way something came to be or why a certain custom is in place or why certain people live the way they do because they never got that info and its so interesting. I really like that idea of combining it with a history class, I think it would be a great unit to do and like fully immerse our students with history and literature so they are able to learn about a large chunk of time but also learn a lot about those chunks of time. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Hey Jamie!
    I really love your post and how colorful you always make your writing. Your dad sounds a lot like my mom. I remember hating history as well, but it is literally a play book or answer key for how to live our lives. We learn mostly from our mistakes, so history teaches us how not to make those mistakes again. You also made a good point of how historical fiction allows the history and english departments to collide and combine. This could be beneficial for more discussion, and sets a more teamwork like atmosphere in the schools.

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  5. Hey Jamie! I loved the point that you brought up about why history and historical writing is important for students to learn – of course, we’ve all heard lots of times that history can be repeated if it’s forgotten, but I think it’s easy to just forget history out of disinterest, in the way that you felt annoyed by your history classes! I think that’s part of the reason that historical fiction writing needs to be very available to students – it allows them to learn about times in history that they’re particularly interested in!

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