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.