Literature is an important gateway to the past, present, and future. Yes, we can read textbooks. We can memorize facts. But it is literature that puts these things in a human perspective.
When I taught 8th grade English, I taught The Diary of Anne Frank. It will forever be my favorite unit to teach. We would read the dramatic version, and when we started, the students treated it like any other drama that they had read previously. But by the time we completed it, the characters were real to my students. I read that play with approximately 400 eighth graders in the years that I taught, and I don’t remember a single complaint. But my students always wanted more at the end.
I would not show them the most modern Anne Frank film because it was too graphic in certain parts for school, but many of them begged their parents to watch it at home. My students struggled with the fact that the play stops when those hiding in the annex are discovered. They wanted to know the specifics of what happened to Anne in the concentration camps. Those who watched the movie would often come back horrified at what they saw in the movie. It isn’t that they hadn’t learned about the Holocaust, it was that they were personally connected to the characters in the play. It made it real to them. They cared about those characters. They weren’t nameless facts in a textbook.
During my tenure as the media specialist at Manchester Jr/Sr High School, I worked with several of of our social studies teachers to do special reading promotions for historical fiction. These students would routinely tell their teachers that the outside reading was one of the most enjoyable components of the class. But the students were getting a choice in what they were reading, and they were reading stories instead of facts. Both are essential for engaging reluctant and emerging readers.
Historical fiction has the ability to bring the past to life for our students. It has the ability to provide personal connections and experiences. It is an important tool for educating our students about the past. History is essential to teach (we can’t feasibly understand the world we live in without understanding what happened in our past to make it this way), and historical fiction is a beautiful way to teach it. It puts a human element into something that otherwise only exists in a textbook. We hope you take some time during the busy holiday rush to read something from our genre this month, historical fiction, and a take a piece of history and re-learn it through a story.
November 28, 2016