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The Challenge of Professional Partnership and Teaching with Historical Fiction



There are two main roadblocks that hinder effectively sharing of children’s historical fiction. The first roadblock was discussed in the previous article. The second barrier, unfortunately, comes from library and education professionals themselves. In my research, I have read about and observed a parallel, yet unconnected objective in how children’s historical fiction is used in the classroom and promoted in libraries.

From the perspective of educators, the library has not been the best resource for gathering historical fiction. At the same time, public librarians (in particular) will emphasize that “teaching” history is not within their job description. These arguments are often true, but casting blame is not the solution. Both professions have the same goal: to pair young readers with the right books. Librarians will recognize this as S.R. Ranganathan’s 2nd and 3rd laws of library science; educators have their own pedagogical canon to refer to. Yet the point remains: there is a gap between the needs of educators and the role of librarians.

As educators ask, “How can I find the best historical fiction to use in my curriculum?” and librarians ask “How will I know what children’s historical fiction is needed to fit the demands of educators and young readers in my community?” maybe the better question for both professions to answer is this: “What is the point of collecting and encouraging middle grade historical fiction?” If we have a grounded answer to that question, the others will become easier to answer.

Many seasoned educators have taught the same curriculum for many years in a row. They might have a small selection of go-to titles that they believe to be accurate historical fiction. Unfortunately, historical fiction written even thirty years ago can become out-dated. As mentioned in other articles, it is not the history that has changed, but the contemporary roles, attitudes and expectations {Read more about it!} Being able to tap into the resources at one’s local or school library can greatly benefit your historical fiction collection. Even if you have to purchase your own classroom books (as is the case in many school districts across the country), seeking the advice and expertise of librarians is key to effectively teaching with historical fiction.


There is no replacement for talking to a flesh-and-blood librarian, yet before you head out the door, you can do a little research online first. Websites such as NoveList, Goodreads, your local library online catalog, and the School Library Journal’s online articles and reviews are great resources. Even Amazon and Pinterest are useful for finding read-alikes and reviews. If you are in Wisconsin (or close by in the Midwest), the Cooperative Children’s Book Center is another great way to find the right book for any need. And we must not forget smaller, but just as effective, blogs and websites made by individuals committed to literacy and collection management:

Librarians, you don’t need to be intimidated if social studies teachers begin knocking on your door. In addition to providing them with up-to-date information and quality literary resources, you should also use this time to build relationships between the library and your local school. You never know when you will need each other! Interest in school activities might just increase patronage at the library and other programming. And it will also open up opportunities for you to share quality literature (historical fiction or otherwise) at the school through booktalks and book clubs.

The role of a librarian might not be to “teach” historical awareness, but you can influence the learning process more than you might know. In a previous article I mentioned some ideas for library programming related to historical fiction. Whether it’s through Readers Advisory, library programming, or school visits, there are countless other ways to both promote historical fiction and teach something about the past at the same time.


TRY IT!

Educators:
On a free afternoon, or during your prepping period, do a test run! Think of time period you teach. Then use some of the resources above to find 3-5 historical fiction titles you might pair with other sources for your unit. If they turn out to be great matches, invite your local librarian to visit your classroom and booktalk your selected titles.


Librarians:
Pick a month to promote a certain genre or topic in historical fiction. It can be the popular months like Black History Month or Women’s History Month, yet it’s more fun to pick the obscure months that no one has heard of. I use the National Day Calendar. Once you’ve selected a theme or topic, set up a display table and/or bulletin board to post images of book covers, staff reviews, child-written reviews, related activities calendar, unique storytimes and read-alouds. Make sure you have multiple copies of the books you select so that eager readers will not be disappointed. Invite your new school friends to participate in your planned activities and look for books they might want to read. Encourage them to write a short review (maybe they’ll even get extra credit from their teacher).


Once you’ve successfully paired a young readers with a great work of historical fiction, what’s next? Did the child love the latest book by Richard Peck, Gary D. Schmidt, Kirby Larson or Gennifer Choldenko? Then maybe you could recommend a documentary by Ken Burns, suggest they check out the non-fiction section of the library, or even encourage them to visit a historical society, archive, or museum and look at actual things from the past. You never know what a little spark can do to ignite a children’s interest in learning about the past.

Comments

  1. Historical fiction tells the stories of ordinary people living in extraordinary times, and extraordinary people living in ordinary times. Historical fiction helps us fire up our passionate and knowledgeable students and readers because it uses emotion to make the facts matter. Helping children to be empathetic to others and more aware of themselves are two good and worthy reasons to use historical fiction. The young readers who immerse themselves in these stories will look at us adults and think “we can do better.” That’s why historical fiction is important. Fun and interesting history lessons customised for students learning needs.

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