Internet Field Trip: Fiction Illuminating the Past
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
Over the years I've become more and more interested in using historical fiction in my teaching. However, I have discovered that not all historical fiction is the same. Some of the older works, I've found, can be rife with stereotypes and misinformation. So when looking for good historical fiction to use with my students I am careful to find out if it is accurate, well-researched, and devoid of stereotypes. Such books, I have discovered, excite my students and deepen their understandings during an historical study.
After a rich exploration of firsthand accounts during a study of the Pilgrims with my fourth graders, I read aloud Kathryn Lasky's Dear America: A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower, 1620. This book, one from Scholastic's popular Dear America series, is a fictionalized diary by a young Pilgrim. Inspired by this book, my students did careful research, created their own imaginary Mayflower passengers, and wrote their own works of historical fiction.
For younger students, writer Deborah Hopkinson creates works rich in historical imagery. Deborah's Web site offers a wealth of material to aid teachers using books like Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, Birdie's Lighthouse, and A Band of Angels.
For older students, Karen Cushman's award-winning books can enrich a multitude of historical studies. Catharine Called Birdy, for example, is a worthwhile addition to a Middle Ages unit. Visit the Catherine Called Birdy page of Carol Hurst's Children's Literature site for some great lesson ideas. An interview with Karen Cushman can give students more insight into her research and inspiration for this book and others.