As the holiday season is once again upon us, our thoughts turn to family. We remember Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other holiday gatherings. What a wealth of story nuggets we have available to us if we open our eyes and ears at family gatherings. These nuggets can make for authentic stories of historical fiction.
Authors of historical fiction often draw inspiration from their own lives and lives of their family members. Children can do the same thing. Teachers should encourage children to write and share their own stories. As Isabel Campo says, "Our universe is made up of 'vacant silences'. There is room for seven billion stories, one written by each person in this tiny planet."
We also learned Santa Claus never visited our ancestors—not even my parents, who were born in the 1920s. In fact, my dad's northern New Mexican Christmas traditions resembled Halloween Trick or Treat today. He and his siblings went house to house gathering goodies as they asked for "Mis Christmas".On many Christmas Day evenings our dad played a Spanish version of the dreidel game with us. We bet using pinon nuts and never realized this was a Jewish game because the only Jews we knew were in the Bible. How did my ancestors learn this game in their rural, northern New Mexico homes?
In my work-in-progress, The Wind Called My Name, the story is loosely based on my mother's life growing up in a small Wyoming town during the 1930s. I used the fact that Santa Claus was not a predominate figure in my dad or mom's lives in the story. My mother's maternal grandmother lived with the family in Wyoming. So, I put my great-grandmother in the story because I knew her from my mother's stories. My other great-grandmother plays a part in the story too. I actually knew her and used a little idiosyncrasy about her in the story. Some other ancestors have a part in the story because I've met them through my genealogy research. (I'm toying with putting a family tree in the Acknowledgement page).
I gave my mom my first draft of my story as a gift about twelve years ago. Since then, I have made quite a few revisions. My father used to say my story was "all lies" because of all the changes I made to the story. He thought if you used real people in the story, then the story should be all factual. Thus, adults, as well as children, need to be taught and should understand that historical fiction stories are a combination of true facts and made-up details.
In the study of a historical fiction novel, it would be helpful to make a grid so that students can write down what they believe is factual and what they believe is imaginary. Then they can do research in various ways to check the facts about characters, settings, and plot. These are things I do to learn more about the author and what he/she writes. This activity could certainly be used with my middle grade historical fiction novel, The Wind Calls My Name. Its anticipated debut is summer of 2018.
1. Read the author's dedication for mention of people that might be in the story.
2. Read the author's notes about settings.
3. Read the author's Acknowledgement page.
4. Research character's names; historical events; places
Encourage your students to turn off their digital devices and connect to real people in their lives and family tree and see what roots they discover.
What story nuggets do you have from your own family or that you have learned about in stories?