Tuesday, October 17, 2017

LeeAnn Wilmot on the Creation of Empathy and Safe Spaces in Historical Fiction

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells Scout that

“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Atticus is articulating the concept of empathy; the ability to feel another‘s feelings, and understand from their point of view. 

Historic fiction provides a little distance; there is no current or personal issue, and the reader is allowed to imagine feelings, without any personal threat.  Though removed in time and space, Zane in Zane and the Hurricane is someone with whom middle grade readers can identify.  Zane is 12; his life is not unlike our reader’s lives.  His journey through hurricane Katrina sweeps him from his usual life into experiences of joy, loss, sorrow, fear, and bravery.  He meets the grandmother he didn’t know existed and finds that he’s not at all sure that he likes her. He encounters dangerous events and people.

Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team,
 - http://visibleearth.nasa.gov
Many of our children have or will encounter dangerous people and events, and a great many of them will not.  And, maybe more of them fear dangerous people and events which they imagine will come someday. The hurricane setting, oddly, provides some safety when it comes to considering how to respond to danger, real or imagined. Zane recognizes danger and is appropriately fearful, but he also learns to seek safety and guidance. Zane isn’t really heroic--that might remove the opportunity for genuine empathy--but he is honest and caring and helpful, even when he’s scared.
Zane encountered realities in his life that many of us might prefer to hide from our children: parents in rehab, parents in jail, caretakers and friends who are not wholesome and protective.  Zane and the Hurricane does not emphasize these aspects of life, but they are mentioned, and contribute to the movement of the story.  Despite these factors Zane (usually) makes good choices; these are just aspects of his life and not a consuming focus. His mistakes in judgement are mentioned casually with the same lack of emphasis as the mention of dead bodies floating in the water; life moves forward. Difficulties and mistakes are absorbed into forward progression. There is no lingering, no berating.

The reader can identify with Zane partly because it’s “just a story,” about something which happened long ago.  Even though these parts of life may be very different for the reader, the reader can also sense that these children are not so very different, and we share feelings across time and space.  I would probably be frightened; I might chase my dog in the storm even though I knew not to. I might make mistakes, but I too will recover from them and manage my situation despite danger and adversity.

When children read about challenging events, hurricanes and wars, it’s common to ask, “How would you feel if……..?” Feelings are not so much evoked in non-fiction exercises. Non-fiction presents the reader with facts and details which can be compartmentalized, perhaps necessarily so. As an adult, even I was overwhelmed by the facts of Hurricane Katrina--all those people on rooftops! Early on, for me,  real people became just dots on rooftops. I just could not think about this. But, fictionalized characters offer a face and words to both free and limit our imaginations, and so I was able to journey with just one person, Zane, to see and feel the event through his eyes. I was able to experience both compassion and empathy--which I avoided when reading or seeing the news--when I looked through Zane’s eyes. I believe that this one brave, frightened, disobedient, and courageous child may create safe space for our middle school readers to feel all those feelings, too.

LeeAnn Wilmot is a youth librarian with the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Library. When she is not at the library, she can be found hanging out with her three Rottweilers, and reading, of course.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Sara K Joiner: Horror Historicals

Are you more likely to see a ghost in October?
photo by Sara K Joiner

October is the time of year when we want to be scared. The weather turns cooler, the trees begin losing their leaves, and we want to sit around a fire (either indoors or out) and give ourselves nightmares with tales of ghosts and devils, murder and mayhem.

Sit back. Relax. And enjoy some of these frightening treats that are all set in the past.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Orphaned Irish siblings travel to England and find work as servants in a creepy house. An enormous tree is growing into the house, and the family the siblings work for seems to be growing paler and weaker with each passing day. Will the siblings be able to save their employers from the evil creeping into the house? Or will they only have time to save themselves?

The Shadows That Rush Past: A Collection of Frightening Inuit Folktales by Rachel A. Qitsualik, illustrated by Emily Fiegenschuh and Larry MacDougall
Four stories passed down through generations of Inuit storytellers describe a horrible child-stealing ogress, a monster that is half man and half grizzly bear, an ice-covered polar bear that is ten times the size of a normal bear, and a creature who surprises unsuspecting people by tickling them to death. The illustrations can be horrific and heroic as men and women, children and adults are depicted fighting monsters and suffering their fates.

Wee Winnie Witch's Skinny: An Original African American Scare Tale by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Barry Moser
A boy and his uncle become victims of Wee Winnie, a witch who hangs her skin on a hook by the door and flies around on people. Only the boy's grandmother can save them, but how do you trick a witch, especially one as gruesome as Wee Winnie? The illustrations are wood engravings which up the creep factor even more and will haunt readers.

Forbidden by Eve Bunting
A teenage orphan girl is sent to live with an aunt and uncle she has never met on the stormy coast of Scotland. She finds herself surrounded by people, including her relatives, who are threatening and mysterious. Suspicious and determined to learn the truth about her new home, she finds answers that are more horrifying than anything she could have imagined.

Sara K Joiner is the author of After the Ashes. She is also a public librarian.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Natural Habitat of Fiction: Time Travel

Historical fiction is probably the closest any of us will get to time travel. Through it we can retrace paths we've already taken, or be transported to times we've never been. We see the past through a different set of eyes, taste the food, hear the talk, sing new songs, learn a foreign dance. Historical fiction is not only time travel, it is true magic.

Historic Time Travel 

The amount of historic or "time-slip" fiction, as it is sometimes called, is astonishing. Publishers produce more every year. Why is this?

One reason is that time travel allows us to make comparisons between our time and another. Time travel usually jumps between contemporary and historic periods, but can take place between one historic period and another, as in Louise Spiegler's  "The Jewel and the Key". The protagonist can also travel from the past to the present or even from the future to the past. Each combination offers a unique comparison between times, giving us a perspective we wouldn't get any other way. 

"In a way, time-slip fiction is simply a matter of art imitating life . . . . the reality of the history against which I set my adventures, is obviously shaped by now--by how things are and by who I am." --Kate Mosse

The popularity of time travel goes beyond comparisons, though. It 

is in Mosse's words "art imitating life." All history is viewed from the perspective of the one who views it--from the frame of reference from which one hangs all experience.  This is why historical time travel is especially suited for children. It is much easier to enter history through what is known. Connect young readers with dynamic contemporary characters, and they will follow them anywhere, even the past. 


Once established, these characters and the endless possibilities of history naturally lends itself to series. It was the recipe that launched my youngest son into the world of reading, thanks to Mary Osborne and her Magic Tree House books. She couldn't write them fast enough for him. Another of our favorites is The Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka. You can find more series on Susan Olson's blog, listed in the resources below.

"In truth, we all inhabit a time slip. As we go about our daily business, we are accompanied by the thoughts and feelings, the hopes and memories of our pasts. They shape how we behave and think and feel. History is a part of who we are--personal history and the greater forces that have shaped us." --Kate Mosse

As Duncan Sprott states "The past is the natural habitat of fiction." It is the natural habitat for all of us, because we are intimately connected to it. It is a magic we have made for ourselves.



Be sure to revisit Louise Spiegler's post "on Writing The Jewel and the Key," and Chris Eboch's post on "Traveling Through #History." Louise describes her process as well as joys and challenges of writing historical fiction. Chris continues the theme in addition to making some great book suggestions.

Time Travel Times Two : Blog by Susan Olson who reviews time travel fiction for middle-grade and young adult. Not all are historical. Check out Some Fun Lists and the links from there to specific genre trails.

List of Time Travel Books for Young Adult, Middle Grade and Children's Audiences This is an extensive list with clear headings for audience and genre.

Goodreads Children's Time Travel Fiction of the 1900s If you are looking for a particular era during the 1900s, Goodreads has lists by decade.

Historical Novel Society has lists of past and forthcoming historical novels for children (not specifically for time travel). This is a great way to discover what is coming up and when you can "generally" expect to get your hands on a copy. It includes several prior years.

Resource for writers and quotes for this post taken from: Brayfield, Celia & Sprott, Duncan. 2014. Writing Historical Fiction: A Writer's & Artist's Companion. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sports and Games from History, with Chris Eboch

Some young people struggle to connect to history. If you have young athletes, try looking at sports from other times and in other cultures. Finding the similarities can be a way to get kids interested in history.

For example, the Maya had games and toys that may still seem familiar. Here’s a description from Life among the Maya:

Even with all their duties, Maya children found some time to play. They probably had dolls and toy animals, and they used a marked board and beans to play a game something like checkers. They likely played ball games using rubber balls. In a few western Mexico villages today, the Maya play a ball game probably descended from the ancient version.

Editor Colleen P. Popson studied the game for Archaeology magazine and described the scoring system. “A team wins points when the opposing team makes an error, like missing the ball, hitting out of turn, extending over the center line when returning a serve, knocking the ball out of bounds, failing to announce the score after winning a point, touching the ball with the hands, or, curiously, accidentally touching a teammate. If a ball stops moving before it reaches the center line, it is a … dead ball, and a point for the other team. The team to score eight points first wins.”

Projects can connect historical fiction, history, the arts and more

Learning through Playing

Board games were also popular: In The Mystery of the Ancient Maya, Meyer and Gallenkamp say, “Markets were, as well, meeting places where people gathered and exchanged ideas with visitors from other areas. There may have been games of chance when people got together to trade and talk. One popular marketplace game was played by throwing 'dice' – kernels of dried corn painted with black marks – and betting on how they would fall.”

On her now-defunct website, Nancy McNelly described the Maya game Bul.

“‘Game boards’ have been found scratched into the stone of building floors and the bases of stelae….

“In Bul, a ‘board’ was made by placing 15 grains of corn in a row, the 14 spaces between grains being used for play. Four flat grains of corn with a black mark burned into one side served as dice. When the grains were tossed the count was based on the number that fell with the burned side up (1 burned side and 3 unburned = 1, etc.). But if all the kernels came up blank, the count was 5.

“Bul can be played with any even number of participants. The example used here is the simplest arrangement, with only 2 players. Each player has 5 game pieces; these could be any readily available item: seeds, sticks, bits of cloth, etc. …

“Opposing players each start with a single game piece at opposite ends of the board; each gets two throws of the corn in a row, advancing his marker the number of spaces indicated after each throw. When a game piece reaches the opposite end of the board, it is re-entered at the end where it started, as if the board were circular.

“The real point was to land on a space already occupied by your opponent. You would then take the other game piece ‘captive’ and change direction to drag it back to your ‘home’ end of the board. Once this was done, you could re-enter your piece into play, while the captive marker was ‘dead’. Play continued in this way until all of one side’s pieces were dead.

“With two players, as soon as one captured the other’s marker, there was no way to prevent it from being carried off the board. With multiple players divided into two teams, the situation was different. [Partners could rescue each other by] dragging both the captured piece and the opponent’s marker towards the other end of the board, where the partner’s marker was freed to be put back into play, while the opponent’s piece was dead. If enough people were involved in the game, it could take up to three hours for all of one side’s pieces to be killed.”

If you are studying the Maya, how about trying one of these games?

P. S. Neeley Shareware offers downloadable games from different cultures, including ancient Egypt and the Maya. It also has Viking, Sumerian, Japanese, Aztec, Chinese, and Moorish games.

Adding Historical Fiction

You can round out the lesson by reading historical fiction that includes sports and games. In The Well of Sacrifice, Eveningstar Macaw watches an exciting ball game:

Our team started with the ball, which was as big as my head and made of hard, solid rubber. The leader tossed the ball up and then bounced it off the thick protective pad he wore around his hips. The ball hit the sloped stone wall on the side of the court and spun back. Another player dove and managed to deflect the ball off his arm pad….

The novel also includes a Mayan legend about how the Hero Twins bested the Lords of Death in several challenges, including a ballgame. Read that legend online at Teaching the Myths.

Learning history through games and sports can work in the classroom or with homeschooling. But you don't have to be a teacher – anyone can have fun learning history while playing games!

Get lesson plans to use with The Well of Sacrifice, The Eyes of Pharaoh, and The Genies Gift at the "For Teachers" tab on my website.

Subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe buttons to the right, or add http://madaboutmghistory.blogspot.com/ to Feedly or another reader.

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page

Friday, September 8, 2017

Who Was Robert E. Lee? by E.W. C. Junner

            As American children start their new school year, what will they be reading in their history books now that many States are launching an attack on some heroes of American history? It is not the purpose of this blog to dwell on the recent ugly incidents in Charlottesville, Virginia, but to write about General Robert E. Lee does seem appropriate. I’d like to find the reasoning behind the Charlottesville mayor and council’s desire to remove the statue of General Lee.
I know nothing about America’s Civil War other than that it followed a bare seventy-eight years after the War of Independence from Great Britain, and pitted followers of Abraham Lincoln in the North against those of Jefferson Davis in the South. I have read a little about heroes from both sides. Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman turned the tide of battle to victory for the North, yet it is the Generals from the South, Robert E. Lee and Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson  whose are the names most often heard, spoken almost with reverence.
Why should the town worthies of a Southern State be so adamant in their desire to remove the statue of their champion General Lee, seated on his famous horse Traveller, from its position? Doesn’t this amount, at the very least, to wanton destruction of an important piece of art? The mayor and town councillors are not only removing a statue which adds a measure of distinction to the town, they are in effect dismissing as irrelevant one of the most important figures from a major episode in the history of the United States.
General Robert E. Lee on Traveller
This is America’s history; for good or bad. I quote from Robert E. Lee here, “Everyone should do all in his power to collect and disseminate the truth, in the hope that it may find a place in history and descend to posterity.”
So I checked to see what was so heinous about General Lee.
Robert Edward Lee was born 19th January, 1807, the son of Colonel Henry Lee and his wife Ann. When Robert was eleven years old his father died of injuries sustained in the Baltimore riot. Raised by his mother, he entered West Point military academy from where he graduated second in his class, without one demerit and with perfect scores in artillery, infantry and cavalry.
Lee married Mary Custis, the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington through her first marriage. His army duties took him all across America as he rose from Assistant to the Chief Engineer of the Army to the rank of Captain. In 1846 he rendered distinguished service in the war with Mexico. For this he received glowing praise from his commander.1848 saw Lee stationed in Mexico, then for three years he was Superintendent of West Point Academy. As Lieutenant Colonel of the Second Cavalry he served against Indians in Texas. He suppressed John Brown’s insurrection, and was appointed Colonel of the First Cavalry.
Then came the rumblings of war, North against South. Again I quote General Lee, ‘There is a terrible war coming, and these young men who have never seen war cannot wait for it to happen, but I tell you, I wish that I owned every slave in the South, for I would free them all to avoid this war.’
On 16th April, 1861, Abraham Lincoln summoned Lee and offered him the command of the United States Armies. This Lee refused, and on 20th April he resigned his commission in the army. He stated, ‘with all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relative, my children, my home. I have, therefore, resigned my commission in the Army’ Three days later he accepted command of the Virginia forces under President Jefferson Davis.
‘What a cruel thing war is…to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbours’ and the Christian Lee was always evident, ‘I have never cherished towards (the people of the North) bitter or vindictive feelings. And I have never seen the day when I did not pray for them.’
Robert E. Lee exhibited his astute military command, winning many victories against a vastly superior force. Always, he considered the ordinary people – he took care to intrude upon their lives as little as possible. He had in General T.J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson a most able military man and good friend. Jackson’s death, from friendly fire, affected Lee grievously.
A sad and weary General Lee after Jackson's death - 'I have lost my right arm'.
In the end, with his small, staunchly loyal band severely depleted due to death on the battlefield and death from disease, General Robert Edward Lee lost his last battle when Richmond fell on April 3rd, 1865.
 “I suppose there is nothing for me to do but go and see General Grant,” he told an aide. “And I would rather die a thousand deaths.” 
Pardoned by Lincoln and Grant, Lee ended his days as President of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. This was a man who exhorted Americans to “Abandon your animosities and make your sons American.” What’s to revile? What not to respect? Or, to quote the Bard in finish:
…Nature might stand up And say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’
General Robert Edward Lee

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Voices of the Past

by Suzanne Morgan Williams

I'm finishing up a manuscript and I'm in part of the process that's unique to writing historical novels. Those of you who aren't writers may easily imagine that writing a historical involves research into the time and place. You know the author has to check out certain objects in the book - for example being sure, if the characters ride bicycles in the 1870's, that bicycles had been invented by then. There is research to be done on everything from recipes and roadways .

But authors also  have to create a voice for their work that rings true to the period without seeming stilted or hard to read. I've always thought of this in terms of cadence and certain old fashioned tag words -  "The fighting commenced at daylight." Of course there are words specific to the setting. "Water raged through the arroyo." But what I find really interesting are the words and phrases you can't use in a historical novel. 

My current manuscript is a love story and I found that many words describing romance and excitement are modern. Consider "A current ran up my arm," "His touch was electric," "It was as though I'd flipped a switch and the lights came on." See what I mean? You can't write about electricity in a book that takes place when people didn't know what it was. 

But even more interesting to me is that some words didn't exist at the time of my manuscript. One of my careful beta readers pointed this out. Did you know that "goosebumps" came into usage in the 1800s? This word doesn't work in a book set in the 1600s. "In a pickle," however does. There are choices of setting too. I have a manuscript that's set in the Arctic and one of my descriptions was of the cracks in sea ice as it breaks apart in the thaw. I said "like veins of a dying leaf."  Later, I realized there are no trees in the Arctic - that's part of the definition of that biome. My protagonist wouldn't compare anything to leaves. I changed the simile to bones.   I'm often a little annoyed as I discover these problems but then I enjoy the hunt of research and replacement. I get a kick out of creating authentic voices of the time.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

4 Tools to Help You Teach History by Mary Louise Sanchez

If you love historical fiction and share this love with others, you are a teacher, whether you are in the classroom, school or public library!
Hopefully you've read how you can find good historical fiction books by our very own blogger, Chris Eboch, on this site. Her recent post, Back to School: Historical Fiction Resources for the Classroom, is a good resource.

One of the best ways to teach history is for the teacher to keep learning. Make it easy on yourself and read the best books! Study the lists of award trade books from various years put out by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) in cooperation by the Children's Book Council (CBC).

By now, your room is set up and you're teaching your students basic classroom management skills. Before you start teaching with those great historical fiction stories, there are a couple more items you might consider getting or making to help you set the stage for teaching history.

1. Globes and Maps

About 50% of what is learned is through sight. Children learn so much by seeing where in the world they are going to visit—even in a story. In my school, maps were already hanging on classroom walls, but the teachers went to the school library to check out globes. If your school doesn't have any, or they are out of date, mention this to your principal. The Social Studies curriculum committees in your district should periodically update globes and maps. Ask for a time line of when these necessary and updated items are purchased.

Historical maps are a bonus! You can access some at:

Library of Congress

Perry-CastaƱeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas at Austin

2. Primary Sources

Students are expected to analyze these documents. There are many websites at your fingertips that will give you access to many primary sources so that your students can peer over a historian's shoulder.

The Library of Congress provides help on using primary sources and even lesson plans .

3. Timeline

Again, this is a visual that can help students learn relationships in time and chronology. While the laminator is still smoking hot in your schools, make a long timeline which can be laminated and be prominently posted in your classroom for learning experiences. I made one with dot matrix paper that was used in old printers in the 1980s. Your school may still have some of this paper in storage or ask the art teacher if he/she took it!

You could also use regular paper and write on it in the landscape view, then lay it out on the reverse side to tape together. This should make it easy to laminate a continuous timeline. Another option would be to purchase craft paper in rolls, in the width you prefer.

I divided my timeline into century increments. Each century was one one half of a landscape page of paper. As the years progressed on the timeline, I even labeled decades on a page. I started my timeline with Pre-historic dates and events, which could be helpful if you are teaching in a religious school. Make the dates readable from afar and use color to highlight periods of history ie. Pre-Historic Era; Roman Empire; Renaissance; Colonial Period; WWII, etc. Don't forget to add the present decade.

Also have students cut out pictures of historical events, important people, and important events from various disciplines and paste them next to the correct time period on the timeline.

On the timeline, I always showed when in history our story took place in relation to the time period we were living in. This simple  concept helps students make connections.

Students can also make their own timelines about themselves or for their curricular study of history.

Timelines are invaluable tools to help connect individual events to larger movements in history and to see how they overlap.

4. Laser Pointer

I was able to sit in my chair as I pointed out the time period settings of various books to students.
Then by pointing to the present day time period for a comparison, students could visually see time fly by the centuries and decades. This gives students needed background knowledge. You can even use the pointer as pre-assessment and assessment tool. You might ask students to guess when a story takes place or even identify how many centuries ago something happened.

I believe these little strategies can help set the stage for teaching history and will engage your students. Be sure to also provide information about the context of the historical events your are teaching. If you are introducing Number the Stars, you could point to the WWII era on your timeline and note how your students' great grandfathers may have fought in this war, This would certainly pique their interest.

I hope you can implement some of these tips to help make history come alive for your students. What helpful tools can you share?