Thursday, July 20, 2017

Back to School: Historical Fiction Resources for the Classroom

The end of summer is looming – depending on where you live, school may be starting in only a couple of weeks. If you'd like to find some new historical fiction resources for your classroom or home school use, check out these sources.

Confessions of a Teaching Junkie has some great resources in her Hooray for Historical Fiction! post. She lists books on the Civil War, Immigration to the US, World War II, and the 1960s/Civil Rights. She also provides guidelines on using Mentor texts and classroom activities.

Scholastic has a post by Tarry Lindquist on Why and How I Teach With Historical Fiction: Why one teacher uses historical fiction in the classroom, tips for choosing good historical fiction, and strategies for helping students differentiate between fact and fiction.

The Curriculum Corner offers a download of Historical Fiction Resources. Some of these sound really interesting, with lessons on Comparing Fact and Fiction, Visualizing the Time Period, comparing books, comparing the past to today, and thinking about how characters in the story might present themselves in modern social media. The package also offers journal response pages, a comic strip template, book club celebration ideas, and much more.

Share My Lesson has thousands of items under the Historical Fiction heading, including general lessons for reading/understanding/writing historical fiction, and lesson plans for specific books. You can find my lesson plans for The Well of Sacrifice (pre-Columbian Mayan times), The Eyes of Pharaoh, and The Genie's Gift here as well. As a bonus, all of the lessons here are free!

Teachers Pay Teachers offers a variety of lesson plans when searching for historical fiction. Prices vary from free to over $20. A teacher has provided an extensive, chapter by chapter guide to my novel, The Well of Sacrifice, for $14, or you can get lesson plans I've provided for free. The site also has, for free, A CCSS-Aligned Guide for The Eyes of Pharaoh, my middle grade novel set in ancient Egypt, and a Teaching Guide for The Genie's Gift, a middle grade historical fantasy set in the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Teacher Vision has over 150 items tagged as Historical Fiction, including many book discussion guides.

If you are interested in getting classroom sets of The Eyes of Pharaoh or The Genie's Gift at a discount, contact the publisher, Spellbound River Press, or order direct through Ingram.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 40 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her 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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Noah’s Flood and the Archaeological Discoveries. by Elizabeth. W, C. Junner

It has been an unusually wet year in Québec. So wet it got me thinking Noah's Flood would be an appropriate theme for this blog.
In their book, Noah’s Flood, William Ryan and Walter Pitman illustrate ‘the new scientific discoveries about the event that changed history’ with fascinating accounts of Henry C. Rawlinson and George Smith and their tremendous contribution to historical data.
Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, aged 17, volunteered as a cadet to the East India Company in1827. On the four month voyage by clipper ship from England to India, young Rawlinson enjoyed much stimulating discourse with the Governor of Bombay. The Governor aroused a passion for Persia’s history, religion and ancient languages in Henry. From his new friend Henry also obtained a detailed account of the studies on ancient Hindu history and religious texts written in archaic Sanskrit made by the English High Court judge, Sir William Jones, while he was serving in Calcutta.
The oldest of these texts, the Rig-Veda, depicted the history of Manu, an Aryan. Manu was warned a deluge would cover the earth and that therefore he should prepare a ship which would carry him, his family, and livestock to safety on a high mountain. During his intensive studies Sir William noted a link in some common words and in syntax between Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Welsh, early German, and Persian.
Rawlinson was struck by the similarity between the age-old Hindu text and the Biblical account in Genesis of a great flood and of one man building a huge ship three storeys high in which he housed two of every species. But what really excited Henry was the judge’s discovery of the link in all those ancient tongues – did they have a common wellspring? What treasures from the earliest history of man might lie buried beneath the desert sands?
 Fresh from studying the classics, Henry easily became fluent in Persian, Arabic, and Hindustani. He took a post with the First Grenadier Guards Regiment which was stationed in Bombay and in March, 1835, as an officer with the company, he was sent to Kermanshah, Persia, to act as military advisor to the Shah’s brother.While in Kermanshah he visited Persepolis and strolled amidst the tombs of the ancient kings. Seized by the thought one of them could be that of King Darius l, the Great, Rawlinson hired a Kurdish boy as a guide to help him find it. 
The lad led him to the great Behistun Rock, the first time anyone from the western world had even heard about the rock’s existence, let alone seen the great vertical slab. Here, in ancient cuneiform script, was the proclamation of Darius the Great. One can only imagine the electric thrill which shot through young Henry as he viewed the writing in the massive rock.
Desperate to examine and copy the script into his notebook, and then to interpret it, Henry had himself lowered down the sheer face by a daring means of ropes and ladders. Though an experienced climber, he nearly lost his life at one point. However, over the course of two years he interpreted enough of the inscriptions on the rock to send his findings to the Royal Asiatic Society in London where he was acclaimed as the first person to crack the cuneiform code.

In that same autumn of 1835, Charles Darwin finished five weeks of observing the Galapagos Finches. His observations on these, and his assertion that man and animal shared a common ancestry electrified  Victorian society; he shocked the  religious Victorians and delighted the scientists.  Rawlinson’s discovery of the Behistun Rock and Darwin’s theories were both major talking points. Which was truth, the  Biblical story or evolution from amoeba?
In 1840, the levees along the banks of the Tigris collapsed under torrential rain. The resultant flood buried the streets of Baghdad under a layer of mud several feet thick, and houses and walls crumbled under the rushing waters. Around this time a young English adventurer, Austen Henry Layard, visited Kermanshah, saw the Behistun Rock, the as-yet undeciphered Babylonian and Elamite scripts, and Rawlinson’s translations.
Fired by the desire to recover ruins of antiquity himself, Layard returned to Mosul a year or so later and with thirty Bedouin labourers uncovered the city of Nimrud, the second ruling capital of Assyria. They unearthed huge sculptured slabs and frescoes, but perhaps the most breathtaking find for Layard were two immense winged bulls with human heads – the guardians of the city gates. However, his poor awestruck workers fled in terror at sight of the monstrous beasts, as did the crowd of onlookers!

Great were the ancient treasures Layard unearthed and shipped back to England. When he had finished his dig at Nimrud, he returned to Mosul, still filled with the desire to seek the ancient cities buried in the sand. In particular, he wanted to investigate Kuyunjik but he needed caution, since the site was an Islamic shrine and cemetery.
He was rewarded. At the north gate the diggers uncovered a pair of winged creatures that dwarfed even the gigantic bulls of Nimrud.  After coming on the limestone slabs of a great palace, with Rawlinson’s help translating, Layard learned he had discovered the fabled Nineveh of Sennacherib. They
found the royal library of King Assurbanipal, the floor of which was littered with clay tablets, many broken but a good number still intact. Rawlinson could not decipher the script, so he turned the task over to his protégé, the gifted linguist George Smith, who determined the writing was  Akkadian, a Semitic tongue.
The fragments George Smith assembled with painstaking care revealed a heathen hand had, two and a half thousand years earlier, recounted the story of Noah almost exactly as given in Genesis  Obsessed by the scriptures since he could read, this was treasure beyond George's wildest dreams. The history of modern man!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Taking the Present Out of the Past

By Suzanne Morgan Williams

This spring, thanks to a grant from Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, I had the opportunity to interview a number of historians and cultural experts for my work-in-progress. It’s historical novel set in the 1600s in Massachusetts. Creating that world, where people’s knowledge and belief systems are so different from our own, feels a bit like writing fantasy or sci-fi. I’m building a lot of the world from the ground up. Yes, I can identify the trees, animals, and the weather. I’m pretty sure anger was still ugly and that people wanted to be loved. But how did they feel about themselves? Did they expect the same things we do? I’m convinced their views on heaven, hell, and this earth in between were very, very different.

I asked one historian what pitfalls I might face in developing my teen girl protagonist. He almost slapped his palm to his face and said, “Just don’t make her a spunky red-headed girl.” Then he talked to me about “presentism.” His premise was that people in the past, and particularly in the early colonial era, really didn’t want the same things that we do; that their main concerns were far removed from ours. (Although I’ll postulate that their emotional reactions were undoubtedly similar.) I’ve had a similar discussion with a writer friend who is active in educating other writers and illustrators about different perspectives in our diverse world. As a Muslim woman, she objects to Muslim girl characters being given motives by non-Muslim writers that she believes are not true to their cultural and religious background. We have to be careful – not everyone is just like us.

Of course, when an author creates a fictional character, we are in charge of their wants and fears, their motives and reactions. But for me, in writing a historical novel that children will use to augment their take on history, I need to keep the milieu of that time and place authentic. I don’t know if I’ve ever been quite as challenged by that as I am now. I’m trying to create characters living 450 years ago – before we knew about infectious diseases, electricity, or believed in equal rights. It was the time when religion was so closely tied to politics and class that dividing the three, in our modern way, is almost impossible and not very useful. The afterlife was not just a promise but also a threat. Writings from that era seem distressingly black and white. But I’m sure life itself was as messy and nuanced as it is today. How to capture that?

The easy part of excising “presentism” from my writing, is finding metaphors that can’t work – “An electric current ran up my arm,” for example. Electricity had yet to be “discovered.” The harder part is making the characters relatable to today’s readers while staying true to the history and without making them seem stilted or ignorant. They were people of their times as are we. If I can get that message across, that they had their own struggles and found ways to deal with them, then I’ve succeeded. Wish me luck.