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.

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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 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