How to Teach History Using Fiction

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Wait, wait, I’m not talking revisionist history here, not about “taking sides” or rewriting it to suit our purposes…I’m talking about historical fiction.

Many years ago I discovered this genre when I had a daughter who loved to read and was bored to tears with history. In that ever-seeking way that many of us homeschooling moms have, I pondered and researched and talked to other moms and discovered that this resource made all the difference.

For those of you new to the genre, historical fiction takes a fictional character, places them in an actual point of time or historical setting, and fills out what the day-to-day details of what their life would most likely look like. The best books include details that pull the reader in, that make the character someone “real” to whom they can relate while staying true to actual events of the time.

And in honor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day today, I want to share with you my latest YA (young adult) historical fiction read that does all that and more: The Last Cherry Blossom, by Kathleen Burkinshaw.

I feel really fortunate to be scoring big on books lately! My daughter and I are enjoying our finds and sharing them with each other.

Our latest gem is Mrs. Burckinshaw’s debut novel, “The Last Cherry Blossom.” Taking place in Hiroshima, Japan in the year 1945, this story chronicles the life and events of 12-year old Yuriko-chan just prior to the “day of infamy”, when her world was shattered by the dropping of the atomic bomb.

In reality, Yuriko-chan’s story is based on those the author remembers hearing from her own mother, who shared them with her over the years. In this book, Mrs. Burckinshaw has taken loving care and effort in crafting a tale that is based on truth and made alive with “just enough” fiction.

This isn’t a re-write of history, but rather the telling of a lifetime of memories that puts the reader right in the middle of the action. Mrs. Burckinshaw’s writing style is easy; I read this book in one sitting (ok, maybe two if you count I started it in the evening and slept a few hours that night partway through), and I think I stopped breathing about 2/3 of the way through with the suspense!

Best of all, my 13-yr-old daughter and I had some wonderful conversations after reading it. Yes, there were some tough topics and concepts: death, loss, moving forward in life, trying to get both our heads around the amount of pain and devastation people can bear, issues about war and patriotism… But despite, or maybe because of, this depth, we both loved it, and that’s the best kind of book in my book 😉

School-related, my daughter is studying Asia this semester, so “The Last Cherry Blossom” fit nicely into her studies. If you’re in the same boat you may want to consider the following add-on, too. Of course, the book takes place in Japan, and this unit study below is related to China, but for a broad introduction to Asia, I think they dovetail nicely…

How to study history, geography and cultures using fiction. Map courtesy of Wondermaps, from Bright Ideas Press.
Map courtesy of Wondermaps, from Bright Ideas Press

One of the smoothest ways to teach history and geography is to include them seamlessly into all your studies. Keep a world map available on the wall in your school room or dining room. You’ll find it a great way to spark conversation about current events, too, as everyone will be better able to place where current events and news stories are taking place.

Bright Ideas Press has some wonderful maps that you can print our for smaller projects, too. We’ve used their black-line maps for our International Day projects, as well as geography studies in general. I’ve also printed out maps of specific regions when we’ve come upon them in our literature. It really does help our kids to understand the interconnectedness of the world. I’d encourage you especially to do this if you have teens – now’s the time (especially if you haven’t done this before – to help them engage in the world around them in a larger sense.

Geography bundle -- North Star Geography and WonderMaps

For further inspiration and ideas…

 


Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity on home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents, and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawMaria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

The mission of Multicultural Bok Day is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid's books that celebrate diversity on home and school bookshelves, while also work diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

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11 thoughts on “How to Teach History Using Fiction”

  1. You have brought tears to my eyes with your kind words about my mother’s story and my writing. Thank you so much. I’m working on a teacher’s guide, but I do have a book discussion guide that you can now download from my website.

    Reply

  2. I’m glad this fit into your daughter’s curriculum so nicely and that she got a lot out of the book!

    Thanks so much for sharing via the Multicultural Children’s Book Day linky and for being a reviewer!

    I hope you can join us tonight at our Twitter Party from 9-10pm EST. We will be giving away hundreds of diverse children’s books in the form of 13 book bundles.

    One will be given away every six minutes. The questions with the book prizes are posted here: https://www.pragmaticmom.com/2018/01/readyourworld-twitter-party-11-book-bundle-giveaway/

    Reply

    1. Mia,
      I LOVE being a part of MCBD…and I’m already looking forward to next year 😉
      Unfortunately, I was down with the flu and missed the party. I’m sure it was a lot of fun!!

      Thanks for leaving the link, tho; I hope some of my readers were able to make it. Even better, I hope (at least) one of them won something!!
      <3

      Reply

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