Chapter 10: Historical Fiction chapter summary and outline

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Chapter 10: Historical Fiction
Although historical fiction is not as popular as it was formerly, more historical fiction is now available, especially in picture storybooks and in series books. Many books of American historical fiction are being reissued, while there are fewer books set in other lands.
By reading historical fiction, children experience life in the past vicariously, gain opportunities for critical thinking, make judgments about the past with insights from a historical perspective, see the interdependence of humankind, and develop a feeling for the continuity of life. The writing style of historical fiction is of two types. Some fictional stories are based on actual people and recorded events of history. Other stories are based on social history with no reference given to actual people or recorded events. The former style is based on reconstruction of the past through research; the latter is based on recreation of the past through memory. Both forms are fully acceptable, but the stories based on real people and events must adhere to greater standards of accuracy. Some works of fantasy include travel to historical times and events.
Criteria for evaluating historical fiction include telling a good story, balancing fact with fiction, being accurate and authentic, integrating the research with the story, adhering to the true facts of history, showing (when possible) more than one point of view, reflecting the spirit of the times even though modern views may seem enlightened, using authentic language of the time period, and illuminating problems of today through an examination of the past.
Historical fiction covers all eras of human life, although older eras are based on greater degrees of imagination. There is a growing body of historical fiction about the Old World. Many books set in Colonial America are available. Native Americans have been depicted as savages in some books, as fully developed characters in other stories, and as the victims of white persons in some books that use the Indian perspective. The nineteenth century includes stories of slavery, the Civil War, and the Westward Expansion. Stories of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are often based on private lives rather than public events. Controversies continue about the attitudes shown in historical fiction about African-Americans. Many books about World War II are available; they are told from varying perspectives. Historical fiction based on the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq conflicts is appearing. Some themes frequently recur in historical fiction from all eras.

A. The Value of Historical Fiction

B. Types of Historical Fiction

C. Criteria for Historical Fiction



A. Ancient Times

B. Tales of Early Britain

C. The Later Middle Ages

D. The Emergence of the Modern World


A. Native Americans

B. Colonial America

C. The Revolutionary Era

D. The American Frontier

E. The Civil War Era

1. Resistance to Slavery

2. The Civil War

F. The Age of Economic Revolution

G. Immigrants


A. The Struggle for Civil Rights

C. The Great Depression

D. The World at War

1. Escape and Resistance

2. The Impact of World War II on the Home Front

3. War Continues

  • Study the informal outline at the chapter beginning to note how you can organize your thinking about the information in this chapter.


  • Identify five recent trends in the publishing of historical fiction.

  • Find five values that historical fiction offers readers.

  • Define historical fiction.

  • Find the distinction between historical fiction that uses real persons and events and historical fiction that uses little reference to recorded history or real persons.

  • Which of the two forms of historical fiction should be more carefully evaluated for accuracy?

  • Be able to apply the Guidelines for Evaluating Historical Fiction.

  • Find several points of view from which stories about Native Americans are told.

  • Note the recurring themes in historical fiction that span time frames.

  • Learn the viewpoints of critics who comment on historical fiction about African-Americans.

  • Skim the annotations of the books from various time periods, reading in depth those that may interest you for further reading.

Key Vocabulary

archaic words


conflicting loyalties

continuity of life

contradiction and distortion of facts

cultural perspective

historical perspective


illuminate today’s problems

interdependence of humankind


recorded events

social history

spare prose


Historical fiction is unique as a type of literature and should be studied as a special form. It would be possible to take the sections on Native Americans and African-Americans and study these along with contemporary realism and biographies about minority groups.
Undergraduate elementary education students should become aware of the need to have accurate and authentic information when stories are written about real people and events. They need to find ways to present and encourage these forms of literature because they are not popular with children. For this very reason undergraduates who may not be familiar with many titles of historical fiction should be given opportunities to become acquainted with many books.
Graduate students will benefit from knowing reference sources that will guide them to books that can be added to social studies units.
One very touching collection of poetry written by children could illuminate this chapter: I Never Saw Another Butterfly..., written and illustrated by children from the Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942–1944 (Schlocken Books, 1978). The poem “Fear,” by Eva Pickova, is especially moving.
Give students an opportunity to develop readers’ theater scripts with excerpts from novels dealing with World War II. Both undergraduate and graduate students will find value in this technique, which is not in widespread use. Begin by explaining reader’s theater, defining its parameters, describing the performance, outlining the values, and comparing scripts with novels. A good background source is Readers Theater by Shirley Sloyer (NCTE, 1982). Make a transparency of a small segment of a novel such as Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 1989). Use the transparency on the overhead projector and ask students for suggestions on ways to arrange the text for a dramatic reading by a group. Urge students to consider ways the voices could be used to highlight the drama of the excerpt being read. Guide them to find ways that meaning could be enhanced through phrasing, reordering of segments, etc. When the excerpt is arranged, try out the reading in class and determine the parts that are successful and those that could be developed.
Divide the class into groups of four to six and give each group a World War II book. Instruct them to select one segment from their book and arrange it as a readers’ theater script and rehearse it for a presentation.
Books for readers’ theater scripts

Drucker, Malka, and Michael Halperin. Jacob’s Rescue: A Holocaust Story. Bantam, 1993.

Matas, Carol. Daniel’s Story. Scholastic, 1993.

Matas, Carol. Lisa’s War. Scribners, 1987.

Morpurgo, Michael. Waiting for Anya. Viking, 1990.

Reuter, Bjame. The Boys from St. Petri. Dutton, 1994.

Roth-Hans, Renee. Touch Wood: A Girlhood in Occupied France. Viking, 1989.

Vos, Ida. Hide and Seek. Translated by Teresa Edelstein and Inez Smidt. Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

Wolff, Virginia Euwer. Bat 6. Scholastic, 1998.
Other books about World War II might be noted in the professional book by Phyllis Kennemer, A Guide to Teaching Middle Grades about War (Oryx, 1992). The contents include units about many other U.S. wars.
When the scripts are ready, have each group make its presentation. Let each group evaluate and have the larger group make suggestions for improvement.

Reflecting on Methodology: Discuss the value of readers’ participation on the feeling level. Encourage students to share their reactions to participation.
Acquaint students with historical fiction and biography related to the geographical area of the place where you are conducting the class. Graduate students are usually especially interested in studies of local history and will enjoy making literary connections. Select six books that are set in or near the locale and find excerpts that describe places or events. The American History for Children and Young Adults: An Annotated Bibliographic Index by Vandelia VanMeter (Libraries Unlimited, 1997) would be helpful. Another potentially good source is the “Exploring the United States” through literature series published in 1993 by Oryx Press. This set of individual books about specified geographic regions lists print and nonprint, fiction and nonfiction for children and professional books of each region and will include suggested teaching activities for each children’s book.
Begin the session by having students skim the section in Chapter 13 of the textbook concerning maps, timeliness, and jackdaws. Bring examples of commercial items or your own original creations of maps, timelines, or jackdaws. The latter are described with many creative suggestions in the article “What’s a Jackdaw Doing in Our Classroom?” by Frances Smardo Dowd in Childhood Education, 66 (Summer 1990): 228–231. The National Council of Teachers of English offers state and regional literary maps for certain geographic areas. A number of state literary organizations also have literary maps available.
After looking at the materials, read aloud the selections from the historical fiction and biographies. Ask students to take notes so that they can illustrate information in one of three ways: a map, a timeline, or a set of facsimile materials such as might be found in a jackdaw. Have students work in groups of four to construct one of the three representational forms. Provide state maps, various sizes of construction paper, marking pens, rulers, an overhead projector for tracing a map, etc. Give time for constructing the forms, and when they are completed, ask the students to discuss their graphic representations. Post the materials on bulletin boards as would be done in elementary schools. Have students provide titles and explanations for the mounted display.
Reflecting on Methodology: Discuss the use of maps, timelines, and jackdaws for intermediate-grade children. Encourage students to express values that they found in the experience and procedures that they would use when working with children.
Pre-Class Assignment: Have students read one book from a collection of historical fiction books that contain a combination of imagined characters and actual persons. Direct students to pay particular attention to characterization. Be sure that four to six students read each title. Books that are of this composition are on the following list:
Alder, Elizabeth. The King’s Shadow. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995.

Anderson, Rachel. Black Water. Holt, 1995.

Blackwood, Gary. The Shakespeare Stealer. Dutton, 1998.

Butterworth, Emma Macalik. As the Waltz Was Ending. Four Winds, 1982.

Hansen, Joyce. The Captive. Scholastic, 1994.

Hunter, Mollie. The King’s Swift Rider: A Novel on Robert the Bruce. HarperCollins, 1998.

Jacobs, Paul Samuel. James Printer: A Novel of Rebellion. Scholastic, 1997.

Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Abraham Lincoln: Letters from a Slave Girl. Winslow House, 2001.

Wisler, G. Clifton. The Red Cap. Dutton, 1991.

Yolen, Jane, and Robert J. Harris. Queen’s Own Fool. Philomel, 2000

In-Class Activities: Begin by raising the question about the values and the problems of using actual persons and imagined characters in historical fiction. Ask for some points that could be listed under those headings. Following this introductory activity, have the students meet in groups according to the book they read. Direct them to discuss the particular book focusing on character development. Encourage them to share examples of the values of problems brought about by the mix of real people and fictional characters. When they have had time for discussion, direct them further to repeat a selected brief portion of their discussion in a “fishbowl” setting in front of the entire class. After these segments are presented, return to the list of points on the chalkboard. Ask for others to be noted or for examples to be given from the particular books.
Review the chart from the textbook, “Guidelines: Evaluating Historical Fiction.” Discuss aspects of character development that relate to these guidelines.
Pre-Class Activities: Have students read at least one book from a group of books about Native Americans. Preselect books that are about several tribes that differ in their traditions. Use historical realistic fiction. Books that would be useful for discussion are listed below.
Alder, Elizabeth. Crossing the Panther’s Path. Farrar, 2002. (Mohawk)

Bruchac, Joseph. Children of the Long House. Dial, 1996. (Mohawk)

Bruchac, Jopseph. The Winter People. Dial, 2002. (Abenaki)

Erdrich, Louise. The Birchbark House. Hyperion, 1999. (Ojibway)

Ignatia. Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative. Illustrated by Steven Premo. Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1983. (Ojibway)

Gregory, Kristiana. Jenny of the Tetons. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989. (Shoshone)

Kirkpatrick, Katherine. Trouble’s Daughter. Delacorte, 1999. (Lenape)

Kroeber, Theodora. Ishi, Last of His Tribe. Illustrated by Ruth Robbins. Parnassus, 1964. (Yaki)

Newth, Mette. The Abduction. Translated from the Norwegian by Tina Nunnally and Steve Murray. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989. (Inuit)

O’Dell, Scott. Sing Down the Moon. Houghton Mifflin, 1970. (Navajo)

In-Class Activity: Discuss the idea that historical fiction should be carefully researched and might provide insights into the lives of Native Americans. It can provide information about the way of life and points of view about attitudes. Various tribes have distinct cultural differences that should be detected by reading fiction. Have students think of basic elements of a culture that can be studied: government, economics, religion, social needs, intellectual pursuits, art forms. When their list is determined, ask them to develop questions that they could use with intermediate grade students to study these areas. Guide them in their question development to plan queries into how and when things were done as well as what occurred. For example, when perusing social needs and activities, children may find it helpful to determine why the extended family was commonplace, how religious values affected family life, etc. Ask students to consider what might be missing from a story if the author is writing from outside the culture.
When the questions are developed, prepare a large chart that includes each question. The chart might look like the one that follows:
1. How were homes constructed? Why were certain materials used?
2. Why were children given certain family responsibilities?
3. What were the reasons for group celebrations?
Have students share information they learned about the culture from their reading. Chart the information. When each has participated and caught the spirit of the activity, call them together and have them discuss their specific cultural learnings.
Reflecting on Methodology: Urge students to discuss the value of what they learned about attitudes and cultural pluralism from this activity. Encourage them to point out instances of corroborating or conflicting information and to suggest ways in which they or their students could corroborate information in works of historical fiction. Following are two books that would be helpful in developing other teaching activities for understanding Native Americans.
Lindgren, Merry V. The Multicolored Mirror: Cultural Substance in Literature for Children and Young Adults. Cooperative Children’s Book Center/Highsmith Press, 1991.

Slapin, Beverly, and Doris Seale. Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children (4th ed.). New Society Publishers, 1998.

Roll into class a book cart filled with historical fiction featuring determined heroes, male and female, who overcome formidable obstacles to achieve their goals. Share a descriptive passage about the eighteenth century from Leon Garfield’s Young Nick and Jubilee. Tell about some of Enuna Edmond’s amazing adventures as a Civil War spy in Behind Rebel Lines by Bill Relt. Encourage students to borrow and explore these tales of determined achievers.
Alder, Elizabeth. Crossing the Panther’s Path. Farra, 2002.

Avi. Crispin: The Cross of Lead. Hyperion, 2002.

Beatty, Patricia, and Phillip Robbins. Eben Tine, Powdermonkey. Morrow Junior Books, 1990.

Carbonne, Elisa Lynn. Stealing Freedom. Knopf, 1999.

Craig, Ruth. Malu’s Wolf. Orchard, 1995.

Cushman, Karen. The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. Clarion, 1996.

Denzel, Justin. Return to the Painted Cave. Philomel, 1997.

Fleischman, Paul. Saturnalia. Harper & Row, 1990.

Garden, Nancy. Dove and Sword. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995.

Garfield, Leon. Young Nick and Jubilee. Illustrated by Ted Lewin. Delacorte, 1989.

Hesse, Karen. Out of the Dust. Scholastic, 1997.

Hesse, Karen. Witness. Scholastic, 2001.

Ho, Mingfong. The Clay Marble. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1991.

Holland, Isabelle. The Journey Home. Scholastic, 1990.

Holm, Jennifer L. Boston Jane: An Adventure. HarperCollins, 2001.

Hoobler, Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn. Philomel, 1999.

Lester, Julius. Pharaoh’s Daughter: A Novel of Ancient Egypt. Harcourt Brace, 2000.

Lyons, Mary E. Letters from a Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs. Scribner, 1992.

Moore, Yvette. Freedom Song. Orchard, 1991.

O’Dell, Scott. My Name Is Not Angelica. Houghton Mifflin, 1989.

Orley, Uri. The Lady with a Hat. Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Park, Linda Sue. A Single Shard. Clarion, 2001.

Paterson, Katherine. Lyddie. Dutton, 1991.

Paulsen, Gary. Nightjohn. Delacorte, 1993.

Peck, Robert Newton. Arly’s Run. Walker, 1991.

Prochazkova, Iva. Seasons of Secret Wishes. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1989.

Ruby, Lois. Soon Be Free. Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Esperanza Rising. Scholastic, 2000.

Salisbury, Graham. Under the Blood Red Sun. Delacorte, 1994.

Schami, Rafik. A Hand Full of Stars. Dutton, 1990.

Sutcliff, Rosemary. Sword Song. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998.

Walsh, Jill Paton. Grace. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992.

Yep, Laurence. Dragon’s Gate. HarperCollins, 1993.

Yep, Laurence. Dream Soul. HarperCollins, 2000.

Yolen Jane, and Robert Harris. Queen’s Own Fool. Philomel, 2000.

Yolen Jane, and Robert Harris. Girl in a Cage. Philomel, 2002.

Across Five Aprils. Corone/MTI, 1990. 2 videocassettes. 34 min. each.
Based on the book by Irene Hunt, this story set during the Civil War tells of family travail. Winner of several 1991 awards.
James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier. Random House/Miller-Brody, 1981. Filmstrip/cassette. 11 min. Color.
The Collier Brothers—one the writer, the other the historian—are pictured working independently and together.
Molly’s Pilgrim. Phoenix Films, 1986. 16mm film/videocassette. 24 min.
The book by Barbara Cohen about the Russian-Jewish immigrant is retold in film format. A 1987 ALA Notable Children’s Film.
Sarah Plain and Tall. Hallmark Hall of Fame, 1990. Videocassette.
Glenn Close stars in this lovely retelling of Patricia MacLachlan’s Newbery Award–winning book. Although Close is neither plain nor tall, the film is otherwise remarkably faithful to the book. MacLachlan’s sequel, Skylark (1992), is also available in this format.
Sing Down the Moon. American School Publishers, 1986. Videocassette. 36 min.
Based on the Newbery Honor Book by Scott O’Dell, this tells of the long march of the Navajos.
New Tools: Teaching with Technology. Pyramid Media. 1999. Videocasettes, ea. vol.
28 min. Color.

A multipart series for teachers includes the volume “Making History Come Alive” and shows how to do history research from scratch on the Web.
Dear America: Dreams in the Golden Country. 29 Minutes. VHS production by Scholastic, 1999. Ages: 8–14.
A 12-year-old Russian immigrant girl struggles to keep her family together as they adapt to the challenges of their new home. An ALA 2000 notable video.
Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln: The Story of the Gettysburg Address. 18 min.
VHS production by Weston Woods, Distributed by Scholastic, 1999. Ages 6+.

With great humor and finesse, Rex Robbins narrates Jean Fritz’s saga about one of the shortest and most famous speeches in American history. An ALA 2000 notable video.
Go to, Chapter 10, to link to these sites.
The Internet School Library Media Center Historical Fiction Page
A broad collection of resources and sites related to historical fiction.

The Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award

The Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award is presented for a work of historical fiction published by a U.S. publisher and set in the New World.

Boulder Public Library Children’s Library: Historical Fiction
This site contains bibliographies of historical fiction titles categorized by time period.
My Little House on the Prairie Page by Jen Slegg
A comprehensive site dedicated to the work of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Author Spotlight: Karen Cushman.
This site includes a biography, book list, and suggestions for using Cushman’s books in the classroom.

Sign of the Beaver

A teacher Cyber Guide to Elizabeth G. Speare’s Sign of the Beaver.

Little House in the Big Woods

    A teacher Cyber Guide to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods.

Traveling through American History

    This site provides a bibliography of picture books associated with different time periods in American history.

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