Child-sized History: Fictions of the Past in U.S. Classrooms
What books should middle school teachers and parents choose that accurately reflect history? In the 21st century, factual accuracy about history is critiqued by professional teachers, publishers, and the general public. At the same time, these historical novels must appeal to and educate the young adult population. Sara Schwebel’s goals for this text are not only to describe the most popular middle-grade novels about race (African-American and Native Indian literature) and war, but also to describe how they are taught and how they reflect society’s changing attitudes and philosophy about inclusion and exclusion of issues. For example, early novels about the expanding frontier settlements out West minimized the presence of Indian residents, whose lands were basically stolen. This author calls for collective, professional and popular questioning, investigation, and analysis to ensure fair and accurate coverage of historical events and issues.
For example, Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins presents the colonial devastation wrought on the Ghalas-at community, but it is always from the point of view of colonial beliefs and morals. It dismisses the disappearance of this community and fails to note how diseases, warfare, and mandatory relocation minimize the thoughts and desires of the native people while appearing to justify colonists’ behavior as compassionate treatment by a more civilized people. Or perhaps one would care to focus on the evolution of Mildred D. Taylor’s novels. Roll of Thunder, Here My Cry teaches African-American children the severe consequences of thwarting the white man’s rules and only with her last novel stands up to injustice. Numerous examples are treated with depth, and careful reading may have the reader questioning some of the author’s own analyses.
Appendixes on national trends in literary selections, historical sources in pedagogy charts, notes on the text, and a comprehensive bibliography add to the content for those who would engage in further research and study. Child-Sized History is a must read for all middle school teachers, teachers of educational pedagogy, administrators, librarians, authors of middle-grade novels, and the American public as well. It’s a well-researched, well-written guide to a very sensitive topic in middle-grade historical fiction.