Many folks hear the genre, “historical fiction” and smother a yawn. They want fantasy, dragons, action, danger, incantations, magical wands and lightning bolt scars on their main character’s forehead – BUT STOP! WAIT!
The saying, “Kids don’t really like historical fiction” is a long-held mantra, and it’s true that many publishers don’t publish much historical fiction, and some publishers none at all. I don’t really blame publishers for being leery of a type of book that will only a few hundred or a few thousand copies because bookstores want the hot new thing and even librarians often have a hard time luring kids into reading it.
When I was growing up, I was a Nancy Drew and Phyllis Whitney mystery fanatic, but I also vividly remember reading books about Jenny Lund, the famous singer, Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan.
There’s a book that has stuck in my head (although the title has not – so if this rings a bell for anyone I would love a clue about it!) about a young woman who was a Confederate spy during the Civil War. As the enemy was about to ambush her, this girl spy ATE the secret note she was carrying! Chewed it up and swallowed it! How daring and thrilling!
Oh, and love me some Abraham Lincoln! I read everything I could get my hands on about him. I also loved stories like The Endless Steppe, about a girl and her family who were exiled to Siberia. And then there are all those exciting stories about European queens getting their heads cut off.
Of course, this was long before Harry Potter and fantasy tomes as thick as your thigh. Kids are different nowadays, folks say. They have shorter attention spans. They don’t care about dead people. Kids today have grown up with computer games and IPhones and 10,000 television channels.
Screech! Put on the brakes, people. Shorter attention spans? Me-thinks-not. They’re reading 800 flippin’ pages of Harry Potter, for crying out loud. Recently, a local librarian told me that her nine-year-old daughter loves thick books. Thick books have become a status symbol.
So it all comes back to content.
Can historical fiction grab a reader? You betcha.
Can historical fiction be heart-pounding, exciting, fast-paced and thrilling? You betcha.
Can parents and teachers and librarians introduce these books in meaningful ways and get kids hooked on stories and time periods THAT REALLY HAPPENED? Yes! And I believe that’s they key to historical fiction: parents and teachers and librarians introducing those books to their kids, reading them aloud, talking about them – and I also believe that the historical fiction of today is written in a more relevant way to our lives, finding those common, universal feelings and problems of kids no matter what time period they live(d) in.
Historical fiction is better written, better researched, and more in-depth than ever before. Children’s Literature in general just gets better and better every year and a high quality of research, superb writing and fully developed characters and plot shows in historical fiction, too. So if you haven’t picked up a title before–or given it a shot in a long time, try it, you might like it!
Since I’m a writer and not a librarian or teacher, my job is to bring the historical fiction I’m working on alive, to make it relevant and exciting to my readers – and that will be the topic of my next blog post when my turn comes around again here on the Mixed-Up Files: How I research and why – and does it matter?