Last week, I talked about historical fiction, what it is and why it has a special place in my heart. In the post, I touched upon historical fiction in other genres, such as film, but I neglected children’s literature. That is because children’s literature has its own rich library of historical fiction.
Perhaps the best-known members of this library are the American Girl line of books. The books as well as the accompanying dolls have been the focus of some criticism in recent years, but nonetheless, I feel that they are an excellent tool to teach girls about history and important issues.
For the past year, my daughter and I have been reading the entire American Girl historical series, totaling 72 books. We opted to read the older versions of the books because, unlike the newer versions which include three stories in one volume, they have more illustrations and an informative “looking back” section.
The books take place between 1764 and 1974. We’ve used the books as a way to discuss difficult subjects, such as slavery, the death of a parent and war, and as a way of introducing new concepts such as Judaism and Native American culture.
They also have been used to introduce different languages. In Kaya’s books, we learn some Nez Perce words, in Josephina’s books Spanish and in Marie-Grace and Cécile’s shared series, French.
The “looking back” sections provide an historical background to the fictional stories. To date, I have only found one historical inaccuracy. In Meet Kit by Valerie Tripp (copyright 2000), it states, “World War One, the Great War, ended in 1917…” The war ended in 1918.
I corrected this inaccuracy in our copy.
Having an Impact
My daughter may not realize she is learning history. She just knows she enjoys a good story.
On more than one occasion, she has asked questions about when certain events took place. For example, she once asked which doll would have been the first one to have a telephone.
I feel this gives her an advantage over other children who might have no concept of social changes or technological advances that took place before they were born.
There is no way of telling whether she will inherit my love of history or whether she will continue to enjoy historical fiction. However, the foundation is there.
Have you read any of the American Girl books? Which are your favorites?