Through a Story Window: Using Historical Fiction to Teach History
by Sarah Sundin
“Another boring history special?” My ten-year-old daughter heaved a sigh and plopped into the armchair.
I smiled in understanding. At her age, I was bored silly when my father watched Victory at Sea. Now, since I write novels set during WWII, I love documentaries on tanks, planes, and ships. My husband and sons love them. My daughter? Not at all.
Later that afternoon, I returned to find Anna alone, her eyes fixed on the TV. The same channel. The same historical era. But now they were showing a documentary on Anne Frank. A girl, just like my daughter.
Through Anne’s words, my Anna was able to imagine life in that cramped annex . . . and in the concentration camp. Through story, history became real.
Grabbing that moment, I talked with her about Anne Frank, the Holocaust, and World War II. She checked out books from the library, searched the internet, and did an oral report for her English class.
The next summer, we visited Nuremburg, Germany. The Nazi stadium still stands, stark and harrowing. Four of us ventured onto the stage where Hitler swayed the masses, but Anna refused, her arms wrapped around her middle, her face pale. “That’s the man who killed Anne Frank.”
As my heart ached for her, I also rejoiced inside. She got it.
Reading historical fiction and biography brings history to life. Stories allow children to experience history in their imagination—like mental time travel. And once the child’s interest has been hooked, history lessons shift from boring to fascinating.
A lesson on westward migration? Yawn. The same lesson after you’ve read Little House on the Prairie and can picture yourself in the back of a covered wagon? Gripping.
How can we use historical fiction and biography to teach history?
- Seek out good historical fiction and biography from the era the child will be studying. Your librarian can help!
- Use the printable as a worksheet or to guide discussion.
About Sarah Sundin
Sarah Sundin is the author of six historical novels, including In Perfect Time (Revell, August 2014) plus a novella in Where Treetops Glisten (WaterBrook, September 2014). Her novel On Distant Shores was a double finalist for the 2014 Golden Scroll Awards. Sarah lives in northern California with her husband and three children, works on-call as a hospital pharmacist, and teaches Sunday school and women’s Bible studies.
You can find her at sarahsundin.com
About Where Treetops Glisten
Siblings forging new paths and finding love in three stories, filled with the wonder of Christmas.
Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.
In Cara Putman’s White Christmas, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements—until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help.
Abigail’s brother Pete is a fighter pilot hero returned from the European Theater in Sarah Sundin’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas, trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. But when he encounters a precocious little girl in need of Pete’s friendship, can he convince her widowed mother that he’s no longer the bully she once knew?
In Tricia Goyer’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Meredith Turner, “Merry” to those who know her best, is using her skills as a combat nurse on the frontline in the Netherlands. Halfway around the world from home, Merry never expects to face her deepest betrayal head on, but that’s precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.
The Turner family believes in God’s providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and His plan for a future?