Why Read or Write Historical Fiction?
Easier to remember facts
Easier to empathize
Easier to see other perspectives
That’s the “outline” I start with when I’m asked to speak on this subject, which I did a few weeks ago at a Literary Symposium. Today I signed a contract for a new historical fiction, so I’m talking to myself again, about this very topic.
When one hears a nonfiction account of an historical event, one hears names, places, dates, and learns the final dispensation. It’s black and white, right or wrong, good or bad. It’s often just not that interesting.
If that’s true for us as adults who have an appreciation of history and understand the need to know our history, then how much more it’s true for young readers who need to develop an appreciation, understanding, and respect for history, and perhaps an interest.
That’s more apt to happen if they can put themselves into a story; when they can empathize with a character who’s living it. They are more likely to remember a date when it’s attached to something they find important or interesting and not just a timeline memorized to pass a test.
In my writing career, I’ve been gratified by stories of reluctant readers who read book one of my Avery books, then asked to read book two. I’ve seen even adults who know a lot of history, discover a different Jefferson Davis than the one they thought they knew, after reading Jim Limber’s story.
My next book to be published is historical fiction, about an orphan girl and her adopting family in pre-WWII London, and a shaggy mutt. This is the Tale of Rebecca & Heart.
Until 1943, autism didn’t have a name. Children with autistic behaviors weren’t understood; they were considered “odd.” This often resulted in neglect, maltreatment, and exclusion. In 1943, autism was researched and named by Dr. Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland. Even though the causes of autism still aren’t known, treatment and better understanding have been available since the 1960s, allowing autistic children to function, be educated, and grow in their communities with more understanding and compassion. The number of cases diagnosed increases annually, though it isn’t known why.
Autism today affects one in 68 children. That means every student is likely to meet someone like Rebecca during their school years. I hope knowing Rebecca’s story will help the readers understand better, and enable them to love that autistic person and stand up for him as a friend. Perhaps after meeting Rebecca and the mutt Heart, they will take time to discover the unique gifts many autistics have. Perhaps they will learn how to help them feel accepted while respecting their space and needs. I hope their love for Rebecca and Heart will extend to their autistic classmates.
Without statistics, without timeline, or a box of facts and data to be tested on, without preaching, I hope this story can make a positive difference in young lives. I believe historical fiction is a good way to do that.