Journeying into Historical Fiction

We started our unit on historical fiction today.  In the past, I had students discover the time, setting, and major events, through reading the texts. But this year, I decided to give students a chance to read a few informational articles that might help them discern the setting, and the possible challenges characters might face within various historical contexts.

To demonstrate and practice what students were to do, I started out by reading aloud a few paragraphs on Westward Expansion.

The Oregon Trail was a major route that people took when migrating to the western part of the United States. Between 1841 and 1869, hundreds of thousands of people traveled westward on the trail. Many of them traveled in large wagon trains using covered wagons to carry their belongings.

The Oregon Trail began in Independence, Missouri and ended in Oregon City, Oregon. It stretched for around 2,000 miles and through six different states including Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. Along the way, travelers had to cross all sorts of rough terrain such as the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

From this, students sketched in their notebooks what they thought the trail might look like and speculated as to the challenges a character might face in this world, including wild animals, natural disasters, disease, food shortages, and bad weather. With these few paragraphs, they predicted many of the challenges our character will face in our read-aloud Some Kind of Courage.

I sent them off to read articles from other periods, including The Great Depression, the Holocaust, Japanese Internment, the Civil Rights Movement,  Hurricane Katrina, and the 9-11 attacks. Handing them these dark moments in our nation’s history wasn’t easy. Many of my young students are unaware of these events. As always, they astounded me with their thoughts and questions.

“This says that civil rights are guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence. But that happened in 1776. The Civil Rights Movement was in the 1960s. That doesn’t make sense.”

“How did the Germans know who the Jews were?

” This is sad. Why did they do this?”

“That’s messed up.”

It didn’t take much to get my students thinking and connecting.  Wondering. The fact that they could readily take in information and put it into context was impressive. In the next few days, students will decide what historical period they want to choose for historical fiction reading.

I’m glad we are spending time setting the stage.

I’m curious about what periods they will choose and excited about their upcoming journey into historical fiction