- Child-Sized History
Books like Johnny Tremain, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry stimulate children's imagination, transporting them into the American past and projecting them into an American future. As works of historical interpretation, however, many are startlingly out of step with current historiography and social sensibilities, especially with regard to race. Unlike textbooks, which are replaced on regular cycles and subjected to public tugs-of-war between the left and right, historical novels have simply--and quietly--endured. Taken individually, many present troubling interpretations of the American past. But embraced collectively, this classroom canon provides a rare pedagogical opportunity: it captures a range of interpretive voices across time and place, a kind of "people's history" far removed from today's state-sanctioned textbooks.
Teachers who employ historical novels in the classroom can help students recognize and interpret historical narrative as the product of research, analytical perspective, and the politics of the time. In doing so, they sensitize students to the ways in which the past is put to moral and ideological uses in the present.
Featuring separate chapters on American Indians, war, and slavery, Child-Sized History tracks the changes in how young readers are taught to conceptualize history and the American nation.
Sara L. Schwebel is Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of South Carolina. She received her Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Harvard University and has taught middle-school English and history in Connecticut and Virginia. She is the co-author of The Student Teacher's Handbook, 4th Edition.
"The main contribution of Child-Sized History, apart from its immediate practical use, is surely its illumination of the fact that historical fiction tells a double tale: one of the time it portrays, and one about the time of its own writing."
--International Research Society for Children's Literature
"Although Schwebel's book largely deals with literature for middle grade students, the arguments she presents should be thought-provoking for anyone who reads and teaches historical fiction, as she herself makes clear."
--Children's Literature Association Quarterly
"Schwebel's work pushes us to look at the assumptions behind the tales and demands that we help our students confront them."
--Teachers College Record
"Sara Schwebel's Child-Sized History should be on the bookshelves of every K-12 history teacher."
--The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth
"This book offers great insight into the use of historical fiction for children... Highly recommended."
"...an important read for teachers and for those training prospective teachers..."
--The Lion and the Unicorn
"This is an excellent resource for any educator who teaches historical novels."
"This study should be required reading for middle-school teachers who use historical fiction in their classrooms. It's also an important resource for critics who take children's books seriously as literature but may not give sufficient attention to the ways in which texts are actually employed by teachers, and not just for building literacy. Schwebel considers teacher training, school curricula, and classroom practices, and she also offers close and critical readings of literary texts that are currently used in schools as supplements to or even substitutes for history textbooks. Finally, instead of simply criticizing existing pedagogy, she offers practical guidelines for thinking about how to effectively use historical fiction--in conjunction with sources from both the period being portrayed and the period in which the book was written--to deepen historical understanding."
--Julia L. Mickenberg, Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Texas
"Child-Sized History is a must read for all middle school teachers, teachers of educational pedagogy, administrators, librarians, authors of middle-grade novels, and the American public as well. It's a well-researched, well-written guide to a very sensitive topic in middle-grade historical fiction."
--Historical Novel Society
"In short, Child-Sized History is a well-written, original, thoughtful work that adds to the literature and extends how we think about and use historical fiction."
--Theory and Research in Social Education