Thoughts on YA Historical Fiction

In my conservative, small-town school, I grew up getting a very White-washed version of history.  It was the same curriculum taught from different angles each year, and I quickly came to dread History class altogether.  I do, however, have a very vivid memory of the historical fiction texts I read (The Cay and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle to name just a couple).  As I got older, my disdain for History class grew, but so did my love for Historical fiction.  What YA Fiction did for me was fill in the gaps of History I imagined were missing in my History class.  It grounded me more fully in the realities of the past through intersectional characters.  

YA Historical Fiction serves the beautiful purpose of creating stories within the gaps History curriculum might leave behind.  Furthermore, it expounds on stories that exemplify what students DO learn in History class.  This is beneficial in a number of ways, but it also comes with its own troubles.  

English teachers, in some regard, are partial teachers of History.  We introduce students to past texts and explain to them the social context that it was born from.  As I consider the timeline of YA Historical Fiction on Epic Reads, I can’t help but think how underdeveloped this genre still is.  Great strides have been made in recent years, a lot of them by female authors.  Perhaps this genre inspires the voice of those oppressed, those who want to shed light on a story or perspective that otherwise would not be seen; as a matter of fact, many texts on the Banned Books list arrived there for doing just that.  In this regard, I think students have a natural draw to them (or at least some) because of the stigma that has been built around them.  

However, I also think it is necessary to emphasize the function of this genre in our classroom libraries.  Yes, it is fiction—but it is also grounded in History, in imaginary and real realities.  We have to approach the genre with the idea that what we are absorbing could have and may have been experienced by a combination of people, or a single silenced and anonymous voice that never had the opportunity to share.  

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