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Heroism, tragedy, and fascinating other worlds: Why historical fiction is great for kids

July 21, 2015

Have you noticed a lot of historical novels for kids on the bookshop and library shelves lately?

With the new Australian Curriculum requiring that students read historical fiction and narratives, as well as recent and upcoming anniversaries of key events such as WWI and Gallipoli, book publishers have been enthusiastically commissioning and releasing historical stories.

There are plenty of reasons to encourage your kids to read historical fiction at home as well as in the classroom!

In a recent interview, we asked bestselling author and previous Australian Children’s Laureate Jackie French what kids get out of historical fiction.

French said: ‘our past is more exciting than any fantasy. Pirates, mummies, plagues, heroism and tragedy. History has the best stories.’

As any adult who has devoured a book like Wolf Hall or The Soldier’s Wife knows, travelling to the ‘exotic’ world of the past and imagining ourselves living through events and social situations of that time can be delicious.

The ‘distance’ of history can also make us feel safer as we read about difficult or disturbing events.

For kids (and adults too, we’re sure), historical stories that show different perspectives on a situation can also help build empathy and teach them not to accept stereotypes.

Jackie French adds that for Australians, ‘the past also shows kids how we became the people and the nation we are. It shows kids that yes, we CAN change the world, because we have. A hundred and twenty years ago kids as young as eight worked in factories here in Australia, sleeping on dirt floors, dying before they were 20. But people of good heart worked and campaigned – and with Federation laws were changed.

‘Our history also teaches kids not to be afraid of the future. We’d all like to promise our kids a perfect world when they grow up. We can’t. Every generation faces its own challenges. We are descended from the survivors of ice ages, wars, plagues – either heroes or people who were fast runners or good at making friends. But humans are not good at being bored. History gives kids the experience and confidence to face the world’s challenges, and to create extraordinary futures.’

So, how do you choose a good (not dry and boring!) historical novel for your child? Check out our list of terrific Australian novels and series here.


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