Historical Fiction in Readers Workshop

Dear Families,

We are moving into a study of historical fiction. Students defined historical fiction as:

  1. Blends fact and story
  2. The events might have happened in real life.
  3. The plot takes place in the past (sometimes around important historical events)
  4. Characters are fictional but they are examples of/stories of real people

By its nature, historical fiction generally sets characters in turbulent times. The times are explored through the eyes of the character. We are reading books that deal with slavery, poverty, racism, sexism, and other kinds of oppression. These topics have often been explored in children’s literature through historical fiction. In our discussions, these topics are going to come up.

The theme for the unit is “joy and justice.” As we studies times of great injustice, we also look for the moments of joy. Many of our books have elements of humor and we’ll make sure to emphasize both the joys and sorrows of looking through history. We will use several picture books as mentor texts (possibly) including, Unspoken by Henry Cole, Encounter by Jane Yolen, Harvesting Hope by Kathleen Krull, Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti, Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, Brave Girl by Michelle Markel, The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, and others.

Throughout the unit students will keep track of information that they think they know, questions they are having, and information that they have learned.

Some possible teaching points are:

  • Readers envision the time period (look at how characters dress, talk, the setting, daily life)
  • Readers puzzle through historical language.
  • Readers look for problems their character faces – big and small (realms of influence, what are the problems the character faces within themselves/family/community/world)
  • Readers pay attention to how time passes in a text (specifically considering flashback)
  • Readers consider how age influences perspective (compare/contrast structure, how are the children and the adults minded differently)
  • Readers look out for symbols (objects/items that represent something beyond their face)
  • Readers compare their world to the world of the character.
  • Readers consider how the different parts of the book symbolize bigger ideas (how does the beginning/middle/end symbolize or generalize the arc of this time pd)
  • Readers think deeply about passages in a book (close reading in book club meeting – give them the passage before that section of reading and ask them/let them come across it in the text)
  • Readers think about the personal journey of their character.  – What do I think? What do I do? How does this communicate who I want to be?

Students that are not in LLI are in book clubs. You can find out more about the book club choices below.

Bud, Not Buddy – It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but he’s on a mission. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: posters of Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression! Bud’s got an idea that those posters will lead to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him.

Elijah of Buxton – The first child born into freedom in Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit, Elijah is best known in his hometown as the boy who threw up on Frederick Douglass. (Not on purpose, of course — he was just a baby then!) But things change when a former slave calling himself the Right Reverend Zephariah W. Connerly the Third steals money from Elijah’s friend Mr. Leroy, who has been saving to buy his family out of captivity in the south. Elijah joins Mr. Leroy on a dangerous journey to America in pursuit of the disreputable preacher, and he discovers firsthand the unimaginable horrors of the life his parents fled — a life from which he’ll always be free, if he can find the courage to go back home.

Inside Out, & Back Again – Things are changing in Hà’s world, as the Vietnam War comes closer and closer to her home in Saigon. Her friends and neighbors are leaving, her oldest brother is speaking out against the North, and the likelihood of being reunited with her father — who has been missing in action for nine years — is growing dimmer. When Saigon falls in 1975, Hà and her family are forced to flee on a navy ship and, after spending months in refugee camps, end up moving to Alabama. There, Hà struggles to deal with everything from learning the language and customs to handling the bullies who make fun of her at school. Will she ever feel at home in this strange new land? And will she ever see her father again?

Mighty Miss Malone – Twelve-year-old Deza Malone has a close and loving family, and she’s the smartest girl in her class in Gary, Indiana. But times are tough, and it’s hard for black men like Deza’s father to find work. Desperate to help his family, Deza’s father leaves town to look for work, and soon Deza, her mom, and her older brother, Jimmie, are setting off in search of him. Along the way, they experience many Depression-era hardships, including living in a shantytown and riding the rails, all the while never giving up the hope of being together again.

One Crazy Summer – Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past. When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

Picture Book Book Club – Students in this book will study a range of historical periods as they delve into a deep look at picture books. They will study slavery, World War II and The Civil Rights movement. They may also look at historical fiction based biographies.

Riding Freedom – Charlotte Parkhurst never acted like most other girls. She climbed trees and fought with the boys and worked in a stable. She had a way with horses that was like nothing folks had ever seen. In the mid-1800s, some people didn’t think it was proper for a girl to behave like Charlotte, and they tried to stop her. But Charlotte was smart, and she came up with a plan that would let her live her life the way she wanted — a plan so clever and so secretive that almost no one figured it out.


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