I love historical fiction. The book that made me fall for it was A Proud Taste for Scarlett and Miniver by E. L. Konigsburg; the same book that started a lifelong love of English history and a fascination with the Plantagenets. The Tudors are so new money next to them! OK, topic. This bias means that I really don’t get it when people say kids or teens don’t read historical fiction. They do! Individual books may not have huge fandoms, but it is read. My theory is that when historical fiction began to be used to teach history in schools, the perception of some kids changed to view it as “homework” not “fun.”
Anyway, I was so excited about Melissa’s presentation! The Program Description says it best: “Historical fiction reflects the past successes and failures of all countries and cultures. Your library’s collection probably has a lot of historical fiction, yet those novels don’t always reflect the true historical diversity of your teen patrons. How often does it seem that all African-American history is limited to Civil War or Jewish history is mostly about the Holocaust? In this presentation, a variety of novels will be highlighted which give a new perspective on well-known events or shed a light on lesser-known times.” The authors and their work represented this diversity. Gonzalez’s book The Red Umbrella (Random House, 2010), is about Operation Pedro Pan in the 1960s; Sepetys’s novel, Between Shades of Gray (Philomel, an imprint of Penguin, 2011), is about the Lithuanian internment by the Soviets during World War II.
Melissa began with defining historical fiction for the purposes of her presentation (titles set before the 1980s) and addressed the slow improvement in the range of explored cultures in fiction. She then provided a phenomenal slideshow of booklists. I love a good booklist in a presentation; as I’ve said before, I use them as both a measuring stick for my own knowledge as well as a source of new books. Melissa has the list available (see links below) so I won’t repeat it here.
A couple titles I cannot wait to read: Puppet by Eva Wiseman, about the last blood libel trial in Europe in the late nineteenth century; Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli, about Italian immigrants in turn of the century Louisiana; and Blood Ninja by Nick Lake, about ninjas who are vampires.
Gonzalez and Sepetys spoke about their books and answered questions. Both books are based on family stories. Part of the fascinating discussion was about taking the family stories of relatives and turning them into novels.
Melissa’s book, Historical Fiction for Teens: A Genre Guide (Libraries Unlimited, 2010)
Again, thanks to RIF for helping to make it possible attend the YA Lit Symposium!