Historical Fiction for Children: Introduction

I always liked historical fiction. The classics—The Secret Garden, Johnny Tremain, The Witch of Blackbird Pond—basically made up my reading.

The main characters had heart, and that fact talks to how reading feeds the writer in us. Fiction notwithstanding, their histories were my histories. I was the protagonist. It was my chance to learn how another society worked and try to succeed there. With each turn of the page I begged the author not to let me down.

Now, I want my student authors in Sierra Leone who are putting their personal experiences onto paper to feel that link: Your experiences are histories, too. There’s a reader out there identifying with your family’s stories; your character’s trials. Draw them as they were. Paint the colors and sounds of that long road. Show how your mother turns to wave.

I’ve been looking at what could be called multicultural children’s historical fiction, written for 8-12 year olds, set in other countries than the US but commonly found in US school and public libraries. I have a list of 25 such books. I’m standing a few against each other to see what elements they have in common. One is that it seems any part of the world could provide a rich setting for historical fiction. Six are set in the UK, three in Rome, two in France, two in Korea, and one each in Russia, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Japan, the Netherlands, China, Ireland, Cambodia, India, British East Africa and South Africa. In four of these (including both African books) the main character is an expatriate in the country where the story takes place.

We’ll be looking for more books set in Africa, but from this alone, I’d say the continent is a bit under-represented—wouldn’t you?