Textbooks and documentaries are necessary and wonderful in their own right, but there is something about novels and movies that I connect with on a very personal level. I see it like this: historical facts and knowledge impact my thoughts and my understanding of the world I live in now, but seeing and feeling along with a character who experiences those historical events goes one step farther. It’s like a spark that feeds the embers deep in my soul—those passions that formed me into the person I am today.
Let’s talk movies first. What movie based on historical events has shaken you to the core and changed the way you view the world? Here are some titles to get you thinking:
- The Power of One
- Schindler’s List
- Hotel Rwanda
- In the Time of the Butterflies
For me, the answer is hands-down Iron Jawed Angels. Of course I learned about the fight for American women’s suffrage in school. Of course I felt an enormous debt of gratitude to those brave women who risked everything so that generations later my voice could be heard. But there is something about watching the wardens at Occoquan prison shove feeding tubes down Alice Paul’s throat to forcibly end her hunger strike that whips those embers into a frenzied firestorm.
What about novels that give us a kids-eye view of history? Again, a few ideas:
- BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY
- NUMBER THE STARS
- THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE
- THE GREEN GLASS SEA
- SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL
As a kid, my answer would have been ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS or FREEDOM TRAIN. As an adult, maybe ONE CRAZY SUMMER, or OUT OF THE DUST, or MOON OVER MANIFEST. I can’t decide—there are too many great historical novels for young readers for me to pick just one.
But please do chime in here—I want to know what your favorites are, past and present. And if this post has reminded you of a historical novel that you loved as a kid, or one that you’ve read recently and can’t get out of your mind, head on down to your local independent bookstore and pick up a copy (while you’re there, get THE WICKED AND THE JUST, too). When you’re done reading, donate them to a classroom in your town, or pass them on to young reader in your community.
You might deepen his or her understanding of the world, and you may even help those little sparks begin to flicker and flare into the passions that will form the person he or she will become.