Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

The Historical Representation of Thanksgiving within Primary- and Intermediate-Level Children's Literature

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

The Historical Representation of Thanksgiving within Primary- and Intermediate-Level Children's Literature

Article excerpt

STATE AND NATIONAL INITIATIVES have compelled significant change in English language arts and social studies/history curricula. English language arts teachers are required to balance fiction (or literature) and nonfiction (or informational texts), which is a considerable change for a content area formerly occupied by fiction (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers [NGA Center & CCSSO], 2010). Social studies/history teachers are expected to juxtapose primary and secondary accounts, a similarly sizable adjustment for a content area previously dominated by textbooks (National Council for the Social Studies, 2013; NGA Center & CCSSO, 2010). Beginning in elementary school, students are now assessed on their close readings of rich, complex, and (sometimes) competing primary and secondary accounts of the same event, era, or topic (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, 2012). Thus, the new emphases on diverse literature and discipline-specific literacies compel change in erstwhile patterns of fiction in English classrooms and textbooks in history classrooms (McMurrer, 2008; Wilton & Bickford, 2012).

These initiatives do not provide sets of age-appropriate resources or curricular guides. Elementary educators cannot turn to academia for guidance because there is a dearth of scholarship investigating elementary-based curricular materials; curricula for Advanced Placement and high school history classes far outpace the curriculum intended for the elementary level. Elementary teachers, therefore, are left to rely on textbooks, trade books, and primary documents, each of which proves to be problematic. Although textbooks are often employed, they are costly and not differentiated for diverse reading levels and cannot independently meet the aforementioned initiatives' rigorous standards; when empirically examined, various omissions and misrepresentations emerge (Chick, 2006; Clark, Allard, & Mahoney, 2004; Lindquist, 2009, Loewen, 2007; Matusevich, 2006). Primary sources are publicly available on various digital warehouses, such as the Library of Congress, and can be shortened and modified to ease difficulties for elementary students (Wineburg & Martin, 2009; Wineburg, Smith, & Breakstone, 2012). Students, though, must be trained in discipline-specific ways to scrutinize primary documents for source, context, bias, and corroboration (Bickford, 2013b, Nokes, 2011). Trade books are relatively inexpensive and intended for young students and have engaging narratives; numerous trade books appear for most historical topics represented in school curricula (Schwebel, 2011).

Trade books, in comparison with textbooks and primary source material, appear the logical choice for elementary teachers' restructuring of their curricula to meet the rigorous expectations of state and national initiatives. When making selections, teachers likely consider reading level and the historical event, era, or person covered. Publishers offer seemingly objective measures to indicate each book's reading level like Lexile measure, grade-level expectation, and Developmental Reading Assessment; yet, for historicity, or historical accuracy and representation, they provide only the historical topic and genre. Online reviews should not be trusted, as they are likely written by nonexperts (e.g., teachers or parents) or those with a vested interest in the sale of the book (e.g., authors and editors). Empirical evaluations of trade books' historicity indicated the prominence of various historical misrepresentations (Bickford, 2013a; Bickford & Rich, 2014a, 2014b). There is a need for more scholarship, yet little exists and many reports are not empirical (Schwebel, 2011; Williams, 2009) or do not focus on a single event, era, or person (Chick & Corle, 2012; Chick, Slekar, & Charles, 2010; Tschida, Ryan, & Ticknor, 2014).

We examined Thanksgiving, and the surrounding people and events, because of its prominence in elementary curricula. …

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