Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

History - A Novel Approach to the Past: Resources

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

History - A Novel Approach to the Past: Resources

Article excerpt

Nothing helps historical facts stick better than a good narrative.

To many children, history can be a bewildering parade of facts, many of which are not intrinsically interesting. But that doesn't prevent history-based films and TV dramas from being perennially successful. Historical fiction, too, continues to sell well to adults and children.

Historical fiction ought to provide the reader with an exciting, enjoyable story. But it is also a great tool for increasing the reader's understanding of a particular era. Just as a good history teacher engages the brain and the heart, historical fiction is uniquely placed to connect with the reader's emotions.

Caroline Lawrence's hugely successful Roman Mysteries books give readers in Years 5 and 6 far more than facts about what it was like to live in Roman times.

And Robert Harris presents older readers with a gripping thriller in Pompeii, which also shows the workings of Ancient Roman patronage and the Romans' sophisticated technology.

A generation of young readers will be familiar with the First World War through Michael Morpurgo's modern-day classics War Horse and Private Peaceful. I learned all about the Sikh soldiers who fought on the Western Front - something I was previously unaware of - from Bali Rai's fascinating novel City of Ghosts. Rai expertly portrays the fraught relationship between colonists and their subjects and pulls no punches in his depiction of British arrogance and brutality in India.

Undoubtedly Stalin, the NKVD and the purges hold a grisly fascination, but Travis Holland's The Archivist's Story lets you feel the cold pit-of- stomach fear of a police clerical worker and former academic about to fall victim to Beria's secret-police thugs. Likewise, Francis Spufford's very readable Red Plenty depicts the post-war optimism of Soviet Russia, when the survivors of the Great Patriotic War really felt they were on the verge of creating the utopia that their revolution had promised. …

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