Monday, November 19, 2007

What is History?

Marc Aronson is discussing history and fictionalizing nonfiction over at his SLJ blog, NonFiction Matters.

I find this fascinating, in part because I read those Childhood of Famous Americans (or whatever it was called) series as a kid, and they were presented and placed as nonfiction; and all it took was reading one biography, and applying some common sense, to realize that things were made up (or, as Marc would say, fictionalized.) Still, it was a conclusion I came to on my own as a kid; and it didn't ruin the books for me. (I understand that some readers, even now, feel "betrayed" when they discover a book they read includes fictionalized history.) If anything, I still love historical fiction.

But, I do know kids who believe that Dragons are real because the Dragonology books are in the nonfiction section of the library. Yes, eventually they will "get it", but in the meanwhile, are libraries doing a disservice to kids by not shelving these books in the fiction section?

I read historical fiction and often then read the actual history books after. That said, I do know that I'll always feel more or less sympathetic to certain historical figures based on fiction books. Richard III, I believe you are innocent of killing the princes! And it's one reason I appreciate endnotes where an author shares resources and points out to what historical facts were altered to make the narrative better.

When history and fiction mix (in books such as Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, which I love) it can become difficult. I think GM, SL is a perfect book for using as a teaching resource, because the author is clear (so the teacher and students will be clear) as to what is real and what is made up; and it presents historical information in way that is easy to understand and fun to read. That said, since the village and villagers are not real, and their emotions and words are made up, I would not put this book in with history books and would not hand it to someone as a nonfiction book.

I'm very fascinated by Marc's posts, and he promises more to come.

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