I have mentioned many times how we are a very literature based homeschooling family. I use ‘real’ books as much as I can to add interest and depth to my children’s studies. Even though we do utilize some textbooks as ‘spine’ books to provide a framework for the topics in history or science that we are reading about, I much prefer to use ‘living’ books whenever possible. And I must admit that my children especially enjoy reading fictional stories about real events.
However, my plan is usually two-fold. For example, when we have a particular topic to research or study, I like to pair that fictional book or story with a non-fictional counterpart. By doing this one simple thing, my children are able to ‘give a face’ to fiction, which makes the story they have been reading even more real or personal. And it sticks!
For example, when my son was studying about the Lower East Side tenements in New York City during the late 1800s and early 1900s, one of the best resources he used was Deborah Hopkinson’s wonderful book, Shutting Out the Sky.
The author truly captured the immigration experience in her book. She used original writings from immigrants, and the story is told through those ‘voices’ from the past, featuring two women and three men from the countries of Belarus, Italy, Lithuania, and Romania.Those individuals came to America between the years of 1891 and 1901,and their ages at the time of immigration ranged from twelve to sixteen.
Hopkinson was able to interweave the ‘voices’ of the immigrants to create a complex, yet compelling, book. Yes, she did tell about the poverty, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions; but she also emphasized the indomitable human spirit and the importance of family ties and traditions.
By pairing Shutting Out the Sky with fictional books about the same topic, such as Faraway Summer or Dear Emma by Johanna Hurwitz or All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor, the big picture or learning experience could be enlarged even more. These fictional books provide readers with a glimpse into the lives of poor immigrant families who are trying to survive life in the tenements in different sections of New York City and the stories behind those people.
However, I could take this example of ‘giving a face to fiction’ even further by lifting another historical event from the books Faraway Summer and Dear Emma — the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. These fictional stories could then be paralleled with Suzanne Lieurance’s exceptional non-fiction book, The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and Sweatshop Reform in American History. In turn, this could lead to yet another fictional story about the same event, The Locket, also by Suzanne Lieurance!
Actually, the process could continue indefinitely with ‘bunny trails’ in every direction! Regardless, I do believe that pairing fiction with non-fiction is an excellent plan to expand the learning process and truly provide children with the opportunity to ‘give a face to fiction.’
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