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Lecture on Historical Fiction for Children. September 30, 2013. Trauma and Historical Children’s Fiction.

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trauma and historical children s fiction
Trauma and Historical Children’s Fiction
  • As a number of scholars have noted, Kenneth Kidd most prominently among them, contemporary children’s literature is often situated during times of great violence and social upheaval, thus presenting child protagonists who experience and typically work through trauma.
trauma and historical children s literature models of childhood
Trauma and Historical Children’s Literature – Models of Childhood
  • “Children are often imagined as both extremely vulnerable – and therefore susceptible to trauma – and especially resilient and adaptable, thus making them ideal candidates to bear cultural traumas and to work through them on behalf of everyone…” (Hintz and Tribunella 239).
  • With this analysis in mind, we can gain a deeper understanding of Christopher Paul Curtis’ choice to focus upon the Alabama church bombing that served as one of the major catalysts for the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and to present this history from the perspective of a school-aged child.
fiction versus history
Fiction Versus History
  • Hintz and Tribunella quote Perry Nodelman’s assertion that historians shape “’events into acceptable patterns of cause and effect,’ and thus ‘the stories they tell are much like the plots of fiction’” (245).
  • As Hintz and Tribunella point out, “while authors of historical fiction use historical events and details to tell a story, historians writing narrative histories use the techniques of fiction to explain what happened in the past” (245).
  • I would argue that historical fiction humanizes history – it gives it shape, form, and substance. If Curtis can make us care about the Watson family, then we are much more likely to care about the times in which they were living.
advantages of historical fiction
Advantages of Historical Fiction
  • By focusing on the experiences of a specific set of characters, the creative writer makes history more relatable.
filling in the gaps
Filling in the Gaps
  • According to Hintz and Tribunella, “fiction can fill in the gaps of history with its speculative imaginings. Though perhaps not grounded in fact, these imaginative constructions and additions might provide a fuller sense of history, and though not factual in the strict sense, they offer a different kind of truth” (248).
  • As such, historical fiction provides a meaningful accompaniment to non-fiction history texts.
fiction and history pairings
Fiction and History Pairings

Fever 1793, Anderson

An American Plague, Murphy

fiction and history pairings1
Fiction and History Pairings

The Book Thief, Zusak

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow, Baroletti

accuracy vs authenticity presentism
Accuracy vs. Authenticity/Presentism
  • Accuracy refers to “the corespondence between recorded history and fictional representation, whereas authenticity indicates how a literary work fills in the gaps of the historical record and whether the imaginative components of the work are plausible” (Hintz and Tribunella 251).
  • Take a moment and look carefully at the events of the first chapter of The Watsons Go to Birmingham -1963. What picture of Flint, Michigan in the early 1960s comes through? Locate one or two passages that instruct the reader about the time period.
wilder s stated motivation
Wilder’s Stated Motivation
  • “I began to think what a wonderful childhood I had had. How I had seen the whole frontier, the woods, the Indian country of the great plains, the frontier towns, the building of railroads in wild, unsettled country, homesteading and farmers coming in to take possession. I realized that I had seen and lived it all—all the successive phases of the frontier, first the frontiersman, then the pioneer, then the farmers, and the towns. Then I understood that in my own life I represented a whole period of American History." (qtd in Anderson, A Little House Sampler 217).
presentism on the prairie
Presentism on the Prairie
  • Always pay attention not only to when a story is set, but when a story is written. Wilder was writing during the Great Depression, and its impact was uppermost in her mind as she and her daughter Rose worked on these books.
  • In other words, our rendering of the past is always impacted by interpretations that we make based upon “present” ideas.
wilder on government
Wilder on Government
  • “Mother and daughter, writing in the midst of the Great Depression, were profoundly anti-New Deal. They were opposed to the expanding role of government, feeling that individuals were capable of overcoming hardships on their own and that when government intervened in people‘s lives, it did so in crude, blundering ways that did more harm than good, as with the farm programs that paid farmers to plow their crops under” (Felman
self responsibility
  • “As the 1930s progressed, Lane became more and more of a political individualist, maintaining that society was only a meaningless abstraction. She believed that the remarkable energy that had transformed the young United States, and was increasingly affecting the world, stemmed from Americans‘ rejection of authority and their acceptance of the responsibility that comes from individuals standing on their own two feet, dependent upon no one” (Fellman).
wilder and lane infuse the little house books with anti new deal ideas
Wilder and Lane Infuse The Little House Books with Anti-New Deal Ideas
  • They changed the facts present in many of the novels in order to put forward the idea of self-reliance and to diminish the importance of community.
  • They drew upon a popular myth of the American frontier as a place of individual valor, while ignoring the documented reality that the West was a place where multiple cultures converged and intersected.
  • Wilder and Lane:
accuracy authenticity half pint
Accuracy/Authenticity…half pint?
  • “Ironically, as the overall purpose of what they were creating became clear to them, Wilder began to urge her publisher to stress that the stories were true; indeed, she told her book-fair audience in Detroit that in every story in the series ‘all the circumstances, each incident are true’” (Fellman).
changes alterations
  • “Little House on the Prairie is the book based least on the actual memories of Wilder herself, who was only four years old when the Ingallses gave up their Kansas homestead. It is largely the product of remembered family stories, of research that Wilder and Lane conducted into life on the prairies of Kansas and Missouri in the late 1860s, and of their imaginative recreation of what the good frontier life would have been like” (Fellman).
  • The depiction of Osage Indians presents them as “noble savages” who wore few clothes, spoke in grunts, and were prone to violence.
  • The explanation for why the Ingalls left their claim was fabricated – the government did not force Pa off the land; the buyer of the family’s house in Wisconsin defaulted on the loan, so they had to go back to reclaim their property.
changes alterations1
  • While the Ingalls family did live through a long winter, they did so as a community: people shared their food until the trains came through.
  • In the novel, the family is shown to be on their own, and Almanzo Wilder is depicted as a hero who saves the town from starvation; in fact, the town held out until the trains came through.
artistic freedom and historical responsibility
Artistic Freedom and Historical Responsibility
  • As Hintz and Tribunella note, “Historical fiction clearly requires a complex negotiation between the historical record and imagination, between creative freedom and ethical responsibility, between the pleasures of story and the didactic uses of literature” (255).
  • “The student or scholar of children’s literature should consider how texts embody different ways of negotiating these apparent conflicts, including how those negotiations affect readers in ways that are sometimes painful or harmful, as when minority groups are misrepresented or the abuses of history are minimized” (Hintz and Tribunella 256).