The Stories We Tell Our Children: How the Past Is Made Present in Children’s Literature,
by David Thomas
(Royal Fireworks Press, 2008), pb., 156 pp.
David Thomas is a friend and colleague at Union University
where he teaches history. He and his wife Nan are also parents who have made purposeful, joyous reading to their children a part of their lives. This book, it seems to me, is an outgrowth of this connection between professional and family life.
This book is not an annotated list of recommended books like The Book Tree
. Rather, it is a discussion of how we can learn history from picture books intended for children. Thomas says:
This book is for people who enjoy children’s literature. It unpacks the complex historical features in books known for their simplicity. … I hope to benefit parents who enjoy reading and thinking with their children, teachers and librarians who are looking for new ways to introduce historical thinking to their students, home school parents who formally combine the roles of parent and teacher, and others who are interested in history, literature, and education. (p. 1)
Thus the goal of this book is demonstrate historical elements found (often implicitly) in children’s books and to discuss how these elements can be used to increase historical awareness and appreciation. The book succeeds in this goal and is thus helpful for parents who read to their children as Thomas intends.
Thomas comments further on the idea behind the book stating:
At the core of this book is the conviction that historical thinking is fundamental to human life and identity. Every aspect of human culture is historical; the more skilled and perceptive we are, the better. We need to see the past is as much of its power and curious fun as our imagination can handle. (p. 3)
I agree with and really like this statement. Especially since we live in a culture that is increasingly unaware of and apathetic towards the past, Thomas’ assertion is important. Historical awareness helps us know who we are and helps us to live well. And, to appreciate history we need well trained, expansive imaginations!
In the chapters Thomas walks through different ways in which we can notice historical clues embedded in these books and what we can do with them. Some of this information will be of less interest to parents and of more interest to those specifically teaching history. However, it is very useful for all of us in learning to read better and in making the most of our reading. He also comments on a number of books along the way providing helpful recommendations of books the reader might want to pursue.
Let me conclude with a two more quotes form the book.
The earlier our historical imagination and curiosity are awakened, the better. (p. 7)
Expose your children to good literature and they will recognize it in the future. They will pursue the authors they know and love and be encouraged to explore further on their own. (p. 13)
This last quote is one of the key convictions behind my own reading to my children and of this blog, which is the result of that reading.
I commend Thomas’ book to you than as a resource for book recommendations and stimulating thoughts on using your reading a way to teach historical awareness.
though apparently it is currently unavailable there.