Whenever I hear that only 12 percent of American students are proficient in history, I have to shake my head in amazement. How in the world can so few students be proficient in a subject that’s so fascinating?
Historian David McCullough may have an answer to that question. Several years ago he noted that contemporary history textbooks are:
“[S]o badly written. They’re boring! Historians are never required to write for people other than historians. Most of them are doing excellent work. I draw on their excellent work. I admire some of them more than anybody I know. But, by and large, they haven't learned to write very well.”
Such may have been one of the reasons why my mother hated history as a child in school.
Fortunately, her hatred of history was not passed down to me because she followed a simple piece of advice. Beginning in kindergarten, we read historical fiction books together. The more we read, the more we both grew to love history. By the time I was actually old enough to hit the history textbooks, I was able to happily endure their “boring” nature because my appetite had already been whet.
As was recently noted, Americans are embracing bad government because they don’t know history. If we want our children to avoid this fate, then perhaps we should start following the advice given to my mom years ago. Here are a few authors and titles to set your child on a history-loving path:
Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire
The D’Aulaire’s colorfully illustrated biographies read like a storybook and introduce children to diverse historical figures such as Leif Erikson, Pocahontas, and Abraham Lincoln.
A Newbury Honor winner, Genevieve Foster’s gift of incorporating historical characters and events into novel-like books perfect for grade school children spans the range from Augustus Caesar to Columbus and on to George Washington.
What kid doesn’t enjoy a story told from the perspective of an animal? Robert Lawson’s use of anthropomorphism presents the stories of Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere with a hilarity captivating to children and adults alike.
O’Steele’s vivid imagery captures the blood, sweat, and tears of the American Frontier and the Civil War in exciting stories particularly fascinating to boys.
G. A. Henty
G. A. Henty’s books appeal to boys and girls alike, and cover almost every major time period in history from ancient Egypt to the Crusades and on to the French Revolution. Henty’s novels are so knowledgeable that they have been known to fill in the historical gaps that adults have left over from their own school days!
Image Credit: Dean Shareski (cropped) bit.ly/1eBd9Ks
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.