JACKSON, Tenn. – May 28, 2008– A new book by Union University history professor David Thomas analyzes the historical features found in children’s literature, and explores how children learn history through the contexts of those books.
“The Stories We Tell Our Children: How Our Past is Made Present in Children’s Literature,” is published by Royal Fireworks Press. It is Thomas’ first book.
“History comes to young people primarily through books and stories that were not intended to teach history,” Thomas writes in the preface. “It comes fully packaged in great tales with engaging characters and colorful pictures. Sometimes it arrives in books we label history or biography. Far more often it comes as ‘life,’ or, more precisely, as context in a wide variety of literature.
“Fiction, historical fiction, informational books, even legends communicate historical contexts and themes, as do factual histories and biographies,” he continues. “Through them all, children learn history in informal, unconscious ways not unlike those through which they learn to speak.”
Thomas asserts that children first encounter history in the stories read to them. But parents too often miss opportunities to explore that history because they don’t recognize the historical contexts being presented.
“This book is for people who enjoy children’s literature,” Thomas writes. “It unpacks the complex historical features in books known for their simplicity. Most broadly, I hope to enhance your historical perceptions. The following pages will allow you, I hope, to see the influence of the past more clearly not only in children’s literature but in a whole raft of books, people, places, movies, and other cultural encounters.”
Among other topics, the book includes chapters on material history, social history and intellectual history.
Thomas said the book originated in a historical methods course he teaches. He wanted assignments that would allow students to see historical contexts easily, “without having to slog through difficulty and unwieldy documents,” he said. So he decided that children’s literature would be an appropriate way for them to accomplish that.
“At the core of this book is the conviction that historical thinking is fundamental to human life and identity,” Thomas writes. “Every aspect of human culture is historical; the more skilled and perceptive we are, the better.”
The book is available for purchase on the Royal Fireworks Press Web site at www.rfwp.com/series84.htm#811.