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Best Historical Fiction and Biographies

Updated on February 12, 2018
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Rosie is a library media specialist. An avid reader and life-long learner, Rosie enjoys sharing her knowledge and expertise in many areas.

Historical Fiction

Historical fiction should be honest and truthful. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” spoken by George Santayana, completely sums up why it is so important to write historical fiction accurately and truthfully. For instance, in The Heretic’s Daughter, by Kathleen Kent, the story is told through the eyes of a little girl who watches as her mother is accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts.

The author is a direct descendant of the woman the story is about, and had grown up hearing about her all of her life. She researched the time period, 17th Century New England, and has filled the book with fascinating details of life in that era; it gives insight into why things turned out the way they did. The dialogue is fictional, but the brutal way of life and many of the characters are real. Kent brings the time period to life by spending the first half of the book on describing the daily life activities of this little girl’s family. Life was hard. There were so many things to fear, from starvation, to Indians killing your entire family or kidnapping you. People were condemned for the smallest of things, and blame for hardships was placed on those condemned. Because it was told with honesty, the story was very enlightening and insightful.

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Using It In the Classroom

Historical fiction can make distant events from the past come alive in today’s world. Students can more easily make connections with characters in a historical fiction book than they can with words in a textbook. They can also empathize with characters who feel real, which is a quality every human being needs to have.

Types of Historical Fiction

1. A story of historical events happening before the life of the author.

2. A contemporary novel that becomes historical fiction with the passage of time.

3. Authors chronicle their own life stories in a fictional format.

4. The protagonist travels back into history.

5. A novel speculates about alternative historical outcomes.

Biographies

Good biographies give important information about a person’s life and present it in a way that is interesting to readers. Just today, I sat with a reading group and listened as they read aloud a story about Coretta Scott King. It began with her childhood and told of how she watched as her house was burned down, and her father’s livelihood taken from him. But what shaped her character was how she also watched as her father, in the worst of situations, kept going. He rebuilt his home and his business; and he was never violent or vengeful. Coretta married Martin Luther King, who was much like her father, and she forged on as her father did, when confronted with obstacles. She went to college to be a teacher, but then no one would hire her because of her color. That didn’t stop her from finding success in music. Like her father, she made her way. The author presented her hardships and triumphs in such a way, that the children were empathizing with her as a child, and then admiring her as an adult who had overcome so much.

While presenting the information in an interesting way is important, objectivity and thorough research is a must. Personal conclusions should not interfere with the story being told. Subjects are sometimes glorified and made to seem very grand. Biographies should be balanced with both weaknesses and strengths of their subjects. Conclusions should be left for the reader to ponder using the facts given.

Types of Biographies

1. Autobiographies are stories written by the author, about the author. In the past, most have been written for adults. They have become more popular with children as children’s book authors have been encouraged to write them for children to read.

2. Picture book biographies are primarily for young readers. They are 32 pages in length and give a general idea of a person’s life with pictures.

3. Simplified biographies are for readers who are becoming independent. They have pictures but the text is the main focus in these books.

4. Complete biographies cover the entire life of a subject. They can be picture books or chapter books.

5. Partial biographies only cover a portion of a person’s life and their primary purpose may be to shed light on overcoming a particular adversity or celebrating a triumph.

6. Collective biographies have a theme such as musicians or athletes. They are popular with children, even though they may not be written as well as other forms of literature.

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