Books for Women’s History Month: Finding Them
Today, I’m beginning a little series on finding, reading, and using excellent books for women’s history month. Today, we’ll focus on the finding. Later this week, I’ll share some of my favorites, and give you some ideas for how to use them at home, at school, and maybe even in more random situations.
Here’s a little secret: I don’t like the non-fiction history books that you’re ‘supposed’ to like. That David Adler A Picture Book of… series? I think it’s dry, completely unengaging, and historically questionable. Of course, that series is a far sight better than the If You Were There When… series, which seems like a cartoon gone wrong. (These are just my personal opinions, of course. I’m sure there are kids out there who love these two series, and probably some kid somewhere won’t read anything else.)
My preference, particularly when it comes to books about Very Famous Historical People, is to identify one or two really great books about that person. I think it is well worth an investment of your time to find and pre-read a whole stack of books, and then select the very best to actually use. Sure, situations arise where you have to grab the book closest to your hand, but 95% of the time, you probably can use just a bit of prior planning and find some hidden gems.
What does this look like in reality? It means you can’t just google the name of a Very Important Historical Person, and then buy the first children’s listing that pops up on Amazon. It means you can’t just head over to the local big box bookstore and snatch the first thing you see. Listen to me carefully: you might luck out and grab something fantastic. You also might waste $8.95, unintentionally impart historically inaccurate information to the next generation, and make history a lot more boring or irrelevant than it needs to be.
The truth is that most of the time, you don’t need your children (or students) to memorize every detail of a Very Important Historical Person’s biography. There are probably some ‘big ideas’ about that person, his/her contributions to society, and his/her background that you want to stick with your children. Thus, you don’t want a book that reads more like an encyclopedia entry than quality children’s literature. As kids get older, this changes a little bit, but on the whole, I’ve found that quality children’s books can be the best introduction to a person or event.
It’s also essential to remember that perceptions of people and events change over time – as they should! Our world never stands still, and I, for one, am grateful not to be living in 1776. (If you’re wondering why, that would have me disenfranchised, probably impoverished, and close to blind – mama loves her corrected vision.) This means that the historical books you loved as a child – I’m looking at you, d’Aulaire biographies and Little House on the Prairie – might not be appropriate for modern children without a healthy dose of explanation.
Here’s my point: take the time to find the very best books for whatever or whomever you’re trying to study. Emphasize depth and great ideas over breadth and trivial knowledge. Then, if you discover you have a mini-historian in your house or classroom, you’ll know that you’ve provided a firm foundation on which s/he can build additional knowledge. There is precious little that will stand between a mini-historian and his/her acquisition of better and greater knowledge about an interesting subject, so don’t fret.