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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Historical Fiction

 I signed up for the Historical Fiction challenge, following the lead of my fellow blogger and writer of the genre, Joyce Moyer Hostetter.  I knew it wouldn’t be much of a challenge— especially since I wimped out and signed up for the basic requirement: read five books in one year. I can do that.

I love the genre. I read anything I can get my hands on. After picking it up and putting it down for several years, I even tackled Pillars of the Earth last winter, all 973 pages of the paperback version.

So reading five Young Adult or Middle Grade historical fiction won't be hard.
Especially if I keep rereading books I’ve already read. Does that count? I decided it does, if I’m reading them in a completely different light. Which I totally am.

Take A CORNER OF THE UNIVERSE by Baby-Sitters Club writer Ann M. Martin.  When I was a school librarian, this book was one I loved to talk about with fifth graders. Now, I’m tearing it apart like a writer seeking guidance. Great characterization. Physical description that makes you think you are right there—Fred’s Funtime Carnival, Adam’s room, last year’s Summer Cotillion. A story that will break your heart if you let it or make you laugh if you’d rather.

This book is no Baby-Sitters Club. Far from it. But is it really historical fiction? Yes, the setting is 1960. Still, I wonder if every kid who reads the novel even realizes that. Martin says it, right off the bat. In the opening scene, Hattie Owen sits in her living room watching reels of family movies, in black and white. The canisters are marked with dates, and Hattie notes that the one she’s interested in is the summer she turned twelve. The summer her uncle appeared in her life.

But there’s not much mention of life in the 60s. Yes, her family runs a boarding house and the characters who live there are important to the story. But I just read a recent newspaper article about how boarding houses, now often called rooming houses, are making a big comeback. So that’s not exactly a dead giveaway for historical detail.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Unless you are trying to make your goal of reading five historical fiction middle grade or young adult books this year. I’m already up to three and I’m about to begin Black Radishes. And if I could count Pillars of the Earth, I’d be there.

But truly, what is historical anyhow? I'm inclined to go with this straightforward definition from the National Council of Teachers.

I'm intrigued by this line:
In historical fiction, setting is the most important literary element.

So, A Corner of the Universe? I think I'm fudging to count it.

Related post: Historical Fiction


Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Have never read this so I won't vote on the issue. But as you mentioned, meeting the challenge won't be a problem for you.

Thought it wouldn't be for me either but I do need to finish a few books that I have started.

Maybe I can read an ARC of Glory Be in this calendar year!

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, I vote for books I read before and am now reading again with an entirely different perspective. Interesting quote about setting. When I told Harold Underdown that my book was about Charlotte, NC before integration he said, "that is just the setting."
Guess it fits.