Laura's Blog

The Power of Historical Fiction for Teens

- by Laura Malone Elliott

February 27, 2018

I’m getting so excited about the NoVA Teen Book Festival on March 10th—so many wonderful YA writers are coming.

For me, it’s always such sustenance to spend time with other authors, hearing their ideas, their sense of story, how they create, where they find inspiration. I was recently treated to a pre-festival, podcast dialogue with the extremely talented Caroline Tung Richmond. Guided by the gracious Kara Oakleaf—director of George Mason University’s amazing annual October literary festival, Fall for the Book —we shared our research/writing process and love of history. Caroline has written fascinating WWII novels, both factual and alternative. Her companion books, The Only Thing to Fear and Live in Infamy, create a disturbing and heartbreaking American world that might exist had the Allies lost to the Axis powers. It really was a fun conversation—I learned a lot listening to Caroline!

Although our imaginations take different paths once we’ve done all our research into a time period, our goals are the same. Caroline and I both hope to infuse our teen readers with our enthusiasm for the stunning epic pageant that is history. We both seek to humanize all those dates, battles, empires, rebellions, and philosophic trends that teenagers must learn in school. To put a human face, a beating heart, an engrossing OMG what’s-going-to-happen-next involvement into those syllabus timelines.

History, after all, is a very human drama—at its core, it’s not as much about an epoch’s leaders, but about the fears, the grit, the heartbreaks, the valor of ordinary citizens who have to live through the wars and political movements those leaders oversee. Where do they find their courage? What moves them to act? What mistakes, what passions, what losses, what joys? Historical fiction helps readers imagine, to contemplate what they might do in the difficult and often death-defying plotlines of past eras, to empathize and to worry about the fate of a novel’s characters. Emotional engagement! Just like any compelling story.

And the great thing about well-done historical fiction? Readers can actually learn a lot (about day-today-life, the lingo, the food, the pop culture, the attitudes of a time period) without realizing it—through osmosis! They’re just reading a good book.

To those naysayers who claim historical fiction is too hard of a sell to teens? Look at all those teenagers who know every single word of Hamilton!

Hope to see you on March 10th! BTW, if you’d like to order signed books, (whether you can physically attend the festival or not), you can do so with its main organizers, the fantastic indie bookstore, One More Page. Hamilton and Peggy! will also come with a Schuyler sister pin of your choice. (I am proudly showing my Peggy pin in the photo below)


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