Barbara is a children’s writer from Inverness. She published her debut last year, Fir For Luck, with Cranachan Publishing and has spent her time since bringing history to life in school visits.
Below, Barbara talks about why it’s important to teach kids about history in a fun and engaging way.
It took me a while to discover I like writing historical novels for children, to be fair.
I love reading history. Historical fiction brings whole worlds to life. I learn about these worlds, without realising I am learning, worlds that actually used to exist. And I want that.
But would children want to read historical fiction? I was less sure, browsing through bookshelves of bonneted girls and period-clad strangers on book covers. There is an instant ‘remove’, isn’t there? Surely, young people enjoy reading about themselves, in whatever guise that may be. And surely, historical fiction is not the go-to genre for that?
Having written five contemporary (and unpublished) manuscripts for children, I simply couldn’t help being drawn into the world the Highland Clearances, inspired by a holiday to Sutherland. The injustice of it. The courage. The risks some of these defiant tenants took. The strength of communities in the face of adversity.
Wait! All those things are still around! I began to write Fir for Luck, trying to make the action as immediate and relatable as I possibly could, to pick up the pace and only include a smattering of archaic dialogue, for fear that it should become a distraction, or a barrier. I wanted kids to be swept along with the story, just as if they were caught up in these events themselves, right now. And for me, as a writer and a reader, telling myself the story before anyone else, it worked.
I do love history. I find it fascinating how we used to live, interact, react, make sense of the world. I love to read it, too – those books that take you into a different world, rich with detail, evocative, stirring the senses. The Jacobites, Mary Queen of Scots, the Picts, Saint Columba, the Dark Ages – I have visited them all in fiction.
And isn’t it important, aside from any school curriculum, that young people should engage with history: their heritage? How can we bring out the best in humanity if we are unaware of the mistakes we have made in the past? How can we appreciate what we have now if we do not know the hardships previous generations have endured? How can we value what’s precious, without knowing what has stood the test of time?
So for me, reading about history does not only teach young people knowledge. It reassures them of their place in the world, opens doors to the past and inspires them for the future. It teaches young readers (and me!) to look afresh at our heritage, our landscape, our structures, and realise how small we are. But also that the biggest difference was often made by the few, with consequences reverberating down the centuries. It’s empowering.
Package that empowerment in a story (kids will always, ALWAYS engage with a good story!) and you have an explosive, mind blowing package.
I really want to be part of that. Fir for Luck is just the beginning!
Since publication in September, Fir for Luck has done better than I could have ever imagined: kids are choosing to read history. It hovered in the No 1 spot in its Amazon category for the first two weeks. It has almost thirty reader reviews. Every single one of them is five stars (so far, at least). Primary schools are increasingly using it for project work, and my schedule is getting busy with school and museum visits and book festivals. Secondary schools have begun to order it, too – it sits in the happy no-man’s-land where young, older and adult readers all find someone to connect with.
Meanwhile, I have just finished a children’s novel set in Victorian Scotland. Punch will be published in October and is set against a backdrop of travelling entertainers, Punch and Judy puppetry and dancing bears. But essentially, it’s about a kid who gets the blame for something he didn’t do, about a boy on the run. It’s about friendship and about injustice and about believing in yourself that little bit more than you did before. The historical aspect is almost co-incidental. But it turns a story into a memorable story. We learn something about the world while being swept along. And I believe that young readers, just like adult readers, want that.
Bringing history to life for kids!
I don’t know about you, but I LOVED Barbara’s book, Fir For Luck, and am eagerly awaiting Punch.
Release Date: September 21st 2016
Would you be brave enough to fight back?
When 12-year-old Janet’s village is under threat– she decides to take action.
It’s a split-second decision that could cost her everything: her home, her family – even her life.
Can Janet save her village from being wiped out? Or will her family and friends be forced from their homes to face an uncertain future?
Based on real life events, Fir for Luck is a tale of the brutal Highland Clearances, when land owners cared more about sheep than people.
‘Steeped in atmosphere, tension and the lyric cadences of the Highlands, Janet’s tale lights a fire of courage and hope in a shameful and tragic period of Scotland’s past. Henderson’s debut is brave and beautiful.’
– Elizabeth Wein, author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire
If you’re interested, you can check out my review of Fir For Luck here, with buy links included 🙂