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Engaging Readers Of Your Children’s Historical Novels, by Kathleen Benner Duble

Let’s say you’ve written a great historical novel for kids, you’ve edited the manuscript, sent it off to a publisher, received an offer for publication and the book is about to go to print. But don’t stop there!

You can maximize the historical lesson for your readers in just a few extra steps by creating and offering your readers exercises related to your book that kids could do themselves.

As a fiction writer, you have one of the greatest gifts to help with this task – your creativity. Imagine you are the leader of a Girl Scout troop or a librarian leading a book club. Think about your story. How can you bring your story to life for your young readers?

Below are some examples of exercises I have come up with to enhance young readers’ historical experience for my own  books:

For Phantoms in the Snow, a story about a group of skiing soldiers in World War II who turned the tide of the war in Italy by defeating the Germans in the Alps, I suggested the following ideas:

1. Do a project

I asked students to put together their own K‐ration box (the packages of food that the soldiers were given in battle).

I tell my readers what was included in the 1940s and ask them to create their own using food from today. How would theirs differ from the K‐rations soldiers got back then? Do they find the food better or worse than what was offered to soldiers in 1940?

* What project could your readers do that is related to your story?

2. Invite a speaker

Some of the Phantoms who were with this skiing outfit still come and talk to kids about their adventures. I suggest that they invite a Phantom to their book club or library gathering. Hearing a real skiing soldier reminisce about his time in World War II makes my story that much more immediate for my readers.

Providing ideas for speakers who can come and visit to talk about some aspect of your historical novel will really bring your story to life.

For The Sacrifice (the story of my great‐grandmother who was accused of witchcraft at age 10 in 1692), I had these ideas.

1. Recreate the time period

If your readers can visit a historical site connected with your book, great! If they can’t, help them to set up a situation where they can feel as if they were pirates or pioneers or whatever types of characters are in your book.

I first suggested a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, listing all the great museums there.

But if Salem was too far, I suggested turning down the heat, making a fire in their fireplace and trying to cook a meal over that fire (with parental supervision for young children). Instant 1692!

2. Cook something

Find a recipe from your time period and let your readers try making it.

For The Sacrifice, I found some great Puritan recipes to try. I had to update the language a bit and then ensure that the ingredients were available. I also tried it myself first to be sure the recipe would not be a flop, but actually cooking a meal from your historical time period is a great way to ensure your readers will remember your story.

There are lots of ways for you to widen the appeal of your published book. Just put on your creative cap and let the ideas come.


Kathleen Benner Duble’s author website:

Kathleen Benner Duble’s bio page


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QuestThe SacrificePhantoms in the Snow     GoldseekersThe True Adventures of Charley DarwinThe Cabinet of Curiosities

Writing Historical Novels

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