In a recent post on the Grove Creek Family History Blog titled “What is Family History?” blogger Rayanne Melick posed a question most family historians face: How do we engage children and grandchildren in the family’s history? Melick explained that her son said to her, “Mom, whenever people ask you what you do for fun, you say family history. Do you ever notice that their eyes glaze over?”
Since the younger generations are the intended audience for most family historians, certainly most of the authors we work with, capturing children’s interest is essential.
So let’s look at what people who try to do this for a living – authors and editors of books for children – suggest.
“If you want to teach young readers about the Irish potato famine…tell them a story,” says Susan Brown Taylor author of several historical titles for children including Robert Brown Sails to Freedom.
Family history is, of course, rooted in fact, but as Reka Simonsen, Editor at Henry Holt and Company says, "Storytelling is storytelling. In nonfiction, the story happens to be true rather than invented, but the same rules apply: There should still he a strong story arc; there still has to be a problem that needs resolution; the characters have to be fully developed; there must be moments of dramatic tension and emotion of whatever kind appropriate to the events.”
Stories help kids learn to think by engaging their curiosity," says Shannon Barefield, Senior Editor at Lerner Publishing Group. "It makes readers ask, `Then what happened? Why?' and so on…storytelling techniques can bring to life a subject's significance in a way that just-the-facts writing can't always do. It's crucial for kids to learn the nuts-and-bolts facts of the Holocaust, for example, but to learn the human side of those events is critically important as well.”
Once engaged by family stories children may find themselves drawn into the pursuit of more knowledge about their ancestors. Judy O'Malley, former Editorial Director of Houghton Mifflin Books says, "I prefer to focus on the literature of fact books that tell the shaped story of what is known about lives and times, and that include the documentation of those facts that model for young readers how exciting authentic research can be. That leads them to read further and deeper, starting with the author's trail and following wherever their passion for the subject leads them.”
So as you plan and organize your family history book make sure it has plenty of family stories to appeal to the young audience for which it is intended.
Click here to read Rayanne Melick’s post, “What is Family History?”