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When Fiction Teaches History (and why you should use it)


Reading fiction to supplement history lessons is a fun way to help your kids learn

I’m always going on about how well fiction works as a supplement to classroom lessons.  It is amazing what reading a story can do for helping your kids visualize a time period, a science procedure, or a country they’re studying.  And visualization means memorization.  So reading a story about a subject you’re studying can totally help your kids remember what they’ve learned.

Last week, the boys and I had an experience that really validated all my Crazy Book Lady ramblings.

No, really.  Let me tell you about it.

Reading fiction to supplement history lessons is a fun way to help your kids learn more deeply.  Learn how fiction teaches history almost as well as texts.

When fiction teaches history perfectly

I’ve mentioned several times that we’re reading All Quiet On the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque to supplement our history lessons about World War I.

It is the rawest account of war I have ever read.  When I finished reading the first chapter to the boys, there was dead silence.  The three of us stared at each other for a minute.

No words, y’all.  It’s that profound.

Finally, almost in unison, my sweet boys said, “This book is sad.”

Yeah, it’s that.  It’s also real.  It also is reminding us of all the things we’ve learned so far about the Great War.  Trench warfare was a terrible thing, and learning about it was in a scholarly sense was bad enough.  Reading Remarque’s account of being in the trenches is showing us just how terrible it really was.  The boys aren’t likely to forget it.

Last week, we read a chapter in which the protagonist, Paul, and his fellow soldiers came under bombardment after setting barbed wire on the front.  Part of the attack included gas bombs.  It was a terrifying account, to be sure, but the coolness of our day was yet to come.

When I opened the book we’re currently learning about the war from (World War I for Kids by R. Kent Rasmussen, which is a.maz.ing), we discovered we were going to be reading about…

Barbed wire and Poison gases.

I mean, I totally did not plan it that way, so can you believe how that worked out?

After we read about Paul and his buddies fighting to get the barbed wire set and then, in the midst of battle, fighting to get their gas masks on, we learned about the history of barbed wire and how it was most used in World War I due to the trench warfare that prevailed.

Then we read about the different types of poison gases used during the war and we got to make cardboard gas masks!

I’m telling you, World War I for Kids is awesome.  We’ve made recruiting posters, periscopes, and all kinds of other good stuff suggested by this book, but this day was total serendipity.

Check out these cool (and not a little bit creepy) gas masks!

Middle and Littlest in their gas masks for World War I studies

Okay, so they went a bit nuts with the tape…

Using fiction to supplement history is hands-down my favorite thing ever.  So often you can find books written during the time period and if you can’t, there’s usually a good book that’s at least set in the time period.  There’s nothing like reading Sense and Sensibility while studying the Regency Period in England or A Tale of Two Cities if you’re studying the French Revolution.  Or what about Gone With the Wind for the Civil War?  Or The Grapes of Wrath for the Depression?  The Great Gatsby for the roaring ’20s.  I mean, I could do this all day.

Oh my, there are so many books I want my boys to read.

It’s so easy to pick a supplementary novel for history.  Just think about the Magic Treehouse Series.  Think about all the classic novels you want your kids to read.  What time period are they set in?

I’m not making it up that I plan our novels for the year first and then plan our curriculum around them.  They don’t call me the Lit Mama for nothin’.

If you’re not using fiction to supplement your history lessons, you’re missing out on an invaluable resource.

Need a book suggestion?  Let me know.  Obviously, I’m full of ’em.

Love wins,


KT Brison
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About KT Brison

KT Brison is a former children’s librarian and educator who gave all that up for the most important job in her life—homeschooling her boys. Though she loves the outdoors and rambling around her farm, she can usually be found with her nose in a book. Any book. As long as it has words.
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  1. I totally agree with combining fiction and learning. It seems so much more interesting to read a story with characters rather than just trying to learn the facts. Thanks so much for linking up with us at #overthemoon. I’ve shared on social media. Have a great week and look forward to you link up next week.
    Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond
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  2. It is always hard to teach the history. However, it is a nice concept to simplify it through fiction stories. World War I for kids sounds interesting.

    • Fiction is so good for making my boys feel like they’re living through the historical event. We were just talking yesterday about how reading the account of trench warfare in All Quiet is so much more meaningful than reading about the war theoretically in a nonfiction text. The boys said they understand it so much better now. 🙂

  3. I love using fiction books to teach history. We supplement wit non- fiction too but I find that fiction books make us feel like we are there experiencing it all too. Pinned.
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  4. You make a good point about time period fiction and how it reinforces scholarly learning. My senior son read All Quiet….. last year along with his history lessons and loved every minute of the book. I’ve never read it, but have a feeling I should.

    • I had never read it before either (though I cringe to admit it), but I highly recommend it. It’s incredible on so many levels. I’m glad to hear your son got to enjoy it. 🙂

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