I, too, was one of those students who found history class, especially in high school, a chore and a bore. What did I care about all those long-ago times, places, and events we had to memorize, when there were clothes to admire, make-up to decide on, and actual dates to be had???
Of course, I always loved English class, and without my realizing it, I was already “into” historical fiction. Books such as Edna Ferber’s Giant and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind were giving me an excellent background to the history of the U.S., especially the South and Southwest.
Later, as a young wife and mom, as my kids attended story hour at the library, I stumbled onto the excellent author, Norah Lofts. What a wonderful world she opened up to me! Her books have sometimes been classified as “historical romances,” but they are so much more. In many of her books, the life and times of people in the Middle Ages are so interestingly detailed that I’ve read some of them over and over. Those books caused me to become a dedicated Anglophile for life. And, Lofts’ novel about Anne Boleyn, The Concubine, led me to reading, for about a 10-15 year period, everything I could get my hands on, both fiction and non-fiction, about Henry VIII and life in England at that time.
History was now truly coming alive for me, and I wondered how I could have found such a wealth of interesting stories so boring. Could it be that the history books didn’t present nearly the compelling picture that the books I was now discovering did? I do remember there was a series of small books in our school library that each focused on a different person throughout the history of America. One I particularly recall was about a person called A.P. Giannini. Because I didn’t pick it up, for many years I thought it was about the founder of the A&P stores. Only when I worked in a library years later, did I learn it was really about the founder of Bank of America! Since I’ve lived in this area for most of my life, I’ve now also taken an interest in local history. As my daughter says, “Mom not only knows what’s on nearly every corner in San Bernardino and Redlands, she also knows what used to be there!”
Today, young people have a wealth of historical novels to choose from, to help bring alive for them a variety of different eras and lands. Just a few of the many that focus on American history are the wonderful American Girl and Dear America series, and of course our own Marilyn Donahue’s books that deal with the early days of the San Bernardino Valley. Let’s hope that through these and other books future generations of readers will not take as long as some of us have to discover the delights to be found in history and historical fiction.
Contributed by Marjorie Flathers