Here at JABHQ, we are great fans of the ‘Histronauts’ books, winner of this year’s Information Category and so were delighted to hear that a new title in the series is being published this month- A Viking Adventure. These adventures manage to combine lots of historical detail with story and activities to help engage children with the period. We are delighted that Frances Durkin, author of these wonderful books, has taken the time to share her thoughts about the importance of engaging children with history.
One of my favourite things about being an author is having the chance to meet children and to ask them what they like about history. The wealth of different answers never fails to impress me. They find it mysterious, funny, scary, interesting, gross, exciting and, yes, sometimes they’re more than happy to admit that it can be boring. This multitude of adjectives makes it so much fun to invite children to share in engaging with the past. It is the perfect subject for inquisitive imaginations and, by nurturing that passion in childhood, it can fascinate and reward for entire lifetimes.
I was very lucky to have spent my childhood aware of the history which surrounded me. I knew that nearby roads were built on those laid out by the Romans, that the cathedral in our nearest city was more than 900 old, and that local communities had been built on the coal industry for centuries. This was partly because it was fundamental to the fabric of where I grew up, and partly because of the passionate educators in my life. I was taken to visit every possible museum and historic landmark. I also blame the regular visits to York for the fact that I have grown up to be a medievalist with a shameless love of castles.
‘History’ means so much to all of us on many levels; it is both personal and social. We each have our favourite periods to engage with because we might like a particular historical figure, are drawn to a certain significant event, or are intrigued by the clothes that people used to wear. But on a much more intimate level, television programmes in recent years have driven a fantastic interest in family history. This has made the past very relatable. History can start at home and those who raise children have a role in teaching them that they are a part of it. This accessibility to the lives of our parents and grandparents can then give way to the history of our society on a larger scale.
As well as allowing children to see how history relates to them, its study also gives them the critical thinking tools which enable them to question what they see around them. The past is an extraordinary puzzle made up of more than just dates and places. Historical research comprises perpetual detective work which makes it endlessly fascinating and exciting. New discoveries provide answers and different perspectives, but they also raise many new questions. This ensures that the research tools of a historian are varied and full of opportunities to learn new skills or engage with other historical discourses. These skills for questioning are increasingly important in a world in which children are growing up with easy access to information that isn’t always what it seems.
In writing history for children my principal aim is that it be neither intimidating nor overwhelming. My background is in academic historical research and I hold writing books for children to the same high standard that I would expect of any conference paper. Children don’t deserve over-simplification or laziness in the manner in which history is communicated to them. But this doesn’t mean that it has to be dry or boring. There is much fun to be had in sharing new information and my work with the illustrator Grace Cooke aims to invite all children into the past, even those who might not like reading or who already think that history is ‘boring’.
Curiosity and inventiveness make children natural historians. There is so much joy to be found in helping to cultivate those innate talents and, by doing so, enable them to grow up with insight and understanding of the actions and events which have shaped the present.
Frances Durkin is the author and co-creator of The Histronauts book series. She is completing her PhD in Medieval History at the University of Birmingham.
The Histronauts: A Viking Adventure Frances Durkin, illustrated by Grace Cooke
bsmall publishing ISBN: 978-1911509721