Follow Steps to Teaching Any Genre to introduce children to historical fiction writing.

Here is a favorite assignment one teacher I’ve worked with used to help students experiment with this form of writing: 

Read aloud a historical fiction novel.  After or during the time you are reading and discussing the novel, students choose a  biography to read individually.  The biography should be about someone who lived during the time the historical fiction novel took place.  While students read their chosen biographies, they take notes on the person they are reading about, noting style of dress, personality, important life events, etc.  Then students are to add their real character into a short (1-3 page) scene that blends with the historical fiction novel you’ve read aloud.

Here’s a sample of student writing by a 5th grader.  The novel read aloud was Huckleberry Finn.  The student had read a biography of Sam Houston.  Note how the writer has written from Huck’s point-of-view, and has even tried to mimic the language of Mark Twain’s novel:

Two or three days days and nights went by; I reckon I might say they swum by, they slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely.  We was walkin’ an’ we came across a village.  I told Jim to stay behind a bush so the people didn’t see him.  

I walked into the town, an’ I ‘eard some people laughin’ in a bar. I sneaked in an’ ‘id behind a barrel o’ whiskey.  There was a guy with chestnut colored hair.  He looked about forty years old.  One thing that made ‘im stand out was ‘e ‘ad on clothes that made ‘im look like a savage.  He ‘ad a white doeskin shirt with beads on ‘an yellow leggins, with a bright blanket around his shoulders.  He was whittlin’ a [piece of]soft pine an’ drinkin’ whiskey.  He said somethin’ about goin’ to Texas.  He claimed he lived with them Cherokee Indians as a kid for three years.  Next he said, “I wrestled buffalo with the Cherokees a couple of times.”  Mind you ‘e were drinkin’ an’ was prob’ly drunk, he was tellin’ sich lies.  He even said, “I used to be a congressman and friend of Andy Jackson.”  That was when I ‘eard someone say, “Ya’ mean ol’ Hickory?”  An’ he said that were the very man he was talkin’ about.

I heard someone else say the man’s name were Sam Houston and ‘e fought in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend against the Creek Indians and than lived one year with a bullet in ‘is shoulder.  But then he saw me an’ tol’ me to git, so that’s jist what I did.  I got back to Jim an’ told ‘im we better git goin’.  We went back into the forest.  Here is the way we put in the time.  It was a monstrous big river down there–sometimes a mile and a half wide.

From the Writing Curriculum Files of Children’s Author, Suzanne Williams