Connecting Children’s Literature to Social Studies

By H. Meisel

Using children’s literature to further students’ knowledge in Social Studies has proven to be an effective and meaningful way to connect historical events. Autobiographies, biographies, and historical fiction are just some examples of literature that bring in the human factor for our students to relate to. As a Social Studies and Reading teacher, I am constantly looking for children’s and adolescent literature that connects the lives of the people in the era we’re studying to the lives of my students. Having the privilege of teaching World Cultures and Geography, our topics may range from literature coming from that specific country to the daily lives and hardships of the people who inhabit the country. I may choose to highlight literature that has a historical element or I may choose literature that discusses issues involving current events. There is a plethora of student literature, and my goal is to gather as many ideas as I can, along with books, and teaching methods.  My hopes are that other teachers may be able to contribute to enhance and enrich my ever-growing collections as well as get some new ideas of their own.

An example of connecting literature to Social Studies includes “Eating The Plates: A Pilgrim Book on Food And Manners,” by Lucille Recht Penner. This book tells the story of the Pilgrims and their struggle to survive. It gives details of their diet, the effects of disease, and help the Indians gave them by bringing corn, deer and turkey to their dinner tables. There are interesting recipes at the end of the book that reveal what was on the Pilgrims’ menu. This book takes the events of the establishment of Plymouth Colony and brings it to life for our students.

Another book that takes the study of Ancient Egyptian civilizations and brings it to life is “The Golden Goblet,” by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. This book is about the struggle of Ranofer, an adolescent living under the evil rule of his older half brother Gebu. Ranofer has strong suspicions his brother is a thief, but must go about proving it without being a subject of the thievery himself. Moreover, Ranofer’s goal of becoming a goldsmith is consistently shattered as Gebu uses him for his own selfish greed. This book is especially powerful for adolescent boys, and contains themes such as abuse, friendships, and never giving up on your dreams.

These are just a few examples of children’s and adolescent literature that bring to life events, dates, and places in history that can become so easily forgotten or ignored in an overwhelming textbook. I’m hoping teachers will share their knowledge and ideas about books they use that connect literature with their subject area teaching.

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