I’ve noted before, Monica excels at taking a moment in history, oftentimes a forgotten moment, and fashioning a story that is both compelling and informative. Her books showcase inventors, artists, and revolutionaries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A master at writing about history, Monica’s books demonstrate that history is more than dates. History is people, too. In the best of historical fiction, as with any story, a child becomes a hero who gains power over her situation, a theme that contemporary readers appreciate.
This time, I celebrate Monica’s newest books.
Ruby’s Hope tells the story behind Dorothea Lange’s famous “Migrant Mother” photograph, with illustrations by Sarah Dvojack. In this a compassionate story set during the Great Depression, Ruby’s family faces desperate times when the drought forces the family to pack up their car and move to California. Ruby struggles to hold onto her hope. They join others in migrant camps, working fields in exchange for food. Then Dorothea Lange arrives to document the extreme poverty of the migrant workers, and the world learns of their plight. The book reflects important themes of keeping hope in the face of hardship.
“Historical fiction helps young readers develop a feeling for a living past, illustrating the continuity of life,” says Karen Cushman, another master writer of historical fiction. Historical fiction, “like all good history, demonstrates how history is made up of the decisions and actions of individuals and that the future will be made up of our decisions and actions.”
History teaches young readers what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes. Stories are the closest thing we have to “walking around in someone else’s skin.” They make us more human. Stories allow a child to navigate complex emotions, looking at diverse perspectives, and learning to leverage relationships for collaboration and progress.
Reading teaches young readers empathy.
Aunt Pearl is a powerful and poignant story that brings a welcomed sensitivity to themes of homelessness and family, beautifully illustrated by the incomparable Irene Luxbacher. As with life itself, the book doesn’t offer answers to a challenging question. As the narrative implies, sometimes some things can’t be fixed. But everyone deserves second chances, understanding and acceptance, and everyone deserves love. And hope.
Building an understanding of what others are feeling, how our own actions impact others is a valuable life skill. Learning to empathize helps to build a sense of security and stronger relationships with others. It encourages tolerance and acceptance of others. And in so doing, it reduces the likelihood of bullying.
And while studies suggest there are different strategies in teaching empathy, such as talking about feelings, one of the best ways of all to help children develop a sense of empathy is by reading books. Children (and adults) learn to associate feelings and actions with their favorite characters. Remember when Atticus Finch, said to Scout , “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
-- Bobbi Miller