"History is bunk," said Henry Ford. "History is junk," wrote Yale Prof. Edmund S. Morgan in his book for children, So What About History? Many children think history is their parents' childhood.
"In 1735 there were in Boston 42 streets, 36 lanes, 22 alleys, 1,000 brick houses, 2,000 wooden houses, 12 churchs, 4 schools, 418 horses (at the last count), and so many dogs that a law was passed prohibiting people from having dogs that were more than 10 inches high," says Jean Fritz in her lively account of the famous ride to Lexington, And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? Her combination of narrow escapes and humor brings the past to life in a way that appeals to the whole family -- especially if you are enroute to New England.
As travel arrangements are made for winter holidays, plan to pack books to enliven the journey and destination -- and plan to read aloud. Use travel time to stimulate imaginations and discussions. Borrow the teacher's technique for field trips: enrichment along with fun.
Parents in need of encouragement might keep in mind comments from the authors of three recent publications.
"One must view each trip as a time tunnel to the past, be drawn into the spell of an earlier time," advises Jane Ockershausen Smith in her latest family travel guide, One-Day Trips "Through" History: 200 Excursions Within 150 Miles of Washington, D.C. (EPM Publications, $9.95, paperback). Offers several approaches and indexes for capturing the spirit of the people "who made history happen."
"Taking young children to see rooms full of antiques is like dragging them along shopping; their attention will be sustained only if there's something in it for them," declares Going Places With Children in Washington (Green Acres School, $4.95). Now in its 10th edition, this pocket-size guide recommends historic sites focusing on "features that youngsters will find enjoyable."
"Bring a book with you whenever you travel with a child," suggests Jim Trelease in The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin, $5.95). "Reading aloud to children stimulates their interest, emotional development, imagination . . . and a particularly vital area in today's world--language." He urges parents to seize every opportunity to revive the old practice of reading aloud and then "make that practice a habit."
Among his hints for getting started, Trelease offers these reminders, along with remembering that the art of listening is an acquired one:
* Picture books work well for a family with different-age children. (Even 6th graders love a good picture book now and then.)
* Use plenty of expression.
* Adjust your pace to fit the story. During a suspenseful part, slow down, draw your words out, bring your listeners to the edge of their seats. (The most common mistake is reading too fast.)
Trelease, whose book lists more than 300 recommended titles, promises the daily experience of reading aloud will become the best part of your day. Perhaps the traffic jams won't be so bad, and your child's interest in history will be piqued if you have one of these books along:
For any age:
Why Don't You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? and What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? are the other titles by Jean Fritz in her series on the American Revolution.
(Historically accurate, honest and humorously illustrated, the books are available in paperback in many bookstores.)
The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh helps create the atmosphere of early Massachusetts. Early days in New York are depicted in Arnold Lobel's On the Day Peter Stuyvesant Sailed into Town and Small Wolf by Nathaniel Benchley. The latter is one of an "I Can Read History" series found in the library's Easy-Reader section. Among other titles there: Sam the Minuteman by Benchley, Aaron and the Green Mountain Boys by Patricia Lee Gauch, Indian Summer (pioneer Kentucky) and The Drinking Gourd (Civil War) by F. N. Monjo.
The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds, an exciting story set in early New York. F.N. Monjo's Gettysburg, Tad Lincoln's Story, narrated by the president's son. On the light side, Robert Lawson's Ben and Me, indeed "an astonishing life of Ben Franklin by his good mouse Amos," and wonderful reading for the journey to Philadelphia. Jamestown, the Beginning, Elizabeth Campbell's dramatic description of early hardship in the Virginia wilderness.
Edmund S. Morgan wrote So What About History? especially for this age group, with an unorthodox approach to discovering who and what we are through our discards. Colonial Living and Pioneer Living are just two of the outstanding books by Edwin Tunis, acclaimed for their style, illustrations and detailed accounts of everyday life.
Ages 12 and up:
Elizabeth Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond describes spunky Kit Tyler's struggle to adapt to new ways in the early days of Connecticut. Later Revolutionary War turmoil there is depicted in a moving junior novel, My Brother Sam Is Dead by James L. and Christopher Collier. Narrated by Tim Meeker, the younger son, the book opens:
It was April, and outside in the dark the rain whipped against the windows of our tavern, making a sound like muffled drums. We were concentrating on our dinner, and everybody jumped when the door slammed open and banged against the wall, making the plates rattle in their racks. My brother Sam was standing there, wearing a uniform. Oh my, he looked proud.
Absorbing Civil War stories: Irene Hunt's Across 5 Aprils and Bruce Catton's Banners at Shenandoah.
Among the many nonfiction books for older readers: a new one by Suzanne Hilton, We the People: The Way We Were, 1783-1793. Chapters like "Home Sweet Cabin" and "How We Made Money" make it easy to leap back 200 years. In the chapter, "Sights to See in the New World," Hilton writes:
Near Alexandria was the land that had been chosen for Federal city, the unbuilt capital of the United States. Very little could be said for the place. There were no roads of importance that led to it.
Interesting that a man named Pierre L'Enfant thought the site had potential.
Get thee then to the library.