EDU11GCL - Genres in Children’s Literature
Historical Realism
Week 9 Lecture 1
The events of the past and the
readers of the present
In historical fiction the events of the past are told as
the stories of people who seem real to us. As History
becomes a story about someone that we know, it gives
us the opportunity to vicariously experience life in
the past, and to consider historical events as issues
that had real consequences for the people who lived
them, rather than as abstract concepts.
Cullinan and Galda, (2002) Literature and the child.
ch. 8 Historical Fiction
The events of the past are told …
Historical fiction is placed in the past, and the time
and place in the past determine the story’s setting
Everyday physical details, such as vehicles, clothing,
or food preparation for example, must fit the time
and the place
Details of Context must also be accurate: e.g. political,
religious or social issues, beliefs and superstitions etc.
Sometimes little is known of the period, and at other
times much is known. However much is interpolated,
what is known must be accurate
… as the stories of people who seem real to us.
History presents facts. It cannot deny reality
Fiction is not real. It did not happen
Historical fiction is realistic - the events could have
occurred and the people portrayed could have lived
Biography - focuses on the life of an individual - reports
after the event
Historical fiction - presents what could have happened
during the event
Bounded by the undeniable reality, but fills in the gaps
… to vicariously experience life in the past
To turn facts into fiction, the writer must combine
imagination with facts, to create a good story
i.e an integrated narrative with a fictional
protagonist in an engaging plot
Willingness to identify with protagonists
Compare with fantasy, realism (problems and issues),
adventure - whatever the genre, it must still be a
good story
… to consider historical events as issues that had
real consequences for the people who lived them
The historical facts are the vehicle carrying the
story to the reader
The historical facts have their own, undeniable
integrity - they helped create the current world, for
good or bad
Education or Entertainment? Is the major focus on
the past or the present?
Evaluating Historical Realism
Criteria to evaluate Historical Fiction
1. Does the book tell a good story, blending fact with
fiction in such a way that the background does not
overwhelm to the story? (Lit Crit)
2. Is the story accurate and authentic in every detail,
including the setting and the known events of
history? (History)
Evaluating Historical Realism
3. Does the story adequately reflect the values and
spirit of the times, or is it written from the point of
view of today? (History)
4. Is the authenticity of the language preserved in both
the spoken word and in the description and
comparisons of the written word? (History)
5. Does the theme provide insight and understanding for
today’s living as well as in the past? (Lit Crit)
Evaluation indicators
1.What historic era is the setting for the story?
What events are consistent with historic records?
Are there inaccuracies, omissions or misconstructions?
Which characters are real?
Evaluation indicators
2.Can you visualise the daily life of the characters?
Their clothes? Their houses?
The method of transport?
The food they eat?
The songs the sing?
The sights and sounds they encounter as they walk
down the street, through the marketplace or village?
Do you understand their religions?
Their trades, economy, monetary values?
The relationships between members of the family?
Evaluation indicators
3. Who is telling the story?
Whose perspective are we getting?
Are they real or imagined?
How does this impact on the language they use:
Is it contemporary, everyday English, colloquial
equivalents, “Gadzookery” or carefully researched
How does this affect the narrative voice?
Evaluation indicators
4. What values are expressed ?
Do the values reflect today’s more enlightened
E.g. the roles of women, racial attitudes, political
and social authorities, modern medicine or attitudes
to life and death.
Characters have to act in accordance with the
values and beliefs of their time.
Evaluation indicators
5. Do the themes illuminate the problems of today
by examining those of yesteryear.
These themes may include:
meanings of freedom;
loyalty and treachery;
love and hatred;
acceptance of new ways;
closed minds verses questioning ones;
the struggle between good and evil.

Historical Realism - La Trobe University