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How to Teach History Using Fiction

Wait, wait, I’m not talking revisionist history here, not about “taking sides” or rewriting it to suit our purposes…I’m talking about historical fiction.

Many years ago I discovered this genre when I had a daughter who loved to read and was bored to tears with history. In that ever-seeking way that many of us homeschooling moms have, I pondered and researched and talked to other moms and discovered that this resource made all the difference.

Happy Multicultural Children's Book Day! Today I feature "The Last Cherry Blossom" to demonstrate how to teach history using fiction. Join our learning fun!

For those of you new to the genre, historical fiction takes a fictional character, places them in an actual point of time or historical setting, and fills out what the day-to-day details of what their life would most likely look like. The best books include details that pull the reader in, that make the character someone “real” to whom they can relate while staying true to actual events of the time.

And in honor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day today, I want to share with you my latest YA (young adult) historical fiction read that does all that and more: The Last Cherry Blossom, by Kathleen Burkinshaw.

I feel really fortunate to be scoring big on books lately! My daughter and I are enjoying our finds and sharing them with each other.

Our latest gem is Mrs. Burckinshaw’s debut novel, “The Last Cherry Blossom.” Taking place in Hiroshima, Japan in the year 1945, this story chronicles the life and events of 12-year old Yuriko-chan just prior to the “day of infamy”, when her world was shattered by the dropping of the atomic bomb.

In reality, Yuriko-chan’s story is based on those the author remembers hearing from her own mother, who shared them with her over the years. In this book, Mrs. Burckinshaw has taken loving care and effort in crafting a tale that is based on truth and made alive with “just enough” fiction.

This isn’t a re-write of history, but rather the telling of a lifetime of memories that puts the reader right in the middle of the action. Mrs. Burckinshaw’s writing style is easy; I read this book in one sitting (ok, maybe two if you count I started it in the evening and slept a few hours that night partway through), and I think I stopped breathing about 2/3 of the way through with the suspense!

Best of all, my 13-yr-old daughter and I had some wonderful conversations after reading it. Yes, there were some tough topics and concepts: death, loss, moving forward in life, trying to get both our heads around the amount of pain and devastation people can bear, issues about war and patriotism… But despite, or maybe because of, this depth, we both loved it, and that’s the best kind of book in my book 😉

School-related, my daughter is studying Asia this semester, so “The Last Cherry Blossom” fit nicely into her studies. If you’re in the same boat you may want to consider the following add-on, too. Of course, the book takes place in Japan, and this unit study below is related to China, but for a broad introduction to Asia, I think they dovetail nicely…

How to study history, geography and cultures using fiction. Map courtesy of Wondermaps, from Bright Ideas Press.

Map courtesy of Wondermaps, from Bright Ideas Press

This unit study from my friend Beth, the TechieHomeschoolMom, will help you create a unique learning experience.

Did you know that tomorrow is Chinese New Year’s? What a fun opportunity to combine history and geography and culture studies all in one!

Click on the image above to learn more about the Chinese New Year unit study and get it for yourself!

Beth’s OnlineUnit Study on the Chinese New Year is a single module study completed entirely online. No need to purchase any additional materials, supplies or books. And it’s fun and fast – it can be completed in a single day of school (while the learning, of course, will last a lifetime).

Here’s what you get:

  • Discover the history and traditions of Chinese New Year
  • Study traditional Chinese dance
  • Create a Chinese dragon
  • Produce an animated video to share what you’ve learned

But the best part is the price! You can snag this puppy at Beth’s store for only $5!  It’s the perfect complement to “The Last Cherry Blossom.”  

(Future learning note here: If you’re looking for some sound guidance in navigating digital learning or looking for some creative resources, do yourself a favor and at least check out Beth’s blog. She is very generous in sharing her knowledge and experiences and has already vetted any recommendations she makes for her own kids, so you know it’s “cyber-safe.”)


Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity on home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents, and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsors include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawMaria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

The mission of Multicultural Bok Day is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid's books that celebrate diversity on home and school bookshelves, while also work diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

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Pat is a Yankee city-girl who has been adopted by the sleepy, sunny south. Married for 30 years and the mother of 5, she woke up one day recently to discover she reached the stage of life where she is the “older woman” described in Titus 2:3-5. A coffee lover, the purchase of a coffee shop a few years ago was her personal foray into the small, family-owned business arena.Today, PatAndCandy.com is her outlet for packaging up and sharing the nuggets of wisdom God and life experiences have taught her.
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9 Responses to How to Teach History Using Fiction

  1. Heidi Ciravola February 28, 2017 at 12:53 pm #

    Thanks for linking up at Finishing Strong! I chose to feature your post at Starts At Eight this week!

    • Pat February 28, 2017 at 3:50 pm #

      Oh Heidi, how awesome! Thanks so much…for your party and for the feature 🙂
      “See you” soon!!

  2. Jen |Practical, By Default February 7, 2017 at 12:58 pm #

    Great way to adjust to your daughter! Thanks so much for linking up at #familyfriday we appreciate it! We hope you come back next week.
    Jen |Practical, By Default recently posted…Life with Teenagers: Are we having fun yet?My Profile

    • Pat February 7, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

      Definitely – reading together is so much fun 🙂
      Have an awesome week…

  3. Sapana V January 28, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

    Really a good review. I would love to read the book.
    Sapana V recently posted…Modern Names Starting with Letter ‘H’ for Hindu BabyMy Profile

  4. Heather January 27, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

    What a moving review! I can’t wait to get this book!

    • Pat January 27, 2017 at 7:44 pm #

      Oh Heather…you won’t be sorry! 🙂

  5. Kathleen Burkinshaw January 27, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

    You have brought tears to my eyes with your kind words about my mother’s story and my writing. Thank you so much. I’m working on a teacher’s guide, but I do have a book discussion guide that you can now download from my website.

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