Authors at SCRF 2019: History is Story and Children Love Stories
Sharjah, 21 April 2019:Children usually loathe history when in school. The subject often appears to be the boring recitation of kings, queens, battles and dates. But history is story, and children love stories.
Learning history via historical fiction is aimed at deepening the appreciation of the rich tapestry of the historical novel. This was the message highlighted at the ongoing Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF 2019). Taking the stage on the eve of the second day was a young adults fiction writer, Rehan Khan of A Tudor Turk fame and Hafiz Mahfouz a prolific writer.
Reiterating the importance of history in fiction, Rehan Khan discussed that through historical fiction, readers learn what is right and wrong with humanity, emphasises with the good that we should seek to amplify and horrors that should never be permitted again. He said, “by living these things through the fictionalised lives of real or made up people, we become more compassionate and empathetic. Moreover, by having a historical setting, it can spark interest in a certain time, period or person much easier than a dry history book can.
Besides, children also learn about the different interactions that happened during a certain period between different cultures. Children must also learn that history of the world, is also the history of shared ideas, ideas that combine across cultures”.
He further said, “Thus, the relevance of history lies in the fact that if we know our history well then we know where we came from, and also get a fair understanding of where we are headed in the future”.
Gracing the stage next was Hafiz Mahfouz who equally reminded the audience why historical fiction stays with us and why is it still relevant to children? In his response, the author suggested stories are the way the human brain processes information. We tell each other stories every day in the form of conversation without even noticing we’re doing it. Therefore, children don’t like didactic or pedagogic talk, they prefer interesting stories.
Mahfouz thus says, “Values applicable to current events can be learned from the past. The last thing a fiction writer sets out to do is ‘teach a lesson’ but the reader will on his own learn something from the themes and emotions that are at a story’s heart. Empathy is a powerful emotion. Stories can offer readers windows into the worlds and help them develop empathy for the plight of the characters and by association, for the plight of real people with similar problems”.
Concluding the session, both the authors concurred that the purposes it serves is to increase the understanding of the way that historical novels can fully engage its readers in appreciation and understanding of the plot and its setting, particularly the different ways in which generations have perceived the past. Second, even if one is writing about a time period or characters very well known, there is always the deeper questions to be answered – the ‘understory’, and that is left to the reader’s imagination and perspective.
So, one of the challenges considered when writing historical fiction is the amount and quality of evidence that remains, especially, in a distant era or for people who were not literary. Inspiring children to learn about the importance of history in fiction is therefore highlighted in the fact that, “if we don’t remember history, we’re bound to repeat it”.
The highly anticipated Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF) unveiled its 11th annual edition on April 17. It runs until next Saturday, April 27 at Sharjah Expo Centre.