"Study the past if you would define the future."
"Oh, yes the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it. Or learn from it." Rafiki in “The Lion King”
I consider being one of few adults who loves history to be a gift - a very special gift direct from God. I learned most of the history I know from bad teachers of the past, great authors who wove history into their fiction stories as plot, characters, and/or background and from pure history books. As a child I read anything and everything that I could find where the story was based on the past. I remember as a teenager, a day when I had run out of books to read, the library was closed, and I was desperate, so, I pulled Major Alexander P. de Seversky’s Victory Through Air Power off the shelf of books belonging to my father and read it. My husband, a retired Army officer and military historian, is still amazed that I read that book as a teenager.
Often I read books I didn’t quite understand due to not knowing / understanding the history/setting of the book. I didn’t understand the Civil War when I read Little Women. I actually thought the characters lived in some other country called New England. Yet, reading Alcott’s book led me to read more about the Civil War—and well one thing led to another. How can you understand Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath without understanding the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl? So you see, I sought out history, despite the poor teachers of history I encountered in grade school, middle school, and on into high school, to understand what I read in books.
Only in my junior year of high school did I encounter a really good teacher of history and then only for a few months. That teacher made history come to life each and every day, for as long as it lasted. Can you imagine a history teacher that makes the triangle trade something exciting? He did, at least until pneumonia took him out of the classroom for six long months. I suffered through student teachers and substitutes for the remainder of the school year. I returned to my old ways of enjoying history—BOOKS!
You may well be asking by now what all this has to do with writing time-travel novels for middle grade children? That should be obvious by what I have just told you—poor teachers who can make even the most exciting history boring. We don’t need to teach children dates; they can Google what year something happened. Despite sounding trite, I firmly believe we need to make history come alive if we are to teach children about the past. And what better way, at least in my mind, is there than to see the past through the eyes of another child, a person their own age. Make history an adventure into the past, not just a retelling.
Take them to the Battle of Trenton. Take them to meet a young Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota. Take them 3,000 years into America’s past to live with American Indians. Let them meet famous people. Let them hear the Declaration of Independence first read in 1776 on a town square in Savannah, Georgia. (Did you know the man who read it aloud was none other than Archibald Bulloch - Theodore Roosevelt’s great-great grandfather.) Put them in a life and death struggle in a small fort in Kentucky in 1778.
Yet, there is one caveat. I have to make it real, correct, true. Yes, I am altering history by inserting this child from our time into a past event, but I don’t change history. I make my character’s role simply one of observing, and their interactions so inconsequential that history has forgotten them entirely. Oh, I almost forgot, there is one other extremely important thing about my books, I do my best to tell history accurately. I research, I read, I try to understand, I map events, and I learn first before I tell a story. I use primary sources, as many as I can find. I use old newspapers, old letters, and old journals. There is no use in teaching made up history! Even the archaeology carried out by my main character’s mother and my descriptions of prehistoric life are based on my more than 25-year career as a registered professional archaeologist.
I’ll continue to write history in various forms as long as I am able. I love telling stories. I’ll keep writing inconsequential history for adults, just because some of the small stories from our past are the best. I’ll also keep writing history for children. I’ll try to make it exciting, humorous, alive, and rememberable. My hope is only that some adults make my books available to the children in their lives who will, in turn, grow to love and understand bits and pieces of history which can enrich their lives, their understanding of humanity, and encourage their love of the past.
Connie M. Huddleston loved history and dreamed of writing a book even as a child. However, she got sidetracked. She became an Army wife, a mother, an elementary school teacher, an archaeologist, and an historic preservation consultant, before publishing her first book! In 2017, she published her ninth and tenth volumes, all dealing with her first love, our nation’s past. While four are written for children under the name C.M. Huddleston, her other works are histories for adults on a variety of subjects. Currently she is researching and writing about President Theodore Roosevelt’s maternal grandfather.