Examining Historical (Mis)Representations of Christopher Columbus within Children’s Literature
J. H. Bickford III
Eastern Illinois University
Effective teaching, while supplemented by best practice methods and assessments, is rooted in accurate, age-appropriate, and engaging content. As a foundation for history content, elementary educators rely strongly on textbooks and children’s literature, both fiction and non-fiction. While many researchers have examined the historical accuracy of textbook content, few have rigorously scrutinized the historical accuracy of children’s literature. Those projects that carried out such examination were more descriptive than comprehensive due to significantly smaller data pools. I investigate how children’s non-fiction and fiction books depict and historicize a meaningful and frequently taught history topic: Christopher Columbus’s accomplishments and misdeeds. Results from a comprehensive content analysis indicate that children’s books are engaging curricular supplements with age-appropriate readability yet frequently misrepresent history in eight consequential ways. Demonstrating a substantive disconnect between experts’ understandings of Columbus, these discouraging findings are due to the ways in which authors of children’s books recurrently omit relevant and contentious historical content in order to construct interesting, personalized narratives.