Examining the Representation of Slavery within Children’s Literature
John H. Bickford III
Cynthia W. Rich
Eastern Illinois University
Middle level teachers, at times, link historical content with relevant English literature in interdisciplinary units. Elementary teachers periodically employ history-themed literature during reading time. Interconnections between language arts and history are formed with developmentally appropriate literature for students. Historical misrepresentations, however, proliferate in children’s literature and are concealed behind engaging narratives. Since literacy and historical thinking are essential skills, children’s literature should be balanced within, not banished from, the classroom. Using America’s peculiar institution of slavery as a reference point, this article examines children’s literature, identifies almost a dozen areas of historical misrepresentation, and proffers rich primary source material to balance the various misrepresentations. We provide teachers with reason for caution when including such literature; but also model how to locate, use, and, at times, abridge primary source material within an elementary or middle level classroom. Such curricular supplements provide balance to engaging but historically-blemished children’s literature and enable educators to attain the rigorous prescriptions of Common Core.
Key Words: Slavery, children’s literature, historical thinking, primary source material, historical representation, methodology