Do you remember how moved you felt while scanning your high school textbook about the events of April 15th, 1912? Yeah, me neither. But I can still remember how connected I felt to that day whenever I see Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio perched on the front of the Titanic. I often learn more about history from a novel or a movie than a textbook or a lecture could ever teach me. You can give me the name of a battle in history and the staggering number of lost lives, but it isn’t the same as when I get to know a character, grow to love them, and then follow them as they struggle through the pain and loss of history’s great moments.
I think fiction can do more than entertain; I think it can teach us in such a way that we barely realize we’re learning. We want to be educated, not to pass a test or complete a written assignment, but to better understand the world our dear new friend is experiencing.
When I read ‘The Help’ or ‘Gone with the Wind,’ I get a glimpse into eras that faded before I was born. Often, after reading a historical novel, I find myself wondering which of the things they mentioned had actually happened. If there’s an author’s note, I’ll hungrily consume the same facts and information that I struggled to care about when I was only trying to retain it long enough to pass a class. I’m fascinated to see how the author played with history—what was fabricated, and what was true? I search online, spending more time researching the time frame, characters, or events.
In the second book of my Yara Silva Trilogy, I used real-life events in my hometown of Corona, California to add substance to my story. Before my research, I knew a little about the race around the circular street in the center of the city, but learned so many fascinating things as I delved into it for my book. I love it when readers who live in Corona tell me they didn’t know about the history of their city, and that my book led them to want to learn more. Just because a book is fiction doesn’t lessen its ability to teach us. A well-crafted story—especially when placed in a real historical setting—can give us a new frame of reference into the social and historical situations, as well as bring to life the experiences of history. It gives us the joy of being life long learners, without the stress of final exams.