History - A novel take on the past

22nd February 2013 at 00:00

What it's all about

Historical fiction ought to provide the reader with an exciting, enjoyable story. But it is also a great tool for increasing understanding of a particular era, writes Paul Dowswell.

Caroline Lawrence's successful Roman Mysteries books give readers in Years 5 and 6 (P56) far more than facts about what it was like to live in Roman times.

And Robert Harris presents older readers with a gripping thriller in Pompeii, which shows the workings of ancient Roman patronage and the Romans' sophisticated technology.

A generation of young readers will be familiar with the First World War through Michael Morpurgo's classics War Horse and Private Peaceful. I learned all about the Sikh soldiers who fought on the Western Front from Bali Rai's fascinating novel City of Ghosts.

Stalin, the NKVD and the purges hold a grisly fascination, but Travis Holland's The Archivist's Story lets you feel the cold fear of a police clerical worker and former academic about to fall victim to Beria's secret-police thugs. Likewise, Francis Spufford's Red Plenty depicts the post-war optimism of Soviet Russia and why millions of Russians, good people with good intentions, supported the Bolshevik regime.

The best historical fiction shows you a world you did not even know you might be interested in. The best historical films do this too, of course. But fiction has a depth that a two-hour film will never possess.

What else?

Bring Michael Morpurgo's War Horse to life with a pack from TES partner The National Theatre. bit.lyWarHorsePlay

Take your pick of lesson ideas from Pocketfrog's scheme of work on Morpurgo's Private Peaceful. bit.lyPrivatePeacefulSoW.

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