Teaching Historically Based, Culturally Rich YA Novels with Strong Girl Protagonists
Historical ﬁction and non-ﬁction for young adults oﬀer a special opportunity for readers to explore, understand, and connect with diﬀerent times, places, and cultures. Being immersed in history and culture through literature promotes opportunities for vicarious experiences while deepening human understanding. This chapter oﬀers a brief overview of historically based, culturally rich novels that feature strong female protagonists. It is not that the girls in these stories were born strong; instead, they demonstrate their strength and resilience by learning to face complex and challenging situations, make diﬃcult decisions, and persevere. It is important young people realize that, no matter how diﬃcult their circumstances, purposefulness and determination can help them press forward and, in many cases, may enable them to overcome great hardship in ways beneﬁcial to themselves and others. Oftentimes, such eﬀorts impact the world in which we all live in a positive manner. Girls reading these books will be inspired by the possibilities presented and the concept of what it means to lead a self-determined life. All readers will see how the intelligence, innovation, resourcefulness, and will power of girls can be the pivot point for moving from despair to hope. A variety of approaches may be taken when teaching literature meant to expand
understandings of history and culture. A common method is to arrange books by era, subject, or conﬂict; for example, everyone might read a book or a group of books about the Great Depression and then move similarly to books about the Second World War. Another option is to organize books by nation or region. Dividing a class into groups where some students read stories set in South Africa, while others read stories set in Ghana, Sierra Leone, or Sudan, serves to highlight diﬀerences among African nations. Another organizing strategy is to arrange books by theme; this requires some work, but an advantage of the approach is that it
highlights themes across diﬀerent time periods and cultures. This chapter stands as an example of this approach and is organized according to four themes: Girls, Injustice and Personal Sacriﬁce; Girls in a World of Men; Political Ideologies and Girls; and Loss of Culture and Family. In addition to looking at historically and culturally focused books that highlight how girls must negotiate the world, several teaching strategies accompanied by creative student responses also follow. The suggested strategies can be adapted to any novel and include the Character-to-Self Artifact Connections Grid, a Futuristic Script, a Character Transformation through Charcoal Drawings, and Specialized Poetic Forms, in particular a Pantoum.