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History Books for Kids—But Whose History?

It’s an interesting time to be publishing history books for the educational market. One of our forthcoming books is about the Oregon Trail. Intrepid settlers braving the wilds of uncharted territory in hopes of forging a new, better life out west—middle grade books about westward expansion have all the ingredients for a sweeping, epic experience!

800px-Bierstadt_Albert_Oregon_Trail.jpeg"Oregon Trail (Campfire)" by Albert Bierstadt

At the same time, there’s another side to that same historical coin that has to be explored, informed, and engaged with in the same book. You can’t learn about the Oregon Trail without learning about the experience of Native Americans. Tribes across the country had already been displaced, decimated, and devastated because of white people who wanted more land, and the waves of emigrants from the East only worsened an already bad situation. Their experiences can’t be ignored if we want our future leaders to fully comprehend the history of this country.

OregonTrail_Cover.jpgCultural missteps in the publishing world are not new. Back in 2015, McGraw Hill got called out for identifying Africans who were shipped across the ocean to North America as “workers from Africa” instead of “slaves.” After an uproar from parents, students, teachers, and concerned citizens on social media, the publisher apologized and announced it would fix the language to more accurately reflect the fact that the Africans were forced from their homes into slavery. But thousands of books with an inaccurate portrayal of slavery were loosed into the world. Facts matter, and diverse points of view matter, especially when it comes to children’s nonfiction books.

So, how do we make sure our history books are authentic, inclusive, and true? We make sure we research beyond the first few pages of google. We link to primary sources from all affected groups, not just the victors and survivors. We ask essential questions about parallels between way back then and now. We encourage young readers to find themselves in the book, no matter the color of their skin or their gender. And we make sure the mirrors are there.

 

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