Famed historian David McCullough gave a presentation about his new book, The Greater
Journey: Americans in Paris, on Tuesday night in Wayzata, Minnesota, near Minneapolis. It’s the story of American artists, writers, physicians, politicians and others who traveled to Paris between 1830 and 1900 to further their education and to excel at their work. I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Paris.
But one of the most interesting parts of the evening was when someone asked McCullough his opinion of Americans’ knowledge of history and the way history is taught in our schools. That’s a particularly hot topic this week because of Sarah Palin’s rewriting of history and also because the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that American students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject. The New York Times said that, according to results of a nationwide test released on Tuesday, most fourth graders were unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure. McCullough’s suggestion: don’t fault the teachers. It’s our own responsibility. Parents, grandparents, and others must do a better job of showing an interest in history and discussing it with children.
Family road trips are one of the best ways to do that. It’s what educators call “placed-based learning” and, it ties in nicely with the idea of inspiring children to read by making stories more vivid and bringing reading to life. I’m not talking about hard-core history books here, but rather books that are fun to read. For example, read Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain and visit Boston. Pair Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer with a trip to see the Mississippi River or Twain’s home in Hannibal Missouri. Read the Little House on the Prairie series and travel to the sites where Laura Ingalls Wilder really lived. How about Brighty of the Grand Canyon? Remember that one? The list goes on. Not only do lit trips fuel a young reader’s imagination, they also give a sense of history and an understanding of what life was like earlier in our history.
One of the best books to inspire a reading road trip is Storybook Travels: From Eloise’s New York to Harry Potter’s London, Visits to 30 of the Best-Loved Landmarks in Children’s Literature by Susan La Tempa and Colleen Dunn Bates. Here are a few other Web sites that offer great reading road trip ideas:
KidLit History whose motto is “Everything I need to know about history I learned through children’s literature.”
I can’t resist this one about Dr. Seuss-like places.
Here’s a library site, and finally,