Writing About Historic Events, People, or Places

Pennsylvania-based author Linda Oatman High led a session entitled “Writing to the Beat of a Different Drummer” at the KSRA Conference I attended this week.  (My handwritten notes from her session, which provided an array of ideas for getting students to write, are located at the bottom of this post in a Scribd Document.)

Oatman High writes books for children and adults.  Quite a few of her children’s books are about historical events. I was captivated by one of her books, which I purchased later in the day and had her sign at the Author Tea I attended, since it was about my hometown of Manhattan.  The book, Tenth Avenue Cowboy, is a work of historical fiction that was published last year.  It’s the story of a shy boy named Ben who relocates to the Hell’s Kitchen Section of Manhattan in 1910.  Ben misses his life out West and is enthralled when he learns of the Tenth Avenue Cowboys who ride on the tracks warning residents of Hell’s Kitchen of on-coming trains.  Thanks to the kindness of Johnny, one of the Tenth Avenue Cowboys, Ben is virtually transported back to the West when he gets the opportunity to ride with him warning his neighbors of an oncoming train.

If you are planning to do some content area writing this year, but don’t want to have your students do a traditional report or a how-to book, consider having them research an historic event, person, or place and write about it as if they are an historical fiction writer.  Tenth Avenue Cowboy is one of many books you could use as a mentor text to teach your students how to write about an historical event in the third person.  The story contains vivid setting details, dialogue, and varied sentence lengths.  There are also several exquisite similes in the text, which you can show your students if you want to have them try out figurative language.