By Kirsten Reitan, WATG Board Member
We know gifted kids love to read. Well, lots of them do, anyway. They will have several books going at the same time and usually one on their lap at school. By my non-scientific poll, most of the GT kids I work with prefer fantasy over everything else. The fantastical worlds they can visit in their heads feed their desire to create and escape and fuels imagination. But escape is a really big part of that fixation on fantasy literature. Think what they could do with a wand and a spell that worked!
Gifted kids need a way to escape the realities of the world, as the one we are passing along is fraught with problems and seems to be careening toward the cliff. Who wouldn’t want to escape? Yet we need to help them cope and make sense of the issues they see without causing more anxiety. Historical fiction can help students see current events through the perspective of historical comparisons. This genre can help us talk about difficult topics in ways that are age appropriate. Reading works that provide multiple perspectives on an event shows kids there are many different ways to understand an event.
Elisa Carbonne’s Blood on the River: Jamestown 1607 is much more than the story of the James Town Colony. Told from the orphan Samuel Collier’s perspective, this book is well researched and paints what must be an accurate picture of what life was like in the settlement in 1607. As Samuel grows and learns about life, we see him abandon his philosophy of “trust no one” to understanding how cooperation and reliance on others is the only way towards self-preservation.
The author’s treatment of the Powhatan tribe is also respectful, and Carbonne does a wonderful job of incorporating important aspects of their culture to contrast the laws and ways of the colonists. Concepts of leadership, diplomacy, and loyalty are woven throughout the story. Samuel’s struggles with growing up and becoming a responsible citizen provides a rich vehicle for students to navigate ideas of fairness and responsibility.
I highly recommend this book, and encourage looking to other historical fiction works to help explain current events that are causing distress for our gifted students.