Our trip to Jamestown and Williamsburg last week is being followed shortly by a trip to Philadelphia for a wedding. It seemed like a good time to do Paul Revere’s Ride for our Five in the Row book of the week. Yes, I know that Paul Revere was in Boston and that the events of the Revolution occurred hundreds of years after the Jamestown settlement. However, the timing of the trip to Philadelphia is dictated by the wedding and we have the opportunity to do a little sightseeing while we are there. John, the third grader, and I will study the American revolution more in depth later this year. And for David, the kindergartener, I think it’s ok for him to just have the general idea that there was a Revolution even if the people and places are all kind of lumped together in an historically inaccurate way.
There are a lot of different versions of Longfellow’s famous poem out there for kids. I like this one with illustrations by Charles Santore because the illustrations are big and bold and exciting. I think the FIAR curriculum actually suggests this one illustrated by Ted Rand.
If you are someone who hates the traditional story of Paul Revere because it’s full of historical error, you might prefer this version with illustrations by Christopher Bing. Personally, I don’t like the illustrations as much for younger kids, but Bing goes beyond illustrating the poem. He includes maps and a fold out letter on the elaborate collage style endpapers. These documents as well as some additional text by Bing at the end of the book address the differences between Revere’s real ride and the one in the poem.
Reading these books this week and having dealt with the John Smith/Pocahontas myth last week has made me reflect on the role of myth in teaching history. My personal view is that it’s fine to be less than accurate when simplifying for younger kids. I think it’s ok to teach a 4 yr old about Paul Revere’s solo ride and then when the child is 7 or 8 to address the fact that he wasn’t alone, that he didn’t ride the whole distance, etc. I think most kids adapt to having more information added as they get older. To me it’s similar to not telling them that electrons are really particles and waves when they are ten. Yes, the information is incomplete, but it’s incomplete for an age-appropriate reason. For the record, I do think there is a problem if there is no need to simplify (the Pocahontas myth) or if the myth is there to whitewash (slaves were really happier as slaves and their masters were all kind).
I know some people who are violently opposed to the idea of ever teaching their kids any of the simpler myth like stories that have evolved about American history. I respect their views, and yet I can’t help but think about how much of what we teach about ancient or medieval history is myth. I remember either reading something by Susan Wise Bauer or hearing her say in a lecture that myth and stories are an important part of history because they reflect what a culture finds important and wants to pass down. So, no, Romulus and Remus weren’t really raised by a she-wolf in all likelihood. But why did the Romans perpetuate that story? What does the story of the Trojan War stay about the Greeks? What does King Arthur say about the English? And what does our story of the solitary ride of Paul Revere say about American culture?
Sure, at some point, you should be able to separate myth from fact, but I don’t think the answer is to avoid all myth. And if you still aren’t convinced that Paul Revere’s Ride is worth reading, I’d argue that the poem by Longfellow is one of those culturally important things that everyone should be familiar with to be well educated.
Enough of the long-winded serious discussions. If you want a totally light-hearted look at some of the heroes of the Revolution this book by Lane Smith is for you. It not only includes myths like George Washington and the cherry tree but it just makes stuff up. It’s funny and irreverent but has some good information in between the jokes. It’s definitely better for an older child who will get the references (and be able to understand that it’s not all true) rather than as an introduction to these men (John Hancock, Ben Franklin, George Washington, Paul Revere and Thomas Jefferson). There is a nice little true or false quiz at the end to make sure the reader knows what is fact and what is fiction.
And for more of both fact and fiction to read aloud to your kids, check out Hope is the Word.