My daughter and I were having one of our usual conversations about the sorry state of her school’s social studies curriculum. She was frustrated that, by 9th grade, they had yet to touch on the 20th century and it didn’t look like this year would be any different.
“I mentioned something about Winston Churchill to my friend J,” she said, “and she didn’t know who he was.”
She'd never heard of Churchill? Never heard his inspirational speeches, spoken with a lisp, of never surrendering to the Nazis? Never seen pictures of him in his blue coveralls, smoking his omnipresent cigar, giving his V for Victory sign? My mind started racing over our trip to England, the Churchill biographies I had read as a result, and the pages I had marked just recently when reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s NO ORDINARY TIME. After a long pause I said, “I just might have to do something about that.” My daughter gave me a big smile. She knew I had just met my next project.
Churchill had captured my attention a few years ago when I had convinced my family that a visit to the Cabinet War Rooms, where Churchill and his staff hunkered down during WWII, was a worthwhile way to spend our last morning in London. As they waved goodbye to their cousins who were off on a more lighthearted tour of Buckingham Palace, I tried to reassure them that they wouldn’t be disappointed. Luckily, I was right.
The self-guided tour was fascinating and we were all pulled right in. We learned a bit about the Blitz, how they made use of the different colored telephones, and how they charted everything out with paper and pins in the map room. It was a morning well spent, topped off by some chocolate cigars from the gift shop.
Is it possible to draw a kid into a book in the same way as that hands on experience? I think so.
In the official brochure of the Imperial War Museum, the photo of Churchill’s bedroom looks like this:
When I visited, I snapped a few photos, despite the darkness. The photo I took of Churchill's bedroom gives a slightly different view.
Notice anything in the bottom of my photo? Yes, I would definitely want the chamber pot included. Not only is it a visual kids would love but it reveals a lot about the time, place and circumstances. They were in a bunker because those were real bombs flying above; the closest bathroom was a up a floor or two. It would make a good contrast to talking about the conditions that FDR lived under at the same time and a great way to talk about the situation in Britain and the United States.
If done with the right approach, I'm confident kids would be interested. Books on Franklin D. Roosevelt certainly do well. What about a book that explores their relationship? But then why is there only one book on Churchill in the children’s section of my local library? Is it a gold mine waiting to be explored or a subject purposefully passed over? And there is the ever-present curriculum problem. If it is not a subject kids will study in school, the editors don’t think it will sell. Does this always need to be the first consideration regardless of a writer's knowledge or enthusiasm for a subject? More on this in another post.