“Adolescents can read social studies and history texts to learn ‘facts’—events that have shaped the nation and the world. However, much is lost when young adults learn historical events yet fail to perceive the human perspectives surrounding the events. Reading historical fiction, the reader becomes involved in the events and the lives of the people in the story” (Bucher & Hinton, 2009, p. 222).
Shannon Hitchcock’s book The Ballad of Jessie Pearl achieves the goal stated above. I felt I was in 1922-1924 rural North Carolina alongside Jessie. I grew up in rural NC and witnessed similar experiences such as
- the love and warmth of a tight-knit community that helped each other harvest crops;
- the difficult work of “putting up tobacco;”
- the amusement of attending church services with everyone you know;
- canning food;
- using an iron pot to clean clothes;
- survival via home remedies; and
- sacrificing for family.
This novel helps the reader see what life might have been like for a young farm girl with dreams that have to be put on hold when her sisters contract tuberculosis. Today, young readers might have a difficult time understanding fourteen-year-old Jessie’s decision to remain home to work on the farm and raise her nephew instead of completing eighth grade and going off to college. Though there were times when Jessie and her former teacher made statements that might be viewed as anachronistic, overall Hitchcock does a superb job of situating Jessie within her era and describing what life was like for women.
Hitchcock’s style reminded me of Sheila P. Moses and Lois Lenski. “[H]istorical fiction is ideal for use in an integrated curriculum and with literature-based approaches across the disciplines” (Bucher & Hinton, 2009, p. 223). The Ballad of Jessie Pearl is a book that English, history, and even health teachers might embrace. However, the cover might discourage some adolescents from opening the book. Tell teens about Jessie’s dilemma mentioned above, and throw in information about her love interest J.T. and rival Liza, and hand the book to them anyway.
They will thank you later.
The author has a web site, and there is a teacher’s guide aligned with the Common Core State Standards available for free.