A Case for Fiction as a Teaching Tool

All of us were kids once, maybe some of us twice (or still) and all of us have spent hours in a classroom lea


rning. Writers are in the glorious position of being able to help learning be fun. We write. We write stories and tell tales.

Often books are written either to educate or to entertain. I wish to make the case that both can be done in a single book.

When I was little, just learning to read, I discovered a fairly thick book called The Burgess Bird book for Children by Thorton W. Burgess. He was a noted conservationist who wanted to teach children about birds. This book told a lovely story about a rabbit whose friends were birds. I learned about bird nests and bird habitat and bird calls but I didn’t consider it studying. This was my first introduction to learning where it was just a fun read.

That is the case I wish to make, learning should be fun. There is no reason it must be a struggle to acquire knowledge. Books should pull you in and make the process of learning pleasant.

When I started writing The Stone Lions, the task I set myself was to write a book that would make math interesting to girls. And I did, or at least I did my darnedest. I wrote a book that was a fantasy and a mystery, but hidden within, though in plain sight, were seven painless lessons on band symmetry.

The novel could be read for pure entertainment, just to find out what happens to Ara and her friends. Or it could be read to learn a bit of history. Or as a beginning window into the world of Islam. Or for a math lesson.

Additionally, in The Stone Lions, there are appendices that summarize the lessons of within the book, pictures of what the Alhambra’s layout looked like pre-1500 and a glossary of terms. For those whose interest has been piqued, my website, http://www.gwendandridge.com, provides even more examples of symmetry and symmetry quizzes.

There are many, many good fiction books that could be used to draw students in to love learning. Here are a few:

  • Fever 1793 Laurie Halsh Anderson – a great writer and excellent book
  • Saving Miner’s Gulch Kimberly Troutte – gold rush history in a fun romp.
  • One Came Home Amy Timberlake – 1871 American history, passenger pigeon
  • Wish You Weren’t Sherrie Peterson – sci/fi which includes many science details.
  • The Book Thief Markus Zusak – WWII Germany

Here is a list of excellent middle grade historical fiction.


America’s Common Core Initiative leans toward using non-fiction books to teach, but as I’ve pointed out, fiction can teach as well. You just need writers to take that leap, teachers and parents to see the potential and readers to open the books.


~ by Gwen Dandridge on November 6, 2014.

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