YA Historical Fiction and the Classroom—And a Giveaway!

by Tracy Barrett (W & M Contributor)

One of an author’s many jobs is helping to get her books into readers’ hands. Those of us who write for children and adolescents have to appeal to several groups in order for that to happen—not only our intended audience, but adults as well: reviewers, parents, and teachers and librarians. Rather than looking at these gatekeepers as people as obstacles we have to overcome, I choose to look on them as my allies.

There’s not much I can do to reach reviewers. My publisher is responsible for getting ARCs* to them and I just have to wait for the response. I don’t have much opportunity to reach parents, either, except in small numbers at school appearances and signing.

But teachers and librarians—ah, there we go. They’re great friends of writers in general and can really help writers of historical fiction. While readers of historical fiction are usually passionate, even fanatical, about the genre, there aren’t that many of them. Without educators to put my books into the hands of those few but passionate fans, some of them will miss what I’ve written.

Of course, meeting these people is crucial. I regularly address groups of teachers, librarians, and specialists locally and throughout the country (and even in Europe, occasionally).

And I have to work within their reality. They’re strapped for time, so I help them write grants to fund an author visit and provide quizzes, exercises, and writing prompts on the For Teachers page of my web site. They don’t have much funding, so I point them to sources such as SCBWI’s Amber Brown Grant.

Once I convince my listeners of the benefit of encouraging their students to read a story that makes the long-dead figures they’re studying come alive, I’m most of the way there. But the job isn’t done if I want the kids in their care to read what I’ve written.

Teachers have very limited time, so I make it as easy as possible for them to use my books as part of a curriculum, either as outside reading or as extra reading. For example, I let them know that they don’t have to come up with exercises, writing prompts, quizzes, paper topics, etc., since I’ve created those for most of my books. (See my For Teachers page.) I find justification that my school visit will be instructional in the Common Core principles and in the state standards for the grade level I’m addressing.

Most of all, I’ve learned to listen to teachers and librarians. They love books and authors, and they can be our greatest allies. Several teachers told me that they would like to use my King of Ithaka to supplement class study of the Odyssey but the hardcover version was too expensive. So I approached my publisher and asked if they had plans to issue it in paperback. They didn’t, so I asked them to reconsider. And I asked them again. And finally, they agreed. Here it is!

king of ithaka paperback

It went on sale just two days ago, and to celebrate, I’d like to give a copy to a classroom teacher or librarian along with a free Skype visit. If you’re not a teacher but would like to enter, please do! You can give the book and Skype visit to the educator of your choice. All you have to do is enter a comment here in the next week (by March 27). I’ll choose one commenter at random.

*ARC: Advance Reading Copy. These are low-cost versions of the book that are sent to reviewers and bloggers ahead of publication.


stepsister coverTracy Barrett is the author of numerous books for young readers, most recently Dark of the Moon (Harcourt) and the Sherlock Files series (Henry Holt). Forthcoming from Harlequin TEEN in June, 2014 is The Stepsister’s Tale. She lives in Nashville, TN, where until recently she taught Italian, Humanities, and Women’s Studies at Vanderbilt University, before transitioning to being a full-time writer. Visit her website and her blog.


  • raypc800

    I am retired now, but I volunteer at my children’s school in the library. I would be very interested in receiving King of Ithaka. Once I read it I would give it to the librarian with my opinion of the book.
    I would also be interest in any other books that you might want to pass out for review.
    If you are interested contact me at raypc800@gmail.com.
    Thank You And Have a great day.

    • Tracy Barrett

      Thanks, Raypc! Your name is in the hat!

  • Kimberly T

    Very helpful information, Tracy–thanks!

    • Tracy Barrett

      Glad to be of help, Kimberly!

  • Kimberly

    I am a huge YA fan and my girls love historical fiction. I used to work in a high school library, am married to a teacher, and am friends with quite a few teachers and school librarians. I would have no problem finding a deserving recipient of your book! After the 3 of us devoured it first though! :)

    • Tracy Barrett

      Your family sounds like mine, Kimberly!

  • norm

    Beach of beachcombing bizarre history blog has a link to your blog today.

    I like historical fiction, a painless way to get one’s dose of history. My area of study runs to things Maya, their past and current culture, their interaction with other parts of the Americas. There were two powerful city states in the Peten: Tikal and Calakmul, Tikal was patrilineal , Calakmul was matrilineal , the two polities fought wars against each other for a thousand years . Fodder for a wordsmith indeed.

    • Tracy Barrett

      Norm, you might be interested in Chris Eboch’s THE WELL OF SACRIFICE.

      • norm

        The conflict in the Peten was more along the line of Sparta and Athens, the result of two very different ways of looking at how polities interact, meant war on a region wide scale. The royal ladies from Calakmul were raised to rule foreign city states, there are stela announcing the arrival of the new queen all over Mayaland and from what I can gather, they were very effective in their role.
        The biggest or shall I say the most profitable Historical Fiction book written on the Mexican and Central American Indians was a book called Aztec, it was published decades ago. It follows the Mitchner model .

        • Tracy Barrett

          Hi Norm–You’re the winner! Please contact me at tracy t barrett (at) yahoo (dot) com with your mailing address, how you would like the book signed (if at all), and whether you would like a hardcover or paperback.

          • Kimberly

            Congratulations Norm!

  • Judy Jacobs

    As producer of a radio program devoted largely to poetry, I appreciate how difficult it is to get the written word into the ears, hands and minds of the readers. As parent of a teenager who prefers Youtube and video games to reading books, I appreciate how difficult it is to get the written word, even those specifically designed for this age group, into their hands, eyes, minds. As spouse of a professional book reviewer, you get the picture, I’m happy to receive promotional and gift copies of books, and thank you for your blog posts.

    • Tracy Barrett

      Wow, Judy, sounds like you could teach a course in book promotion!

      • Judy Jacobs

        Thanks for the praise, but my teaching has been mostly special education and counselling. Right now I’m just in it for the free books.