Illustration by Annakai Hayakawa Geshlider, 12, for her story, Journeys to the Past, published in Stone Soup, January/February 2008.
A note from Sarah Ainsworth
Hello, Stone Soup readers! You may know me (Sarah) from subscription help or the blog, but this week I wanted to talk to you about what I am studying: archives.
If you have any idea about what an archive is, the picture that comes to mind may be of some dusty shelves full of books or artefacts that haven’t been used in years. But as an aspiring archivist, I want to dispel any notion you might have that archives are only about the past. I want to instead encourage you to think about how archives maintain their relevance when people (like you!) access them in the present.
Here’s a very brief introduction to archives: In the Western tradition, archives are institutions charged with taking care of historical records. These records are organized by their creator, whether that creator is an individual (like an author) or an organization (like a university or a hospital). An important concept for archivists is “original order.” This means that when archives receive papers, they have to keep them in the order their creator intended. The archivist is in charge of arranging the collection, describing its contents, and facilitating public access to the records.
There are all different kinds of archives. There are archives for countries, like the National Archives in the United Kingdom. Sometimes companies have their own archives, like Disney. And famous authors, like Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, frequently have their own archives. Museums and universities often have archives too.
For some physical archives, you need to book an appointment in advance or email the archivist to say you are coming in. But here’s a secret—in many cases, you don’t need to! You can just walk in, talk to the archivist, and ask them for the documents you are interested in. Just be sure to check the website or contact the archive directly. But if you don’t want to leave your house, there are also tons of online archives or archives that have lots of digitized content! The Internet Archive is just one example.
Stone Soup has a tradition of publishing excellent historical fiction. In 2002, we published “Kisses from Cecile,” which uses historical records as its inspiration. The author, Marie Agnello, is fascinated by letters she found written by Cécile Cosqueric, a girl in Paris, to her pen pal, Ruth, who happened to be Marie’s great-grandmother. These letters offer Marie a whole new world, a different way of understanding life in 1919.
Are there any archives in your area that you can visit? If so, try to plan a trip with a parent or other adult. If not, don’t worry! Look to your attic or basement—or even your computer. What is in your own personal—or your family’s—archive? Maybe your grandparents saved old magazines or newspapers. And if you don’t have access to old documents, remember that there is so much available online. The Library of Congress is a good place to start, but some of my personal favorites are the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections.
Find a record that speaks to you. What does it tell you about the past? What can you learn from it that you might not learn in a textbook? How can you invent a story around it? I would love to see what you come up with! Please reply to this newsletter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments about this activity.
This week on the blog
This week on the blog we have something of a first: a nature video! See the beauty of Anna's hummingbirds and learn about them with Sierra Glassman's fascinating commentary.
Plus, a review of John Steinbeck's The Pearl by our regular reviewer, 12-year-old Vandana Ravi.
Published in Stone Soup,
and in The Stone Soup Book of Historical Fiction
Written and illustrated by Annakai Hayakawa Geshlider, 12
The floor creaked as Simon crept through his grandparents’ attic towards a large chest in the corner of the room that had caught his eye. In the dusty attic, cobwebs hung from the shelves and bookcases and a thick layer of dust blanketed the mildew-covered furniture. As he timidly tiptoed towards the chest, Simon felt an air of complete silence in the small room, a feeling that the whole world was waiting for him to discover what lay ahead. Carefully raising the key to the large brass lock that secured the maple-wood chest, Simon slowly turned it between his fingers. The key felt smooth and cool, and it fit perfectly in the keyhole. A satisfactory “click” sounded from the chest and he lifted the lid.
Inside it was filled with many magnificent treasures: loads and loads of books. His eyes feasted upon the sight and he immediately reached for one of the musty spines, caution instantly gone from his body. And it was only a few moments later when Simon realized that what lay before him were not normal books.
“Tuesday, December 23, 1986,” he read aloud into the dimly lit room. Once again he could almost feel the whole room listening to him. The ancient furniture, the peeling wallpaper covering the cracked walls, and even the spiders stopped weaving their webs to listen to Simon’s eloquent voice. Simon was good at reading aloud, and he knew it, for when he read aloud, he could nearly bring the words alive.
“Dear Diary” he continued to his audience.
“I know you aren’t much of a book, just a few old scraps bound together, but that was all I could find, just like everything is all I could find. When we are still hungry after dinner it is because those few scraps of meat and broken crackers were all I could find, and when we are cold at night it is because the small knit blanket was all I could find. That is the way we live, and I can’t do much to change it. Every day I try looking for an odd job or collecting coins on the busy sidewalks. The way it is is not easy, but the way it is is the way it is.” .../ More
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