Stories About Famous Bostonians and Engaging Activities Featured in Beantown-themed Book
BY JOAN GOODCHILD
With summer upon us, many Bay State families are looking for fun activities for vacation. A new book that recounts Boston's history offers not only a kid-friendly chronicle of the major events that shaped Beantown into the city it is today, but also suggests several activities families can do together to help children gain a true appreciation for both the past - and the present.
Boston History for Kids, by Richard Panchyk, spans 400 years of history in the capital city, covering many of the major occurrences, including the events of the Revolution, like the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre, as well as the Great Fire of 1872 (still ranked as one of the costliest fire-related property losses in American history). There are also more modern events, like the Red Sox historic World Series win in 2004, and the tragic Boston Marathon bombing attack in 2013. The book also includes a foreword from former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.
Panchyk has worked on several books for young readers that dig into the history of major cities in the U.S.
"I've always been fascinated by Boston history. It's an important history for kids to learn about - not just in Massachusetts, but around the country. It's a snapshot of our country's growth," he said.
Panchyk said his books are designed to keep a child's attention by offering them lots of images, activities, sidebars, facts and stories that are fun to read.
"It doesn't feel like history when you read it, but an exciting story, and you want to turn the page and find out what happens next," said Panchyk. "It is a story not just of a place, but of the people, too."
Boston History for Kids also includes a timeline, a list of online resources, and 21 engaging, hands-on activities for readers. Suggested activities include taking a tour along the Freedom Trail, writing a poem in the style of Ralph Waldo Emerson and baking a Boston cream pie (see facing page).
Another activity suggests kids create a walking tour of their own town or neighborhood.
"So many cities like Boston have guides to walk through historical neighborhoods," explained Panchyk. "But the idea is every neighborhood has its historic places and features. Whether they live in Western Massachusetts, Brookline, or anywhere in the rest of the country. Look around, do some research, make a guide. What are the local landmarks you would include?"
Even though Panchyk was familiar with Boston history prior to writing the book, he said he still stumbled upon some surprising facts he didn't know about before researching the book. Some of the interesting things he didn't know included facts about the first duel in Boston history. There is also an interesting story about how Ben Franklin bequeathed a gift of $2,000 sterling to both Boston and Philadelphia in 1790. The gift came with one condition: much of the money could not be drawn on for 100 years, and the rest could not be distributed for 200 years. By 1990 it was worth about $7 million.
Panchyk said the book delves into not only the proud moments in Boston history, but also some of the darker ones.
"For me it's about learning from the past - both the good and the bad," he explained. "It was interesting seeing how much the Bostonians really took risks and were brave and that was inspiring. But I also looked at the more difficult aspects, such as the prejudice against the Irish when they arrived. It's really about looking at it holistically and saying 'There are lessons we can learn about being tolerant as well.'"
For his research, Panchyk used first-hand accounts, initially written by those who had lived the experiences themselves, often hundreds of years ago.
"I try and go back to contemporaneous sources, so I can get quotes and stories from people writing it at the time it happened."
With a history as long as Boston's, writing a concise guide and deciding what to put in was, at times, a struggle - simply because there are so many great elements to include.
"It's always a challenge to take 144 pages and decide which ones make it and which ones don't," said Panchyk. "But the books are never meant to be the Bible-guide to any city. Ultimately, the goal is for this book to serve as a springboard to look further into history and explore it. And if it speaks to the kids who read it, I think I've accomplished my goal."