Monday, May 1, 2017

Heroes and Historical Fiction – The Six-Day Hero

The Six-Day Hero tells the story of Motti, a scrappy 12-year-old Israeli boy living in Israel on the eve of the Six-Day War. Idolizing his older brother, a soldier in the Israeli Defense Force, Motti dreams of being a hero. As the Six-Day War begins and his brother is called up to fight, Motti realizes that war isn’t a game. Motti knows his older brother is a hero, but through the six days that will decide Israel’s fate, he discovers other heroes in surprising places. He may even be a hero himself.

In 1967, Israel teetered between existence and annihilation. By winning the Six Day War, it averted annihilation…and began the modern dilemma of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This summer (June 5-11) marks the war’s 50th anniversary.

I wrote The Six-Day Hero after discovering there was nothing on the topic for Middle Grade readers. Well-researched historical fiction can open a door into the past. By letting readers feel what those historical events were like, not just dry facts like places and dates, but also sounds, smells, tastes, and emotions, history sudden leaps to life.

Because historical fiction can be the doorway to understanding historical events, I felt that I had a responsibility to make sure my facts were correct. The plot and the characters are fictional. But the facts in The Six-Day Hero are all real. The order of events leading up to the war and during the war are true. The quotes from foreign leaders on the radio are true. Even the color of the public bus that the boys ride is historically accurate. In order to make sure that each fact in the book was correct, I read nonfiction books, pulled newspaper articles from the time period and interviewed a dozen Israelis and Americans who had lived through the Six Day War.

Reading The Six-Day Hero is a wonderful way to introduce current events into your curriculum. The Six Day War happened 50 years ago. That probably seems like ancient history to your students. But since this is the war that started the situation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it still has a big effect on millions of people. It’s not ancient history, it’s current events.

Ask your students to find Israel on the map. Have them find Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Find Morocco and Tunisia. Compare them to the United States. Notice their size difference and their distance from each other. Discuss whether a country’s size correlates to its influence. What are some reasons that countries go to war? What are the risks and rewards of war? What are the risks and rewards to refusing to fight? Ask your students to write an essay on one of these topics.

Ask your students to collect newspaper articles and do research on a place frequently mentioned in the news. Could they create a character sketch of a fictional person who lives in this place? Could they write a description of the setting?

Discuss the differences between fiction and non-fiction. Between plot (fiction) and setting (which could be fiction or non-fiction). Ask students to name examples of fictional settings and non-fictional settings. Discuss the novel and have your students separate fact and fiction. Knowing that the historical facts are correct, where is the fiction?

Books can open new worlds to us. They can introduce us to distant lands and make us feel kinship with strangers. I hope your students walk away from The Six-Day Hero with a new appreciation that behind every news story is a story of people.

Tammar Stein is the author of four young adult novels, including Light Years, an American Libraries Association Best Book of the Year, a Virginia Reader’s Choice, and a Texas Summer Reading List book. The Six-Day Hero is her first Middle Grade novel. It is a Junior Library Guild Selection. You can visit Tammar at

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