THE DIALOGUE FORMAT
Our books are told as a dialogue between two characters: Time Talking Ted and Mystery Mulling Mona.
Many people are thrown off when they first see our books. After all, I doubt you've ever seen a textbook formatted like a play before.
So why are our books in a dialogue format? Why didn't we chose to write them like a traditional textbook or like a conventional story?
Delivery Is Everything
Have you ever had your favorite book turned into a movie and felt like the magic that made you love the book just didn't make it onto the screen? Or have you ever seen a visually compelling movie and had trouble explaining the movie to someone else because words alone weren't enough?
The way a message is delivered determines what the message even is.
That's why we thought long and hard about how to deliver the message of history and in the end we decided a dialogue would deliver the message we wanted.
Most people think history lends itself to being told as a story—it has all the right elements—compelling characters, exciting plot points, and an engaging sequence of events. But history has a couple things that stories don't. History has a lot of extraneous plot points. A lot of things happened in history that don't connect to the "main" story, but are still worth knowing. History also has a lot of conflicting plot points. What really happened and why?
In a story, it's hard to accommodate the fact that there might be more than one answer to "what happened?" or there might be two totally different versions of an event. The first drafts of Curiosity Chronicles were told as a story—but we quickly ran into trouble. When you're telling a story, you have to decide who a story is about, what events fit into the plot, and which events don't. There are a lot of choices that have to be made to turn history into a story. We found those choices often led to ignoring non-central characters and events (which frequently led to the exclusion of women, differing viewpoints, and non-dominant cultures). A story format also led to a preference for war and political stories while ignoring cultural, artistic, and scientific accomplishments. That wasn't the kind of history we wanted to tell.
So to find a way to accommodate all the differing facts and perspectives we wanted in our history books, we decided to literally introduce different voices. A dialogue.
We're hardly the first to see the educational benefits of a dialogue. Dialogues were Plato's preferred method of teaching and have been used by many others throughout history. Some of the benefits of a dialogue include:
Differing points of view: A dialogue allows the text to introduce differing facts in history and it also allows our characters to have differing opinions about historical events. One character can interpret history from their perspective, while the other character can offer an alternative or moderating perspective. Interpretations of history can be presented as exactly what they are—opinions. There is no way to tell history without some level of interpretation, yet interpretations are rarely perfect. It can often be difficult to weed out interpretation from fact in history books. Our characters try to alert the reader to when they are interpreting history. The other character is there to point out the interpretation and offer another way to see things. Distinguishing between fact and interpretation is critical to fact-based history.
Modeling question asking: Ted is our question asking king. He shows readers it's ok to not know everything. Asking questions is good. Sometimes the questions in our dialogue are surface level. Sometimes they are deeper. Deeper level questions model for young students how to ask deeper questions. The questions in our dialogue try to show young readers that history is open-ended—there's always more to learn!
Modeling critical thinking: Some parts of our dialogue slow down and walk through a question step by step modeling exactly how to think through a question and find deeper answers. Our Snapshots series is aimed at elementary students, so the critical thinking doesn't get super complex, but it's laying a foundation. Our future middle school level series will fully capitalize on using the dialogue format to explicitly model significant critical thinking skills.
In addition to these educational benefits, a dialogue also has the benefit of making a traditionally dry subject fun. The banter between Ted and Mona can bring humor and interest. While we are not telling history as a story, the dialogue can contain as many stories as we want to tell to keep history interesting.
We understand that a book written as a dialogue will be outside the usual experiences of those used to textbooks or flowing stories, and we especially understand that reading such a book can be difficult or uncomforatble for parents who don't like doing different voices while reading. But if we wanted to tell history the same way it's always been told, we wouldn't have written our own book. History is a living, amazing subject, and with Ted and Mona acting as the guides, we hope you find our approach to history to be as fun to learn as it was for us to write.