History for kids

Teachers and others tell the tales of Mifflin County’s past

LEWISTOWN — Put a handful of elementary school teachers and a bit of history into the same room, and you’re likely to come up with a book.

That’s what happened, just in time for the Mifflin County Historical Society’s 100th anniversary. The book is not a typical encyclopedia of history — it’s aimed specifically at younger readers.

“Mifflin County: A Collection of Local History Stories for Young People,” is the brainchild of retired educators Bill Peightel and Nancy Aurand, and Steven Himes, a former student of Peightel’s who is still in the classroom. Along with those three, contributions came from Forest Fisher, Daniel McClenahan, Lauren Peightel and Steven Rynkewitz, as well as regular Sentinel contributor Mark DeVecchis (his monthly tale is on Page E1 in today’s edition).

“I know there was a history book that was very good that was done before, but it was time to do something new, with pictures,” Peightel said. “I wanted to do it as stories rather than a history book.”

That format not only makes the book more appealing to a younger audience, but makes it useful in a classroom environment — and thanks to Peightel’s additions, it is a learning tool as well as a source of information.

“One thing that I added to everybody’s story is a list of additional activities” such as reading, writing or art projects, he said. The book is in line with Pennsylvania learning standards.

“Mifflin County Yesterday and Today was sort of the forerunner, Fisher said. “Kids would respond to this, the dynamics of the story.”

Fisher relays an experience of his own, a class he took that included a study of the story of Fort Granville.

“The idea was, you could walk the ground where these 18th-century settlers and soldiers had to be,” he recounted, admitting he’s not ready to take that to the level of reenactor.

“I can’t quite take the next step to become the 18th-century soldier in the field,” he said.

Of the three authors who discussed the book for this story, none were planning to give up the amenities of modern life to live the history they love.

“I have a great fondness for western plumbing. That’s non-negotiable for me,” jokes Aurand, whose involvement with the historical society goes back to her teaching days.

“I would be one of those people that probably would not have taken the journey west,” Peightel admitted. “If I had come to America I would have parked in Pennsylvania, and frankly that’s what my ancestors did.”

Aurand said the book is aimed at the third- through fifth-grade age group because it aligned with their curriculum.

“That’s where we start to talk about local history and the kids just want to know,” she said. “So we would always come to the McCoy House” on field trips.

Not surprisingly, all three have a love of museums, and spent many of their vacations as youths visiting unique places. Aurand said her family was the one that always stopped to see the world’s biggest ball of twine or a giant gopher statue.

“Museums and history growing up were something we always did on vacations,” Peightel said, which also made an impression on his daughter, Lauren, a contributor and former historical society scholarship recipient.

“I had the advantage of living in a multigenerational family growing up and we had a great-grandmother who lived with us,” Fisher said. “She was born two years after the Civil War, and she was in her 90s when I was 4, 5 and 6, and would tell me stories about what it was like when she was a little girl (also story of people being swept away in 1880s flood). That was my inspiration for wanting to know the background of things.”

“You can’t get away from it,” Aurand said.

We’re already planning a second book,” Peightel said. “We didn’t want it to be too big or take too long. We wanted to get it done for the anniversary year. I would like to involve more authors if possible as well.”

“Mifflin County: A Collection of Local History Stories for Young People” costs $20 and is available at Friendship Book Store, Crooked Shelf Book Store, the Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, and the Mifflin County Historical Society office and library.


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