Simsbury Fifth Grader Writing About Connecticut History For His Peers

Bobby Shipman's love for history started in the first grade.

"Some people just read adventure, but history has everything," said Shipman, who is now a 10-year-old fifth grade student at Tariffville Elementary School, in Simsbury.

For Shipman, history is full of real life examples of the mystery, suspense, and intrigue found in fiction books.

The problem was that there just weren't enough good books written for someone his age about local history.

"In first grade, I picked up a book, and from there on, I looked at all the other books in the classroom basket," Shipman said. "And then I went to the library and read all those books. Even in my classroom, the books about Connecticut history didn't have much about Connecticut history."

Then Shipman discovered "Connecticut Explored," the nonprofit Connecticut history magazine founded by Elizabeth Normen, that is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. Happy with the amount of information available, he decided to write her a letter thanking her.

"I really wanted to say how much I liked it," Shipman said.

And so Shipman wrote to Normen about his experience of having trouble finding books containing enough specific history about Connecticut.

"When I went to the Simsbury town library, the two or three books about Connecticut had very little about history, and the little they did have, was repeated between them," Shipman wrote in a letter published in the fall 2017 issue of the magazine. "Then 'Connecticut Explored' came to the rescue."

Normen said she was delighted to receive the letter from such a young reader. She suggested he write an article for an extension of her magazine called Where I Live: Connecticut, a publication containing local history written for third and fourth grade students.

"The idea of a fifth grader writing for his peers was a great thing," Normen said. "What he's submitted so far is not a whole lot different from what we're getting from adults. He's done a nice job. He really does capture the core ideas."

Where I Live: Connecticut is being used in classrooms across the state for the first time this year. The physical copy was released in August and was distributed for free to 17,000 third graders. A free digital version and an ever-growing online component exists at

The publication was created by Normen along with Ashley Callan, who is the kindergarten through fifth grade curriculum specialist in West Hartford, and Melanie Meehan, who is the elementary writing and social studies coordinator in Simsbury.

It's very much a response to the good news that came in 2015 that the state would now be requiring elementary school students to learn about Connecticut's history, economy, civics, and geography. The problem was, much like for Shipman, there wasn't enough good reading material for teachers to use. Where I Live: Connecticut is aiming to fix that.

"Those of us in the history field had been dying for that to happen," Normen said. "I thought about how we had 15 years of stories we could use."

Callan said while planning out West Hartford's new curriculum to address those needs, there just wasn't enough material that contained specific content.

"In teaching Connecticut history, we found that a lot of the books written for third and fourth graders were very general in nature," Callan said. "They would give state facts or go into state symbols, but it wouldn't give any meaty history. Everything was very general and broad. It wasn't very specific. We were struggling to find something the kids could dive into."

Meehan said they wrote Where I Live: Connecticut in a way that would encourage students to ask questions, rather than the book asking them questions.

"A really important element to Where I Live is that it echoes the inquiry arc that social studies is striving for in terms of getting kids to do more of asking questions," Meehan said. "What the new social studies frameworks is really asking kids to do is to start by asking questions."

Throughout the publication, question marks in yellow circles ask readers to pause and think about what they are wondering while reading.

"You just read something, now have a reaction," Meehan said. "It hasn't been part of teacher practice either. Stop, pause, and digest that. We need to encourage curiosity."

Shipman - who has the recent perspective of a third grader - said he prefers it when what he's reading isn't just a list of facts. That's why he took a storytelling approach when he wrote his articles about Ethan Allen and the Farmington canal for the publication's online presence.

"I've read history books, and even though I like what they are about, they are boring because they are just facts and not story," Shipman said. "I try to include story so it's not just a list. It's something you can enjoy reading."

Shipman is currently the only student contributor to Where I Live: Connecticut. He plans to continue writing for the publication. His next article, about Benedict Arnold, is already in the works.

Hard copies of Where I Live: Connecticut can be purchased online at

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