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LEWISTOWN – Put a handful of elementary school teachers and a little history in one room, and you’ll probably get a book.
This is what happened, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Mifflin County Historical Society. The book is not a typical encyclopedia of history – it is aimed specifically at young 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 Peightel alumnus who is still in class. In addition to these three contributions, Forest Fisher, Daniel McClenahan, Lauren Peightel, and Steven Rynkewitz, as well as regular Sentinel contributor Mark DeVecchis (his monthly story is on page E1 of today’s edition).
“I know there was a very good history book that was done before, but it was time to do something new, with pictures,” said Peightel. “I wanted to do it as stories rather than a story book.”
This 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’s a learning tool as well as a source of information.
“One thing I added to everyone’s story is a list of extra activities” like reading, writing or art projects, he said. The book meets Pennsylvania Learning Standards.
“Mifflin County yesterday and today was kind of the forerunner,” Fisher said. “The children would react to that, to the dynamics of the story.
Fisher recounts his own experience, a course he took that included a study of the history of Fort Granville.
“The idea was that you could walk on the ground where these 18th century settlers and soldiers had to be” he recounted, admitting he wasn’t ready to step up to reenactor level.
“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 intended to give up the conveniences of modern life to live the story they love.
“I have a great penchant for western plumbing. It is not negotiable for me ”, jokes Aurand, whose involvement in historical society dates back to his teaching years.
“I would be one of those people who probably wouldn’t have made the trip 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 to fifth grade age group because it aligns with their curriculum.
“This is where we start to talk about local history and the kids just want to know” she said. “So we always came to the McCoy house” during field trips.
Unsurprisingly, all three love museums and have spent a lot of their vacations as young people visiting unique places. Aurand said his family are the ones who always stop to see the world’s biggest ball of string or a giant gopher statue.
“Museums and growing up history was something we always did on vacation” Peightel said, which also impressed his daughter, Lauren, a collaborator 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 90 when I was 4, 5 and 6, and told me stories about what it was like when she was little during the floods of the 1880s). It was my inspiration to want to know the background of things.
“You can’t do without it” said Aurand.
We are already planning a second book,Said Peightel. “We didn’t want it to be too big or too long. We wanted to do it for the anniversary year. I would also like to involve more authors if possible.
“Mifflin County: A Collection of Local History Stories for Young People” costs $ 20 and is available at the Friendship Bookstore, Crooked Shelf Bookstore, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Office, and Mifflin County Historical Society Office and Library.