By Noelle, Librarian Extraordinaire
Don’t Know Much About History?
February is Black History Month. We also just celebrated Chinese New Year, ringing in the Year of the Rabbit. Women’s History Month is coming up as well. Seems to me a good time for some historical fiction!
If you are anything like me, you might not hate learning about history, but a lot of those names and dates and causes behind World War I might be pretty fuzzy. But the best thing about getting your kids (or you) to like (and remember) history is to read some historical fiction. I think I have learned far more about history from facts buried in stories than in school.
Believe it or not…
Now if it is fiction, doesn’t that mean it is factually incorrect? Not true! Well, mostly. Historical fiction takes an actual historical time period or event and builds a story around it, often using actual people from history along with other “fake” characters. The great part is that the author spends a lot of time and energy on researching that person, event or era, so readers get a real sense of what it was like during that time period. And they might even retain some of that information about colonial villages, the American Revolution, medieval England, ancient China or more.
Playing to the Crowd
Another plus is for those notoriously picky boy readers. Historical fiction includes lots of books on war and battles and adventure—favorite fare for boys. There is plenty for girls, too—mostly about ones who are breaking the mold—but there’s good stuff for both sides.
So take a look at a few of these great children’s book choices and supplement that social studies lesson with a good story.
Falsely accused of theft and murder, an orphaned peasant boy in fourteenth-century England flees his village and meets a larger-than-life juggler who holds a dangerous secret. A Newbery Award winner, followed up by two sequels, Crispin: The End of Time and Crispin: At the Edge of the World.
In 1832, Charlotte’s sea voyage turns into a nightmare when the crew mutinies. Should she side with the captain or the crew? One of my all-time favorite historical fiction stories. Especially if you like a good adventure on the high seas! Newbery Award Honor.
An Abenaki Indian boy must rescue his family after they are kidnapped by English rangers in 1759. Joseph Bruchac is the premier author of historical fiction featuring native tribes in America. There’s plenty more of where this came from if it sparks some interest.
See the fight for survival at James Town firsthand through the eyes of Captain John Smith’s servant in 1607. A great book to make you realize how much misunderstanding can lead to disaster.
Would you like to live on an island with dangerous prisoners? Join Moose as he experiences life on Alcatraz Island in 1935 when the infamous Al Capone was an inmate. A Newbery Honor book. Follow it up with Al Capone Shines My Shoes.
Willy disguises herself as a boy to try and save her family during the American Revolution. Cool for being not just about the American Revolution but also featuring a black character. The Collier brothers also have churned out a bunch more about this time period, including My Brother Sam Is Dead (one of those book titles that sets parents to freaking out) and Jump Ship to Freedom.
When Bud’s mother dies, he sets off on a quest to find his father in Depression era Michigan. A Newbery Award winner, and absolutely hysterically funny. Fans might also like his The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 and Elijah of Buxton, both Newbery Honor winners.
After the death of his family from tuberculosis, Lucas becomes a doctor’s apprentice in Vermont in 1849 and helps look for a cure for the disease. Imagine a time before we knew about germs and viruses and basically being willing to think dead people were showing up like zombies to infect the living! Which side would you come down on?
Two sisters are accused of witchcraft in Andover, Massachusetts in 1692 and await trial in a miserable prison while their mother desperately searches for some way to obtain their freedom. Andover actually had the most accusations of witchcraft in the state. Forget Salem!
Esther is magically transported to the past and learns about life in the Ice Age when she gets adopted by a tribe of mammoth hunters. Wow, talk about learning about history! We are talking pre-history!
Orphaned Hattie moves to Montana on her own to try and prove her uncle’s claim of land. A really interesting look at the struggle to make it pioneer times. Step back Little House on the Prairie! Another Newbery Honor book.
Hear about the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere from the viewpoint of his horse. One of my favorites, but that’s probably because of the horse angle. You might also like Ben and Me about Benjamin Franklin and his pet mouse.
In the 1920’s, a Chinese youth from the country comes to Chungking with his mother where the bustling city offers adventure, and his apprenticeship to a coppersmith brings good fortune. A Newbery Award winner.
Maggie loves the Brooklyn Dodgers and listens to every game. Then she meets Jim, a Giants fan, who shows her how to score a game and she’s hooked. Then Jim goes to fight in the Korean conflict and comes back a different person. Can baseball help him become whole again? A nice hook between baseball and war that readers will like.
Joey and MaryAlice are sent to stay with their eccentric Grandma Dowdel during the Depression era summers, and find she is no ordinary old lady! Very very funny stuff—kids will forget it is supposed to be historical fiction and terribly boring. A Newbery Honor book. Followed up by the Newbery Award winner, A Year Down Yonder and A Season of Gifts.
Before Elizabeth became queen, she lived in constant fear of political intrigue against her. See what it was like to grow up a princess in uncertain times—you’ll be amazed that anyone made it to the throne at all. Rinaldi writes historical fiction pretty exclusively.
A young centurion ventures beyond the Roman Wall to try and recover the eagle standard of the legion which mysteriously disappeared. Hand this to the boy who can’t get enough of army and warrior type stuff.
Hugh thinks Germans may be hiding in the old Spook House near his beach house during World War II. What is he going to do about it? Did you know Americans actually did watch the shores constantly for possible submarine attacks?
I’ve mentioned a lot more recent great historical fiction books in my holiday article, Batteries Not Included, Part 2, so check that out for a few more recommendations.
Looking for a historical fiction book on a topic not mentioned here? Drop me a line—I’ve got plenty more suggestions!
Your kids still not learning any history? Then it is time to dig deep and find those SchoolHouse Rocks DVDs. They’ll be singing “The shot heard round the world was the start of the Revolution” in no time. Just like you are right this minute.
Have A Comment? Just Leave It Below, You Will Feel Better Getting It Off Your Chest!
|Noelle has been a children’s librarian for over 15 years. She’s also been a student teacher, worked as an online account manager, worked in a pet shop and as a supermarket checkout clerk, and as a dishwasher and fry cook. She is the proud mom of a beautiful daughter. You can read more of Noelle’s book reviews at Rave Reviews Log
Noelle can be reached at “Noelle @ DadDoes.Com”