18 Historical Fiction Books That Will Have Kids Shouting, History is Cool!

by Noelle on February 14, 2011

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.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

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.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

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.

The Winter People by Joseph Bruchac

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.

Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone

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.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

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.

War Comes to Willy Freeman by James Lincoln Collier

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.

Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

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.

The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker by Cynthia DeFelice

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?

The Sacrifice by Kathleen Duble

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!

11,000 Years Lost by Peni R. Griffin

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!

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

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.

Mr. Revere and I by Robert Lawson.

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.

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis

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.

Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park

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.

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck

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.

The Redheaded Princess by Ann Rinaldi.

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.

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

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.

The Coastwatcher by Elise Weston

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.

Happy reading!

Have A Comment? Just Leave It Below, You Will Feel Better Getting It Off Your Chest!

NoelleNoelle 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”
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  • http://twitter.com/adriennemay Adrienne May

    what a wonderful list – love fiction that helps children understand history, it was why i started liking history to begin with!

    • LibrarianNoelle

      Definitely my favorite way to learn things! And if it sparks interest in a historical event, maybe the kids will also want some non-fiction to learn about the actual time in history. Win-win!

      • Sarah

        But how should i get into reading historical fiction it’s so boring my teacher is making me read historical fiction. Which book do you recomend from your list?!
        -Sarah
        11 years old

        • Sarah

          I have a suggestion, my suggestion is that you should at least have the first 5 chapters of Keeping score, because i have to read  a historical fiction book and i like this book but i dont have the book so if you have the first 5 chapters i can read it online.
          Thank you for reading my suggestion.Sarah

          • Sarah

            And i went to 2 book stores and they didn’t have the book keeping score and all there historical books were for ages under 8, i am 11.
            So you should have the first 5 chapters. And im not lying you can ask my sister. (Well she’s not here right now, but whatever!)
            -Sarah

          • LibrarianNoelle

            Hey Sarah–just go to your local library.  They will have all or most of the books on my list, including Keeping Score. And it will be free.  If not, you should ask the librarian to help you pick something out that’s good.  

            Sorry, I can’t post the chapters of the book because that’s against copyright law.

            Also, The Watsons Go to Birmingham or Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis are VERY funny stories as well as being historical fiction, so those would be my next recommendation.

          • Jaelin

            are u dating someone now

          • Jaelin

            why not like 7 chapters that can work but is your last name goldstien and do u go to this school called Circleville Elemary then if u do hey how u doing

          • Jaelin

            pls text back if do are this sarah

        • Jaelin

          are u in  mrs corcans class

        • Jaelin

          I’m in this thing to my teaher things its good to read historical fiction. but if i were u i’d pick martin luther king he good to do it on why not malcom x .

          • LibrarianNoelle

            Hey Jaelin–If Sarah got a book about Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X, those would be BIOGRAPHIES which are true stories of someone’s life, not historical fiction.  Although both of those are really interesting people to read about.

  • Mary Ann

    I think this covers “outside reading” until the summer :) , Can’t wait to get to the library with the kids. Thanks, Noelle!

    • LibrarianNoelle

      But what are you going to do when I put out my next booklist if this is going to keep you going until the summer? :->

  • Kmbrown2

    Love the list, Thank you. Do you have any suggestions on Historical Fiction (Heroshima)?

  • Debbie

    My daughter needs to read a historical fiction book! She hates reading to begin with. I wanted to know if you can suggest an interesting book for her Thankyou!

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