Betty Before X by Ilyasha Shabazz and Renee Watson
I devoured this compelling, well-written story about a year in the teen life of Betty who later became well known for being the wife of Malcolm X. Betty’s mother seemed to despise her, but Betty had good friends and younger siblings who loved her. Eventually, kind church friends took her in and adopted Betty. During this period of her life, we see the importance of church, counting her blessings, the activist housewives group she belonged to, and how a family is what you make it.
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older
Take a thrilling ride through Civil War history — with DINOSAURS! In this exciting adventure with diversity, slavers kidnap most of the orphans in NYC’s Colored Orphan Asylum but the small group of kids that escapes to join with the Vigilance Committee to fight back and rescue their kidnapped friends.
Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland
Excellent! In this historical middle grade graphic memoir, Cynthia Copeland shares the time in her life when she got to be a “cub” reporter when middle school was composed of predators and prey (she was prey). While the mentor reporter helps Cynthia become interested in local and national politics and events like equal rights for women and Watergate, we also see Cynthia going “steady” with a boy and making new friends when her best friend dumped her. Wise, relatable, and thoroughly enjoyable to read. (*Sensitive readers, this book includes the word cr*p.)
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
Written in a diary as letters to her Mama, Nisha shares how her life is turned upside down when the British rule of India ends in 1947, splitting the country into two — the Muslim north where she lives becomes Pakistan and the Hindu south remains India. Even though Nisha’s mom was Muslim, Nisha, her brother, her doctor Papa and her grandmother are forced to leave their home in the north because they are Hindu. There’s violence everywhere; nowhere is safe, not even the trains.
Yusef Azeem Is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi
Step into the shoes of Yusef around the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a Pakistani-American Muslim who lives in a small Texas town. He’s bullied at his middle school with hateful notes and his small community is besieged with hate and anger from the Patriot Sons group. Yusef tries to focus on his robotics team and his family but when a robotic toy that he made for his sister gets him accused of bomb-making and detained at the jail for twelve hours, he has to decide how he’ll respond. Assimilate, leave, only befriend other Muslims, or stand up to the bullies. He decides to take his father’s advice and try using love to overcome hate…
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and A Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson
Wow. I not only learned a TON from this historical fiction novel, but it was thoroughly mesmerizing! Eel’s an orphan who turns one of his odd jobs into saving lives when he helps a real historical person, Dr. Snow, determine if the water pump in Eel’s neighborhood is the source of deadly cholera.
The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman
This story explores what happens after Chornobyl explodes in 1986; it’s about Russia, friendship, family, and prejudice. When Jewish Valentina and her enemy Oksana are forced to leave town together after the meltdown, we learn why Oksana acts the way she does, because of fear and abuse from her father. Once she gets away, she starts to think for herself and finds that Jews are not bad but actually very kind. The girls end up in Leningrad with Valentina’s grandmother and the months there are a healing time with unconditional love. Interspersed with this story is another story of a Jewish girl named Rifka who flees her home when the German army arrives in 1941.
Words on Fire by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Nielsen deftly captures the history of Lithuania’s book smugglers, showing how books keep alive a language, culture, and identity, no matter how hard someone tries to erase it. Audra doesn’t know her parents are book smugglers until they are arrested by the Cossacks. She flees to their contact’s house, soon learning that her parents were part of a network of Lithuanian’s who fought against the Russians by smuggling books. This is an inspiring story of a little country of farmers who managed to keep their culture alive even after the Russians banned their language and their books. Highly recommended!
Running Out of Night by Sharon Lovejoy
I highly recommend this powerful story of two maltreated girls who hope for a better future. The narrator is a white girl in the south who is nothing more than a slave to her family, she doesn’t even have a name. She meets and joins a runaway slave who is escaping the horrific brutality of slavery and separation from her family. Together they find kindness and hope with a Quaker family.
The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts by Avi
Action-packed from the first page, this is one historical fiction middle grade novel you don’t want to miss. Oliver wakes to find his house flooded and his father missing. After being thrown in the poorhouse for orphans, he manages to escape with stolen money only to be accosted by a highwayman. It’s one misfortune after another but Oliver is determined to find his father and sister in London. Somehow.
When Winter Robeson Came by Brenda Woods
Eden, who lives in Los Angeles in the 1960s, is spending the summer with her cousin Winter who is visiting. Winter reveals that he’s visiting to search for his missing father so they search his last known whereabouts and interview people who might have known him. Surprisingly, they find answers — and make new friends. Just as the reunion takes place with Winter’s dad who lost his memory due to an accident, the nearby neighborhood of Watts becomes a war zone with clashes between police and Black residents. Written in free verse, this is an easily accessible story of family, community, and history.
Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai
The story alternates between when the 2010 violence erupted in Syria and the “present” time in 2013 when Nadia’s home is bombed and she escapes. Only her family accidentally thinks she’s dead and leaves her behind. Nadia meets an old man and two orphans. They navigate through the checkpoints and bombings, seeing that the old man has many identities and even though he’s sick, he’s trying to rescue historical artifacts from the war. It’s a powerful story about a country and people in crisis.
Anne of Green Gables (A Graphic Novel) adapted by Mariah Marsden, illustrated by Brenna Thummler (ages 8 – 12)
Having just watched this series on Netflix (“Anne with an E”) with my daughter, we liked this graphic novel adaptation of orphan Anne’s life in Canada at Green Gables but longed for the details that only the show or, even better, the actual novel could provide. However, this is a great introduction to the series and hopefully, the stories selected in this graphic novel will inspire kids to read the original books by L.M. Montgomery.
Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher (ages 9 – 12)
Arthur Welsh is a poor homeless Norwegian boy who works for passage on a ship to England as the caretaker of a captive polar bear, a gift for the King Henry of England. The conditions for the polar bear are worse than the boys, both being victims of their circumstances, powerless and captive. It’s a physical and emotional journey of survival and friendship. The two survive a pirate attack, escape in the wild, and a new life in England. I hated the captivity of the bear but I loved this story and the bond of friendship between animal and man.
The Boy Who Became a Dragon: A Bruce Lee Story by Jim Di Bartolo
You don’t have to love martial arts to enjoy this engaging graphic biography about the martial artist and movie star legend Bruce Lee. From his birth in San Francisco to life in Hong Kong during and after the Japanese occupation, then his move back to the U.S., you’ll meet a troubled kid who gets into lots of trouble yet ends up becoming a famous movie star. Lee’s life is fascinating and the author does a great job with all the historical references.
The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer
Do you know about Romania’s brutal history? Our complex, likable story-loving heroine Ileana lives in Romania under a real-life, evil leader named Ceausescu. During his totalitarian regime, spies were everywhere. Ileana is an ordinary girl who finds joy and solace in stories, especially the folktales her father tells her and the ones she writes and rewrites in her journal.
Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
It would be hard as an author not to vilify this country for sending thousands of Japanese Americans to prison camps. But this author doesn’t. She just skillfully shares the evocative story of 10-year-old Manami of Washington State, who is sent with her family to a dusty camp, leaving behind her beloved dog, Yujiin, and everything else they owned. Devastated, Manami stops speaking. Her story is painful, sprinkled with hope, and all too real.
A Seed in the Sun by Aida Salazar
A tender and poignant middle-grade novel in verse showing an important time in history, the power of collective voices against injustices, and a girl finding her strength. Lula’s family are migrant workers. When Lula’s mom gets sick from pesticides, they can only get her medical care if they join the worker strikes started by Phillipino migrant workers. Eventually, her violent dad is convinced to join the strike which transforms their family, gives the girls hope, and helps Lula’s mom get health care.
Chains, Forge, Ashes (Seeds of America) by Laurie Halse Anderson (ages 10+)
I’m writing this after just closing Ashes, the final book of this historical fiction series about the time of the Revolutionary War as experienced through the eyes of an African-American girl named Isabel and her friend, Cuzon. Enslaved, escaped, or enlisted, these two are determined survivors. The writing is amazing and the stories are captivating. I love and highly recommend these books!
Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh
Addressing depression, racism, family relationships, friendship, and strength to stand up against injustice, this beautiful story recounts the Korean War from the perspectives of Junie’s grandparents as children. Junie faces bullying and microaggressions, then her friends drop her for being too negative. Her sadness and fatigue lead to suicidal thoughts then medication and therapy. Even more helpful are Junie’s interviews with her grandparents, immigrants from South Korea who faced their war-filled childhood hardships with determination and courage. Her grandpa’s story helps Junie find her strength, helping her see that silence against injustice is complicity and that being a good friend is important.
*SENSITIVE READERS: This book includes suicidal thoughts, the violence of war, and a couple of bad words.
Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson
Told from many different, well-developed characters’ points of view, this is a historical fiction story about the plantations with their abuse and enslavement contrasted with the thriving swamp community of Freewater filled with formerly enslaved people and some freeborn children, loosely based on the history of maroon communities in the South. There are many intertwined story threads including escaped children, Freewater residents, and the plantation owner’s daughter, that weave together for a hopeful ending.
I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
Edie’s mom is an adopted Native American who can’t trace her heritage. When Edie unexpectedly finds a box of photos and letters, it prompts a journey to discover the truth of her heritage. And the truth is not what she expects but it opens her eyes (and ours) to the unjust but common practices that happened throughout U.S. history of taking Native kids away from their birth parents; parents whose only crime was being Native. An important, heartfelt story about growing up, family, and finding your identity.
It All Comes Down to This by Karen English
Experience the 60s in Los Angeles, a turbulent time of racism and burgeoning activism, from the perspective of Sophie, a sweet black girl who lives in an all-white neighborhood. Her parent’s marriage is in trouble, her sister is about to leave for college, and her best (white) friend has moved on. Surprisingly, Sophie’s strict, disapproving housekeeper becomes an ally, something Sophie needs during the challenges of life and growing up. Well-crafted story and characters.
Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood
Thinking Hitler will invade England next, Ken’s family sends him to safety in Canada. But, Ken’s ship is torpedoed and sunk only days into the journey. Written in verse, this is a moving account of bravery as Ken, several other kids, a priest, the ship’s only woman, and members of the crew spend weeks adrift at sea in an ill-stocked lifeboat. You’ll read about their swollen feet, dehydration, and starvation as well as the stories and songs that helped keep the kids distracted and somewhat hopeful. Ultimately, you’ll be left with a sense of amazement at the resiliency of the human spirit.
The Lost Kingdom by Matthew J. Kirby
The wild west plus fantastical elements combine in this marvelous adventure of an expedition to find the lost people of the Welsh Prince Madoc. This is the wild west like you’ve never imagined. And you’ll love it.
The Midnight Zoo by Sonya HartnettTissue alert — this story made me weep. A lot. Racking sobs, I’m not kidding. It’s a breathtaking story; a fable about life set in Nazi Germany. We follow three Gypsy siblings who have witnessed the capture of their family and friends. While walking and searching for food, they find an abandoned zoo, with talking animals. That’s all I’ll reveal. You NEED to read this beautiful story. It will change your life.
The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
The girl-centric history is really interesting (and empowering), and the characters are so well-developed! The author imagines a friendship between Ada Byron, the genius daughter of Lord Byron and the world’s first computer programmer, and Mary Shelley, the world’s first science-fiction author. Mary joins Ada to study with Ada’s tutor and the two girls form a detective agency. In this first adventure, Mary and Ada learn about another historical figure who invented hypnotism and solve the case of a stolen heirloom.
The Girl in the Torch by Robert Sharenow
The Girl in the Torch is a touching middle-grade historical fiction novel for kids that follows an orphaned girl’s immigration journey to America. For a while, she hides out in the Statue of Liberty, then the watchman finds her and lets her stay at his boarding house. This is very well-written and shows a glimpse into the history of immigrants. I didn’t want to put it down once!
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, illustrated by James Mark Yellowhawk
Jimmy McClean’s grandfather takes him on a road trip where he shares the stories of Crazy Horse — his life and battles up to his death. They travel from the Dakotas (home of the Lakota) to Wyoming and other places significant to Crazy Horse’s life. I thought that following the duo traveling to the sites and then hearing the grandfather’s mesmerizing stories made this book easy to follow and very interesting. It’s a sobering true story and one that will stick with me.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
The writing, plot development, and characterization are masterfully done. It’s broken up into three shorter stories because the three stories tie together at the end but wow, it was long — almost 600 pages. That being said, this historical fiction book takes place during different years around the second world wartime period. The thread that ties the characters together is a most magical harmonica.
The Watcher by Joan Hiatt Harlow
American-raised Wendy’s Nazi-spy mom takes her to live in Germany during World War II. Wendy doesn’t even speak the language and feels overwhelmed with her mother’s zeal for Hitler. When Wendy starts working at Lebensborn, the place where only Aryan children live — many of who were forcibly removed from their parents — she learns from her new friend about standing up for what’s right.
The Watson’s Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watson family drives from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama to visit relatives in the 1960s where they hope to set Bryon straight. The car trip builds up to the deeply disturbing church bombing where Grandma goes to church. This is a moving story filled with hope and humor. Newbery Award Winner.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Sent to live with the mother that abandoned them, the sisters are in Oakland, California for the summer where they go to a Black Panther day camp and try to connect with their mother. Newbery Honor Book.
Prince of Steel Pier by Stacy Nockowitz
It’s 1975 and Joey is a Jewish boy whose family owns a hotel in Atlantic City. He’s a bit sheltered and accidentally gets involved with some shady gangsters. The mob boss tells Joey to hang out with his daughter while she visits for the summer. But he’s asked to hide something valuable, and as events unfold, he thinks about his Jewish faith, lying, legacy, and family. It’s a coming-of-age story with a strong atmospheric (New Jersey) setting.
Gold Rush Girl by Avi
14-year-old Victoria sneaks aboard a ship with her father and younger brother bound for stinky, muddy San Francisco and the hope of gold. She’s surrounded by mostly men and no other kids and soon realizes that no one is getting rich but ships and people keep pouring in. Their dad leaves them in a tent for months while he searches for gold. Victoria makes the best of it but her 10-year-old brother doesn’t. Then he gets kidnapped and sold and Victoria and two friends race to rescue him. It’s an interesting, exciting story that gives readers a strong sense of setting and historical perspective.
Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
This author has her own story, and her own style of writing, which she masterfully brings together in a historical fiction book that makes the history of the 1950s in Mississippi come to life. Rose Lee Carter is a girl who is raised by her grandma and father, works in the cotton fields, and is best friends with the preacher’s son. She dreams of leaving Mississippi for the north like her mom and aunt, especially after the white men who killed Emmett Till are found not guilty in a real-life historical trial.
The Dagger Quick by Brian Eames
Set in 17th-century England, Kitto must travel with his pirate uncle after his dad is murdered. The historical fiction story is suspenseful as Kitto tries to discover his family’s secret history and survive life among pirates. Tons of great action!
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Lowry does an excellent job at writing about WWII in a way that isn’t too scary or inappropriate for kids. Annemarie’s best friend hides Annemarie’s Jewish family. The tension is high as the Nazis are everywhere looking for Jews or Jewish sympathizers. It’s challenging to hide knowing that every day you could be caught and sent to a death camp. Finally, the family escapes to Sweden where they will be safe from the Nazis. A must-read middle grade historical fiction book.
The Quilt Walk by Sandra Dallas
The story follows Emmy and her parents’ trip from Illinois to Colorado by covered wagon. Dallas does a great job of character development, so we become just as concerned as Emmy when we see a fellow traveler being mistreated by her husband. We worry when Emmy finds a dog – and hope her father lets her keep it.
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Overnight a fence with armed guards divides Berlin. Gerta is stuck on the east side with her brother and mother while their father and another brother escape to the west. Greta’s father gets her a message that set her on a course to dig a tunnel under the wall. It’s dangerous but Greta’s determined. Interesting!
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
This is a wonderful adventure, fantasy, mystery, and historical story of three children in medieval France who are being hunted by the King. The storytelling is brilliant & it tackles big issues such as faith, God, prejudice, friendship, and family. The writing, the story, the characters, and the themes all pack a big punch adding up to a compelling novel that will make you think deeply and leave you better for reading it.
The Midnight Tunnel: A Suzanna Snow Mystery by Angie Frazier
My 12-year old says this is a GREAT mystery. Set in 1905 in New Brunswick, Suzanna works at her family’s inn. When a young guest disappears, Suzanna’s detective uncle arrives for the search. But, Zanna finds clues of her own that lead her to think there is more than one mystery going on.
Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart
After losing his entire family, he also loses his horse when it’s sold without his permission. Joseph begins a journey to find and buy back his beloved horse. Along the way, he develops a friendship with a Chinese boy who speaks no English, wins a horse race, helps deliver a baby, and fights an outlaw. Excellent writing — I couldn’t put this book down.
Gladiator School Book 1 Blood Oath by Dan Scott
This is an ancient Roman historical fiction adventure (and mystery) about a young boy named Lucius whose father is accused of a crime. When the family loses everything, the oldest brother decides to be a gladiator — which is equivalent to slave status and a good way to die young.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams Garcia
It’s a typical southern summer in Alabama 1969 and Delphine and her two sisters are visiting their extended family. Daily life means minding their grandmother, Big Ma, a crotchety matriarch, getting extra loving from their much sweeter great-grandma, Ma Charles, hanging out with neighbor, JimmyTrotter, and working at the tricky business of growing up. No matter what happens, a Vonetta-stealing tornado included, this is a strong family that loves each other and God with all they’ve got.
The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan
Neil’s Aunt Kate, based on a real historical figure, works as the first female detective for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. She has no interest in letting newly orphaned Neil stay with her so Neil determines to become invaluable to Kate. The history, as well as the intrigue of each new case, kept me highly entertained.
Catherine’s War by Julia Billet, illustrated by Claire Fauvel
When World War II comes to France, Rachel, a Jewish girl, must change her name and go into hiding. She moves frequently to avoid Germans but one thing stays the same, her love for photography. Using her camera, she documents the war from her perspective. Based on the author’s mother’s life, this is a beautiful story of WWII that focuses on growing up, the kindness of strangers, and art.
Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy with Ali Fadhil
Based on Ali Fadhil’s life experience about Iraq during Operation Desert Storm — an experience Fadhil likens to watching a video game of explosions. Readers feel like they are there with Ali and his family who are at the mercy of their twisted ruler, Saddam Hussein, bombs from the US, food shortages, and danger in the city. Plus, they fear they’ll never see their father again. This book is very well-written and appropriate for middle-grade readers.
More Good Historical Fiction Books for Middle Grade Readers
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
This book is so sad and beautiful! Katie’s sister, Lynn, helps her make sense of the prejudice and challenges their Japanese-American family faces in Georgia in the 1950s. When Lynn gets very ill, Katie tries to emulate her sister’s positive outlook.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Written in verse, Woodson shares her experience of growing up as an African American girl in the 1960s and 1970s. Newbery Honor Book.
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
What a fascinating, informative look at the difficult road American women faced in their journey to become astronauts! While faced with so many misogynistic men and some women, American women persisted in their quest to become astronauts. Meanwhile, the Russians started a female space program and launched a woman astronaut long before the U.S. Eventually the U.S. caught up and you’ll be inspired by reading the stories of these American and Russian trailblazers.
Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
It’s the summer of 1964 in Mississippi. Glory’s older sister ignores her, things are awkward with her best friend, Frankie, and the town is in an uproar about the segregated pool, closing it down for “repairs”.
Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier by Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Composting
If your kids aren’t interested in Chinese history, they will be after reading this novel. Ming lives in rural communist China with his father, who finds artifacts for the museum. A discovered terra-cotta soldier who comes to life and befriends Ming. They must work together to protect the soldiers and Emperor Qin’s tomb. I like how the authors wove in historical photos and information. It sounds like a silly premise for a story but it worked — and was very good.
Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, the Gallows, and the Black General Gabriel by Gigi Amateau
Based on the true story of a plantation slave named Gabriel, this story imagines his childhood growing up with the master’s son, learning the blacksmith trade, and later planning a rebellion. It gives readers a glimpse into the grim realities of slavery and growing up in the most difficult of circumstances.
Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai
Written in verse this historical novel tells a poignant story of survival, family, and refugees. It’s set in China when Japan had conquered a northern section of the land. Natsu’s father and sister are Japanese settlers under constant threat from the Chinese and Russians. And when they’re attacked, they’re forced to flee on foot for miles and miles, eventually finding overcrowded shelter where sickness and disease eliminate many of them, including Natsu’s auntie.
Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen by Eve Yohalem
Petra escapes her abusive Dutch father by disguising herself as a boy and stowing away on a merchant ship. She’s befriended by a boy but soon discovered. The adventure of the two friends set amidst history is absolutely fascinating. It’s a great middle grade historical fiction book that kids will enjoy!
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
An award-winning historical fiction adventure set in the late 1800s about Manjiro, a shipwrecked 14-year-old Japanese boy who is rescued and adopted by an American ship’s captain. Americans are very prejudiced against the Japanese, but when he returns to Japan, he’s rejected as an outsider there and imprisoned. Excellent.
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
Two good friends are separated by segregation in 1958 Arkansas. But their friendship is becoming dangerous with the KKK, phone threats, and a police force that does nothing.
P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man by Caroline Lawrence
12-year-old P.K., a private eye, lives in the wild west and is a brilliant individual who is hired to solve the murder. P.K.’s characteristics will make adults think of Aspergers – brilliant, prefers to be alone, collects cigars. It’s an entertaining historical fiction mystery with a fun historical bent.
How High the Moon by Karyn Parsons
Important history is shared in this tender-hearted, historical fiction story that shows a childhood that is both happy and sad with local events that are both fair and unfair. Ella lives with her grandparents but she’s always wanted to be with her singer-mom in Chicago. She gets to live in Chicago for a short time but is sent back. Even though it’s not always the perfect happily ever after, Ella is glad to be back with her cousins, too. Then, their classmate is arrested and executed for the murder of two white girls without evidence and the town’s black community feels shock, sadness, and anger.
The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan by Patricia Bailey
13-year-old Kit is angry about everything. It’s 1905 in a Nevada gold mining town, her mother’s just died of the flu, her classmates and teachers mock her, and her dad gets murdered by his mining boss. Kit is determined to bring Mr. Granger, the mine boss, to justice. Her grit lands her a job at a newspaper where she can investigate more about the mine and Mr. Granger’s misdeeds. The author skillfully sets the historical stage with interesting details like the only motor car’s constant flat tires. Smart writing, an interesting plot, plus a compelling main character.
The Unsung Hero of Birdsong USA by Brenda Woods
Mr. Meriwether Hunter saves Gabriel from the path of an oncoming car. That begins a relationship between a young white boy and a black WWI vet. Gabriel’s eyes become slowly opened to the discrimination that his new friend and his family face — including why he doesn’t talk about being a soldier. It’s a realistic, historical narrative that introduces kids to the south’s prejudices as well as the treatment of soldiers after WWII.
Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Langston is a former country boy who moves with his dad to Chicago in the 1940s after his mother passes. It’s a hard transition yet when he discovers the library, he also discovers himself through the poetry of Langston Hughes. This is a beautiful story of redemption, healing, and the power of words.
Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine by Caroline Starr Ros
Jasper chases after his older brother Melvin who is sailing to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush. The brothers, once reunited, start out with nothing except determination. Their goal is to figure out the clues to a sure-thing gold mine. But nothing is easy, danger from the harsh Alaskan climate and other miners surround them, not to mention the constant hunger and worry. This is a worthwhile adventure with an interesting history and appealing characters with gumption.
Wild Boy and the Black Terror by Rob Lloyd Jones
London, 1842. This second book in the series with excellent character development and an intriguing plot. Wild Boy is literally covered in fur. He lives with the Gentlemen who rescued him and his best friend, Clarissa, from the circus and the crazed Londoners who believed him to be a dangerous murderer. The Queen of England asks Wild Boy to solve the mystery of a most frightening terror that scares people to death — again, seemingly literally. Is it really a demon’s curse or something more human at work?
The Dollmaker of Krakow by Rachael Romero
A magical, live doll and a Polish magician toy store owner during WWII develop a beautiful friendship. Later, a friendship develops between the doll, the magician, a Jewish father, and his daughter. When the Nazis force the Jews into a ghetto, the doll encourages the magician to save as many children as he can by turning them into dolls for a short time. We only get a glimpse of the actual WWII horror; the story instead focuses on relationships.
The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming by J. Anderson Coats
Jane’s haughty stepmom drags Jane and her younger brother on a ship traveling from the East coast to Washington Territory in search of a new, rich husband. Only the muddy street outpost of Seattle is not what they expected, nor are the men. Fortunately for Jane, her stepmom becomes desperate, marrying a kind man who welcomes the three of them into his small, rural home. It’s an uplifting story with a vivid historical setting.
A Ceiling Made of Eggshells by Gail Carson Levine
There aren’t many (any?) children’s books written about this time period in Spain during the Spanish flu and the Spanish Inquisition when Jews were persecuted and forced out of the country or killed. Loma is a super-smart Jewish girl and a favorite of her abuelo who advises the monarchy, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Set in this dangerous time, we see Loma growing into herself while she’s abuelo’s traveling companion.
Young Adult Historical Fiction Books
The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw (ages 11+)
In this beautifully written, eye-opening YA story, we follow the life of Yuriko, a Japanese girl who lives in Hiroshima during World War II. Initially, her life revolves around drama with her family and friends just like a typical child’s life in any country. But, in this recounting of Burkinshaw’s mother’s actual experience, her life is torn apart when the atomic bomb is dropped. Not to mention that it comes as a shock to learn that Japan has been losing the war. Yuriko’s life becomes a nightmare of survival and endurance.
Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-li Jiang (ages 11+)
Recognized for excellence in writing, this true story of 12-year-old Ji-li’s life in the 1960s shows readers the personal destruction that China’s leader, Mao Ze-dong, inflicted on families with his Cultural Revolution. Ji-li believed in China’s Communist party until her family was persecuted and her father imprisoned. She struggles to make sense of her new reality. Soon, she’ll be forced to choose between her family and her country.
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Cambell Bartlett (ages 12+)
Based on a true story, this is about a Polish Morman boy who decided to stand up to the Nazis — he sneaks an illegal radio to listen to the BBC news and writes it up, distributing flyers. It’s sad but inspirational.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker
Both history and memoir, this is an important story set during WWII when the US government declares war on Japan and forced anyone of Japanese descent, including children, into detention camps…George’s family leaves behind a two-bedroom house in Los Angeles, taking only what they can carry. They are transported first to a cramped, smelly horse stable and then to a bare-bones, overcrowded barracks surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. George and his brother adapt well –mostly because they have amazing parents but this story also shows the reality for the adults in their new, unfair situation. It shows George’s parents’ resiliency and perseverance.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
This is a well-written story about a real-life event when Philadelphia was the U.S. capital city and yellow fever killed thousands of citizens. We follow Mattie, a brave young girl, who struggles to survive in an abandoned and diseased city. She’s lost her grandfather to looters and doesn’t know where her mother has gone but fortunately finds help from their coffeehouse’s former cook, Eliza.
Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand
Louis Zamperini’s life is almost unbelievable — a hoodlum, an Olympic runner, an airman shot down, and above all, a man who has great strength of character (growth mindset) to persevere despite all of life’s challenges.
Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
A slave girl and a Chinese immigrant girl flee west, disguising themselves as boys. Fortunately for them, three cowboys allow them to travel with them. We see the dangers of the Oregon Trail, racism, as well as the bonds of friendship in this beautiful historical book for young adults.
Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden
Mariah and her brother Zeke are slaves who join Sherman’s army as they march through Georgia. She meets a free man named Caleb and as the story progresses, they fall in love. I don’t want to spoil it for you but be prepared for an unexpected ending on a real-life, tragic historical event. It’s worth reading. You won’t forget any of this powerful story, not for a very long time.
The Agency 3: The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. LeeFinally, a historical fiction mystery SERIES to love! This third book in the stellar Mary Quinn mystery series is a delightful story. The premise is an orphan, Mary, is recruited by a clandestine detective agency of women, an agency that is very successful because no one would suspect women to be spies. Mary goes undercover in Queen Victoria’s palace while facing other issues –one of a love interest and one that her long-lost father isn’t so long lost after all.
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