Historical Fiction for Children

Lori Soard
The Wampum Exchange by Rosemary McKinley
The Wampum Exchange by Rosemary McKinley

What exactly defines a book as historical fiction? Historical fiction is any book that takes real events that actually happened, and weaves a fictional character's story through those real events. The result is not a story that actually occurred, but rather a picture of what life might have been like during that time for someone like that particular character.

List of Great Historical Fiction Books for Kids

Divided according to timeframes; this list includes some of the best books for teaching periods of history. Each will give readers a glimpse at a historic slice of life. With that said, it is by no means inclusive.

Ancient Times through the Middle Ages

  • Castle Diary - Written by Richard Platt. Fictitious Tony Burguess writes about day-to-day life in the castle. The book is a Newberry Honor winner. Appropriate for grades 3 and up.
  • Peregrine - Written by Joan Elizabeth Goodman. Set in medieval England. Appropriate for grades 5 and up.
  • The Golden Goblet - Written by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Set in ancient Egypt, the story follows a boy named Ranofer, who wishes to become a master goldsmith just like his father. Recommended for ages 9 to 12.
  • Black Ships Before Troy: The Story Of The Iliad - Written by Rosemary Sutcliff and illustrated by Alan Lee. A slice out of the Homer classic The Illiad that looks at the attack on Troy. Appropriate for middle school age.
  • The Door in the Wall - Written by Marguerite de Angeli. Set in the 14th century, a young noble boy falls ill and is unable to use his legs. The book is a Newbery Medal winner. Appropriate for grades ages 9 to 12.

Native Americans, Pioneers and the Wild West

  • Where the Broken Heart Still Beats - Written by Carolyn Meyer. Set in Texas during the mid-19th century. Appropriate for grade 9 and up.
  • My Antonia - Written by Willa Cather. Setting is with Bohemian immigrants that move to rural Nebraska as pioneers. Appropriate for grade 9 and up.
  • Streams to the River, The River to the Sea - Written by Scott O'Dell. Follows the Lewis and Clark expedition from the perspective of the Shoshone guide. Appropriate for grade 7 and up.
  • Dragon's Gate - Written by Laurence Yep. Set in 1867 among the Chinese workers of the Transcontinental railroad. Appropriate for grades 6 and up.
  • Pedro's Journal - Written by Pam Conrad. Follows the course of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus through the eyes of a ship's boy. Appropriate for grades 4 and up.
  • The Year of Miss Agnes - Written by Kirkpatrick Hill. An interesting portrait of cultures in rural Alaska and the unique challenges that life presents there. Appropriate for grades 3 and up.

The American Revolution and Colonial America

  • The Crucible - Written by Arthur Miller. Based on the actual events that led to the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, MA. Appropriate for grade 10 and up; as a play it is not considered true historical fiction but is technically drama.
  • The Grist Mill Secret - Written by Lillie V. Albrecht. In 1773, Tabby's father has a secret shop below the first mill where he makes muskets for the Minute Men. Appropriate for ages 9 to 12.

  • Johnny Tremain - Written by Esther Forbes. Follows the blacksmith's apprentice and his adventures. Appropriate for grades 5 and up.
  • The Wampum Exchange - Written by Rosemary McKinley. This young adult novella is set in New York in 1650. A 12-year-old boy meets a Native American boy and the reader gets to see what their daily lives would have been like in Colonial America. Appropriate for ages 9 and up.
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Written by Elizabeth George Speare. Set in the late 17th Century in Colonial Connecticut, the story follows teenager Kit Tyler and illustrates some of the social norms of the era. Appropriate for ages 9 and up. Parents will find a free study guide at Glencoe.

20th Century America

  • The Jungle - Written by Upton Sinclair. Set in the slums of 1900's in Chicago. Appropriate for grade 9 and up; mature themes.
  • Bud, Not Buddy - Written by Christopher Paul Curtis. Set in 1936 during the Great Depression; explores African-American culture and jazz during that time. Appropriate for grade 4 and up.
  • Jacob Have I Loved - Written by Katherine Patterson. Set during the 1940s off of the Chesapeake Bay. Appropriate for grades 8 and up.
  • Christy - Written by Catherine Marshall. Set in the Appalachian Mountains in the early 1900s. Appropriate for grades 6 and up.
  • A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt - Written by C. Coco de Young. Set during the Great Depression. Appropriate for grades 3 and up.

World War II

  • After the War - Written by Carol Matas. Takes place immediate after WWII and focuses on a group of Jewish children escaping to Palestine. Appropriate for grades 8 and up.
  • Number the Stars - Written by Lois Lowry. Looks at what it was like to live during WWII as a Jew. Appropriate for grades 5 and up but has mature themes.
  • Dawn of Fear - Written by Susan Cooper. The story follows a family whose children stay in London during the bombing while most children were sent away and how they survive. Appropriate for grades middle school readers.
  • Rose Blanche - Written by Christophe Gallaz and illustrated by Roberto Innocenti. An illustrated picture book that follows a young girl who discovers a concentration camp. Reading level is appropriate for ages 5 and up, but contains mature themes.
  • A Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor - Written by Harry Mazer. A 14-year-old boy in a rowboat sees Japan attack Pearl Harbor. Appropriate for ages 10 to 14.

Historical Fiction Authors and Series

Ancient Times through the Middle Ages

  • Mary Renault - She has written several fiction novels set in ancient times that are appropriate for children, including Fire from Heaven (Alexander the Great). Appropriate for middle school age and up.
  • Adele Geras - This author has books both for children and young adults, including Cleopatra, Troy and Ithaka. Her books are suitable for ages 5 and up.
  • Lindsey Davis - Known for the Marcus Didius Falco series, which is set in ancient Rome. Suitable for ages 12 and up.

Native Americans, Pioneers and the Wild West

  • William R. Sanford - Sanford has written a number of books about pioneers and the wild west, including his Legendary Heroes of the Wild West series, which focuses on telling the story of people like Buffalo Bill Cody and Kit Carson.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder - Author of the Little House series of books, she wrote about the time she lived in and offers us a picture of what life was like in the 1800s for pioneers. Her books are appropriate for ages 9 and up.
  • G.A. Henty - Henty wrote historical adventure novels for students and while he focused on many different time periods, but several focus on the Victorian era. Best for ages 10 and up.

The American Revolution and Colonial America

  • Laurie Halse Anderson - Known for her children's and young adult novels, Laurie Halse Anderson is the author of Chains which is in the Seeds of America series and focuses on a young slave girl who wants her freedom. It gives a very atypical point of view of American colonial times. Appropriate for ages 10 to 14.
  • Dear America - Although the author of these books varies, this is a series worth mentioning. Each book focuses on a young lady from a specific time era in the form of a "diary". The two colonial book are Remember Patience Whipple (Plymouth, 1620) and Catharine Carey Logan (Pennsylvania, 1963). Appropriate for ages 9 and up.
  • Verla Kay - Kay writes books for young children on historical eras like Colonial America. Look for Hornbooks and Inkwells and Homespun Sarah. Intended for ages 5 to 9.

20th Century America

  • Histories Mysteries - Part of the American Girl brand, these fictional books look at a character from a specific time period. There are several set in the 20th Century, such as The Night Flyers, which is about spies and homing pigeons. Other books include Secrets on 26th Street about 1914 and women's suffragette and Under Copp's Hill about 1908 immigrants and their living conditions. Appropriate for ages 9 to 12.
  • Kathleen Kudlinkski - This author offers a series called Once Upon America that has several books set in the 20th Century. Check out Earthquake!: a Story of the San Francisco Earthquake (1906). For grades 3 to 6.
  • J.D. Salinger - Most famous for his book The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger was a 20th century writer. Even though it was published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye stays on many high school reading lists to this day.

World War II

  • Eve Bunting - This author has written over 100 books for children, including So Far from the Sea, which is about a family visiting the internment camp where the grandfather was relocated during WWII. Listed for ages 4 to 8.
  • Graham Salisbury - Salisbury writes young adult novels set during World War II Hawaii, including Under the Blood Red Sun, which is about the attack on Pearl Harbor. For ages 9 to 12.
  • Jo Walton - Walton's Small Change series is an interesting look at what the world would be like in an alternate reality during World War II. Appropriate for high school age.

Teaching the Past through Books

If you want young readers to remember why something happened or have a feeling for how the people thought during the time being studied, historical fiction communicates that in a way that neither teacher nor textbook can. Furthermore, studying a piece of historical fiction encourages students to synthesize the information that they are learning.

While this list of historical fiction for children is not comprehensive, it is a good start for following a trail through history using great children's literature.

Historical Fiction for Children