Summer vanished overnight.
My corner of the world has returned to its natural state – cold, gray drizzle.
It’s the perfect time to avoid the outside world, curl up with a mug of something warm, a plate of something fresh-baked, and a good book.
Last time, I wrote about the power historical fiction wields – the power to absorb even reluctant historians into an engaging story. In particular, I shared how I’d enjoyed reading Connie Willis’ historical sci-fi books Blackout and All Clear.
Excellent historical fiction is powerful for adults, but it might be even more powerful for young readers.
History cloaked in fiction provides something a list of facts can’t: a face. A character that kids/middle graders/young adults can relate to, empathize with, can guide them through places and times that they don’t have the background knowledge and experience to traverse alone.
I couldn’t choose just one book for this topic, oh no. One of the best things about the title ‘teacher’ is having a free pass to spend large amounts of time reading stories, because hey, it’s research!
The following are just a few of the stories I’ve come across and enjoyed.
DISCLAIMER: This list is not a recommendation to go out, buy these books, and have your child/grandchild/classroom read them, sight unseen.
My children won’t be seeing most of these for a long time yet.
After all, historical fiction deals with real people and real events. Some of these people are cruel. Some of these events are ugly. Stories can help provide teachable moments, valuable discussions, and relevant lessons, but I am a firm believer in saving books for when your child can handle them.
Books about World War 2 (Of Course 🙂 )
Lois Lowry’s Newbery winning Number the Stars details the courage of Anna Marie Johansen and her family as they struggle to protect their Jewish friends in Nazi-occupied Denmark.
There’s a reason this one ends up in classrooms. It’s a moving story, building suspense without delving too deeply into the horrors of the era.
Children in Norway help smuggle their country’s treasure out of Nazi hands in Marie McSwigan’s Snow Treasure.
I read this one in grade-school. I still recall loving the adventure, of the story and loving that children were the heroes of the piece.
Jerry Spinelli tells the story of a nameless boy without a family who finds and looses the people he loves in the Warsaw ghetto..
Milkweed is powerful and painful, and definitely one for older readers – honestly, I’d almost say that this is more an adult book (remembering the story to write this is making me tear up.) Still, it bears a mention on this list, as a remembrance of the terrible suffering during the days of the Holocaust.
An injury dashes Johnny Tremain’s dreams of becoming a silver-smith and launches him into the American Revolution.
Winner of the 1944 Newbery Medal, Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain is another story I remember from elementary school that I still enjoy as an adult. Johnny’s growth as a character – from being on top of his world, to loosing everything, to finding himself again in a cause that he believes in – makes this book stand out as a classic.
Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of Isabel, a slave who ought to have been freed, who searches for freedom for herself and her sister during the turmoil of the American Revolutionary War.
I bought Chains this summer just because I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket and it looked interesting. I’m so glad I did! Isabel’s story moved me to tears. (Ok, honestly? I was bawling like a baby halfway through.) Despite this, it’s not a story of despair. There’s sorrow and realism, but also hope.
Chains (and its sequels) looks at this period through the eyes of slaves. I appreciated the unique approach to the era, and the even-handedness of the author. I felt she told the story without vilifying any particular group, (which makes a refreshing change from so much of what’s going on these days!)
Billie Jo wrestles with terrible losses in her family during the Dust Bowl years.
It’s been a few years since I’ve picked up Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, the 1998 Newberry Winner, and I’m thinking I’ll have to reread it. It’s written as free-verse journal entries, and it’s a fast read, but full of depth. (If you haven’t explained childbirth to your kids yet, be prepared for questions. 😉 )
Minnie’s family takes in an orphaned relative from the Texas dust bowl, and tries to ‘make do’ for a Christmas during the Depression.
The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift is part of the “Dear America” series. The series employed different authors for its books, and I haven’t picked up others in the series, but if Katherine Lasky’s contribution is an indication of the quality, they may be worth looking into.
Daniel bar-Jamin hates the Romans and determines to help drive them out of Israel, until the teachings of the rabbi Jesus lead him to question whether his hatred will bring the healing he needs.
Set in Israel during the time of Christ, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Bronze Bow delves into the political and social struggles of the day (which fit in awfully well with all of the current world’s turmoil and hate) in an engaging and exciting way. Judging by the Amazon reviews, you don’t need to be a Christian to enjoy the story. As a Christian, I found the story a fascinating way to help me better visualize living in this era…and it’s a great read.
In The Magic Tree House books, Jack and Annie of Frog Creek Pennsylvania travel through time to complete quests, helped by the mythical figures of Camelot.
The Magic Tree House series includes a healthy dose of ‘fiction’ in its historical premise, as Morgan Le Fay and Merlin send Jack and Annie on quests for various magical do-dads. The series uses this fantastical premise to introduce all sorts of historical places, people and events in a very basic way. My seven and five-year-old love hearing these as read-alouds, and when Jack and Annie ended up in Normandy the day before D-Day, my daughter was excited that she was reading a World War 2 book, just like mommy.
Then, of course, there are the ones I’ve been meaning to read…
… and if you have others to suggest, I’d love to hear from you!
Happy reading, keep warm, and if you’re in a part of the world that is still enjoying sunshine, soak some up for me, won’t you?