Children’s historical fiction chapter books transport kids into the past through the relatable eyes of a story about other kids. Readers learn so much about history when immersed in a story than in a nonfiction textbook or memorizing maps and dates.
In this list, you’ll discover well-written chapter book favorites that kids can’t put down.
Each book takes place in a time in history — whether it’s World War II or ancient Egypt or the American Civil War or colonialism in India. As children are reading the story, they’ll learn about that historical period through the eyes of the main characters in the book.
Readers will learn about different countries and cultures, too including Russia, Lithuania, Pakistan, England, Syria, China, and others.
Through this historical lens, readers will also learn about themselves. As we know, books help us know others and ourselves. Which is an amazing and valuable thing, isn’t it?
First, find chapter books for beginning readers in first grade through third grade.
Then, you’ll find middle-grade chapter books for more advanced readers in upper elementary.
Finally, find even more books for middle school students and young adult books for teens in high school.
Ready to find your next favorite historical fiction book?
The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne (ages 6 – 9)
A MUST-READ series for all kids! These combine mystery, history, magic, and adventure as siblings Jack and Annie adventure through time.
Magic Tree House The Graphic Novel Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne, adapted by Jenny Laird, illustrated by Kelly & Nichole Matthews
Hands down, this is one of the best graphic adaptations of a novel that I’ve ever seen! The artwork by Kelly & Nichole Matthews makes the settings and characters come to life with nuances from which kids can infer. Plus, all the most important plot details are included. It is so EXCELLENT!! Even kids who have read the novels before will love rereading the books in graphic versions. In this first book, brother and sister Jack and Annie, find a magical treehouse filled with books. Jack begins a book on dinosaurs and wishes that he could travel to see them and zoom, they do! Annie befriends a flying dinosaur and they help save some baby dinosaurs.
I Survived by Lauren Tarshis (ages 7 – 10)
Excellent, fast-paced adventures set during significant historical events! Your kids will zip through these fascinating adventures. The books always are about a young boy trying to survive a historically important, life-changing event. GREAT for reluctant readers since these are easier to read than the other books on this list.
Charlotte Spies for Justice A Civil War Survival Story (Girls Survive) by Nikki Shannon Smith (ages 7 – 10)
Based on the true story of a courageous female spy in the South during the Civil War. Charlotte is a servant girl in Elizabeth Van Lew’s house, who becomes a spy for the Union. Readable, compelling, and interesting.
Secrets of the Manor: Claire’s Story, 1910 by Adele Whitby (ages 7 – 10)
A captivating story about an orphan girl who moves to France to live with friends of her family. She befriends a servant and they discover mysteries that must be answered — like what happened to the daughter of the manor and why did her parents send her to this family.
Ranger in Time #1: Rescue on the Oregon Trail by Kate Messner, illustrated by Kelley McMorris (ages 6 – 9)
Ranger, a golden retriever trained for search-and-rescue, travels back to the Oregon Trail to help a family in need. It’s a simple story that introduces the ups and downs of traveling on the Oregon Trail. The pacing is a bit slow but I’d still give it a chance.
John Lincoln Clem Civil War Drummer Boy: Based on a True Story by E.F. Abbott (ages 7 – 10)
Johnny leads home at age 9 to fight in the Civil War. He begins as a drummer boy and later fights. This is such an exciting, well-written story made even more interesting because it’s based on a real story. This is the only book I have read in the series thus far — and it was a great choice.
I Survived The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 (Graphic Novel) by Lauren Tarshis, Georgina Ball, illustrated by Haus Studio (ages 7 – 10)
Retold in a graphic novel format, this graphic novel version tells the story of a boy on the Titanic who is traveling with his mom and sister to reunite with his father in the United States. If you have a reader who prefers graphic novels, give this historical fiction book a try. Personally, although I love graphic novels usually, I prefer the narrative version because it hooked me into the action and tension of the story better.
Escape This Book Tombs of Egypt by Bill Doyle, illustrated by Sarah Sax & You (ages 7 -10)
Interactive, educational, and fun! This book is an enticing doodle, activity, first-person choose-your-own-adventure book that will make you an expert on ancient Egypt.
Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Park writes a wonderfully touching multilayered story about a young half-Asian girl’s life during western expansion, frontier times. After Hana’s mother dies, her father moves the two of them to a small midwestern town. Park sets the scene with care and you’ll see a realistic portrayal of life in the 1880s from the point of view from someone who is experiencing racism. Despite many unfair things, Hana stays resilient and determined to graduate from school and help her father in his shop.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Ada and her brother escape their mother’s abuse when the London children are evacuated during WWII and go to live with a grieving woman in a small country town. It’s difficult for both the woman and children to trust but slowly the trust grows and all three regain something lost – hope and love. “I slipped my hand into hers. A strange and unfamiliar feeling rand through me. It felt like the ocean, like sunlight, like horses. Like love. I searched my mind and found the name for it. Joy.” I can’t recommend this book enough, it just touched my heart at such a deep level.
The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Following the first book, The War That Saved My Life, this captivating story continues during the War. Ada and her brother live with their new guardian, Susan. After Susan’s home is bombed, they move to a small cottage that they share with Lady Thorton and a German Jewish girl named Ruth. It’s not an ideal situation. Partly because Lady Thorton doesn’t understand how to help around the house and she’s prejudiced against Ruth. But we realize that in hard times, complicated people do the best they can. It’s a bittersweet and profoundly moving story of loss and healing.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Forced to flee a dangerous situation in Mexico, Esperanza and her mother arrive in California and start working as migrant farm workers. The back-breaking work is only part of their new, challenging life. In this beautifully written, soulful novel, Esperanza learns to thrive no matter what her circumstances.
Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras
Set in medieval Scotland, this is an action-packed adventure of a strong female protagonist, medieval and mythical elements, plus an exciting plot. When Drest’s war-band family is kidnapped by knights she sets off in pursuit, taking a wounded soldier hostage. Throughout their travels, the two develop a complicated friendship and Drest learns many uncomfortable truths about her family. First of all, I love when a girl rescues boys from death! You won’t be able to put this excellent story down — I highly recommend it and the sequel, The Hunt for Mad Wolf’s Daughter.
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem which illuminates the horrifying lives of chimney sweep kids as well as the world’s anti-semitism. Nan works for a cruel chimney sweep. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem, formerly a piece of charcoal left to her by her adopted father Sweep, comes to life to save her. She and her growing protector golem, Char, find a new place to live but must stay vigilant so her old master doesn’t find them. On their own, they are helped by a street boy and a kind Jewish teacher. It’s an irresistible story that will expand your heart…and your definition of what makes a monster.
Allies by Alan Gratz
Written from many different voices about one day in history, readers easily can see the massive amount of cooperation, planning. and troops from different countries involved in D-Day (when the Allies invaded France at Normandy.) We hear from an American teenager soldier who was born in Germany, a French Algerian girl whose mom is a recently captured spy, a Canadian paratrooper who lands in the wrong spot, and an American black medic. It’s violent and disheartening yet despite terrible losses, racism, and injuries, the fighters persist despite everything to accomplish their goal — to take back the area for the Allies. What an incredible retelling of this day, appropriate for middle-grade readers.
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
An absolutely wonderful, heartwarming historical fiction story with close-knit siblings who stick together and eventually find their forever home. (If you like the Vanderbeekers, you’ll love this book, too!) Three siblings join the groups of children leaving London during WWII for safety. But in their case, their neglectful grandmother has recently died and they need to find a new home. Unfortunately, their placements are horrid. It’s only the library and the kind librarian who help them survive the bullying and hunger. What’s worse, the librarian is deemed “unsuitable” to be their foster mother since her missing husband is German. However, when things go from bad to worse and their latest home, the children demand to live with the librarian no matter what.
Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant
If you want a new favorite warm-hearted adventure with brave kids, dogs, and a happy ending, you don’t want to miss this captivating and beautiful story. The war has made Ben an orphan –again. All that he has left are his dog and his dad’s boat, the Sparrowhawk. When a policeman gets suspicious of Ben’s living situation and his new friend, Lotti’s abusive guardians try to kill her rescue dog, the two friends set off on the boat for France to find Ben’s missing older brother. The boat isn’t meant for a channel crossing but the two kids are determined to make it work…but it won’t be easy. Nor will it be easy to find Ben’s missing brother in a country decimated by war.
Loyalty by Avi
Noah’s loyalist dad is killed from being tarred and feathered so his mom takes the family to an uncle’s house in Boston. There, to be loyal to his dad’s beliefs in the Crown, he becomes a spy at a tavern run by a free Black man named Jolla. Jolla opens Noah’s eyes to the hypocrisy of the Sons of Liberty who want freedom for themselves but not for slaves and the British Loyalists who own slaves and forcibly use slaves as soldiers. Noah realizes he needs to think for himself about to whom he is loyal — but it’s not an easy choice. Avi does an incredible job showing Noah’s inner turmoil and sharing the historical setting and events, this would be a great book club book!
When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler
Three friends from Vienna, Leo, Max, and Elsa are separated by war, location, and ideology. Leo and Elsa are Jewish so their path includes ghetto housing, escape for one of them, and a prison camp for the other. But, Max is not Jewish and his main goal is to get the approval of his brutal Nazi father. To do so, he gladly pursues Nazi beliefs and actions, despite the nagging voice that reminds him that his friends weren’t “dogs” or less than human. The story’s conclusion weaves together their stories in a heartbreaking, beautiful ending that will leave you with a lot to discuss about humanity, morality, hope, and love.
Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell
Indian No More is an emotional, important story about when the U.S. government arbitrarily made certain Native American tribes no longer tribes without reservations or legal rights. It also shows the historical landscape of prejudice and stereotypes towards people of color. I love the close-knit, loving family based on the author’s own life, a family who values each other and their survival. This book is a must-read and must-own for all schools and libraries and would make an excellent book club selection. Also on OwnVoices Historical Fiction Chapter Books.
We Are Wolves by Katrina Nanestad
Not too many books tell about World War II from the German side but this story follows a little girl and her family in East Prussia after Hitler loses the war and the Russians take over, pillaging as they go. It’s about the grays of war, the impossible choices you must make to survive, and how love wins. When Liesl and her siblings are separated from their mother, they survive by stealing and foraging, sometimes in the woods and sometimes in a borrowed home–until the Russians find it. Their story is harrowing and thought-provoking and ultimately, warm-hearted.
Brothers Keeper by Julie Lee
A powerful read that captures the fearful culture of North Korea, the marginalization of females, and the bond between siblings. As war erupts with South Korea, Sora and her family decide to flee from North Korea while they might still have a chance. Sora and her little brother are separated from their family yet continue on to the south. They experience death, kidnapping, starvation, killings, and winter’s brutal cold, all the while the Red Army marches right behind them, and her brother, Youngsoo gets sicker and sicker. Amazingly, the two make it to the south where they’re reunited with the rest of their family but it’s a bittersweet ending.
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
This mesmerizing historical fiction story takes place in the community of Chilmark with a high percentage of deaf individuals. Mary’s a smart girl who speaks sign language. She struggles with her friend Nancy’s prejudice against the “Indians” and notices the injustice of how the Native Americans are treated. Then, a researcher arrives with preconceived notations of the “infirmity” of deaf people and he kidnaps Mary as a live specimen. For months she’s imprisoned and forced to work, then locked in a room and studied. Eventually, she escapes and is reunited with her family. This is an eye-opening, must-read story about the historical treatment and prejudice towards the deaf and, echoing that, the Wampanoag.
Pony by R.J. Palacio
Pony is a deeply moving story set in western frontier times about a boy who, with a remarkable pony and ghostly best friend, sets off from home in pursuit of his kidnapped father. After a group of counterfeiting bandits kidnaps Silas’s dad, a mysterious Arabian horse arrives at Silas’s house; he sees this as a sign and leaves his home on “Pony” to find his father. In the haunted woods, Silas meets a U.S. marshall who is also tracking the group and who abrasively teaches Silas how to survive. Ultimately, Pony is a story of courage, love, and the ties that bind us together, even after death.
Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas
Cumba is a 12-years-old boy who escapes Fidel Castro-controlled Cuba for Miami. There, he’s overwhelmed by the language, and noise of the big city, and misses his family. He and his little brother write frequently which is how he learns that both his parents have been detained by Castro’s soldiers. As he makes friends and learns about this new country and freedom, he never stops thinking of his family and hoping that they’ll be reunited one day…
Ophie’s Ghost by Justina Ireland
Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs
Set in historical Mexico, 1913, Petra Luna, her abuela, her little sister, and her baby brother flee their home when Federales burn the village. Petra’s Abuelita calls reading and writing barefoot dreams, meaning they’re not meant to go far but when they’re helped by a female rebel captain, Petra reaffirms that she can be more than her Abuelita thinks — that she can keep her promise to save her family and realize her barefoot dreams, too. Their trials culminate in a harrowing and life-threatening experience as they wait with throngs of other people trying to cross the bridge into the United States before the Federales arrive on the Mexican side. Exciting, interesting, and inspiring.
Traitors Among Us by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
It’s a little-known history that after WWII, Russians kidnapped Ukrainian refugees for slave labor or death. In this true story, sisters Maria and Krystia are kidnapped by the Russians when another girl falsely accuses them of being Hitler Girls, girls who collaborated with the Nazis. The girls, including their accusor, are taken to a house in the Russian zone for Interrogation where they fight to survive and with the help of others, to escape. This well-written history shows the power of human kindness.
Refugee by Alan Gratz
Follow three distinct, alternating stories to experience being displaced from your country, on the run, and in danger. First is a young Jewish boy who escapes from Nazi Germany on a ship to Cuba, only to be turned away from the Cuban port and sent back to Europe. Next is a Cuban girl in the 1990s who, with her family and neighbors, flees in a homemade raft to the United States at great peril. Finally is a Syrian boy whose home is bombed in a country at war. He and his family travel a great distance to find a country that will allow them shelter. Gatz skillfully connects all three stories with a satisfying, realistic conclusion.
Ground Zero by Alan Gratz
Disturbing. This first-person story is about a boy named Brandon whose dad took him to work in the Twin Towers on 9/11 and recounts his confusion, fear, and horror during the terrorist event. Sensitive readers, be aware that this book does include real events like the wall of fire and the people jumping off the building, and the death of Brandon’s dad. But, it also shows a complete stranger taking responsibility and care of Brandon, ultimately getting him to safety. Simultaneously, we read a first-person story about a girl in Afghanistan who helps an American soldier against the Taliban’s wishes.
Ahisma by Supriya Kelkar
Anjali’s parents join the freedom movement against the British government. Through her parents, Anjali begins to see her world differently including the poverty-stricken caste of many people call “the Untouchables”. Other Indian families do not like the changes her family is making. Then, Anjali’s mom is thrown in jail! I couldn’t put this book down.
Strong as Fire, Fierce As Flame by Supriya Kelkar
Don’t miss this powerful story set in colonial India about a girl finding her voice and inner strength. Meera’s dad holds fast to his beliefs that if her husband dies, so she must also die. She’s only twelve and still lives at home but just as she’s about to live with her husband (who she married as a child), her husband dies! Now her father expects Meera to join her husband’s funeral pyre. She doesn’t go. Her aunt gives her the courage to flee. But as she’s escaping, she’s captured by a British captain and assigned to work in his kitchen where she witnesses firsthand the institutional racism and cruelty to her people. Initially, Meera is afraid but she learns that she can not look the other way and fights back by helping the resistance.
The Star that Always Stays by Anna Rose Johnson
This is a rich coming-of-age historical fiction story set around the first World War about an introspective girl dealing with racism, prejudice, and knowing herself. Norvia wants to be a heroine like in the books her stepfather, Uncle Virgil, gives her. But it’s a struggle when she’s experiencing other people’s disdain for her family because of her divorced mother and when she’s hiding that she’s half Ojibwe. Her Uncle Virgil helps Norvia see that changes always happen and she can decide how to respond to those changes. The characters hold Christian beliefs and share Bible verses to encourage each other. Her blended, loving family helps Norvia embrace her full self and live honestly with courage as a Native girl with big dreams.
Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk
When Ellie’s family loses everything in the Great Depression, they move to a Maine mountain. She loves the mountain and their new hard-scrabble life but a terrible accident leaves her father in a coma and it’s harder than ever. She takes the blame for the accident, works hard to find food, and tries to get along with her mother and siblings. A mangy dog leads her to the “hag”, an older woman who is very ill. She helps the woman’s grandson with remedies which gives her ideas to help her father.
The Player King by Avi
It’s England in the 1400s with a usurper king on the throne, King Henry VII. When a friar spots kitchen boy Lambert Simnel, he tells him that Lambert is really the next in line to the throne, that he is the missing Prince Edward. So begins Lambert’s journey from poor pauper to heir-in-hiding. Based on true events, Avi skillfully weaves a believable story of this little-known historical event. Fascinating.
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. Reading this account made me want to know more about the rest of her life! Excellent!!!
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, 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 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.
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, 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 story recounts the Korean War from the perspectives of Junie’s grandparents as children. In the present day, 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. Moving, important, and beautiful. *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 parents’ 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 Hartnett
Tissue 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), the characters are so well-developed you feel as if you know them, and the plot is a grand adventure! The author imagines a friendship between Ada Byron, 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 that follows an orphaned girl’s 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. I actually wish they had included a map so I could picture it in my head and maybe take my own kids. 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 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.
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, her own style of writing, and masterfully brings the two together in a story that makes the history of the 1950s in Mississippi come to life through her compelling characters. 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 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.
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 to learn about this not-so-distant past event.
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 read 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 book!
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 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 the dichotomy of a childhood that is both happy and sad with local events that are both fair and unfair. (Mostly unfair.) Ella lives with her grandparents but she’s always wanted to be with her singer-mom in Chicago. She gets to for a short time but is sent back when her mom gets a singing job in New York. Even though it’s not always the perfect happy 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 combine to make this a great read.
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 makes me so eager to read the first book — it’s really a fascinating story with its absolutely excellent character development and an intriguing plot. Wild Boy is literally covered in fur — yes, literally. He now lives with the Gentlemen who rescued he and his best friend, Clarissa, from the circus and the crazed Londoners who believed him to be a dangerous murderer. The Queen of England ask Wild Boy to solve the mystery of a most frightening terror that scares people to death — again, seemingly literally. Is is a 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 the 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. I didn’t finish this book because the pacing was very sluggish but found the historical information very interesting.
The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw (ages 11+)
In this beautifully written, eye-opening 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 subsequently all Japanese people, forcing 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. Honestly, there are so many important details about what was happening politically as well as what daily life was like but too many to share in this review. When World War II ended, leaving the camps isn’t an easy, happy ending for any of the detained families.
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. Lee (ages 13+)
Finally, 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.