99+ Outstanding Historical Fiction Books for Kids

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Looking for the best historical fiction books for kids? Children’s historical fiction books transport kids into the past through the relatable eyes of a story about other kids. Readers learn so much more about history when immersed in a story than in a nonfiction textbook or memorizing maps and dates. And, you can use these books to teach literacy skills — reading and writing — like I used to do with my 5th grade students. This multidisciplinary approach brings so much added value to children.

In this list, you’ll discover all my personal recommendations and original reviews of well-written historical fiction chapter books and middle grade book favorites that kids can’t put down. Yes, I’ve read them all. And yes, I only share books that are kid-appropriate with excellent writing.

historical fiction

What is the definition of historical fiction?

A historical fiction book is defined as a book that takes place in a real-time period and location in history — whether it’s World War II, Ancient Egypt, the American Civil War, or colonial India. The setting is the actual true story history but the story and its characters, their actions, and their dialogue are fictionalized, even if they’re based on real people.

Help children understand the historical concepts of history by explaining that history occurs in the past. Yesterday and 100 years ago are both history.

Top 10 Historical Fiction Books for Kids

Why should children read historical fiction?

When children read historical fiction books, they learn about that historical period through the eyes of the main characters in the book. Reading a story about a place and time from the past is easier to remember than reading a nonfiction book. Why? Because stories stick in our brains!

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?

What is a good historical fiction book?

First, you want to read historically accurate books that aren’t told with a slant. Although, all stories are slanted to some degree, of course. You don’t want to read a book that erases a perspective or truth of one group of people.

Beginning readers start with historical fiction chapter books. These young readers, in first grade through third grade, will discover important history through books like Magic Tree House and the I Survived series.

Kids who are ages 9 to 12 will be reading middle-grade chapter books for more advanced and complex plots and character arcs. These readers in upper elementary and middle school can handle a bit more emotional arc with sadder stories, sometimes violence, (I’ll indicate those), stories with impact and meaning.

Finally, older readers, teenagers in high school, will want to read historical fiction for young adults, YA books.

Let’s dive in to the list of good historical fiction books for kids…

Best Historical Fiction Books by Event

Best Historical Fiction Books

Best Historical Fiction Chapter Books

magic tree house

The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne (ages 6 – 9)
series
A MUST-READ beginning chapter historical fiction book 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 (ages 6 – 9) GRAPHIC NOVEL
series
Rereading these bestsellers in graphic novel versions. After Jack and Annie find a magical treehouse filled with books, Jack begins a book on dinosaurs and they travel back in time to help a baby dinosaur.

I survived -- Historical Fiction Books for Kids

I Survived by Lauren Tarshis (ages 7 – 10)
series
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)
series
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.

Ranger in Time #1: Rescue on the Oregon Trail by Kate Messner, illustrated by Kelley McMorris  (ages 6 – 9)
series
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.

I Survived The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 (Graphic Novel) by Lauren Tarshis, Georgina Ball, illustrated by Haus Studio (ages 7 – 10)
series
Retold in a graphic novel format, this 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. Although I love graphic novels, I preferred the prose version.

The Sheep, the Rooster, and the Duck by Matt Phelan
In this illustrated historical adventure, Benjamin Franklin’s young assistant Emile teams up with a sheep, a rooster, a duck, and a girl his age to thwart a dastardly villain and a sinister secret society who want to use one of Franklin’s inventions for nefarious purposes.

John Lincoln Clem Civil War Drummer Boy: Based on a True Story by E.F. Abbott (ages 7 – 10)
series
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.

Secrets of the Manor:  Claire’s Story, 1910 by Adele Whitby  (ages 7 – 10)
series
This is a captivating story about an orphan girl who moves to France to live with family friends. 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.

Secret Spy Society The Case of the Missing Cheetah by Veronica Mang
series
Three friends find out that their teacher is a spy…and when she catches them watching her, they meet her spy friends. The female spies, all historically famous from different time periods, ask the friends to help them spy on a neighbor because they think that he kidnapped Josephine Baker’s pet cheetah. Not only do the girls spy on him, but they sneak into his house, find the cheetah, and get caught. Luckily, the Lady Spies come to the rescue! Afterward, the girls decide to emulate their new spy friends and make a spy club of their own.

Lily and the Great Quake: A San Francisco Earthquake Survival Story by Veeda Bybee (ages 6 – 9)
series
In the early 1900s in San Francisco, California, if you were of Chinese descent, it was illegal to live anywhere else except for Chinatown. When a huge earthquake hits California, its destruction caused fires to burn Chinatown to the ground. The earthquake’s destruction forces young Lily and her family to leave Chinatown for Oakland amidst the chaos. Throughout her story of life in Chinatown and evacuating during the fires, we see the prejudice she faces due to her looks and culture. 

Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann (ages 6 – 9)
From his beginnings as a maltreated German police dog (sensitive reader alert!) to subsequent adoption and new life as a beloved movie star, this suspenseful story is filled with both love and hope along with false accusations and jail time. Readers will zip through this heart-warming story and dog lovers will be extra impressed with this German Shepard’s incredible true story. Fantastic black-and-white illustrations throughout.

Best Middle-Grade Historical Fiction Books

BEST historical fiction books


Prairie Lotus
by Linda Sue Park (ages 9 – 12)
Park writes a wonderfully touching multilayered story about a young half-Asian girl’s life during western expansion, and 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.

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley  (ages 9 – 12)
series
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. This historical fiction middle grade book touched my heart at such a deep level!

historical fiction chapter book list for elementary and middle school kids
The War I Finally Won
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley   (ages 9 – 12)
This captivating story continues Ada and her brother’ live’s life 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 ideal because of Lady Thorton’s prejudice. But we realize that in hard times, complicated people do the best they can.


Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan  (ages 9 – 12)
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 historical novel, Esperanza learns to thrive no matter what her circumstances.

historical fiction chapter books for middle school
Mad Wolf’s Daughter
by Diane Magras  (ages 9 – 12)
series
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.

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Sweep by Jonathan Auxier  (ages 9 – 12)
Set in Victorian London, this is a beautiful, bittersweet story about a plucky girl and her protector golem. When another sweep tries to burn Nan alive, a charcoal golem appears 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  (ages 9 – 12)
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 teenage 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.


A Place to Hang the Moon
by Kate Albus  (ages 9 – 12)
An absolutely wonderful, heartwarming historical fiction story with close-knit siblings who stick together and eventually find their forever home. Three siblings join the groups of children leaving London during WWII because 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. But, 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.

Across So Many Seas written by Ruth Behar (ages 9 – 12)
I love this profoundly moving, gorgeous generational story that begins with a 12-year-old girl’s Sephardic Jewish family forcibly leaving Spain. It continues with another generation in Turkey, where this 12-year-old girl is disowned and sent to Cuba for an arranged marriage. When the next generation of 12-year-old girls faces Fidel’s revolutionary violence, the daughter is sent to the United States for safety. The thread uniting this family is one of faith, music, Ladino language, and love. Do not miss this gem!

Max in the House of Spies: A Tale of World War II written by Adam Gitwitz (ages 9 – 12)
Max is a super-smart Jewish boy living in Germany during World War II. He loves his family and tinkering with radios. Then, his parents send Max to safety on the Kindertransport. He’s joined by two personality-filled (grumpy) mythical creatures, a dybbuk and a kobold, living on his shoulders. Once in England, Max’s sole focus is returning to Germany to help his parents. His clever tactics impress the British spies, and the government agrees to recruit Max if he can pass their rigorous spy training.

historical fiction

Sky Full of Song by Susan Lynn Meyer  (ages 9 – 12)
Shoshana, her mom, and her siblings flee Jewish persecution in Ukraine in 1905 for North Dakota to a mud house on the plains with her father and brother. But being Jewish isn’t always accepted, even in this new country. And Shoshana wants to fit in so much that she agrees to participate in the Christmas activities. Ultimately, Shoshana learns (with a little help from her sister Libke) to be proud of being Jewish, even when others don’t accept her. Stunning writing with a loveable main character, make this a middle grade book that you won’t want to miss.


Voyage of the Sparrowhawk
by Natasha Farrant  (ages 9 – 12)
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.


We Were the Fire: Birmingham 1963
by Shelia P. Moses (ages 9 – 12)
An important, powerful middle grade historical fiction book for kids about civil rights, family, and agency set in segregated Birmingham in 1963. After Rufus’s mom gets remarried, his family moves from their Bully Hill shack into a bigger house in a white neighborhood–and it’s a problem for some of the white folks. Rufus watches it all– the way people are treated –and stands up for what he believes is right in the Children’s Crusade.


Loyalty
by Avi  (ages 9 – 12)
Noah’s loyalist dad is killed after being tarred and feathered. After his mom moves them to Boston, Noah 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. This would be a great historical fiction book club book!


When the World Was Ours
by Liz Kessler (ages 9 – 12)
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. It’s a heartbreaking, beautiful story about humanity, morality, hope, and love.

Diverse Historical Fiction Chapter Books Written by #OwnVoices
Indian No More
by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell  (ages 9 – 12)
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 toward 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 historical fiction book for kids is a must-read and must-own for all schools and libraries and would make an excellent book club selection.


The Bluest Sky
by Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Hector lives in Cuba with his mom and older brother in a communist-controlled state that imprisoned his now-exiled dad. He doesn’t understand why his mom would want to leave Cuba for the U.S. — and doesn’t see the lack of freedoms at first until their neighbors turn on them, and something unthinkable happens. They flee Cuba but the journey is fraught with complications and dangers.


We Are Wolves
by Katrina Nanestad (ages 9 – 12)
This historical fiction book 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 arrive. Their story is harrowing and thought-provoking and ultimately, warm-hearted. 


Brothers Keeper by Julie Lee  (ages 9 – 12)
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. A bittersweet ending.


Show Me a Sign
by Ann Clare LeZotte (ages 9 – 12)
series
This mesmerizing middle-grade historical fiction story is set in the community of Chilmark with a high percentage of deaf individuals. Mary’s a smart girl who speaks sign language and struggles with her friend Nancy’s prejudice against the “Indians”. Then, a researcher kidnaps Mary as a live specimen. For months she’s imprisoned and forced to work, 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.

Operation Happy: A World War II Story of Courage, Resilience, and an Unbreakable Bond written by Jenni L. Walsh (ages 8 – 12)
Jody’s marine dad moves their family to Hawaii in 1940 to a small island naval base along with Jody’s beloved former military dog named Happy. Jody’s mom is always worried and terrified about something bad happening. When the worst happens, and Pearl Harbor is bombed, Jody, her sister, and her mom are evacuated to San Francisco. There, Jody’s mom stays in bed and is uncommunicative so it’s up to Jody and her sister to take care of themselves. But it’s too much, especially after Happy saves Jody from an attack. The loving relationship with Happy fills this story with sweetness despite the hardships they face. I think it should have included backmatter to address the mention of the Japanese American internment camps, among other topics. Otherwise, I thought it was a good historical fiction book that would appeal to lower grades and sensitive readers.

Code Name Kingfisher written by Liz Kessler
HISTORICAL FICTION WWII
Written from four points of view, this middle grade historical fiction novel is moving, well-written, and fascinating. In the present day, Liv gets a school assignment to research her family history, but her Bubbe, who is in a nursing home, won’t talk about her past. When Liv and her classmate clean out Bubbe’s attic, they discover pieces of Bubbe’s secret past. In the past, Bubbe aka. Mila is a Jewish girl in Holland sent with her sister to live with a Christian family for safety. We also read diary entries from Mila’s sister, a resistance fighter who takes dangerous risks to save other Jewish children. Learning about her heritage and how her Bubbe and her sister stood up to the Nazi bullies, gives Liv the courage to do the same in the present day. Incredible.

The Kid written by Jeff Schill
WESTERN
There aren’t too many “western” stories in middle grade, but this one is everything a western should be–gunslingers, outlaws, farming, and city slickers plus action, and adventure. When Henry’s father dies, he doesn’t want to lose the family farm or get separated from his three younger brothers, so he invents a character called The Kid. He sells “The Kid” stories in order to keep people away from Destiny, Colorado, and is shocked to learn the stories also make him money, money that will save his farm. Not only do people think The Kid is real, an outlaw called Snake Eye Sam escapes from prison so he can kill the Kid. The book culminates with a showdown, and it’s a story that will save them all. Bravo!


Pony
by R.J. Palacio  (ages 9 – 12)
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. 

Light and Air written by Mindy Nichols Wendell
11-year-old Hallie is devastated when her mom goes to a tuberculosis hospital. She tries to be brave, but she’s lonely, sad, and hurt because her Dad acts indifferent and cold towards her. Soon, Hallie gets sick, too, and arrives at the tuberculosis hospital with pneumonia. She’s separated from her mom and only allowed with other kids who have the TB virus, active or inactive like her. Hallie feels very worried about her mom, who is not getting better, and remembers that her mom believed in honey water, so she asks for help getting honey sent to her mom. This is a sweet, lovingly written historical story with a great redemption arc!

The Luminous Life of Lucy Landry written by Anna Rose Johnson
Orphaned for the third time after her guardian dies, Lucy is taken in by a family of six living in a lighthouse on a small island. The father is on probation with regular surprise inspections about how spotless the lighthouse is– no easy feat with kids or with Lucy, whose carelessness and daydreaming are disastrous, making many of her new siblings act resentful and hostile toward her. Lucy is focused on finding a ruby necklace from a shipwreck story her dad told her. When she does find it, she puts her new family’s home in peril. She must decide if she truly believes in finders keepers. Under 200 pages, this beautifully written historical fiction story is a wonderful glimpse into the life of lighthouse keepers, a family trying to keep their Ojibwe heritage alive by learning more Anishinaabe words and a faith-filled life that includes prayer and scripture.


Cuba in My Pocket
by Adrianna Cuevas  (ages 9 – 12)
Cumba is a 12-year-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…

Traitors Among Us by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (ages 9 – 12)
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.

Night Raven: The Moonwind Mysteries written by Johan Rundberg, translated by A.A. Prime (ages 9 – 12)
An excellent, page-turning mystery set in 1880s Sweden about an orphan girl named Mika whose survival skills include an eye for detail, connections, and deductions! After an abandoned baby is dropped into her arms in the middle of the night, a police detective recruits her to assist him in identifying a dead body and then investigating a prison cell — all in pursuit of a copycat serial killer. But Mika realizes it’s not a copycat. In a dangerous game of cat and mouse, she and the detective need to avoid the corrupt prison officials and the serial killer. This observant heroine is my favorite kind — resourceful, aspirational, and interesting. I can’t wait for more books in the series. (Sensitive readers: Includes the word cr*p.)

How To Find What You’re Not Looking For by Veera Hiranandani (ages 9 – 12)
Written in the second person, this story puts you squarely in the center of a historical fiction book about a Jewish girl named Ariel whose older sister falls in love and runs away to marry a Hindu boy after the Loving vs. Virginia verdict. Ariel misses her sister terribly but her parents refuse to talk about her sister or let Ariel have her sister’s contact information. Meanwhile, Ariel’s teacher thinks she has a learning disability called dysgraphia only Ariel’s mom refuses to listen to the teacher, triggered by her own experiences of a special ed class. Even though Ariel struggles with writing, her teacher encourages her to write poetry which helps her express her feelings. Inspired by the author’s own family history, the authenticity of the story shines through every moment.

Ophie’s Ghost by Justina Ireland  (ages 9 – 12)
A page-turning historical fiction  ghost mystery about racism, justice, bravery, and friendship. When her father Is murdered by white men in Georgia in 1922, his ghost appears to Ophelia warning she and her mom to escape. After that, Ophie sees ghosts everywhere, even in their new home of Pittsburg. When she’s forced to drop out of school to work, she works for the same rich family as her mom. At her new job, she meets a beautiful, charming ghost named Clara who was murdered but can’t remember it. Ophie wants to discover the truth and help her new friend. But ghosts don’t have good intentions and will do anything, including possessing someone, to get their revenge. Ophie needs to be careful…

 

good historical fiction chapter books
Refugee
by Alan Gratz  (ages 9 – 12)
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  (ages 9 – 12)
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 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.

historical fiction chapter books for kids
Ahisma
by Supriya Kelkar  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

The Girl Who Sang: A Holocaust Memoir of Hope and Survival written by Estelle Nadel, Sammy Savos, and Bethany Strout, art by Sammy Strout
In this true story of the Holocaust, Enia lived a carefree life of family and singing in Poland. But everything changed when she was seven years old, and the Nazis came. The Nazis took her father, who was never seen again and the rest of her family fled into hiding. Kind neighbors hid Enia’s family in an attic, but soon, it was only Enia and her brother in hiding for several years. Despite deaths, betrayal, and years of hiding, Enia’s survival instincts carried her through. This is a beautifully crafted historical fiction graphic biography for ages 10+. It’s an emotional journey of survival, love, and hope in the most harrowing times. I highly recommend this graphic novel, now more than ever.

The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree by Lucille Abendadon
Set in the Dutch East Indies during World War II, this is a stunning based-on-a-true story about friendship, survival, grief, prejudice, and equity. Emmy’s best friend is Bakti, a Javenese boy whose mom cooks for Emmy and her dad. She’s shocked to learn Bakti’s angry because he can’t go to school and his support for the Japenese invasion. When the Japanese invade, they separate Emmy from her dad, and she’s sent to a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp for several years. As she survives the camp’s death and starvation and befriends her former enemy, she learns what’s important. It’s a moving story with an interesting history that I couldn’t put down!


Strong as Fire, Fierce As Flame
by Supriya Kelkar  (ages 9 – 12)
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 belief 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 (ages 9 – 12)
This is a rich coming-of-age historical fiction book for kids set around the first World War. 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. She’s also 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 (ages 9 – 12)
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 (ages 9 – 12)
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.

Uprising written by Jennifer A. Nielsen
You’ll be enthralled with this Polish WWII historical fiction novel about a real person, a young Polish girl named Lidia who took a stand against the invading Nazis by joining the Resistance. Lidia sees the injustices and refuses to stay safe by doing nothing. She feels that she must fight in any way she can so she works as a messenger. It’s amazing how many close calls she had! I recommend this thought-provoking novel for book clubs!

Betty Before X by Ilyasha Shabazz and Renee Watson  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

historical fiction chapter books for kids
Dactyl Hill Squad
by Daniel Jose Older  (ages 9 – 12)
series
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  (ages 9 – 12) GRAPHIC NOVEL
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.)

historical fiction books for kids
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani  (ages 9 – 12)
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. 

Once In a Blue Moon by Sharon G. Flake (ages 9 – 12)
James Henry hasn’t left the house in months. His twin sister Hattie encourages him to start small so they can be ready for the upcoming blue moon and a visit to the Lighthouse. When James Henry eventually ventures outside, they begin their long journey to the lighthouse. But their trip is fraught with dangers, including mean neighbor kids and racist men. Surprisingly, the perils draw James Henry farther and farther out of his shell, especially when his sister needs him, and we learn what happened that traumatized him. This lovingly written verse novel set in the historical South is a masterpiece of forgiveness, healing, and family bonds. I loved everything about it!

 


Yusef Azeem Is Not a Hero
by Saadia Faruqi  (ages 9 – 12)
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…

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and A Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson (ages 9 – 12)
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  (ages 9 – 12)
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 (ages 9 – 12)
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!

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Running Out of Night by Sharon Lovejoy (ages 9 – 12)
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. 

historical fiction book list for elementary and middle school children
The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts
by Avi (ages 9 – 12)
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 (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

history books for kids
Escape from Aleppo
by N.H. Senzai  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

good historical fiction chapter books
Anne of Green Gables (A Graphic Novel)
adapted by Mariah Marsden, illustrated by Brenna Thummler (ages 8 – 12) GRAPHIC NOVEL
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 (ages 9 – 12)
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 (ages 9 – 12)
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 historical fiction books for kids
Paper Wishes
by Lois Sepahban  (ages 9 – 12)
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  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

historical fiction book list for kids
ChainsForge, 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 AGES 10+
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 (ages 9 – 12)
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  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

good historical fiction chapter books
It All Comes Down to This
by Karen English (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

historical fiction
Lifeboat 12
by Susan Hood  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Lost Kingdom by Matthew J. Kirby (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Midnight Zoo
by Sonya Hartnett (ages 9 – 12)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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Girl in the Torch
by Robert Sharenow  (ages 9 – 12)
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!

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III, illustrated by James Mark  Yellowhawk (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Echo
 
by Pam Munoz Ryan  (ages 9 – 12)
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. 

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Watcher by Joan Hiatt Harlow  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

historical fiction books for kids
The Watson’s Go to Birmingham
by Christopher Paul Curtis (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

historical fiction books for kids
One Crazy Summer
by Rita Williams-Garcia  (ages 9 – 12)
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 (ages 9 – 12)
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  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

best historical fiction chapter books for kids
Midnight Without a Moon
by Linda Williams Jackson (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Dagger Quick
by Brian Eames  (ages 9 – 12)
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 historical fiction for kids
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Quilt
Walk by Sandra Dallas (ages 9 – 12)
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. 

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
A Night Divided
by Jennifer A. Nielsen  (ages 9 – 12)
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!

 

historical fiction for kids
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog
by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Midnight Tunnel: A Suzanna Snow Mystery
by Angie Frazier (ages 9 – 12)
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 Historical Fiction Middle Grade Chapter Book Reviews and Recommendations
Some Kind of Courage
by Dan Gemeinhart (ages 9 – 12)
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. 

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Gladiator School Book 1 Blood Oath
by Dan Scott (ages 9 – 12)
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. 

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Gone Crazy in Alabama
 
by Rita Williams Garcia  (ages 9 – 12)
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. 

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
The Detective’s Assistant
 
by Kate Hannigan (ages 9 – 12)
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  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Best New Middle Grade Books to Read, January 2018
Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein
by Jennifer Roy with Ali Fadhil (ages 9 – 12)
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 (ages 9 – 12)
This historical fiction 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.

 

historical fiction books for kids
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson  (ages 9 – 12)
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  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

historical fiction books for kids
Glory Be
by Augusta Scattergood  (ages 9 – 12)
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”.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier by Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Composting  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, the Gallows, and the Black General Gabriel
by Gigi Amateau  (ages 9 – 12)
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  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen
by Eve Yohalem  (ages 9 – 12)
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!

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

historical fiction books for kids
The Lions of Little Rock
by Kristin Levine  (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man
by Caroline Lawrence  (ages 9 – 12)
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 (ages 9 – 12)
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. 

 

best historical fiction chapter books for kids
The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan
by Patricia Bailey (ages 9 – 12)
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 (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

historical fiction chapter books for kids
Finding Langston
by Lesa Cline-Ransome (ages 9 – 12)
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.

 

best historical fiction chapter books for kids
Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine
by Caroline Starr Ros (ages 9 – 12)
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 Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Wild Boy and the Black Terror
by Rob Lloyd Jones  (ages 9 – 12)
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?

 

good historical fiction chapter books
The Dollmaker of Krakow
by Rachael Romero (ages 9 – 12)
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.

best historical fiction chapter books for kids
The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming
by J. Anderson Coats (ages 9 – 12)
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 historical fiction book with a vivid historical setting.

 


A Ceiling Made of Eggshells
by Gail Carson Levine (ages 9 – 12)
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 Middle Grade Chapter Book Reviews and Recommendations
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.

 

YA historical fiction graphic novel
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 historical fiction novels
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) best history books
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.  

 

good books for teens Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
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.

 

historial fiction YA books
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.

Good Historical Fiction Books for Kids
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.

KEEP READING

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The best historical fiction books show kids a glimpse of the past through the relatable eyes of a story in chapter, middle grade, and YA books. 

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8 Comments

  1. I teach 6th grade ELA and have built quite an extensive classroom library. These days when I read a booklist, I usually don’t find any titles I didn’t already own. But your list has oodles of new titles to explore! I’m excited to be aware of some new options to look for!

  2. Love your site! Can you help me find something? I’m looking for historical fantasy chapter books . . . Something based deeply in history but with an extensive magic system . . . Like How to Train your dragon if Hiccup had a wand and was trying to learn how to cast spells without them backfiring. Got anything like that? Bonus points if it’s geared towards reluctant 3rd graders. THANKS IN ADVANCE!

    1. Here are a few ideas:
      Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older 
      The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr
      Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan (3rd)
      Once Upon a Tim by Stuart Gibbs (3rd)
      Healer and the Witch by Nancy Werlin

  3. Hi,
    Is it possible to get a downloadable list of these books for historical fiction middle school? Some of the parents would like to purchase some for the school. Thank you.

    1. That is such a great idea and I will put it on my to-do list. However, I know that I won’t be able to get to right away. In the meantime, have parents click on the titles to buy them on Amazon or wherever you prefer for your school.

  4. What an amazing list! Well done! I am ordering some books from it as well as creating my own list as a guide for readers and parents as to which books we have to offer from which time periods. Thank you!