Kids studying the American Civil War benefit from reading historical fiction books because the details, the ambiance, and the significant events become more real through the lens of a memorable story. Here you’ll find my picks for chapter books set in the Civil War time period for readers ages 6 – 13.
For some reason, this time period doesn’t have a wealth of historical fiction chapter books. Weird, right? But, I’ll continue to add to this list if and when I discover more books. (Please let me know any other titles you know in the comments.)
Children’s Books About The American Civil War
John Lincoln Clem Civil War Drummer Boy: Based on a True Story by E.F. Abbott (ages 6 – 9)
Johnny leads home at age 9 to fight in the Civil War. He begins as a drummer boy and later becomes a soldier. This is an exciting, well-written story made even more interesting because it’s based on a real story.
The Civil War on Sunday by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca (ages 6 – 9)
I love this series! It shows kids snapshots of important parts of world history, this time The American Civil War. Jack and Annie travel back in time to the Civil War where they’ll help a nurse named Clara Barton care for wounded soldiers.
I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 by Lauren Tarshis (ages 7 – 10)
Thomas and his sister Birdie are following the North Star to escape their lives of slavery when they meet a Union soldier. The siblings stay with the army, even when they are ordered to Gettysburg. Fortunately, the battle isn’t depicted as bloody as it truly –was is age appropriate in my opinion. It does give readers some of the major events and issues of the Civil War including slavery.
My America: My Brother’s Keeper: Virginia’s Civil War Diary, Book One by Mary Pope Osborne (ages 8 – 12)
Did you see the author? Yes, the Magic Tree House author wrote this story. It’s out of print so yo’ll have to find it at the library or used. Virginia “Ginny” writes in her journal about her life her experience living near the location of The Battle of Gettysburg where her brother, Jed, is injured.
Calico Girl by Jerdine Nolen (ages 8 – 12)
Like a River: A Civil War Novel by Kathy Cannon Wiechman (ages 10 – 13)
This book follows the intersecting stories of two underage kids, Leander and Polly, who both enlist in the Civil War for different reasons. Their journeys are hard: battles, prison, hospitals, and suffering. The teens learn more than they ever imagined about loyalty, friendship, family, and most of call, courage.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale
Boy readers especially like this graphic novel series much more than me but it’s just personal preference –the more sarcastic tone and the violence of the books do not appeal to me personally. And yet, so many kids like these books that I finally decided to add them to this book list. No doubt, these introduce kids to history and can motivate kids to read so those are good things. This particular story takes place during the American Civil War focusing on the ironclad steam warships with the battles, other military aspects of the war, and real people like William Cushing.
Bull Run by Paul Fleischman
This is one of my favorite Civil War novels. It shows events leading up to it and the actual battle of The Battle of Bull Run from 16 fictional character’s voices. Each chapter is short, written from one person’s perspective, making it a fast-paced read. The different voices give readers a unique, three-dimensional view of what happened. It’s also an easier read than some of the other middle grade books on this list.
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older
* couldn’t put it down!
Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen (ages 12+)
“War is always, in all ways appalling,” Paulsen writes in the forward. He explains that most men who fought came home profoundly changed (what we now call PTSD), said to have “soldier’s heart.” This is the fictional story of 15-year old Charley who joins the Minnesota Volunteers, not even knowing for what he was fighting but hoping for excitement. He doesn’t get it; only drills, horrors, and survival. Later, at age 19, he’ll return home a very different person. Vivid descriptions set the different scenes — which in a war is nothing pleasant — so just be aware that there is a LOT of gruesomeness.
Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (ages 12+)
Have you read this Newbery Medal-winning chapter book? It’s a classic, well-researched historical fiction story about a 16-year old boy named Jeff who joins the Union army in Kansas. Month after month, Jeff’s former eagerness about fighting turns into weariness and permanent hunger. He sees battles and death. Then, he finds himself on the other side with the Stand Watie rebel who led the Cherokee Indian Nation. Jeff’s experiences show the complexities of the two warring sides and the motivations for each group. Warning: There is, not surprisingly, a lot of violence as well as the use of the “n” word.
+ a Nonfiction Book for Kids About the Civil War
Blood and Germs The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease by Gail Jarrow
Well-researched, detailed, informative, and interesting, discover the history of (terrible) medicine during the Civil War. The format with sidebars, news stories, photographs, and original documents make it appealing to read.