OwnVoices Historical Fiction Chapter Books

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Discover profound #OwnVoices historical fiction chapter books for children ages 8 to 18.
If you aren’t aware of this term, OwnVoices signifies when a marginalized person such as a BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) writes a book about a character in their same group.

 

When a reader asked me to share a list of diverse, historical fiction chapter books written by OwnVoices, I couldn’t wait to get started. Because it’s important we consider the authors of the books we read.
Authors of all backgrounds research and write wonderful books about many topics, to be sure.
Yet there is a deeper context and connection when authors are writing about experiences that they’ve actually experienced or are from their own families or communities’ history.

 

I will continue adding to this list as I read more books and more books are published.

 

Please comment below if you have suggestions for what titles I should read and add next. Also, more lists in different genres will be forthcoming.

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#OwnVoices Beginning Chapter Books for Ages 6 – 9

Diverse Historical Fiction Chapter Books Written by #OwnVoices
Charlotte Spies for Justice A Civil War Survival Story (Girls Survive)
by Nikki Shannon Smith
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.

 


Mary and the Trail of Tears A Cherokee Removal Survival Story
by Andrea L. Rogers
#OwnVoices
This is a historical fiction beginning chapter book that may be too mature for most growing readers. It is all true and well-written but it’s very realistic making it more challenging for sensitive readers who may be affected by the death, murder, and trauma that happens when the Cherokee Nation’s homes were taken by force.

OwnVoices Middle-Grade Books for Ages 8 – 12

Diverse Historical Fiction Chapter Books Written by #OwnVoices
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.

historical fiction chapter books for kids
Ahisma
by Supriya Kelkar
Not only did I learn a lot (a lot!!) about Indian history during the time of Gandhi, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this incredible, passion-filled story. 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! You won’t be able to put this book down.

 

Diverse Historical Fiction Chapter Books Written by #OwnVoices
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. It’s a harrowing journey and confusing time. This story, filled with historical significance, is masterfully told. You won’t want to put this one down.

 


I Can Make This Promise
by Christine Day
The author of this book skillfully weaves an important, heartfelt story about growing up, family, and finding your identity in the context of adoption, historical maltreatment of Native Americans, and the mystery of your own heritage. Edie’s mom is an adopted Native American who can’t trace her heritage. When Edie unexpectedly finds a box of photos and letters from the woman she suspects was her mom’s birth mother, 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. While this book doesn’t specifically call us to advocacy, I think after reading it, you’ll be motivated to do something — even if it’s just to learn more about this time in history if not find ways you can make the world fairer for all people.

 


Brothers Keeper
by Julie Lee
Based on her grandmother’s escape from North Korea, this historical fiction is 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, winter’s brutal cold, all the while the Red Army marches right behind them, and her brother, Youngsoo gets sicker and sicker. The siblings’ journey is interspersed with memories of her childhood including her mother’s disdain and criticism and how she was forced to leave school to care for her little brothers. Amazingly, the two make it to the south where they’re reunited with the rest of their family but it’s a bittersweet ending.


Betty Before X
by Ilyasha Shabazz and Renee Watson
I devoured this compelling, well-written Own Voices story–it’s about a year in the life of teenage Betty who later became the wife of Malcolm X. Betty’s mother seemed to despise her but fortunately, Betty had good friends and younger siblings who loved her. Eventually, kind church friends took her in and adopted Betty. During this challenging 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. Excellent!!!

 

 

Diverse Historical Fiction Chapter Books Written by #OwnVoices
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. This Own Voices historical memoir is a Newbery Honor Book. Woodson shows how her love of stories and words helps her as she grows up during the Civil Rights Movement, dealing with racism, and finding her voice.

 


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 made easier when he discovers the library and the poetry of Langston Hughes. It is a beautiful story of redemption, healing, and the power of words.

 


It All Comes Down to This
by Karen English
Experience the 1960s 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 abandoned her. Surprisingly, Sophie’s strict, disapproving housekeeper becomes her ally, something Sophie needs during the challenges of life and growing up. Well-crafted story and characters.

 

best historical fiction chapter books for kids
Midnight Without a Moon
by Linda Williams Jackson
Williams Jackson masterfully tells the history of the 1950s in Mississippi with compelling characters and an interesting plot. 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.

 

historical fiction books for kids
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. A Newbery Honor Book.

 

historical fiction books for kids
The Watson’s Go to Birmingham
by Christopher Paul Curtis
One of the most read and loved historical fiction middle-grade books ever, this book tells about the Watson family driving from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham, Alabama to visit relatives in the 1960s. There, they hope to set their son Bryon straight. The car trip builds up to the deeply disturbing church bombing where their Grandma goes to church. This is a moving story filled with hope and humor and a Newbery Award Winner.


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.


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’s life and battles up to his death. The duo travel from the Dakotas (home of the Lakota) to Wyoming and other places significant to Crazy Horse. The result teaches readers a sobering true history and is one that will stay with you long after you’re done.

 

Diverse Historical Fiction Chapter Books Written by #OwnVoices
When My Name Was Keoko
by Linda Sue Park
When Korea is occupied by Japan, the Korean language, folktales, and culture is expressly forbidden. Then World War II arrives, along with the expectation that Koreans will fight for Japan. Sun-hee is shocked that her brother, Tae-yul, enlists to misdirect the army’s interest in his uncle. The story is filled with injustice, resistance, courage, and family bonds during a difficult historical time period of occupation.

 


Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
This Newbery Honor Book shares the story in verse of a girl, Hà, who flees Vietnam with her family and immigrates to the southern United States where the transition is horrible, hard, and sometimes funny.

Kira-Kira
by Cynthia Kadohata
This book is both sad and beautiful. Katie’s sister, Lynn, tries to help Katie make sense of the prejudice and challenges that their Japanese-American family faces in Georgia in the 1950s. When Lynn gets very ill, Katie tries to emulate her sister’s positive outlook.

 


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. It’s a powerful OwnVoices chapter book that transports you into Delphine’s world, if only for the summer.

 


Diverse Historical Fiction Chapter Books Written by #OwnVoices
Escape from Aleppo
by N.H. Senzai
The story alternates between the 2010 violence in Syria and the “present” time in 2013 when Nadia’s home is bombed and she escapes. Unfortunately, her family thinks she’s dead and leaves her behind in the war-torn country. Nadia joins up with an old man and two orphans. Together they navigate checkpoints and bombings while the old man tries to rescue precious historical artifacts. It’s a powerful story about a country and people in crisis.

 



Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier by Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Compestine
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 terra-cotta soldier comes to life and befriends Ming so they can work together to protect the other terra-cotta soldiers and Emperor Qin’s tomb. I like how the authors include historical photos and information.


The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA
by Brenda Woods
Mr. Meriwether Hunter pushes Gabriel out of the path of an oncoming car which begins a relationship between a young white boy and the black WWII vet. Gabriel’s eyes slowly notice the discrimination that his new friend and his friend’s family face — including that Mr. Hunter 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.


How High the Moon
by Karyn Parsons
Ella lives with her grandparents but she’s always wanted to be with her singer-mom in Chicago. She does for a short time but is sent back to her grandparents 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. Important history is shared in this tender-hearted, historical fiction story.

 


A Place to Belong
by Cynthia Kadohata
After World War II ends, 12-year-old Hanako’s family flees the cruelty of the United States to Japan, a country she’s never lived in but her family hopes will welcome them. But it’s not a great situation in Japan either. It’s a country devastated by war and a difficult place to live with little food available. The narrative moves slowly with a lot of introspection and thoughtfulness.


Under the Broken Sky
by Mariko Nagai
Written in verse this ownvoices historical book 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.

 

YA Books for Teens

ownvoices historical memoir
They Called Us Enemy
by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker
In WWII when the US government declared war on Japan and subsequently all Japanese people, forcing anyone of Japanese descent, including children, into detention camps, George’s family leave 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. Then when World War II ends, leaving the camps isn’t an easy, happy ending for any of the detained families. As you can imagine, they have nothing– no jobs nor bank accounts and are returning to a world of prejudice. The narration jumps to present-day events, showing similar human rights violations such as the current detainees and separation of families which powerfully connects how we are even now facing grave injustices against human rights. A brilliant, must-read ownvoices historical memoir.
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