One of the best ways to learn history is through well-researched historical fiction. Instead of memorizing dates and places, readers are able to walk in the shoes of fictional characters living through pivotal moments in history. Bestselling author Alan Gratz is a master of historical fiction. His award-winning books are factually accurate and draw in middle grade readers with their non-stop action. Most of his books feature multiple perspectives and cliff-hanger chapter endings to the delight of readers.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)
Gratz grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee and attended the University of Tennessee, where he earned a Master’s degree in English education. He now lives with his family in North Carolina. His books are New York Times bestsellers and have garnered multiple starred reviews as well as more than two dozen national and state book awards. Even more important, they are beloved by young readers.
Here are nine of his best historical fiction books, with a sneak peek at his next book coming in 2024.
Books That Bring History to Life by Alan Gratz
Each of the three separate stories in this book would be incredible in their own right, but woven together they make a masterpiece that is an essential read for today’s world. Josef and his family are trying to escape Nazi Germany in 1939 aboard the St. Louis, bound for Cuba. Isabel and her family are trying to escape Castro’s Cuba in 1994, making a desperate attempt to reach Florida. Mahmoud and his family are trying to escape civil war in Syria in 2015, walking across Europe in the hope of reaching asylum in Germany. The stories are not told in chunks but in alternating chapters, making the similarities more obvious and the entire experience more powerful.
Alan Gratz again uses multiple perspectives to exponentially increase the impact of the stories. The juxtaposition of nine-year-old Brandon at the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001 and eleven-year-old Reshmina on Sept 11, 2019 combined with Gratz’s signature cliffhangers will keep young readers on the edge of their seats. While 9-11 seems fairly recent, it is well before today’s middle grade students were born. Parents may want to read this with their children to discuss their own experiences on 9-11.
D-Day is such a pivotal moment in World War II and Gratz brings young readers into the thick of the action with multiple perspectives. We follow Dee, who was born in Germany but fighting with the Americans hoping no one learns of his past, his best friend Sid, a Jewish American soldier, James, a Canadian paratrooper landing behind enemy lines, Samira, an Algerian girl with the French Resistance, Bill, a British tank driver, and James, an African American medic. Each faces their own challenges while they all work together towards a common goal.
Resist: A Story of D-Day
Do you want to learn more about Samira, the French-Algerian member of the Resistance from Allies? This novella from Alan Gratz expands on her story!
The Battle of Okinawa. 1945. Thirteen-year-old Hideki Kaneshiro has just been drafted into the Japanese army. He is given two grenades – one to kill Americans and the other to kill himself. Ray Majors is a brand new Marine from Nebraska, trying to survive the battle. The horrors of war are accurately portrayed and will keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Yanek, a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, is living through the horrors of the Holocaust. Reduced to a number, shipped from concentration camp to concentration camp, every day is a struggle to survive. How can he remain hopeful in the face of unspeakable evil? Based on a true story, this is a must read.
Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II
Michael is living in Berlin, the son of the Irish Ambassador, during World War II. On the outside, he tries to blend in with the German boys at school, even joining the Hitler Youth. What no one can find out is that he and his parents are Allied spies, and it is up to him to find the secret plans for Projekt 1065. If you like spy thrillers, this one is for you!
Code of Honor
What would you do if your older brother was accused of being a terrorist? Kamran wants to be just like Darius, a West Point grad who is now a Special Ops Army Ranger in Afghanistan. It seems like Darius is threatening America through his hate speech on TV. But Kamran notices certain things that make him think Darius has actually been captured and is forced to make these statements. Can he get anyone else to believe him before it is too late?
The Brooklyn Nine
Do you have a baseball-obsessed reader? This book is a great way to bring in some historical fiction. We follow nine generations of the Schneider family, from 1845 to 2002, told through nine innings of baseball. Gratz touches on some important points in history, including the Civil War, segregation, the WWII era All-American Girls Baseball League, and the Dodgers moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. So much history, all told through baseball. Pick this one up to help your baseball players make it through the off-season!
This book lies on the dividing line between historical fiction and realistic fiction. It brings the dangers of climate change to life in three intense stories woven together, featuring four middle school-age kids who are trying to survive life-threatening natural disasters. In California, Akira and her horse struggle to escape a massive wildfire. In Manitoba, Owen and George are attacked by polar bears that have been stranded by melting sea ice. In Florida, Natalie is swept away by raging waters during a hurricane. This offers some great insight into climate change and also hope for the future.
Coming out in February 2024: Heroes: A Novel of Pearl Harbor
Frank and Stanley are best friends. Both of their fathers are stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941. The boys are touring the USS Utah when the fateful bombing occurs. Both try to survive the bombing and get back home. It is a very different experience for each of them since Stanley’s mother is Japanese-American. You’ll want to preorder this action-packed adventure!