Historical fiction entangles true facts with creative license to focus on a fictional plot that happens at a certain point in history. All of this combines for a special mix of fact and fiction that produces exceptional books frozen in time. Some of the best historical fiction comes in the form of children’s books. We’ve chosen historical fiction books that teach important lessons about some of the most impactful points in history, with characters that are engaging and relatable to younger readers.
“Inside Out and Back Again” is a novel with a beautiful flow that reads like poetry. Follow Hà through her harrowing journey as she is forced to flee Saigon and eventually finds herself in Alabama in the 1970s. There she experiences culture shock: her classmates are cold and bullying, and even the food dulls her senses. However, it is also there that she finds strength in family and herself. “Inside Out and Back Again” is a top seller on the New York Times Best-Seller List, a Newbery Honor Book and winner of the National Book Award. It is appropriate for children ages 9 and older.
A New York Times Best-Seller, “A Long Walk to Water” is a compelling story of two children during two different times in Sudan whose lives cross paths. Salva, an 11-year-old boy, flees an outbreak of violence in 1985 and is separated from his family. Nya, an 11-year-old girl, must travel a dangerous road to get water twice a day — a two-hour journey each way — in 2008. Through alternating chapters, author Linda Sue Park tells each child’s story independently until Salva and Nya’s lives collide when Salva, who was adopted by a family in the U.S., returns to Sudan and builds a well that lets Nya end her daily eight-hour journey for water and enter school. This gripping story is appropriate for children over the age of 10.
Real heroes still exist. “The Finest Hours” explores the real journey of four “Coasties’” who set out against all odds in a storm to save the lives of 30 sailors stranded after a shipwreck. This book has now been adapted into a Disney movie and more than 50 years later, it is still an excellent story of true heroism. This adaptation of the text for younger readers is an easy read that captures the imagination. It is appropriate for children ages 10 to 12.
Told through the perspective of the Grim Reaper, this story could seem devoid of hope — but that is not the case. Despite the horrors of Nazi Germany in 1939, Liesel finds hope. Although she sees all the war, division and hate around her, she chooses to live a life of optimism and shares that outlook with others around her, making this a tale that will inspire its young readers as they learn more about what it was like to live in Nazi Germany. This book is best for readers ages 12 and up.
Part history and part science, “The Captain’s Dog: My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Tribe” is all adventure. Seaman, a Newfoundland, shows what true companionship is as he stands by his captain and travels the seas with a curiosity only a dog can muster. The book comes with an author’s note as well as a reader’s guide to help young readers learn more about this historical expedition, in which Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off in search of the Northwest Passage. This book is appropriate for readers 10 to 12 years old.
“As the author of the original American Girls books says, historical fiction ‘can make history matter—make it irresistible—to young readers.’ Combining factual information with a great storyline weaves together feelings like empathy, guilt, sorrow and joy with real, factual events. Many children do not develop a love of history from reading a textbook, but they can when you make history real and personal, and that is just what the historical fiction genre does.”
Our Expert Consultant
Emily Lehman is a licensed teacher, nonprofit youth coordinator and mother of two young girls. Emily understands how to make learning fun and is a pro at engaging children in the classroom. She also learns constantly in her own experience raising children. When she isn’t teaching or raising her daughters, she is taking care of her horses and family farm.