Historical fiction is a literary staple. In addition to being an exciting genre filled with interesting characters, historical fiction can instill a love of learning about the past. The genre can be incredibly engaging for young readers, giving them the opportunity to learn about different time periods and unfamiliar places from medieval England to Cold War Europe. For this list, we’ve chosen books that broach sometimes-complex historical topics while remaining interesting for young readers, often through the use of dynamic, relatable characters.
In “The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic,” author Allan Wolf uses vivid poetry to showcase some of the real-life people involved in one of the most notorious tragedies in history. One of the most interesting aspects of his book is the way he captures the perspective of the iceberg itself. The occasional informative telegraphs and reports remind readers this true event actually occurred.
The powerful emotion captured on the page helps children learn to empathize in the case of tragic events and deal with powerful feelings, making this a great book for somewhat more mature readers beginning to deal with their own feelings of love, regret and loss. Choose this option for readers 13 and older.
The story of Nisha is inspired by real-life events that occurred in 1947, when India was separated into two separate countries—India and Pakistan—after leaving British rulership. These events caused division between the Hindu and Muslim people, and Nisha’s story will teach young readers important lessons about cultivating faith and hope. The story is told in a unique style, via Nisha’s letters to her deceased mother. Through her search to find a home and a new identity, Nisha’s courageous example will also teaches children that they, too, can be brave in tough situations. This book is ideal for children ages 8 through 12.
“The Player King” by Avi tells the remarkable story of a slave boy in fifteenth-century England who finds himself on a rags-to-riches path that ends at the royal throne. The story puts readers in the mind of how a young boy during these times would feel if he was placed into a strange world of royalty, politics and power. Its concise outline of events wraps readers in a whirl of emotions and allows them to actually picture the events occurring in the world of this boy king. His story teaches young readers lessons in bravery, courage and humility. This book is recommended for readers ages 8 to 12.
This powerful book has made a positive impact on many young adults who long to make a difference and help others change their lives for the better. “My Brigadista Year” tells the story of a young teenage Cuban girl who desires to make a groundbreaking mark in history. She does so by joining Premier Castro’s army of young literacy teachers. Of course, fighting for a good cause is not often easy. For main character Nora, her decision comes with difficult circumstances, but it doesn’t stop her from reaching her goal of inspiring and teaching other Cubans how to read and write.
Author Katherine Paterson tells an inviting story inspired by true accounts and shines a light on history while also putting an interesting spin on self-discovery in a way that is welcoming and easy for young readers to understand. This book is a great option for slightly more mature readers in the 10 to 14 age range.
“Cloud and Wallfish” is a thrilling coming-of-age story that gives young readers the opportunity to learn about the dynamics of change. That change begins early on in this story as main character Noah Keller is forced to abandon his life in 1989 Virginia to move to East Berlin, where he must adopt the name Jonah Brown. Mystery upon mystery unfolds in this intriguing tale as Noah — now Jonah — befriends a girl he nicknames Cloud, taking the name Wallfish for himself.
Children have the opportunity to learn about life in East Berlin and the time period during which the Iron Curtain was slowly beginning to lift, with intriguing characters helping to keep the story fresh and interesting. This story is best for those in the 10 to 14 age range.
“I have seen first-hand the impact that great historical fiction can have on children,” Emily Watts says. “These stories can build memories as well as a deeper knowledge of history in young minds. When choosing historical fiction for your young reader, look for age-appropriate stories that also push your child intellectually with advanced vocabulary and new concepts.”
Our Expert Consultant
Emily Watts is a mother of three (she has two adopted children and one foster child). She also is a licensed teacher with experience educating children in complex life situations. Emily has over seven years of experience in alternative education. She is passionate about children and specializes in helping those who may need a little extra attention or special care.