Read a story set in the past!
“History tells us what people do; historical fiction helps us imagine how they felt.”
Guy Vanderhaeghe, as quoted in “A Good Guy,” Quill & Quire, Sept. 2011
* = Ms. Rosen’s favourites
Alexander, Lloyd. Time Cat. New York: Puffin Books, 2004, c1963.
“Jason and his magic cat Gareth travel through time to visit countries all over the world during different periods of history.” – CIP. This time travel novel, a modern classic, takes readers to Egypt in 2700 BCE, to Roman Britain in 55 BCE, to Ireland in 411 CE, to Japan in 998 CE, to Italy in 1468, to Peru in 1555, to Isle of Man in 1588, to Germany in 1600, and to America in 1775. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy learning about history.
Avi. Catch you Later, Traitor. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2015.
Twelve-year-old Pete Collison enjoys reading detective novels and listening to radio dramas. But in 1950s America, the government’s search for communist sympathizers leads to a real-life mystery when the FBI shows up at Pete’s home in Brooklyn, New York. Could there be Communist spies in his family? A note at the end of the story provides more information about this time in American history, describing the author’s connections to his own life growing up in New York City. A fast-moving suspenseful novel highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up. [Communism; Family life; New York City; Spies; U.S.S.R.]
Avi. The Player King. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017.
During the 1400s, two families fought to gain control of the English throne. In 1485, Henry proclaimed himself king and defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field. But Richard’s supporters did not want to give up the power they’d enjoyed. So they found a boy, Lambert Simnel, and convinced him to pretend that he was the true heir to the crown. All so they could keep their wealth and prestige. This really happened. This novel is a spell-binding tale that tells how a young penniless orphan might have been convinced that he was someone important, someone who was worthy of becoming the king.
By the way, even though the topic is quite serious, this 195-page book isn’t difficult to read. The margins are generous. The lines of print are widely spaced. Many sentences and paragraphs are very short. There is also lots of conversation. You will undoubtedly race through it to find out what happens!
Avi. The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts: being an absolutely accurate autobiographical account of my follies, fortune, and fate: written by himself. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Young Readers, 2017.
In 1724 England, life is perilous. Twelve-year-old Oliver’s mother died when he was born. His older sister moved from their home in Melcombe Regis, Dorset to the big city of London. And now his father has mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the night. Oliver is on the run, escaping the cruel master of the poorhouse. Quickly-paced in an old-fashioned swashbuckling style, this 313-page novel by the inimitable Avi will undoubtedly appeal to adventure lovers 11 years old and up.
Avi. The End of the World and Beyond: Continues The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts: Being an Absolutely Accurate Autobiographical Account of my Follies, Fortune & Fate Written by Himself. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Young Readers, 2019.
In this sequel, Oliver suffers the horrors of transport from England to America before being sold into servitude to a violent man How will Oliver escape? Will he ever be reunited with his sister and father? Full of historical details, this equally action-packed novel will appeal to readers whether or not they have read the previous novel.
Bloor, Edward. A Plague Year. Knopf, 2011.
A ninth-grader who works with his father in the local supermarket describes the plague of meth addiction that consumes many people in his Pennsylvania coal mining town from 9/11 and the nearby crash of United Flight 93 in Shanksville to the Quecreek Mine disaster in Somerset the following summer. – CIP [Drug abuse; Young adult fiction; Schools; Pennyslvania; Coal mines and mining; Accidents; Secrets]
Bruchac, Joseph. Two Roads. New York: Puffin Books, 2019.
Twelve-year-old Cal and his father, homeless, travel across America by rail. It’s 1932, in the middle of the Great Depression, and countless poverty-stricken men are clambering onto freight trains, hoping not to be caught by the guards. But Cal is caught – by a surprise. His father tells him that they are Creek Indians. And now he is going to join a demonstration in Washington, D.C. to defend the rights of World War I veterans, so Cal is being dropped off in Oklahoma to stay at a residential school for native Americans. Joseph Bruchac, author of numerous novels and picture books, skilfully tells a story of grief and hope recommended for readers 11 years old and up. Note: All books published by Puffin are well-written. All stories by Joseph Bruchac are worth reading.
Burak, Kathryn. Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things. New York : Roaring Brook Press, 2012.
“A new girl in Amherst, Massachusetts, comes to terms with her mother’s suicide and her best friend’s disappearance with the help of Emily Dickinson’s poetry–and her dress.” – CIP Recommended for readers, 13-years-old and up, who enjoy romantic mysteries. [Dickinson, Emily; Grief; Fathers and daughters; Historical fiction; Massachusetts; Missing children; Moving (Household); Poetry]
Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Finding Langston. New York: Holiday House, 2018.
After the death of his mother in 1946, eleven-year-old Langston moves with his father from Alabama to Chicago. Living in a lonely apartment building and bullied at school, Langston finds refuge in the school library where he discovers the magical poetry of Langston Hughes.Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever felt misunderstood by those who love you? Have you ever found hope in unexpected places? Then you know how the main character feels in this outstanding novel for readers 9 years old and up. Told in present tense from the first person point of view, the sentences come alive with the cadence of the main character’s Southern speech. If you like stories by Patricia MacLachlan, you will love this 104-page novel. [African Americans; Books and reading; Bullying; Chicago, (Ill.); Grief; Historical fiction; Moving, Household; Poetry]
Donaldson, Joan. On Viney’s Mountain. New York: Holiday House, 2009.
“In the Cumberland Mountains during the fall of 1879, sixteen-year-old Viney is shocked to hear that Englishmen will arrive on her mountain and build a new community, massacring the beautiful area that inspires her weaving.” – CIP. A quietly romantic novel recommended for readers 13 to 16 years old. [Country life; Dating (Social customs); Family life; Historical fiction; Sisters; Tennessee; Weaving]
Dowell, Frances O’Roark. Trouble the Water. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016.
An old yellow dog brings Cassie and Wendell – a black girl and a white boy – together in racially segregated Kentucky in 1953. Buddy leads them to a ramshackle cabin in the woods where two invisible boys are waiting to cross the nearby river. Partly historical fiction, partly a ghost story, this memorable novel by a thought-provoking writer is highly recommended for readers 10 to 15 years old.
P.S. Do you know the story of how Jesus healed the sick man by the pool of Bethesda? The man who never got to the pool in time to be healed after an angel ‘troubled the water’? You might like to read about it in John 5 after you read Dowell’s story. Then you might like to think about the Pharisees in the Bible and the townspeople in the story. And think about that pool at the end of the novel. Might you be called to be an angel?
Durango, Julia. The Walls of Cartagena. New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008.
“Thirteen-year-old Calepino, an African slave in the seventeenth-century Caribbean city of Cartagena, works as a translator for a Jesuit priest who tends to newly-arrived slaves and, after working for a Jewish doctor in a leper colony and helping an Angolan boy and his mother escape, he realizes his true calling.” – CIP. Highly recommended for readers 11 to 16 years old. [Catholic Church; Colombia; Faith; Leprosy; Slavery]
Farmer, Nancy. The Land of the Silver Apples. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007.
Thirteen-year-old Jack, a bard-in-training in 8th-century Britain, sets out to rescue his younger sister Lucy and discovers an underground world . [Druids and druidism — Fiction; Saxons — Fiction; Mythology — Fiction]
Gantos, Jack. Dead End in Norvelt. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.
Twelve-year-old Jack spends the summer of 1962 helping an elderly neighbour write obituaries after his mother grounds him for mowing down the garden his father wants to use for a bomb shelter. Much like in Rex Zero and the End of the World by Tim Wynne-Jones, there is concern about a possible nuclear war with Russia. This humorous novel, based on the author’s own childhood in Pennsylvania, is the Newbery Medal winner for 2012. [Family life; Pennsylvania; Summer; Old age; Historical fiction; Newbery Medal; Humorous stories]
Gemeinhart, Dan. Some Kind of Courage. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016.
Joseph is alone in the world. His mother and sister have died of illness. His father has been killed in an accident. And the man who is supposed to take care of him has sold his beloved horse. So Joseph sets out – on his own – to find Sarah and buy her back again. This heart-warming novel – set in 1890 in the state of Washington – will appeal to readers 11 to 15 years old who enjoy stories of survival.
Gewirtz, Adina Rishe. Zebra Forest. Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2013.
“When eleven-year-old Annie first started lying to her social worker, she had been taught by an expert: Gran. She told Annie and her little brother, Rew, the one thing they know about their father: that he was killed in a fight with an angry man who was sent away. Annie tells stories, as she and Rew laze under the birches and oaks — stories about their father the pirate, or pilot, or secret agent. But then something shocking happens to unravel all their stories: a rattling at the back door, an escapee from the prison holding them hostage in their own home…” CIP Set in 1977 during the Iran hostage crisis, this novel is highly recommended for readers 11-years-old and up. [Brothers and sisters; Grandmothers; Family secrets; Fathers; Grief; Historical fiction; Hostages; Prisoners; Summer]
Giff, Patricia Reilly. Gingersnap. New York : Wendy Lamb Books, 2013.
“When her brother Rob, a Navy cook, goes missing in action during World War II, Jayna, desperate for family, leaves upstate New York and their cranky landlady, accompanied by a turtle and a ghost, to seek their grandmother, who Rob believes may live in Brooklyn. Includes soup recipes.” – CIP Another inspiring novel by this competent author. Recommended for readers 11 years old and up. Could be compared to Joan Bauer’s Close to Famous. [Brothers and sisters; Cooking; Families; Ghost stories; Historical fiction; Missing in action; New York (City); Orphans; World War 2]
Giff, Patricia Reilly. R My Name is Rachel. New York : Wendy Lamb Books, 2011.
Three city siblings, now living on a farm during the Great Depression, must survive on their own when their father takes a construction job miles away.” – CIP A wistful story about a girl who enjoys reading and writing and daydreaming but is determined to keep her family together. Recommended for readers 10 to 14 years old. [Brothers and sisters; Farm life; Moving, Household; Poverty; Self-reliance]
Hill, Kirkpatrick. Bo at Ballard Creek. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2013.
What a cheerful story! Set in Alaska in the late 1920s, this inspiring novel of a much-loved little girl will appeal to fans of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and ‘Sarah, Plain and Tall’ and ‘Anne of Green Gables’. Bo – abandoned by her mother, a good-time girl who is leaving town – is taken in by Jack and Arvid, two unmarried gold miners who can’t bear to see her sent to an orphanage. So now she has two papas. No mama, but as Jack tells her, “sometimes mamas don’t stick around, you know. Just walk off. Lot of animals like that” (2). But he adds, “…lucky for us, someone giving away babies. Just what me and Arvid needed” (2). And just what all the other villagers in Ballard enjoy: a little girl who sees life as an adventure. She learns both Eskimo and English. She encounters a bear. She joins in the festivities when an airplane arrives, and lovingly welcomes a little motherless boy whose father has died. This novel by an accomplished Alaskan author – and former teacher – is highly recommended for readers – and listeners – 7 years old and up.
Hilmo, Tess. Cinnamon Moon. New York: Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2016.
Ailis and her brother are orphans living in a boarding house in Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.
If you’ve read Sweep by Jonathan Auxier, you’ll remember how children were snatched by unscrupulous men to work as chimney sweeps. In this novel, children are also enslaved, this time by devious men who force them to work as rat-catchers in the sewers of Chicago. But twelve-year-old Ailis is fiesty and brave. She is determined to save herself and her brother from a grim future.
Cinnamon Moon is not a difficult novel to read as far the reading level is concerned. The narration is written in present tense and from the first person point of view, so the story feels up-to-date in its style. Furthermore, the font is a comfortable size and the lines of print are well-spaced. But the story itself is serious and based on historical facts which are explained at the back of the book. However, rather than being discouraging or depressing, this novel is filled with humour and hope. I think the history will interest you and the ending will inspire you. [Brothers and sisters, Chicago, Illinois; Courage; Kidnapping; Orphans; Refugees]
Hilmo, Tess. With A Name Like Love. Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.
Thirteen-year-old Olivene Love gets tangled up in a murder mystery when her itinerant preaching family arrives in the small town of Binder, Arkansas in 1957. – CIP (Arkansas; Mystery and detective stories; Faith; Country life; Family life; Historical fiction)
Hopkinson, Deborah. Steamboat School: Inspired by a True Story. Los Angeles: Disney•Hyperion, 2016.
A law against educating African Americans was established in Missouri in 1947. But a minister – John Meachum – found a way around this restriction by creating a school in the middle of the Mississippi River. Ron Hubbard, the first African American animator at Disney Studios, provides vivid illustrations for this moving story useful as a read-aloud for readers 9 years old and up. An afterward provides additional information including recommended websites and books. [African Americans; Historical fiction; Missouri; Racism; Schools]
* Holt, Kimberly Willis. The Water Seeker. New York: Henry Holt, 2009.
This is the story of Amos, born in Missouri in 1833, son of a trapper and dowser. After his mother dies giving birth to him, he lives with relatives until his father and reclaims him and they set out overland to Oregon. When the story ends, it is 1859 and Amos is a husband and father. A great adventure story full of vivid details for readers eleven-years-old and up. [Aboriginal people; Adventure and adventurers; Coming of age; Dowsing; Fathers and sons; Friendship; Frontier and pioneer life; Prejudice; Voyages and travels]
Hopkinson, Deborah. The Humblebee Hunter. New York : Disney Hyperion Books, 2010.
Charles Darwin’s children help him study bumblebees in this fictional account of the life of the famous scientist who changed our understanding of science. Biographical information is provided at the end of the story. A picture book recommended for readers 8 to 14 years old.
Hopkinson, Deborah. Steamboat School: Inspired by a True Story. Los Angeles: Disney•Hyperion, 2016.
A law against educating African Americans was established in Missouri in 1847. But a minister – John Meachum – found a way around this restriction by creating a school in the middle of the Mississippi River. Ron Hubbard, the first African American animator at Disney Studios, provides vivid illustrations for this moving story useful as a read-aloud for readers 9 years old and up. An afterward provides additional information including recommended websites and books. [African Americans; Missouri; Racism; Schools]
Jenkins, Emily. A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015.
A sweet story about one of the oldest desserts in Western culture: a fruit fool made of berries, sugar, and whipped cream. The first dessert is made of wild blackberries in 16th century England, the second in 18th century South Carolina, the third in 19th century Massachusetts, and the last in modern California. A recipe, a bibliography and historical information on both the story and the illustrations are included at the end. An excellent introduction to learning how cultures reflect their times and change over time. Recommended for readers – and their teachers – 7 years old and up.
Kelly, Jacqueline. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Henry Holt and Company, 2009.
Eleven-year-old Callie Vee isn’t interested in learning how to be a proper lady. She’d rather be outside studying the natural world with her grandfather. Set in Texas in 1899, this Newbery Honor Book will be enjoyed by competent readers in grades five to seven. (Texas; Historical fiction; Grandfathers; Sex role; Family life; Naturalists)
Kelly, Jacqueline. The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015.
Twelve-year-old Callie continues her investigations into the natural world in this sequel to the Newbery Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. When a veterinarian comes to town, Callie expands her knowledge of animal care but secretly, as only her grandfather encourages her dreams and hopes for the future. Observant readers will notice that each chapter begins with a quotation from The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin, the English naturalist whose own father disapproved of his unconventional life but whose maternal grandfather encouraged him. This 312-page novel is highly recommended for readers 10 years old and up. [Family life; Historical fiction; Naturalists; Sex role; Texas; Veterinarians]
Kelly, Jacqueline. Skunked! New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016.
Eleven-year-old Travis adopts two baby skunks in this historical novel for young readers. Set in a small Texan town in 1901, this easy-to-read story focuses on the younger brother of Callie, the main character in two previous novels for older readers: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. While this new novel still features Callie as narrator, the action centres on Travis and his escapades with two wild creatures. A great story for readers 7 to 11 years old. [Country life; historical fiction; naturalists; pets; skunks; Texas]
Kent, Trilby. Medina Hill. Toronto : Tundra Books, 2009.
Eleven-year-old Dominic and his younger sister Marlo are sent from London to Cornwall to stay with their Uncle Roo and Aunt Sylv for the summer. Set in 1935, this detailed novel is filled with historical references which will appeal to readers ten-years-old and up who enjoy learning about the past by reading stories. [England; Family life; Friendship; Lawrence of Arabia; Mutism; Romanies; Summer; Vacations]
Kent, Trilby. Stones for My Father. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2011.
Twelve-year-old “Corlie Roux, an Africaner from the Transvaal, copes with many changes after her father dies, war breaks out with the British, and she and the mother who clearly prefers her brothers escape to the bush only to be sent to a concentration camp.” – CIP Set during the Boer War at the turn of the 19th century, this vivid historical novel – with some swearing – is highly recommended for avid readers in grades 6 and up. The story is much better than the unappealing cover design. [Brothers and sisters; Concentration camps; Historical fiction; Mothers and daughters; South Africa; South African War; Survival]
Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie. Gifts from the Sea. New York : Dell Yearling, 2005, c2003.
Twelve-year-old Quila lives with her father, a lighthouse keeper. They never get to leave their rocky island and hardly anyone ever comes to visit. But then a baby is washed up by the sea and, two years later, a stranger comes to visit. Everything changes. This novel is best-suited for readers 10 to 14 years old or anyone at all who has enjoyed Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. [Fathers and daughters; Infants; Maine; Historical fiction]
Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie. True Colors. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.
“In 1952 Vermont, ten-year-old Blue decides to set out in the middle of her town’s sesquicentennial celebration to find the mother who abandoned her as a baby, but a series of events reminds her that she already has everything she needs.” – CIP [Identity; Historical fiction; Mothers and daughters; Vermont; People with mental disabilities; Foundlings]
Kline, Christina Baker. Orphan Train Girl: the Young Readers’ Edition of Orphan Train. New York: Harper, 2017.
Molly, a foster child in Maine, is court-ordered to do community service after stealing a book from the public library. Forced to help an elderly woman clean up her attic, she makes a friend who shares her own past as a homeless Irish-Catholic child sent out to work without pay in order to earn her keep. A powerful story based on history as explained – and illustrated with photographs – in an afterward. Highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up.
* Levine, Kristin. The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009.
Twelve-year-old Dit hopes for a new friend. But when the new postmaster arrives in Moundville, Alabama, he has a daughter instead of a son. And most townspeople are not pleased to see that the family is not white. But Dit Sims and Emma Walker, nevertheless. True friends. How will people react? This powerful novel of loyalty and love, set in 1917 and based on a true story, will be appreciated by readers 11-years-old and up. [Alabama, Country life, Family life; Friendship; Historical fiction; Prejudice; Race relations]
Levine, Kristin. The Lions of Little Rock. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012.
Twelve-year-old Marlee is shy. She likes thinking and she likes math, but she doesn’t like talking so much. And she is not courageous. But when high schools are closed in her home town because local officials oppose integration, Marlee learns to speak up. Well-researched and based on true events from 1959, this novel will appeal to readers twelve years old and up. [Arkansas; African Americans; Racism; Schools; Family life; Mothers and daughters; Historical fiction; Friendship; Courage; Mathematics; Faith]
Levine, Kristin. The Paper Cowboy. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.
“In a small town near Chicago in 1953, twelve-year-old Tommy faces escalating problems at home, among his Catholic school friends, and with the threat of a communist living nearby, but taking over his hospitalized sister’s paper route introduces him to neighbors who he comes to rely on for help.” – CIP. Based on the childhood of the author’s father, this quickly-paced but thought-provoking novel is highly recommended for readers 12-years-old and up. [Bullying; Child abuse; Communism; Conduct of life; Family problems; Friendship; Historical fiction; Illinois; Newspaper carriers]
Lindelauf, Benny. Nine Open Arms. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2014.
In 1937, three daughters, four sons, a father and a grandmother move to the deserted house at the end of a long road in the Dutch countryside. But what starts as a simple story of moving to a new home turns into a historical drama and romantic ghost story. Translated from the Dutch, this novel will appeal to imaginative readers 11 to 14-years-old. [Family life; Grandmothers; Historical fiction; Moving, Household; Netherlands; Romanies; Single-parent families]
Littlesugar, Amy. Tree of Hope. New York: Philomel Books, 1999.
“Florrie’s daddy used to be a stage actor in Harlem before the Depression forced the Lafayette Theater to close, but he gets a chance to act again when Orson Welles reopens the theater to stage an all-black version of Macbeth.” – CIP A highly recommended picture book.
MacColl, Michaela. Promise the Night. Chronicle Books, 2011.
Young Beryl, abandoned by her mother and living with her father on a farm in Kenya, is determined to be independent. She is determined not to become a dignified young lady despite all the attempts made by the new housekeeper her father brings into their home and by the headmistress of the boarding school she is forced to attend. Based on the stories and diaries of Beryl Markham, the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, this novel set in the early 20th century will appeal to readers 10-14 years old. [Africa; Markham, Beryl; Kenya; Friendship; Loneliness; Determination (Personality trait); air pilots; Historical fiction]
Madden, Kerry. Gentle’s Holler. New York: Viking, 2005.
Twelve-year-old Livy and her eight siblings live in the hills of North Carolina. Their father plays the banjo and dreams of getting a singing contract. Their mother, struggling to keep them all alive, wants him to get a paying job. Livy writes her own songs and reads books from the travelling library in between helping her mother and trying to keep the peace in her family, especially after her grandmother comes to visit. Set in the 1960s, this heartwarming story based on the childhood of the author’s husband is recommended for quiet daydreamers ten-years-old and up. It might also be appreciated by readers who have enjoyed stories by Patricia MacLahlan, Cynthia Rylant and Ruth White. [Blindness; Family life; Historical fiction; Music; North Carolina; Poverty]
Mason, Margaret H. These Hands. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.
“An African American man tells his grandson about a time when, despite all the wonderful things his hands could do, they could not touch bread at the Wonder Bread factory. Based on stories of bakery union workers; includes historical note.” – CIP A highly recommended picture book, a great read-aloud and discussion starter.
McCully, Emily Arnold. Clara: The (Mostly) True Story of the Rhinoceros Who Dazzled Kings, Inspired Artists, and Won the Hearts of Everyone…While She Ate Her Way Up and Down a Continent. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016.
If Emily McCully writes and illustrates a book, pick it up. Everything she creates is good. And this almost-true biography is no exception. Clara – an orphaned rhinoceros – was adopted by a sea captain in 1741. The two of them travelled through Europe for 17 years, amazing audiences and becoming fast friends. While now we would never dream of exhibiting an animal in such a manner, this story of affectionate friendship between a person and an animal is nonetheless intriguing. Included is a map of Clara’s journeys and an author’s note with further information. Highly recommended for curious readers of all ages.
* Meyer, Carolyn. The True Adventures of Charley Darwin. Harcourt, 2009.
Charles Darwin was born to a well-to-do family in 19th century England. But he didn’t have a childhood filled with happiness. He knew what he enjoyed – spending time outdoors – but how could he turn that into a career? Based on the diaries and correspondence of the great naturalist, this novel will appeal to readers who enjoy true stories of adventure. Great for readers eleven years old to adult. [Darwin, Charles; Adventure and adventurers; Voyages and travels; Evolution (Biology); Historical fiction; Naturalists]
Naidoo, Beverly. Burn My Heart. Amistad, 2009, c2007.
Matthew and Mugo have been friends for years even though Matthew is the son of a wealthy landowner and Mugo is a household servant. But everything changes when the Mau Mau uprising begins in 1950s Kenya. Everyone becomes afraid and violence is around every corner. Based on historical events, this novel will appeal to adventurous readers who like books about real life. [Kenya; Historical fiction; Friendship; Racism; Fathers and sons]
Namioka, Lensey. An Ocean Apart, a World Away. Delacorte Press, 2002.
Yanyan, hoping to become a doctor, leaves her family in China to attend Cornell University in New York State during the 1920s where she discovers prejudice, friendship and the difference between attraction and love. [Historical fiction; China; New York (State); Dating (Social customs); Prejudice; Racism; Courage; Individualism; Adventure and adventurers; Sex role]
Namioka, Lensey. Ties that Bind, Ties that Break. London: Puffin, 2003.
“Ailin’s life takes a different turn when she defies the traditions of upper class Chinese society by refusing to have her feet bound.” – WAFMS. A fascinating fast-moving story that follows a young girl from the age of four to adulthood during the mid-20th century. Highly recommended for readers 12-years-old and up. [China; Sex roles; Immigration and emigration]
Newman, Leslea. Ketzel, the Cat Who Composed. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2015.
Ketzel, a kitten, is rescued by Moshe Cotel, a composer who lives in a noisy city. Based on a true story, this quietly joyous picture book illustrated by Amy June Bates is highly recommended for cat lovers of all ages. A 2016 winner of the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Award. [Cats; Composers; Friendship; Pianists]
Napoli, Donna Jo. Alligator Bayou. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009.
Fourteen-year-old Calogero can’t understand the racism and prejudice he encounters when he moves from Sicily in 1899 to join his uncles and cousin in Louisiana. He wants to make new friends and learn American customs, but not everyone likes his way of trying to fit into small-town society. (Italian Americans; Historical fiction; Louisiana; Country life; Prejudices; Racism; Moving, Household; Poverty; Uncles)
Nielsen, Jennifer A. Words on Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, 2019.
“In 1893 twelve-year-old Audra lives on a farm in Lithuania, and tries to avoid the Cossack soldiers who enforce the Russian decrees that ban Lithuanian books, religion, culture, and even the language; but when the soldiers invade the farm Audra is the only one who escapes and, unsure of what has happened to her parents, she embarks on a dangerous journey, carrying the smuggled Lithuanian books that fuel the growing resistance movement, unsure of who to trust, but risking her life and freedom for her country.” – CIP. A 322-page historical novel highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up. [Books and reading; Lithuania; Russia; Smuggling]
After surviving a horrific voyage, twelve-year-old Danny and his older sister Kathleen arrive in New York City. But the prejudice against Irish Catholics is as bad in America as it was in Ireland. Determined to stay together, the siblings find work as house maids. But they can only stay as long as Danny can keep pretending to be a girl. This novel – set in 1863 and based on historical facts – is highly recommended for competent readers 11 years old and up.
*Parry, Rosanne. Written in Stone. New York: Random House, 2013.
A grandmother recalls her youth in the 1920s. Her tribe, the Makah on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, struggles to survive after her father dies and outsiders threaten her people’s way of life. This engrossing 175-page story – told from the first person point of view – is accompanied by a map, a glossary, an extensive author’s note explaining historical details, and a list of resources. The relatively large font makes the book inviting for competent readers as young as 10 years old. The quality of the writing and depth of historical information make this a compelling novel for readers of any age. Highly recommended! [Historical fiction; Orphans; Racism; Washington State]
Pearson, Kit. The Whole Truth. Toronto : HarperCollins, 2011.
Nine-year-old Polly and her older sister Maud travel from Winnipeg to a small island off the coast of British Columbia to live with their grandmother. Their mother has died, but will they ever see their father again? Set in 1932, this story will be enjoyed by girls nine to thirteen years old. (Historical fiction; Moving, Household; Sisters; Boarding schools; Grandmothers; Secrets; Poverty; Family life; Islands; Mystery and detective stories)
Pearson, Kit. And Nothing But the Truth. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2012.
Thirteen-year-old Polly hates boarding school in Victoria. She misses her sister who is attending university in Vancouver and her father who has moved to Kelowna. She wants her life to go back to the way it was when she lived with her grandmother in the Gulf Islands. But then she discovers a secret which changes everyone’s future. Set in the 1930s, this beautifully written sequel to The Whole Truth will appeal to middle school students. [Artists; Boarding schools; Victoria (B.C.); Fathers and daughters; Grandmothers; Historical fiction; Sisters; Secrets]
Peck, Richard. A Season of Gifts. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2009.
Twelve-year-old Bob Barnhart and his family move to move to a small Illinois town in 1958 when Bob’s father becomes the minister of a derelict church. But his loneliness is eased and life becomes adventurous when he meets their new neighbor, Mrs. Dowdel. (Moving, Household; Historical fiction; Family life; Faith; Illinois; Humorous stories]
Pennypacker, Sara. Sparrow Girl. New York: Disney/Hyperion Books, 2009.
“When China’s leader declares war on sparrows in 1958, everyone makes loud noise in hopes of chasing the hungry birds from their land except for Ming-Li, a young girl whose compassion and foresight prevent a disaster.” – CIP. A picture book recommended for readers 8-years-old and up. [Birds; China; Country life; Farms and farming; Historical fiction; Individuality]
Perkins, Mitali. Secret Keeper. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.
When her father moves to New York to find work, sixteen-year-old Ashi, along with her older sister and her mother, leave their home in New Delhi and move in with relatives in Calcutta. The new irritating restrictions are expected to be temporary. Soon they will join Ashi’s father in America. But when the household receives news that he has died in an accident, the future seems bleak. What will happen to them? Set in 1974, this novel of cultural conflict and class distinctions will appeal to readers 12 to 16 years old. [India; Historical fiction; Sisters; Marriage; Sex role; Family life; Cousins; Secrets; Perseverance (Ethics); Courage; Individuality; Love]
* Philbrick, Rodman. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg. New York : Blue Sky Press, 2009.
Twelve-year-old Homer runs away from his cruel uncle to rescue his older brother who has been forced to serve as a soldier in the American Civil War. For 11 – 15 year olds. [Adventure and adventurers; Brothers; Historical fiction; Uncles; Orphans; War; Runaways]
* Pileggi, Leah. Prisoner 88. Watertown, Mass.: Charlesbridge, 2013.
Ten-year-old Jake is sent to prison, accused of killing a man. He can’t remember pulling the trigger, but he figures he must be guilty. Fearful and lonely, he arrives at the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary and is placed in a cell alongside adult criminals. Despite the violence, he finds people who protect him. And he enjoys more food to eat than he can ever remember. Based on a real newspaper article from 1885, this inspiring novel is highly recommended for readers 11-years-old and up. It could be compared to Then by Morris Gleitzman or The Killer’s Tears by Anne-Laure Bondoux. [Courage; Fathers and sons; Historical fiction; Idaho; Prisons; Prisoners; Reading]
Porter, Tracey. Billy Creekmore. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2007.
Ten-year-old Billy suffers the cruelties of life in an orphanage. Not enough food. Not enough warmth. And no love, at all. Everything changes, though, when an uncle and aunt claim him and take him off to live with them in a coal mining town in West Virginia. Billy’s spunk and love of storytelling, though, cause trouble when he gets involved with the union. This is 1905 and the mine managers are angry. So Billy runs away to join the circus and find the father who long ago abandoned him.
This modern-day Charles Dickens novel could also be compared toThe Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick. It is highly recommended for readers 9 to 14 years old. It would also make a wonderful read-aloud for a fifth grade class. [Aunts and uncles; Circus; Coals and coal mining; Fathers and sons; Historical fiction; Honesty; Orphanages; Runaways; Self-reliance; West Virginia]
Ramsay, Calvin Alexander. Ruth and the Green Book. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, 2010.
“When Ruth and her parents take a motor trip from Chicago to Alabama to visit her grandma, they rely on a pamphlet called ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book’ to find places that will serve them. Includes facts about ‘The Green Book.'” – CIP Highly recommended picture book for ages 9 and up.
Reynolds, Aaron. Back of the Bus. New York: Philomel Books, 2010.
“From the back of the bus, an African American child watches the arrest of Rosa Parks.” – CIP Highly recommended picture book for ages 8 and up.
Rhodes, Jewell Parker. Sugar. New York : Little, Brown, 2013.
“In 1870, Reconstruction brings big changes to the Louisiana sugar plantation where spunky ten-year-old Sugar has always lived, including her friendship with Billy, the son of her former master, and the arrival of workmen from China.” – CIP [African Americans; Chinese Americans; Courage; Friendship; Historical fiction; Individuality; Louisiana; Orphans; Race relations; Racism]
Rundell, Katherine. The Good Thieves. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019.
After Vita’s grandfather is swindled out of his home, she and her mother sail to New York City to take him back to England. But once they arrive, Vita comes up with a new plan: to reclaim the family mansion. With the help of newfound friends – two circus performers and a reluctant pickpocket – she sets out to accomplish her mission. Katherine Rundell accomplishes her usual magic with this latest novel set in the 1920s. Mixing the sadly all-too-real and the impossibly-foolhardy-and-unrealistic, she once again tells a rollicking tale of adventure which will inspire readers 10 to 14 years of age. Highly recommended!
Rundell, Katherine. The Wolf Wilder. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015.
“In the days before the Russian Revolution, twelve-year-old Feodora sets out to rescue her mother when the Tsar’s Imperial Army imprisons her for teaching tamed wolves to fend for themselves.” – FVRL. “A slightly different version of this work was originally published in 2015 in Great Britain by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.” – T.p. verso. This story of courage with the echo of a powerful myth is recommended for all readers 11 years old and up. [Historical fiction; Mothers and daughters; St. Petersburg (Russia); Surivival; Wolves]
Schlitz, Laura Amy. The Hired Girl. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2015.
“Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself – because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of – a woman with a future.” – FVRL. A marvellous 387-page novel for romantic readers 12 years old and up. [Baltimore (Md.); Diaries; Historical fiction; Jewish families; Maryland; Runaways; Servants]
Schmidt, Gary D. Okay for Now. Clarion Books, 2011.
Fourteen-year-old Doug has just moved to a small town in New York State. He has a mean older brother and an abusive father. He can’t read and he has no friends. But slowly he makes friends with a classmate, with his teachers and with a librarian who teaches him how to draw. And after his oldest brother comes back from Vietnam, life starts to change at home, too. [Family life; Fathers and sons; New York (State); Schools; Friendship; Drawing; Violence; Child abuse; Audubon, John James; Theater; Brothers; Vietnam conflict, 1961-1975; Moving, Household; Dating (Social customs)]
Schwabach, Karen. A Pickpocket’s Tale. New York: Random House, 2006.
“When Molly, a ten-year-old orphan, is arrested for picking pockets in London in 1731, she is banished to America and serves as an indentured servant for a New York City family that expects her to follow their Jewish traditions.” – CIP. Recommended for readers 11 to 15-years-old. [New York (City); Orphans; Slavery; Judaism; Jews]
Sedgwick, Marcus. Midwinterblood. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2013.
Seven vignettes are linked by their setting, a small island north of Scotland, and by two characters, Eric and Merle. Steadily going back in time from the twenty-first to the tenth century, the stories will appeal to sophisticated and imaginative readers, 13-years-old and up. [Fantasy fiction; Islands; Love; Reincarnation; Short stories; Scandinavia; Vikings].
Sepetys, Ruta. The Fountains of Silence. New York: Philomel Books, 2019.
In 1957, wealthy eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, an aspiring photographer from Texas who is visiting Madrid with his parents, discovers the quietly dangerous world of Franco’s Spain as he becomes friends with Ana, a hotel maid. Political intrigue, romance, and history all combine in this compelling story by an accomplished author. An extensive bibliography and black-and-white photographs supplement this 472-page novel highly recommended for readers 13 years old and up. [Dictatorships; Franco, Francisco; Photography; Secrets; Spain]
Stewart, Sarah. The Quiet Place. New York: Margaret Ferguson Books, 2012.
In 1957, young Isabel writes letters to her Aunt Lupita back in Mexico after she and her family move to the U.S.A. The softly coloured illustrations by the author’s husband, David Small, help create a touching picture book recommended for readers – and listeners – 7 to 14 years old. [Aunts; Homesickness; Immigrants; Letters; Mexican Americans]
Sturtevant, Katherine. The Brothers Story. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.
Fifteen-year-old Kit wants to leave home to become an apprentice in London, but he feels a sense of duty for his twin brother who is unable to care for himself. Set in the late seventeenth century, this young adult novel is recommended for grades eight to ten. (Renaissance; London (England); Apprentices; Brothers; Twins; People with mental disabilities; Poverty; Young adult fiction; Winter)
Tutu, Desmond and Douglas Carlton Abrams. Desmond and the Very Mean Word. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2013.
Desmond happily sets out on his bicycle but soon encounters some jeering boys. This picture book about learning how to forgive is inspired by an incident in Archbishop Tutu’s own childhood. [Bullying; Forgiveness; Prejudice; Racism]
Vawter, Vince. Paperboy. New York: Delacorte, 2013.
“When an eleven-year-old boy takes over a friend’s newspaper route in July 1959, in Memphis, his debilitating stutter makes for a memorable month.” – CIP. A Newbery Honor Book, highly recommended for readers 10 to 15 years old. [Bullying; Family life; Newspaper carriers; Race relations; Stuttering; Tennessee]
* Velchin, Eugene. Breaking Stalin’s Nose. New York: Henry Holt, 2011.
When I was a child, my father told me a story of his childhood on the Canadian prairies during the hungry years of the 1930s. A man in his village said that life would be far better for them if they lived in the Soviet Union where everyone had enough food to eat. “Go then,” people said in my father’s village. And he did. He moved to Russia. Some time later, he sent a letter to Canada. “Come here! There are enough jobs and enough food for everyone. Come. But you will need a very sturdy trunk for such a long journey. There is only one place in the village that makes the kind of trunk you will need.” And he gave the name of the business. It was the casket maker.
This novel, a Newbery Honor book, tells the story of ten-year-old Sasha who adores his father who works for the secret police in Stalinist Russia. But his perspective changes when he discovers secrets about his deceased mother and his father is unexpectedly arrested, leaving Sasha homeless in the middle of winter. While easy to read, this powerful story is best suited for brave readers aged eleven and up.
* Wells, Rosemary. Lincoln and His Boys. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2009.
Willie and Tad, Abraham Lincoln’s youngest sons, tell the story of how their father became the American president. The family’s move to Washington, D.C., their parents’ grief as two of the four children die, and their fears during the Civil War are all told through the eyes of two boys who are greatly loved.
In an afterward, the author writes, “No detail was imagined or invented except the dialogue and the circumstances in which it took place. Everything I have written was easily researched…” This small 93-page book, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, is highly recommended for readers – 9 years old and up – who are interested in American history.
* White, Ruth. Belle Prater’s Boy. New York: Square Fish, 2012, c1996.
Twelve-year-old Gypsy learns more about her father’s death when she becomes friends with her cousin Woodrow, who moves next door after his mother’s disappearance. Set in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia in 1953, this Newbery Honor Book is highly recommended for readers who have enjoyed novels by Sharon Creech and Cynthia Rylant. [Cousins; Grief; Historical fiction; Parent and child; Virginia]
White, Ruth. Buttermilk Hill. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004.
During the early 1970s, Piper grows up divided between her father, with his new wife and new stepsons, and her mother, who is going back to school to become a teacher. She spends time with her friends and relatives. She writes poetry. And she learns to follow her own dreams. [Historical fiction; Family life; Divorce; North Carolina; Poets]
White, Ruth. A Month of Sundays. New York: Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.
“In the summer of 1956 while her mother is in Florida searching for a job, fourteen-year-old April Garnet Rose, who has never met her father, stays with her terminally ill aunt in Virginia and accompanies her as she visits different churches, looking for God.” – CIP. A smoothly flowing story, far more engaging than most novels written in first-person present tense, recommended for readers 11 years old and up. Could be compared to the more humorous story, The Canning Season by Polly Horvath, also about a girl sent north from Florida to live with aunts. [Aunts; Christianity; Country life; Faith; Family problems; Fathers and daughters; Historical fiction; Virginia]
White, Ruth. The Search for Belle Prater. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005.
In 1955, Woodrow and his cousin Gypsy befriend a new girl in their seventh grade class in rural Virginia, and the three of them set off to find Woodrow’s missing mother, encountering unlikely and intriguing coincidences along the way.” – CIP. The sequel to Belle Prater’s Boy. Recommended for readers in grades 4 to 7. [Abandoned children; Cousins; Family life; Historical fiction; Virginia]
White, Ruth. Tadpole. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
During the summer of 1955, four Collins sisters – Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia and Carolina – discover their thirteen-year-old orphaned cousin is being brutally mistreated by the guardian who is supposed to be taking care of him. So, along with their single mother, they decide to rescue him. [Poverty; Historical fiction; Orphans; Humorous stories; Summer; Cousins; Family life; Child abuse; Runaways]
Wolk, Lauren. Echo Mountain. New York: Dutton Children’s Books, 2020.
Twelve-year-old Ellie meets Larkin when she and her family have to abandon their home during the Great Depression in 1934. She and her younger brother move, with their parents, to the mountains of Maine, building a cabin and making do with what the land will provide. Tragedy follows. But Ellie gains courage and learns how to be healer, bringing hope back to life in the midst of poverty and despair. Highly recommended for readers 11 years old and up.
Wung-Sung, Jesper. The Last Execution. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. Translated by Lindy Falk van Rooyen.
Chapter by chapter, the final hours count down to the last execution in Danish history. Chapter by chapter, eleven bystanders reveal their thoughts about the 15-year-old boy accused of arson and murder. And in each chapter, we also hear the voice of that forlorn and forsaken boy. Based on a true story from 1853, this heart-wrenching novel of poverty and prejudice is highly recommended for thoughtful readers 14 years old and up. [Death; Denmark; Poverty]
Yelchin, Eugene. Arcady’s Goal. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014.
“When twelve-year-old Arcady is sent to a children’s home after his parents are declared enemies of the state in Soviet Russia, soccer becomes a way to secure extra rations, respect, and protection but it may also be his way out if he can believe in and love another person–and himself.” – CIP. Highly recommended for all readers 11-years-old and up. [Orphans; Communism; Foster children; Soviet Union; Soccer]
Yelchin, Eugene. The Haunting of Falcon House. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2016.
“In 1891, twelve-year-old Lev Lvov travels to Saint Petersburg, Russia, to assume his duties as Prince, but must first use his special gift to rid the House of Lions of a ghost.” – CIP. Written by Prince Lev Lvov with pictures drawn in his own hand; translated by Eugene Yelchin who writes in the preface, “when I was a schoolboy in St. Petersburg, Russia,…I came upon a bundle of paper held together with frayed twine….Some years passed….Resolved to faithfully restore Lvov’s original narration, I set to work. To carry Prince Lev’s feelings across to the reader, I became inwardly connected to the young prince…” A spell-binding story for readers 11 to 14-years-old.
Yelchin, Eugene. Spy Runner. New York: GodwinBooks, Henry Holt and Company, 2019.
In 1953 America, 12-year-old Jake is keeping his eyes open for Russian spies. His father has been missing in action since the end of the war in 1945, so when his mother invites a mysterious boarder into their home, he is suspicious. Why do the stories about his father not make sense? Why is his mother so affectionate toward this new man? Why is his principal so afraid of two strange men who visit the school? What is going on? This dramatic page-turner – evoking all the secrecy and paranoia of the Cold War – will appeal to curious readers 11 years old and up. [Cold War; Communism; Russia; Spies]
* Yep, Laurence. The Dragon’s Child. New York : HarperCollins, 2008.
Ten-year-old Gim unhappily moves to America with his father in this novel based on the life of the author’s father. Set in 1922, the novel shows how Chinese immigrants had to pass detailed tests before being admitted to California. Includes an afterward with additional historical details. [California; China; Chinese Americans; Emigration and immigration; Fathers and sons; Historical fiction; Stuttering]
Yep, Laurence. The Star Maker. New York: Harper, 2011.
Artie learns how to deal with a bully with the help of his uncle Chester in this short novel set in 1954. Includes an afterward with information about the Chinese customs in the story. Recommended for readers eight to eleven-years-old. [California; Chinese Americans; Chinese New Year; Family life; San Francisco (Calif.); Uncles]
Yep, Laurence. When the Circus Came to Town. New York, NY : HarperCollins, 2002.
Ten-year-old Ursula’s adventures with her friends come to an end when she contracts smallpox and is covered with scars. But with the encouragement of a Chinese cook hired by her parents, who run a restaurant at a small stagecoach station in Montana, she regains her confidence. Based on a true story, this short novel by a skilled storyteller is recommended for readers in grades three to six. [Chinese Americans; Chinese New Year; Circuses; Frontier and pioneer life; Historical fiction; Montana; Self-esteem; Smallpox; Winter]
Ylvisaker, Anne. The Luck of the Buttons. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2012, c2011.
Twelve-year-old Tugs wins a Brownie camera and solves a mystery about a newcomer who says he wants to start a newspaper in her small Iowan town in 1929. This lively novel inspired by a photograph of the author’s grandmother, is highly recommended for readers who like spunky heroines and appreciate brilliant writing. [Family life; Friendship; Depressions; Historical fiction; Iowa; Mystery and detective stories; Photography; Poverty; Summer]
* Ylvisaker, Anne. Button Down. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2012.
Tugs’s cousin Ned is the hero in this sequel to The Luck of the Buttons. He learns strategy from his ailing grandfather, battles bullies, and discovers that he can play football despite his small size. This lively novel is highly recommended for readers ten-years-old and up. [Depressions; Family life; Football; Friendship; Grandfathers; Historical fiction; Humorous stories; Iowa; Poverty]
Yolen, Jane. Miz Berlin Walks. New York: Philomel Books, 1997.
“Mary Louise gradually gets to know and love her elderly neighbor lady who tells wonderful stories as she walks round the block of her Virginia home.” – CIP Highly recommended picture book for all ages.
Stories based on the author’s life: HERE
Stories about migration: HERE
Stories of the Middle Ages and Renaissance: HERE
Picture books about coal mining on Cape Breton Island: HERE
Stories about war: