Historical fiction is a great way for children to learn history, and be engaged at the same time.
Theme: Love and Loss of Grandparents
Best for: 6 to 9
“‘He can only speak French in my journal,’, I said. ‘I suppose that’s what writing is for,’ said Grandfather. ‘To change life and make it come out the way you want it to.'” This children’s book addresses something so precious – preparing a child for the death of the grandparent. I cry just writing those words. Yet there is nothing maudlin or sad about this children’s book. It is exquisite.
Published: 1985 – 2006
Theme: Family life on the Plains
Best for: 5 – 8
“Sarah loved the chickens. She clucked back to them and fed them grain. They followed her, shuffling and scratching primly in the dirt. I knew they would not be for eating.” What captured me in each children’s book of this collection was the emphasis on the emotions and feelings of the people. We live through the eyes of each child in turn…
Theme: New Baby
Best for: 7- 9
“What if Mama is too old to have this baby? What if this terrible baby makes Mama die like Caleb’s mama died when he was born? I closed the journal as if shutting away the words would make them go away.” The very real fears and emotions of the youngest child towards a new baby are presented with care in book 4 of Sarah, Plain and Tall.
Best for: 6 to 8
“They are beautiful, the trees and hills and lakes filled with water. But the prairie is home, the sky so big it takes your breath away, the land like a giant quilt tossed out.” A profound exploration of reconciliation between father and son, and forgiveness.
Theme: Family Life on the Prairie
Best for: 6 – 8
“Sarah and I sat in the kitchen. The air was thick with the heat, and there was no breeze. There hadn’t been any wind for days. Sarah was writing a letter to the aunts in Maine. I wrote in my journal.” In the second of Sarah, Plain and Tall, the family must deal with a serious drought, and separation from each other and the land.
Theme: Coming of Age
Best for: Boys 11-12
“San Ysidro is the patron saint of our village of Los Cordovas…He keeps an eye out special for Los Cordovas…For as long as I can remember, there have been no complaints about how San Ysidro has handled things for our village.” Miguel is twelve years old, a middle child in a large family of shepherds who have lived on the New Mexico lands for hundreds of years. Somehow he has a way of muddling everything he tries to communicate…
Theme: Robin Hood Stories
Best for: 10 and up
I am Robin. Robin of Locksley,” he answered seriously. “I have wandered these woods a hundred times, but today I admit I am lost.” …”That is not so bad. There is always a way home,” Marian said, and they both smiled.” A children’s book anthology of newer stories inspired by original Robin Hood stories, these are updated, easy to read, and rekindle the love of the original.
Theme: Perseverance through obstacles
Best for: 7 to 10
“Just as Su Shih’s writing followed the laws of nature, do did his rulings, where were just and as brilliant as the sun. He was guided by the ancient Chinese book of wisdom, the Tao Te Ching…” It’s an interesting challenge to create a historical fiction children’s book that young children would be able to take in…
Best for: 9 and up
“…Ben started talking about his reading lessons. “It was like coming in out of the dark,” he said. “When I started, there were shapes and things, but nothing was clear. Then it was clear and I could see. It was like being born.” This unusual children’s book offers a retelling of the classic folk tale, Dick Whittington and His Cat, and gentle support for struggling readers.
Theme: Trust and Loyalty
Best for: 12 and up
“The world was so beautiful in those days, Annika. The music, the flowers, the scent of the pines…” “It still is,” said Annika. “Honestly, it still is.” Filled with unexpected twists and turns, with terrific characters, and with a cliff-hanger, but happy, ending, this children’s book is terrific from start to finish.
Best for: ages 11 and up, especially girls
“Granddaddy and I sat motionless for a good five minutes and then quietly collected our things and moved on. On the way back, he spotted the rarest and most delicate object in the wild, an old hummingbird’s nest, fragile and expertly woven, smaller than an eggcup.” Imagine a children’s book which mixes together life in a rural southern town in 1899, a big dose of Charles Darwin, the natural world, and the coming of age of a young girl. If you think this is an implausible mixture for a children’s book…
Best for: 5 to 8
“Each day something new and surprising dripped out of Daozi’s brush. His straight lines splintered into trees. His hooks caught fish. His dots burst into eyes, then pigs and monkeys. From a stroke, a horse’s tail flew by.” This children’s book is exquisite from beginning to end, from front cover to back cover. The story is an imaginative version of the life of the great Chinese artist Wu Daozi…
Theme: Historical Fiction
Best for: ages 10 and up
“The troops from Andover appeared in there dashing red uniforms, every button shining, leather gleaming…The church bells chimed. Then a great shout went up. For there was President Washington – a tall, commanding man, riding horseback to enter the town.” Here’s a children’s book that is so informative, it’s a little hard not to compare it to a dull textbook that might teach the same subject. The subject matter is navigation, discoveries, and life at the time of the American Revolution.
Theme: Courage, Racial Discrimination
Best for: 11 and older
“Would Mama like the colors I picked? Would she be mad about me taking them pieces from her apron? I turned the quilt in the air, looking at it this way and that. Soon I would be running out of thread.Wasn’t but a few inches hanging down like the tail of a kite.” Gee’s Bend is indeed a real place. The women of Gee’s bend have a tradition of creating quilts that dates back to early American history. In recent years, their quilts were discovered…
Theme: Courage, Immigrants
Best for: 12 and up (PG)
“How much he missed Rachel. Would he be able to hold out long enough for the revolution? Would he survive? Would he ever devote endless hours to practicing a Brahms concerto? Would he ever play games with his sister again?” Here is a painfully beautiful and difficult children’s book that I must recommend particularly because I want my son and grandson to read it…
Theme: Simplicity of Heart
Best for: 11 and up
“More animals appeared, and then from behind Dinadan came a gentle piping sound, like the wind whistling through chinks in a wall, but the piping kept time with Dinadan’s song. Then, to Dinadan’s wonder, it began to play in counterpoint to his own melody.” Each children’s book in the Squire’s Tales series is a re-telling of an Arthurian tale. This one retells Tristam and Isolde, adapted for children…
Theme: Magic of the Ordinary
Best for: 9 and up
“Night putting her arms around the sea. No helping wizard. Just the earth going to bed the same as it had done for a million years.. .Were no more wonders worked since sprites and fairies left the haunts of Man? Yet it was magic too, this…the sun sinking in the sea at dusk and rising on the land at dawn.” This children’s book is about belief in the unseen worlds, and learning to see the magic that is also possible in daily life. The characters in the book are fascinating, and unlike those we might meet in other books…
Theme: Arthurian Tales
Best for: 9 and up
“Knight, holy man, family, poet–it is all that any land could want. If the knight will be honorable, the holy man true, the family loving..And if the poet will sing. After all, someone needs to tell the story of Arthur.” I went on a “Knights of the Round Table” binge, reading all the remaining stories of the Squire’s Tales that I had not yet read. Reading these children’s books is somewhat like candy for the heart, mind, and soul.
This children’s book is number 3 in the series, The Squire’s Tale. Each Arthurian tale has its own drama and excitement, and this is no exception. The characters, Roger, the dwarf, and Lady Lynette, a very strong woman, are very well drawn.
In this children’s book, number 6 in the series, The Squire’s Tale, we meet some very odd characters, who of course, turn out to be heroes. This dramatic episode involves the kidnapping of Queen Guinevere, and her daring rescue.
In book number 8 of The Squire’s Tales, we follow our Arthurian heroes on an unusual quest, as Beaufils is searching for his father. This is one of the more profound stories in the cycle, as we find the vulnerability of men shown as they recognize themselves in each other.
In this children’s book, number 9 in the Squire’s Tale series, at last we have a book solely about Terrance the squire. He is the most mysterious of all, being part fairy. We find out so much more here.
In the final children’s book in The Squire Tale series, we come to the conclusion of the Arthurian cycle of stories, with it’s bittersweet ending. Book number 10 has to bring it all to an end, even though we will come back and read these stories again and again.
Theme: Finding One’s Destiny
Best for: 9 and up
“Hugo had become a thief to survive and help the automaton. What would his punishment be? Was he now going to spend the rest of his life behind the counter of this toy booth like the old man?…There had to be something else.” To spend time with this children’s book is a one-of-a-kind experience. The full-page illustrations complement the very dramatic unfolding of events…
Best for: 5 – 8
“Suddenly he knew there were mysteries in the word, hidden and silent, unknown and unseen. He wanted, more than anything, to understand those mysteries.” Here’s a treasure – an authentic story about Albert Einstein, written with very young children in mind, accompanied by absolutely magical illustrations. I am so in love with this one…
Theme: 13th Century Life
Best for: girls 12 and older
“I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.” It’s not often that I read a somewhat serious children’s book that makes me laugh out loud. This book certainly does that, due to the main character, a sharp, funny, sarcastic, and somewhat willful 13th century teenager.
Best for: ages 10 and up
“Be not robbers to any who are poor and who are good fellows–having only their poverty against them. Be kind to those who help you, but exact toll as heretofore of all who come through the greenwood. The rich to pay in money, and blood–if it be necessary.” Given how riveting the tale of Robin Hood is, I surely hope others don’t wait as long as I did to finally read this masterpiece of children’s literature. It is everything I had hoped it would be…
Best for: ages 9 and up
“Your mind knows that you are going to Songdo. But you must not tell your body. It must think one hill, one valley, one day at a time. In that way, your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to way.” In this lovely, art-inspired children’s book about a potter and his apprentice, the feeling of the way of the ancients comes through loud and strong. The image of the apprentice who serves the master potter for the love of the art is…
Theme: Kindness and Survival
Best for: children over 10
“The heart is like an apartment,” Madame Marie tells me. “Every day you must clean it and make it cheerful…If you make your apartment extra nice, God will come to visit you too.” Here is a breathtakingly beautiful children’s book about a breathtakingly horrendous episode in history: the Holocaust…
Theme: Overcoming Fear
Best for: 8 and older
“Mafatu lay there under his lean-to, relaxed in every nerve. He had fire, food, shelter. He had faced Moana, the Sea God…There was a new-found confidence in his heart. He had found a new belief in himself.” This tale is told as if on one long breath, an exhalation that ends in exultation. There is not a moment where you can rest until the tale is told, which of course, is what makes a great tale, and a great children’s book.