Published: 1967
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.

Published: 2011
Theme: The Madness of War, and Survival
Best for: over 11

“If they hate us, Karly, it is because we have also bombed their cities. What we are seeing now is a world gone mad, children, a world full of brutes, all intent on killing one another. And we should not forget that we are all responsible for making it happen.” This children’s book is an utterly fascinating and unique piece of historical fiction. In essence, this is a story of WWII from the point of view of a family of German refugees…

Published: 2002
Theme: History
Best for: girls 9 and older

“There was a soft chorus of ayes, and the three other Marys dropped to their knees and vowed as well to follow me through tumult and repose and never to marry until I have so done. Did any person have a luckier charm than these four steadfast friends?” This is one of many in a series called The Royal Diaries. What an absolutely fabulous way to learn history. Reading a diary is always fun, and even more so when it chronicles history…

Published: 2010
Theme: Community, Honoring the Past
Best for: 11 and older

“Death is like an explosion,” Miss Sadie said, her accent thick, like the humid air that hovered heavy around me. “It makes people take notice of things they might have overlooked.” This is a serious historical fiction children’s book, covering some pretty intense topics, all set in 1936 and earlier. From bootlegging to the Ku Klux clan, from immigrants to war casualties, this book is no light reading.

Published: 1986
Theme: The Grass is always greener…
Best for: 5th or 6th grade

“What was he looking for, a prince in fine velvets and a crown cocked on his head? Was it clothes that made a prince, Jemmy wondered, just as rags made a street boy?” What a great children’s book this is! I first heard of it last year when the fifth grade class in my Waldorf Charter school was reading it. A superb example of writing with humor, and capturing an era of the past…

Published: 1990
Theme: Breaking Conventions
Best for: ages 12 and up

“What could I do? All my life I had been trained to obey, educated to accept. I could hardly change in a moment. ‘Please lead me,’ I mumbled, as near to fainting as one could be without actually succumbing.” What an unusual children’s book. I admit I was riveted, despite the amount of drama and violent scenes. There was something so compelling about the way it was written, as a first person journal of a 13-year-old…

Published 1975
Theme: Chinese Immigrant experience
Best for: 12 and over

“All of a sudden I saw that if life seems awfully petty most of the time, every now and then there is something noble and beautiful and almost pure that lifts us suddenly out of the pettiness and lets us share in it a little.” This beautifully written and sensitive book covers the experience of the Chinese immigrants in the 1900s in San Francisco.

Published: 2005
Theme: Wisdom and Foolishness
Best for: 5 and older
Five Stars

“In the forbidden City of the Celestial Emperor Kwan-Yu lived a white cat with such beautiful green eyes that she was called Dream-of-Jade.” Lloyd Alexander, perhaps best known for his fantasy children’s books for older readers, has completely captured the genre of classical Chinese folk tales in an impeccable style…

Published: 1950
Theme: Overcoming Handicaps
Best for: 5th grade and up, classroom/home school

“…he would learn all the ways of knighthood. He would learn how to be of service to his liege lord, how to be courteous and gentle, and at the same time, strong of heart.” This Newberry Medal winner is a well-crafted historical fiction children’s book set in medieval England, complete with knights, plagues, and cloistered monks…

Published: 1990
Theme: Survival, Resilience
Best for: Classroom use, Home School, grade 5 and up

“Everyone in our tribe had two names, the real one which was secret and seldom used, and one which was common, for if people use your secret name, it becomes worn out and loses it’s magic.” This work of historical fiction, about a young girl left alone on an island, chronicles the ways she managed to survive..

Published 2008
Theme: Innate Wisdom of Children
Best for: 11 and older

“It was because of the king. Because he was brave and true to what he believed in and wouldn’t let himself be bullied. Because he knew that if you have power you must use it well and not be afraid.” A book that celebrates the power of independence in children’s lives..