10 Books for Middle Schoolers Who Love Historical Fiction

When I was younger I was not a big reader because I was a slow reader. No matter what though, my mother tried to encourage me to read by allowing me to read ANYTHING of interest to me. When I was in 6th grade, I picked up a book and read it and could not put it down. From that moment forward, I was on a search for books that I would enjoy reading and maybe also learn a little from as well. I loved books related to history and love stories. Becoming a teacher made me realize how important it is to find various types of books in order to address various topics and meet various learning styles and student interests.

Here are some thoughts from to share with children who may be struggling to find something they like, need a book related to a particular topic or simply want to try something different.

These books all have the theme of Historical Fiction. Do feel free to write to us for books on other topics as well as we are always in the mix of discovering what kids love to read…

Book: Two Suns in the Sky by Miriam Bat-Ami

Grade/Age: 5th grade and up/10 and up

Book synopsis: This is a story that takes place during World War II. It is the story of a 15 year old Yugoslavian Jew who flees Europe with his family. They come to the United States and find refuge at a refugee camp in Oswego, New York. While at the camp the main character Adam, meets a girl, Chris, who lives in Oswego but comes from a Catholic family. She feels trapped, he is escapee fighting for his life and yet this book beautifully shows the strength of love and the need for companionship in order to navigate life’s lessons.

My review: This book is great for anyone who loves a good love story, but also is interested in history. It gives you a glimpse into the life of two teenagers growing up during one of the world’s most terrible times in history. It allows students to learn about the challenges we may face in life and how to navigate them. It is reminiscent of a modern day Romeo and Juliet. Once you start reading it, you cannot put it down.

Book: Witness by Karen Hesse

Grade/Age: 6th grade and up/11 and up

Book synopsis: The story takes place in 1924 in a small Vermont town when the Klu Klux Klan comes to town. This book is written from the perspective of four different characters perspectives. The characters are of varying ages as well as varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The story unfolds and you see how the effects of the Ku Klux Klan affects each of their lives as well as how all their lives are intertwined. However, this book is not written as a story, but rather as poetry.

My review: Since this book is written in poetry it is a quick read and fast moving. It keeps you focused and wanting to know more. The way the author has written the story allows for fluidity and continuity. The most interesting thing is to see how the same group of people affect different people. It is a great book to teach first person narrative, point of view, and poetry.

Book: Maus I and Maus II by Art Spiegelman

Grade/Age: 6 and up/11 and up

Book synopsis: This is a graphic novel written by the author as an account of his father’s experience in Nazi Germany and through the Holocaust. It begins with the author as an adult going to visit his father and hear the story of his past and follows it through until his release at the end of the war. It is cleverly written and illustrated to depict the Jews and the Nazis.

My review: Graphic novels are a great way to get children interested in any topic, but especially historical topics. It is very easy for children to relate to because it reminds them of the comic books many students grew up on. It also allows for great graphics along with wonderful stories and makes reading a lot easier and more interactive.

Book: Audacity by Melanie Crowder

Grade/Age: 7 and up/13 and up

Book synopsis: This book is written in free verse from the perspective of a young Jewish girl, Clara, who lives in Russia and emigrates to America. She is part of a very traditional Jewish family and is taught to help out around the house and not to read or go to school. Clara defies her father’s wishes and sneaks books to start learning and reading. As life in Russia gets more difficult her family finds there way to America. They take up residency in New York’s Lower East Side Tenement buildings. Clara begins work in a garment factory, and eventually joins the women’s rights movement.

My review: This is a great story for anyone who loves New York. There are many places referenced in the book that people know and love. It is also a great book to learn about the experiences of a particular person during a particular time in history. I enjoyed that it was written in free verse. It made the story move quickly and it gives a rhythm to the story. It is an inspiring story about following your passion and sticking it out to find your purpose and meaning in life.

Book: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Grade/Age: Grade 5-7/10-12 years

Book synopsis: This is a story of ten year old Annemarie and her family and how they help her friend Ellen as the Nazi rise to power in Denmark. There is focus on the Danish resistance and how they help smuggle Jewish families to Sweden.

My review: Lois Lowry wrote a story that makes learning about a very sad and tough time in our  nation’s history very relatable. Lowry chose to write this story from the side of a family trying to help one of their daughter’s friends. As a child it raises a lot of questions about family dynamics, personal beliefs, and importance of friendship. It raises the question, how far would you go for someone you love?

Book: If I Should Die Before I Wake by Han Nolan

Grade/Age: 7th and up/12 and up

Book synopsis: This story is about Hilary. She is part of a Neo-Nazi group in her hometown and is part of a terrible motorcycle accident with her boyfriend. When he is taken to a Jewish hospital with a coma from he accident, she begins to have dreams that are not her own. In fact,

the memories of her roommate, Chana, a Holocaust survivor, are who the memories belong to. Throughout the story Hilary begins to learn the history of the Jews and the experiences they had during the Holocaust. What will this mean for her when she finally comes out of the coma?

My review: Han Nolan writes a story of genuine interest and concern. She raises a real issue of young people being part of very intense anti- groups for various reasons. What motivates us to make the choices we do? It also brings to the forefront the idea of learning about others by taking a walk in someone else’s shoes. By hearing other people’s stories we can learn a lot about ourselves from speaking to others. This book is a great read for anyone who is interested in the topic of the Holocaust or wants to understand life from another’s point of view.

Book: Little House on the Prairie Collection by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Grade/Age: 3rd-7th/8-12 years

Book synopsis: This collection is written by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her life and experience living and moving through America from the Wisconsin woods to Dakota. It takes place during the 1800s and early 1900s in America’s Western Frontier.

My review: I love these stories because they are a direct reflection of the author’s own life and give students an idea of what life was like during the pioneer days. If students enjoy one book, it is great that there is a series of books that trace the life of the characters.

Book: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

Grade/Age: 5th and up/10 and up

Book synopsis: Eleanor Coerr wrote a story about a young girl affected by the aftermath of the atom bomb. In her story she writes about Sadako and how she was visited by a friend in the hospital who shows her how to fold paper cranes. Sadako has leukemia from the radiation she experienced as a child when the atom bomb was dropped near her town. By the time of her death she has folded six hundred and forty-four cranes. There is now a memorial in Hiroshima Peace Park where people visit and leave paper cranes in her memory.

My review: This book is a short read, but it shows what the aftermath of the choices we make are. I think that this a great book to introduce students to the effects of a nation’s choice. It is relatable for students because she is such a young girl and I think like many of the other books, it gives another side to a story in our nation’s history.

Book: The Watson’s Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

Grade/Age: 6th to 8th/11 to 13

Book synopsis: The book is narrated by one of the characters, a nine year old boy named Kenny. He is part of the Watson family. One wrong move from Kenny’s older brother Byron causes their family to leave Michigan and head to Birmingham where their grandmother lives. Once in Birmingham, it is evident that this family has walked into the center of the Civil Rights movement.

My review: Christopher Paul Curtis wrote a story about a family and how the choices we make affect more than one person. This is the core idea at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. A family moves to save their own family member from the trouble he encounters only to walk in to one of the largest movements in our nations history. Curtis writes about racism and acts of racism and how they affect a young boy growing up in the face of such a whirlwind of events.

Book: Ringside 1925 by Jen Bryant

Grade/Age: 5th and up/10 and up

Book synopsis: The story takes place in 1925 and is about the students of Dayton, Tennessee. This book follows the story of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial from the perspective of the students of J.T. Scopes. J.T. Scopes is the teacher who is being put on trial for teaching his students Darwin’s theory of evolution. Each student has their own side to share and is written in prose.

My review: This book opens up the possibilities to experiencing a story from multiple points of view. It also relates to a very large trial in our nation’s history, but makes it relatable to students. It is written in prose, therefore it is an easier read since the amount that has to be read is shorter.

Have you or your kids struggled with this? If so, we'd love to hear about it and strategies you took to overcome it in the comments below!

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