Historic fiction is a key part in bringing different periods in history alive. After many conversations with many students, I have assembled a top ten list of historic fiction for middle grade readers. These books are great for middle school and upper elementary.
- The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (World War II): This book is not only a favorite of students, but a personal favorite as well. When Ada and her brother end up being shipped out of London during World War II to live in the country with a stranger, they discover a whole new world. It is an amazing story about finding the gifts in other. From a history standpoint, the story touches on a little talked about part of World War II where children were sent out of their homes to rural areas to be protected from bombs and soldiers.
- A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen (Cold War): A family living in Germany is literally separated by the construction of the Berlin Wall during the cold war. With half of her family on the free Western side of the wall, Gerta, the protagonist, and her family must decide if they can execute a daring escape. The story is well-written and a compelling read. A Night Divided fills an important void of middle readers set in the Cold War.
- Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus (Immigration): A young Japanese boy travels to America in the mid-1800s. He struggles to fit in both in American and when he returns to Japan. He dreams of being a samurai. My students like the strong spirit of the boy to overcome the struggle as well as a setting with which many are less familiar.
- Revolution is not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine (Communist China): a young girl living in Mao's China finds her world to be dangerous as she struggles to listen to such radio programs as Voice of America and to express her freedom. Ling is a compelling character who takes you through struggles that are difficult often to truly comprehend. The story is a powerful look at Communist China.
- The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (1960s America, Vietnam Conflict): Holling spends Wednesdays with his teacher in what seems like a struggle of ideologies, but there are much bigger problems outside the classroom. The Vietnam war is raging and protests are frequent in America. 1960s America provides a compelling setting for this coming of age story.
- Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (World War I, homesteading in America): It's 1917, and Hattie is homesteading in Montana. The experience of working on the farm presents its own challenges at the same time as outside pressures from the war in Europe affect Hattie's life.
- Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene (World War II): This is a wonderful story of a surprising friendship between a young Jewish girl in America and a German held in a prison camp. The unlikely friendship between Nazi and Jew place a strain on the relationships in her life in a small town.
- Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Japanese immigrant in 1950s America): above all this is a story about two Japanese-American sisters in the post World War II south. The story shows the struggles of Japanese-Americans to receive equal pay, find jobs, and belong. This is an eye-opening book into one immigrant experience in America.
- Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai (September 11th; immigration): This award winning story of a boy in Afghanistan whose family decides to immigrate to the United States while Afghanistan is under Taliban rule. The boy, Fadi, loses his sister in the travels and struggles as Afghani immigrants in the United States with the attack on September 11th. The book is powerfully written and timely in bringing understanding and tolerance to the world today.
- The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis (The Great Depression, African-American experience): Set during the Great Depression, Deza Malone's family is hit hard when there is little work in America, particularly for a black man. The story which follows the family's journey towards work and each other reveals much of the devastation of the Great Depression. This novel provides a powerful insight into the period.
I could, of course, have written about many more novels (and probably will). But for now, think of this list as a starting point for historical fiction in your class and beyond. What are some of your favorite historical fiction books? Share your ideas in the comments below. I would love to add them to our library.