Book Lists: Recommended Reading & Suggested Resources

Think back to the first time you heard about the Pilgrims arriving on the Mayflower, or the early pioneers traveling west across America in covered wagons. Not long after you learned of these journeys, you probably began incorporating them into your “make believe” play. The “olden days” was a unique and amusing time, and it was always an adventure. But how did you know about the way people used to dress, talk, and live? Most likely, a work of historical fiction provided some of these every-day details to the names, dates, and places of the past.

When it comes to selecting historical fiction, educators and librarians are looking for historicity. What is historicity? Dictionaries define it as an accurate representation of the past. But authors Rosemary Coffey and Elizabeth Howard explain historicity as an “indication of what a reader might learn about historical events of the ways of living, customs, attitudes, and values of the time.” (1)

The United States does not have a long history to write about—only about four hundred years (longer if you include Native American history). But within those years, so many things have happened! Because of this, it is helpful to dived up American history into different time periods and eras. Some of these eras even overlap. This becomes useful for readers who want to accumulate varied perspectives from the same time period.

Below is pretty a standard list of time periods in United States history. Because historical fiction is first and foremost about story, these time periods are divided into thematic eras, centering around past events and movements that made an impact on the nation.

1.      Colonization and Settlement (1585-1759)
2.     
The American Revolution and the New Nation (1760-1820s)
3.     
Expansion and Reform (1801-1870)
4.     
The Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)
5.     
Immigration, Industrialization, and Urbanization (1870-1920)
6.     
The Jazz Age and the Great Depression (1920-1940)
7.     
The United States and World War II (1940s)
8.     
Civil Rights Era (1954-1968)
9.     
Vietnam and Cold War Era (1955-1980s)

Below you will find a variety of resources for sharing and teaching with historical fiction. However, the purpose of this website is not to give out expansive lists so that you will be prepared to provide the best readers advisory and wow your class with relevant book pairings. As professionals in the field, the research process is an important experience. Think of the following lists as a treasure map. With these suggested resources and book recommendations, you are well on your way to discovering the right book or books for young readers.

BOOK AWARDS FOR CHILDREN'S HISTORICAL FICTION

Booklist’s top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth
This is a list of quality historical fiction written for youth, curated annually by Booklist Online.

Jane Addams Children’s Book Award
While not explicitly awarded for historical fiction, the award is given annually to books that promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and equality.

New York Historical Society Children’s History Book Prize
This prize is given to honor excellent children’s historical literature and encourage authors to continue to create engaging and challenging narratives that provide a window into the past for middle readers and their families.

Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
Compiled by the Children's Book Council in cooperation with the National Council for the Social Studies, these books emphasize human relations, represent diversity of groups, and include a broad range of cultural experiences.

Scott O’Dell Award
This award is given annually to a distinguished work of children’s historical fiction set in the New World (Canada, Central or South America, or the United States).

BLOGS & WEBSITES ABOUT CHILDREN'S HISTORICAL FICTION

Bookworm for Kids: A Resource for Books for Children
Lucinda Surber, a retired teacher, created Bookworm For Kids as a resource for teachers, caregivers, and anyone interested in encouraging children to love reading. Her section on historical fiction provides book reviews and recommendations for current children’s historical fiction titles.

Cooperative Children’s Book Center
The Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) is a research library of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The website provides access to information and resources about their large non-circulating collection of current, retrospective and historical books published for children and young adults.

Kid Lit History
Melissa Prycer is a professional historian and Executive Director of the Dallas Heritage Village. As an avid reader of children’s historical fiction, her blog reviews both classical titles and recent historical fiction for children.

Literature for Kids
Literature for Kids provides an a vast array of book reviews devoted to help inspire reading and foster imagination in children.

Teacher Vision: Popular Historical Fiction Resources
Teacher Vision is a website devoted to providing teachers with resources for their classrooms. This article “Popular Historical Fiction Resources,” demonstrates ways to incorporate historical fiction into the study of history with literature guides, lesson plans, activities, and printables.

RECOMMENDED HISTORICAL FICTION (Grades 5-8)

Talking about historical fiction is only half the fun. Now let's read some! The following are lists of recent works of historical fiction, published for middle grade readers. The books are selected from children’s historical fiction bibliographies written by Hillary Crew (2) and John Gillespie (3). If you’ve been reading and teaching with historical fiction for a long time, you'll notice that these book lists will differ from canonical bibliographies of decades past. While the events of the past have not changed, it is said that historical fiction is a product of one’s own time {Read more about this topic!}. Authors tend to write historical stories that are relevant to their own contemporary society. Here you will see a greater presence of female characters and people of color (including African American, Native American, Asian American, Latino protagonists), as well as the under-privileged, the oppressed, and the poor. This is what America is made of; this is our history.

Instructions: click on each cover image to see book information.

1. Colonization and Settlement (1585-1759)

2. The American Revolution and the New Nation (1760-1820s)

3.  Expansion and Reform (1801-1870)

4. The Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

5.  Immigration, Industrialization, and Urbanization (1870-1920)

6. The Jazz Age and the Great Depression (1920-1940)

7. The United States and World War II (1940s)

8. Civil Rights Era (1954-1968)

9.  Vietnam and Cold War Era (1955-1980s)

 

NOTES

1. Coffey, R. & Howard E.F. (1997). America as story: Historical fiction for middle and secondary schools. Chicago: ALA. p. xvi.
2. Crew, H. (2014). Experiencing America's story through fiction: Historical novels for grades 7-12. Chicago: ALA Editions.
3. Gillespie, J. T (2008). Historical fiction for young readers. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.