History should never be boring! Here is a list of 100 quality historical novels for kids, reviewed. I have read most of them, and the ones I haven’t, they look really good and I feel comfortable recommending them. I tried to include a mixture of well-known classics, with many of my little-known favorites.
I chose these picks based on Sonlight’s criteria. Sonlight has 7 criteria that all of their books must meet. They are: realistic characters, solid character development, content that adds to the reader’s cultural literacy, intriguing plot, emotionally compelling, verbally beautiful, and re-readable. I like characters who are flawed; who doubt, who struggle with things, who seem more flawed than perfect. BUT the character must also grow and recognize those flaws.
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Historical Novels: Fiction
I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis – Varies
I Survived the sinking of the Titanic. I Survived Pearl Harbor. I Survived Hurricane Katrina. Read some of history’s greatest disasters, from the point of view of a fictional character who lived it. Time periods include Pearl Harbor, Great Chicago Fire, Titanic, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the San Francisco earthquakes, the Battle of Gettysburg, the Nazi invasion, and more.
Mysteries series by American Girl – Varies
You all know “Meet Kit” and “Changes for Samantha.” What few know about is that each girl has a mystery, sometimes two or three! These are aimed at a higher grade level (around grades 4-6) than the original American Girl doll books, mostly for the mystery plots younger kids probably won’t get. Examples include A Thief In the Theater (Kit), The Light in the Cellar (Molly), and Shadows on Society Hill (Addy).
Mysteries Through History series by American Girl – Varies
Entirely different from the American Girls, this series target age range is grades 5-8, and I wouldn’t recommend all these books for anyone over. I am somewhat hesitant to recommend all these, as I remember some of them giving me the chills. They’re not really graphic, but some do cover things like suspected murder mysteries. My favorite from this series is the Night Flyers, about WWI’s homing pigeons. 100% clean, nothing scary, and a fantastic history lesson!
Dear America series by Various Authors – Varies
Similar to American Girl, this series aimed at girls 12+, explores the lives of fictional girls throughout history – through their diary. What I like about this series versus some other historical series is many books focus on little-known events. Through smaller events in “big” time periods, you not only learn about the larger event, but the smaller one too. For a full list of each book and its time period, see here.
Dear Canada series by Various Authors – Varies
This is the Canadian spin-off of Dear America, and is a great introduction into Canadian history!
The Royal Diaries series by Various Authors – Varies
A spin off of Dear America, this one is quite similar – except from the view of fictional royals!
My Name is America series by Various Authors – Varies
This is the “boy” version of Dear America, written by fictional historical boys. The only one I’ve read is The Journal of Finn Reardon, about the Newsie strike in 1899. Great book, especially for boys. For a full list of each book and its time period, see here.
The Cat of Bubastes by G.A. Henty – Ancient Egypt
Chebron, the young son of an Egyptian high priest, and Amuba, a young slave in the boy’s household, are close friends; but their lives are greatly altered when Chebron accidentally kills a cat, an animal held sacred by the ancient Egyptians. Forced to flee for their safety, the boys and their companions begin a long and dangerous journey.
Tirzah by Lucille Travis – Exodus
Tirzah is a slave in Egypt; as her people have been for many years. Despite everything she and her people face; they keep trusting Yahweh, through it all.
A Cry From Egypt by Hope Auer – Exodus
Have you ever wondered what life was like in ancient Egypt? As an Israelite? And a slave? A Cry From Egypt is set in ancient Egypt right before the Exodus and it will make you really understand that the Bible is history. It happened to real people and you’ll feel like you were there. Christian Small Publishers Book of the Year 2014. This also has an audiobook with over 50 actors!
A Stand At Sinai by Hope Auer – Exodus
The sequel to A Cry From Egypt is on the way. Follow the adventures of Jarah, Eitan, Ada and the others as they cross the Red Sea and journey to Mount Sinai in this thrilling new novel.
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare – Biblical times
This Newbery winner centers around Daniel bar Jamin, a temperamental young man who seeks nothing but to revenge his father’s death. His attitude only begins to change when he meets Jesus of Nazareth… He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. –2 Samuel 22:35
The Viking Quest series by Lois Walfrid Johnson – 11th century?
Viking raiders kidnap siblings Bree and Devin, Bree and Devin must use courage and faith to find their way home. I’ve never read this series before, however I love Lois Walfrid Johnson’s other novels and it has great reviews.
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park – 1100s Korea
This Newbery winner is set in 12th-century Korea. A young orphan boy raised by a beggar under a bridge becomes an apprentice to a master potter and grows in his own talents. His journey shows faith, perseverance, and courage. Credit: Sonlight
The Hidden Treasure of Glaston by Eleanore Aewett – 1171
The confrontation between Archbishop Thomas Becket and King Henry has come to a bloody end. Abandoned and crippled, young Hugh takes refuge at Glastonbury Abbey under the care of a kind abbot. Legends of Arthur and of the Holy Grail, old forgotten passages, a mad hermit and a mysterious manuscript lead Hugh and his friend Dickon through adventure and danger into the faith and peace as much a part of the time as the political upheaval. Credit: Sonlight
Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Gray – 1200s England
Eleven-year-old Adam loved to travel throughout thirteenthcentury England with his father, a wandering minstrel, and his dog, Nick. But when Nick is stolen and his father disappears, Adam suddenly finds himself alone. He searches the same roads he traveled with his father, meeting various people along the way. But will Adam ever find his father and dog and end his desperate search?
Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman – 1200s England
The humorous diary of a spirited 14-year old girl in 13th century England. Her father wants to marry her off to the richest suitor available, but Catherine has other plans and finds many creative ways to repulse her many suitors. Credit: Sonlight
The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric Kelly – 1461
While looking for good books to add to this list, I came across this 1929 Newbery winner. It is the story of Joseph Charnetski, a young boy growing up in Medieval Poland, and bound by an ancient oath. Although I haven’t read it yet, it seems to be a mix of history, a pinch of science, and a lot of adventure!
Peter by Anne Holm – misc.
This book will be most likely pretty hard to find; but, it is a great novel set during 3 time periods – The Battle of Haliartus during ancient Greece, the Norman Conquest, and Cromwell and the Roundheads.
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman – late 1700s
Despite practically growing up in the sewer, Jimmy has a pretty nice life, and he’s happy where he is. However, when he is kidnapped to be the prince’s whipping boy, his life is about to be changed. The prince, known as Prince Brat, decides to run away with his whipping boy, and so their adventures begin!
Water Rat by Marnie Laird – 1748
Set in New England in the mid 1700s, a teenaged boy, nicknamed “Water Rat” because of his physical disability and his love for water. He is abused by man who he works for at a tavern. He manages to escape and finds his way to live on a farm with a doctor and his family. He learns about a pirate ship that is coming to raid the area and ends up saving the doctor and his family along with the town. Credit: Beforever31.com.
Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates – 1700s
This Newbery winner is based on the true story of Amos Fortune, slave, and how he later becomes a free man. It talks about his struggles and triumphs, and is well written!
Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare – French and Indian War 1754
Now, I found this book on the French and Indian war quite boring, but I know many find it interesting. So I’m including it on here.
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes -1773
Fourteen year-old apprentice Johnny Tremain is living on the brink of the American Revolutionary War, and his life is caught up in the hustle-and-bustle of the Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington.
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare – 1700s
Thirteen year-old Matt faces huge responsibility when his father leaves him alone in the wilderness. When Matt meets Attean, a boy in the Beaver clan, he begins to better understand their way of life and their growing problem in adapting to the white man and the changing frontier.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Anderson – 1793
Believe it or not, I have not yet read this classic coming-of-age novel. Sixteen year-old Mattie Cook is growing up in Philadelphia in 1793, and yellow fever is on the rage!
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – 1830s/1840s-ish
I actually enjoyed this old classic by Mark Twain and the classic story of Huck Finn and his friend Jim, and their adventures together.
By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman – 1849, California Gold Rush
It’s the California Gold Rush! Jack’s aunt is forced to sell her mansion to pay off debts. Because she still doesn’t have enough money, Jack and his butler head off to California to strike gold! What will they find?
Nory Ryan’s Song by Patricia Reilly Giff – mid 1800s, Ireland Potato Famine
Nory Ryan is living in Ireland during their unfortunate potato famine, where many people starved to death. In this amazing novel, young Nory works to find food, find hope, and courage to find a way to help her family survive.
Maggie’s Door by Patricia Reilly Giff – mid 1800s, Ireland Potato Famine
The sequel to Nory Ryan’s Song, Nory and her family are on their way from famine-torn Ireland to her sister Maggie’s door in Brooklyn, America. The story is told by Nory and her friend and neighbor Sean Red Mallon. I absolutely loved this book, and Patricia Reilly Giff is definitely one of my favorite children’s authors.
Freedom Seekers series by Lois Walfrid Johnson – 1860s, American Civil War
This Christian American Civil War series is has always been one of my favorites. Twelve year-old Libby is going to live on the Christina, a boat that her father owns. She soon gets caught up with a mysterious cabin boy and finds herself helping a runaway slave through the Underground Railroad! I loved this series and I highly recommend all six. (Originally titled The Riverboat Adventures)
Escape to Freedom by Barbara Brooks Simon – 1858, American Civil War
Although fictional, it is evident plenty of research was put into this National Geographic book that explores the lives of two runaway slaves – Callie and William, and their perspectives, struggles, hopes, and dreams.
The War Within by Carol Matas – 1863, American Civil War
Very seldom does the topic of anti-Semitism in the US come about. Hannah Green is proper Southern girl, and she is Jewish. The book shines light on a little-known aspect of the American Civil War, through the eyes of a young girl. The true story of General Order #11.
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis – Post American Civil War
The sequel to Elijah of Buxton, Benji and Red couldn’t be more different. They aren’t friends. They don’t even live in the same town. But their fates are entwined. A chance meeting leads the boys to discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. Both of them have encountered a strange presence in the forest, watching them, tracking them. Could the Madman of Piney Woods be real?
Sworn Enemies by Carol Matas – 1860s
I would really only recommend this for grades 7+, however I did find this a unique story worth telling. The plot is somewhat similar to The Count of Monte Cristo. During Russia in the late 1800s, Jews suffered many anti-Semitic attacks (pogroms) in Eastern Europe. The country’s czar was forcibly kidnapping young Jewish boys for his army, and most didn’t survive. This is the fictional story of two “survivors” – who are both sworn enemies, and must work together to survive. Although both boys survive, they never do really make amends. I still believe it is important to read as it gives you a better understanding of two notable future events in Jewish history – the Holocaust and Immigration at Ellis Island.
A House of Tailors by Patricia Reilly Giff – 1870s
No one hates sewing more than Dina Kirk! Thirteen year old moves from her home in Germany to Brooklyn, where she want to start her life fresh. Unfortunately, she finds herself back to sewing. I absolutely love this coming of age story, written from Dina’s perspectives.
Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore – 1911
In Downton Abbey era, Lady Charlotte seeks for adventure and a life outside of her upper-class life. Janie, a kitchen maid, knows she’s capable of so much more. As the two’s worlds collide, adventures and secrets unleash!
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo – WWI
This was the book that inspired the PG-13 movie, about a horse and his owner throughout the battlefields of World War I.
The Night Flyers by Elizabeth McDavid Jones – WWI
It’s WWI, and 12 year-old Pam is caring for her father’s homing pigeons. When a stranger with a foreign accent comes to town, Pam’s first thoughts are he’s a German spy. When some of the pigeons go missing, Pam begins to think the worse, and she is determined to find out the truth. This is an American Girl History Mystery, filled with fast paced but easy to follow adventure.
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool – WWI/Great Depression
Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was. This is a 2011 Newbery winner.
Bridge to America by Linda Glaser – 1920s, Immigration
Young Fivel is growing up in a small village in Poland. Battling pogroms and starvation, the one thing giving Fivel and his family hope each day is a note from Fivel’s father, who is in America, saving up for his family. I absolutely loved this book! Best part? It’s a true story.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse – Great Depression
Written in free verse poem, young Billie Jo struggles with losing her mother and her temperamental father. This wasn’t my favorite book, but was still a good Newbery winner that offers a look into the Great Depression.
Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck – Great Depression
During the Great Depression, 15-year-old Mary is sent to live with her crazy grandma on a farm – a stark contrast to life in Chicago.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis – Great Depression
It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan, and when 10-year-old Bud decides to hit the road to find his father, nothing can stop him.
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis – Great Depression
When the Depression hits 12-year-old Deza Malone, it first drives her father away from town in search of work. Trouble and hardship follow, in which not only poverty but also racial prejudice play a role — as does the kindness of strangers. Credit: Common Sense Media
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys – 1941
Set in 1941, 15 year-old Lina, her mother, and her brother are pulled from her home in Lithuania and sent to a work camp in Siberia. This novel kept me engaged the whole time!
Daniel’s Story by Carol Matas – 1940s, Holocaust
Daniel’s Story was a children’s exhibit in the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The story is a mashup of Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank. Literally, Daniel is part Elie Wiesel (he and his father’s journey in Auschwitz has many similarities) and part Anne Frank (he and Anne share many pre-war similarities). Nevertheless, this is a great Holocaust novel for older elementary and junior high students.
Run, Boy, Run by Uri Orlev – Holocaust
This is the incredible true story of a child Holocaust survivor. Unlike some, he didn’t hide with a gentile family. He didn’t survive the concentration camps. He survives alone – in the forest, occasionally doing some miscellaneous work for Polish farmers. The most incredible part? He loses his arm. This has a bit of profanity for a children’s novel, but it is still an incredible story. It also has an equally incredible movie.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry – Holocaust
This classic novel tells the story of a young Danish girl who helps her Jewish friend escape to free Sweden. Although this is fiction, it tells the wonderful story of the heart of the Danish people during the war – 99% of Danish Jews survived the war. Recommended age range is definitely mid elementary. Also, Disney’s Miracle at Midnight is said to be based on it.
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz – Holocaust
Although labelled fiction, this is a true story of Jack Gruener, a teenage Holocaust survivor who survived ten concentration camps and two death marches. I really enjoyed this one.
Farewell to Manzaner by Jeanne Houston – WWII
Very few WWII novels seem to touch on life in Japanese internment camps during the war. Farewell to Manzanar is the true story of one spirited Japanese-American family’s attempt to survive the indignities of forced detention . . . and of a native-born American child who discovered what it was like to grow up behind barbed wire in the United States.
Willow Run by Patricia Reilly Giff – WWII
Although fictional, Willow Run was a real life plant in Michigan during WWII. This is a fictional story told by a young girl whose father gets a job there. Patricia Reilly Giff is one of my favorite children’s authors; and I can say this didn’t disappoint!
Escape from Warsaw by Ian Serraillier – WWII
Three Polish siblings begin their expedition to neutral Switzerland, to meet up with their parents. It is older, but well written and a great introduction to WWII. It was originally titled The Silver Sword, and is also based on a true story.
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti – WWII
This is a fictional biography of the incredible Helmuth Hubener. German teen Helmuth begins to question the Nazi party, and soon gets ahold of an illegal radio and begins listening to the BBC. Inspired to tell others and with the help of two friends, the trio illegally printed anti-Nazi pamphlets. Unfortunately, they were caught, and Helmuth was executed. At age 17, was the youngest person to be executed by Germany’s People Court. This is a novel discovering what he “could have thought” in the midst of all that.
Promise of Zion series by Robert Elmer – Post-WWII/Pre-Israel
In this series of 6, Dov is a 13 year-old Holocaust survivor fleeing to the new land of Israel, and Emily is the spoiled daughter of a British major stationed in Israel. You often hear about life during WWII, but it is always interesting to see the aftermath.
I Am David by Anne Holm – Post-WWII
12 year-old David has spent the majority of his life in a concentration camp and knows nothing of the outside world. When given the chance to escape, he seizes it – on a mysterious mission to Denmark. He has only a compass, a map he can barely read, and the distant memories of a friend to guide him on his journey. I Am David is poignant, memorable, thought provoking, and the best children’s novel I have ever read.
Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin – Stalin’s USSR
In this 2012 Newbery Honor book, Sasha Zaichik has known the laws of the Soviet Young Pioneers since the age of six. But now that it is finally time to join the Young Pioneers, the day Sasha has awaited for so long, everything seems to go awry. He breaks a classmate’s glasses with a snowball. He accidentally damages a bust of Stalin in the school hallway. And worst of all, his father, the best Communist he knows, was arrested just last night.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – 1975
Based on the author’s experiences, this is the story of a ten year-old girl forced to move to the United States because of the Vietnam War, and her struggles and triumphs. It’s told in free verse (the author states why in the author’s note) which I don’t particularly like, but it was a good story.
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin – Chile Revolution
Chile has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So 11 year old Celeste’s parents must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” Before they do, however, they send Celeste to America to protect her. As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile…and her parents. Will she ever be truly safe again? I haven’t read this yet, but it looks excellent!
Historical Novels: Non-fiction
I didn’t want many non-fiction books on this list, but I thought it was important to include a few. My non-fiction criteria was that it must be engaging and interesting.
The Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty – 1600s
A young William Bradford and his friends pursue religious freedom from the Church of England by fleeing to Holland and then sailing to America to start a new life. The journey was harsh and fatal for some, but in the end those Pilgrims that survived helped shape American ideals even to this day.
Women Heroes of World War I by Kathryn Atwood – WWI
Atwood brings to life 16 courageous and historic women from WWI, and tells their stories – everything from working as spies to the battlefield.
Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti – WWII
This is by far one of the most stirring, chilling and thought-provoking books I’ve ever read, without being graphic. It explores the lives of Hitler Youth members caught up in following the crowd, as well as a few teens who resisted Hitler. It also poses a question for kids – will you follow the crowd, or be a Sophie Scholl? I would highly recommend it!
Parallel Journeys by Eleanor H. Ayer – Holocaust
This is the true story of a Jewish woman (Helene) and a German boy (Alfons), and their separate journeys throughout the war. While she was hiding in Amsterdam, he was climbing the ranks of Hitler Youth. While she was bound for Auschwitz camp, he was ready to die for the Fatherland. Told from the lips of both Helene and Alfons, this reads like fiction sometimes; making it very interesting.
Surviving Hitler by Andrea Warren – Holocaust
This is the biography of a young teen who survived the Holocaust in the concentration camps. A fantastic, quick, but heartbreaking read!
Unbroken: Young Adult Edition by Laura Hillenbrand – WWII
The way Louie Zamperini’s life startled off, most thought he would end up in prison. However, he ended up becoming an Olympian, and later a WWII hero.
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson – Holocaust
This beautiful memoir is written by one of Oskar Schindler’s youngest Jews. You can read my full review here – I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Women Heroes of World War II by Kathryn Atwood – WWII
This is a collection of 26 non-dry biographies about courageous women during WWII; from spies, to Holocaust rescuers! Kathryn Atwood is a fantastic author. She includes background information, so you never feel lost – yet she never repeats herself a million times. She also includes extra resources for further reading!
The Greatest Stories Never Told by Rick Beyer – Varies
Learn about history the truly fun and unique way – through little-known stories. Like how a corpse helped win WWII. Three cigars changed the course of the American Civil War. The machine gun was invented to save lives. History is crazy, and it should never be boring. They also have one for the presidents.
Honorable Mentions and Extras:
- List of Holocaust Novels for Grades 5-9
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder – 1870s-1880s
- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery – early 1900s
- Lincoln’s Last Days by Bill O’Reilly – 1860s (Killing Lincoln for kids)
- Water Street by Patricia Reilly Giff – (I loved this)
- Kennedy’s Last Days by Bill O’Reilly – 1960s (Killing Kennedy for kids)
- The Hidden Children by Howard Greenfeld – 1940s Holocaust
- Louis Zamperini: Survivor and Champion by Renee Taft Meloche – (Louie Zamperini story for kids)
- Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff – 1940s America
- Code Name Pauline by Kathryn Atwood – 1940s (Biography)
- Hiding to Survive by Maxine Rosenberg – 1940s Holocaust
- Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jiang – 1966 Communist China
- A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park – 1985/present
- Gifted Hands (Kids version) by Ben Carson – modern
RECOMMENDED BY READERS:
- Trailblazers by Dave and Neta Jackson
- YWAM (Youth With A Mission) biographies