When Fact Met Fiction: Middle Grade Books for Young History Buffs

Posted by Laura Crockett

One of the perks of working in a bookstore is that a new person will ask a new question everyday. Sure, there’s the standard, “Where’s the bathroom?” and “I’m looking for that blue book,” and “Where’s that book by Jane Eyre?”

But my favorite questions are along the lines of recommendations. Those are fun and wonderful – because booksellers love talking about books. Hearing you list your favorite books and genres helps us narrow down your interests, and exposes us to new material!

But with children, it can sometimes be difficult. They’re either extremely picky – “She only likes to read books about ballerinas” — or they read everything under the sun. They either have a narrow direction, or their habits are so sporadic even the parent doesn’t know which way to go.

I recently had someone ask for middle grade historical fiction. You’d think it’d be easy, but middle grade fiction is almost exclusively fantasy these days. It can sometimes be made more difficult for boys, because there are very few Dear America and American Girl types of books for them.

The next time you’re stuck in a rut for good historical fiction for younger readers, take a good hard look at this list. It just might point you in the right direction.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Setting: 1899 Texas)

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool (Setting: post-WWII Maine)

The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt (Setting: turn-of-the-century England)

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (Setting: 1890s London and Paris)

Chains / Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (Setting: American Revolution)

Brotherhood by AB Westrick (Setting: post-Civil War / Reconstruction South)

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (Setting: early 1900s Montana)

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin (Setting: 1930s Moscow)

On your hunt for the next middle grade historical fiction novel, don’t let a bookseller’s apologetic grin and helpless shrug stop you. Take a moment and browse – little gems are scattered throughout the section for young minds.

What would you recommend for a historical fiction reader?

Laura Crockett is a graduate student, bookseller, Anglophile, tea devotee, musician, and book hoarder. Everything good in her boils down to her Midwestern upbringing. Follow her Downton Abbey obsessions on Twitter (@LECrockett) and book interests on her blog http://scribblesandwanderlust.wordpress.com