10 Historical Fiction Picks Guaranteed to Enlighten and Entertain

Historical fiction helps us view the events of history in new and meaningful ways. The best novels teach us about our past while entertaining us in the present. With that in mind, today’s list contains ten historical fiction novels (for a variety of ages) that will inform and entertain your young reader. Specifically, the books on this list taught me about events in history I knew almost nothing about. Each one is a gem, well-written and worth the read.

The Faithful Spy

Part graphic novel, but also not really I wasn’t sure how this book would read when I picked it up. Wow, it was so inspiring I couldn’t put it down and closed it with tears in my eyes. I could not wait to recommend it to you.

Bonhoeffer’s story is amazing on its own. He stood up to Hitler when so many Germans did not. John Hendrix tells Bonhoeffer’s story in a fresh way. He uses illustrations and color to tell the story of Hitler’s rise to power in tandem with Bonhoeffer’s story. Sharing so much of the history of the Nazi party and Germany gives readers a wider perspective as they read. Obviously, Hendrix could not include everything, but the parts of the story he did tell were well-chosen and well-told. This book was amazing.

Quick Picks: What I’ve Been Reading

You know the feeling when you finish a good book and you want to tell someone about it?  Well, I've got that feeling. This list of books doesn’t fit on any of the upcoming book lists I have planned. I wanted to share them anyway.

If your kids are participating in the Young Book Love Bingo Reading Challenge, the books on this list will help them fill in the square “a book about someone who doesn’t look like you.” (The characters include people from Pakistan and India along with Americans with different shades of skin.) If your kids aren’t participating in the Reading Challenge and want to, you can find out more (and print off a free Bingo board) here.

Below are four books I read over the past month that I am excited to recommend. I hope your young reader will connect with them too.

A Monster Calls and Why Reading Sad Books is Important

Sometimes I hesitate to recommend sad books; they aren’t for everyone. Plus, who wants to intentionally make their kids cry?

A Monster Calls is a book I have wanted to recommend for a long time. While listening to a podcast last week, I was reminded why sometimes it is good to read sad books. It gave me the push I needed to share this special book with you.

Author Focus: Jennifer L. Holm

I have noticed the covers of Jennifer L. Holm’s numerous books on the shelves of our school and public libraries for years. Last month, I picked one up for the first time. Followed by another, and another until I’d read a good chunk of them. I am now a fan.

If you are looking for quality middle grade books for almost any kind of reader, Jennifer L. Holm might be just the author you are looking for. A few of the categories her books fall into include: historical fiction, science-themed stories, novels starring girls, books starring boys, a pinch of fantasy, humor, and a host of graphic novels that she co-wrote with her brother Matthew Holm.

Plus, her stories are really good!

Many of her novels are based on or inspired by stories of Jennifer’s own family. I learned bits of history that I never knew before, discovered characters I loved, laughed, cried and was thoroughly entertained by the stories that fill up her books.

The following books are excellent middle grade reads (including 3 Newbery Honor books) and I am excited to recommend them to you.

Home of the Brave

You know a book is special when find yourself continually stopping to record the words you have just read so you can sit with them a little longer and read them again some day. While most kids won’t have that urge, I believe this is a book they will love and remember.

Written as a novel in verse, Home of the Brave is easy to start and easy to finish. Following along with Kek as he journeys to America for the first time is truly a great adventure. Whether it is running a washing machine or going to the grocery store, Kek’s wonder at all he encounters will give you a fresh perspective and remind you how lucky we are.

Stranger in a New Land: Six Books for Kids (and Teens) Based on the Refugee/Immigrant Experience

Refugees have been an on-going story in our world as long as there have been stories. A few years back when the Syrian refugee crisis was full-blown, it was hard for me to process. The numbers, the news reports, even the pictures, they all started to blend together. Those mediums have their place, but to read the personal story of one person can have a more profound effect than a million statistics or news reports.

Books and the stories they contain can be an amazing tool to help our kids (and ourselves) process what is going on in the world around us. As we read, learn and empathize, these stories can help us interact with our own world in a new way. We might not be able to have a direct impact on a Syrian refugee, but we can have an impact on the new kid (or their parent) who feels alone.

With that in mind, today’s list contains six books. A few of the books tell the refugee’s story as he/she flees their home country. Others are made up of characters who are living in America as immigrants. All of them give insight into what it would feel like to leave your home and start over in a strange new land. This list of books is special offering readers relatable characters they will easily root for and identify with. They also simply contain good stories that I hope your kids will enjoy as they read.

10 Book-Based Movies Worth Watching

“The book was better” is a common mantra proudly proclaimed by bookworms everywhere. While this may be true, the movie version often has its merits. Not only that, a good story told is a good story told whether it comes to us via printed words or on a DVD.

If your young reader is a purist and the movie does not follow the book exactly, watching the movie version will probably end in disappointment. However, if you have a hard time convincing your young reader to pick up a book, watching the movie might be the motivator they need to get reading.

While I usually try to read the book first, most of the movies on this list I watched, loved, discovered they were based on a book and then read the book. When I watch a movie after I’ve read the book I try to keep an open mind. I don’t mind if the movie departs from the book or adds new plot twists, as long as it keeps the feel of the book. Every once in a while the book has been the disappointment. (Mary Poppins is one example that comes to mind. I love the movie so much, and the book just didn’t come close.)

Five Picture Books to Grab on Your Next Library Run

At the end of January, the Caldecott winners were announced. The Caldecott is an annual award given to the “most distinguished American picture book for children.” I’m always curious about the winners.

If you ever feel at a loss for what books to grab at the library, a Caldecott or Newbery award winner is usually a good place to start. This doesn’t always work (the books we like don’t always line up with the books the “experts” choose), but if you are looking for picture books to read with your kids, this year’s winner and honorees are good ones. Although Hello Lighthouse was the official winner for 2019, for kicks I decided to list this year’s picks with my favorites at the top.

Books that Quietly Change Culture

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats is a classic in children’s literature. Written in 1962, it was well-received from the get-go and even won the Caldecott Medal that year. Who can’t relate to the wonder of a fresh blanket of snow? The Snowy Day was also one of the first picture books to feature an African American child as the main character. Written in the midst of the Civil Rights movement this book quietly made a very important statement.

I read an article that ran on NPR on January 28, 2012 (the 50th anniversary of The Snowy Day) that shared one of the ways this book made an impact:

Savvy

Who wouldn’t want to receive a special power, or savvy, on their 13th birthday? Whether it is the power to cause a hurricane or the ability to be practically perfect at everything, the possibilities are endless.

I loved the premise of this book. It is creative and fun and when I started I was looking forward to the adventure. I wasn’t, however, expecting the depth and thoughtfulness that came with it. This is a special book with a whole lot of food for thought wrapped inside a creative story making it an excellent book to read.

Author Focus: Grace Lin

Today marks the beginning of the Spring Festival in China, better known as Chinese New Year. I thought that made it the perfect day to talk about one of our family’s favorite authors, Grace Lin.

Grace Lin is an author-illustrator of numerous picture books, easy readers and novels for young readers. While her books are fiction, most of her stories are inspired by real life.

As a multi-racial family (two of our kids were born in China), I love the connection Grace’s books give them to their country of origin. We have used her picture books to help us learn about and celebrate different Chinese holidays, like Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Her Pacy-Lin novels give my kids a relatable character that looks like them. Her Chinese folklore novels (including one of my very favorites, Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon) give my kids a glimpse into the world of Chinese fairy tales as well as takes them on an epic adventure.

Sweep

One part fantasy, one part historical fiction and three parts wonderful, Jonathan Auxier’s most recent release is a must-read. This story is filled with friendship, wonder, sadness and injustice; it has all the feels. Thankfully, it ends with large doses of hope and redemption. It’s the kind of book that brings the best kind of sigh at the end of the last page.

Nan, the main character, is smart and wise beyond her years. Since her Sweep left her, five years ago, she has a hard time letting anyone else in. When she finally meets Charlie, a gift from the Sweep, their friendship is sweet and fierce. They are characters that you can’t help but fall in love with and Charlie is the most endearing monster you will ever meet. They make a great team. The story moves along at a good clip, highlighting the plight of children sweeps, the wonder of new discoveries, and the joy of friendship.

11-year-old Girl Seeking Books with a Hook

Ava is an eleven-year-old girl who loves to read. She loves reading because it takes her into new worlds and occupies her mind. There are so many different stories to read and learn from; she loves to discover them. When she’s not reading, Ava likes to play games and play soccer.

When looking for a good book, Ava especially likes fantasy and realistic fiction. The Harry Potter series is one of her very favorites; she has read them more than once. She stays away from graphic novels because they don’t interest her and feel harder to read.

Ava has no problem abandoning a book if it doesn’t keep her interest or is hard to understand. If you are a kid looking for a good book, Ava recommends that you ask your siblings, parents, grandparents and friends for recommendations.

I am excited to give Ava a few personalized picks. To help me help her, I asked Ava to share three of her favorite books and one she was not so crazy about. Here are her favorites:

The One Crazy Summer Trilogy

Can I tell you how much I love Delphine and her sisters, cause I surely do!

I finished the second book of this trilogy, P.S. Be Eleven, a few weeks ago (after finishing the third, Gone Crazy in Alabama, last year) and was reminded again of how special these books, and these girls are.

12 Books I Want to Read This Year

“What should I read next?”

As Anne Bogel would say, “It is the question that plagues every reader.” The book recommendations may abound increasing your TBR exponentially, and yet, when it comes time to pick your next book you feel lost. There are too many choices and you can’t remember anything you told yourself you want to read.

This question plagues readers and it can plague the parents of young readers.

The library has too many books. It’s overwhelming to find even one from their over-stuffed shelves. And, you can’t remember a single book you knew you (or they) wanted to read.

If you can relate, I have one small solution:

A Reading Challenge for Your Kids, Bingo Style!

Confession: I am a sucker for New Year’s resolutions, or goals as I like to call them.

Last year I set a goal to read 100 books in 2018; the week before Christmas I finished Frankenstein to complete it. This year I’m going for 100 again. I like setting a number, but I hold it loosely. I don’t want the pressure of reaching my goal to detract from the joy I find in reading.

I’ve talked to my kids about setting reading goals too. While I don’t want them to feel pressured by the goals, my hope is that they will be motivated by them. Some have set a number, some have said they want to read more nonfiction, others have ignored the idea completely. I am good with each of their responses. I want the idea of a reading challenge to be fun and if it’s not, then I don’t want them to do it.

For those who have set goals, I do what I can to help. Whether that means helping them start a notebook to track their reading or to periodically ask how they are doing. It’s fun to talk about (at least for me) and it’s one more way we can connect over books and reading.

Love Does for Kids

My husband would say Love Does by Bob Goff has been one of the most influential books in his life. I would say the same. Bob’s perspective on loving God and loving people is inspiring. As he would say, it’s simple, but it’s not easy.

Then on our summer vacation road trip this year, we listened as a family to Bob’s newest release, Everybody Always. Our kids loved listening to it as much as we did. Bob is funny, interesting and so whimsical in the way he interacts with other people. I want to be like Bob, mainly because I think Bob acts a lot like Jesus did and I really want to be like Jesus.

When I saw Bob had recently co-authored a new version of Love Does written with his daughter expressly for kids, I knew it was a book that we needed to add to our shelf. Our kids were already fans, I figured it would be a great way to get them to read a book.