historical fiction

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.

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.

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:

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.

Author Focus: Steve Sheinken

Sometimes history gets the bad rap of being boring. If your kids think this, or if they think the opposite and LOVE history, I have an author for you to check out immediately.

Steve Sheinken used to write history textbooks, but don’t let that stop you from picking up one of his middle grade or young adult books. His first book King George: What Was His Problem? is filled with stories from the American Revolution they wouldn’t let him put in the history books. It has a cover that is anything but boring and might be the perfect way to help your kids dip their toes into the subject of history in a way that is not at all boring.

In one of Steve’s most recent books for elementary-school aged kids, Abraham Lincoln, Pro Wrestler, I found the following quote:

“‘Kids say [history] is… Abby lowered her voice to a whisper, ‘boring.’

‘Some shows are boring, some books,’ Mr. Douglass said. ‘But history is just stories. Surprising, sad, funny, gross stories. Set in all different times and places. What’s boring about that?’”

To me, this feels like the perfect description of what Steve accomplishes with his books. He finds and shares unique stories from history that have been overlooked or forgotten and shares them in an exciting and very readable way. His knack for creating historical books that read like suspenseful novels is legit.

Happy Anniversary Giveaway!

One year ago today, the first official book list was posted on the Young Book Love website. (It contained a great list of Wonder-like books you can find here.) Today almost 100 posts later, it is my honor to continue to help you, dear reader, discover books your kids will fall for.

To celebrate, I wanted to give back to you in the form of a giveaway.

Over the past year, I have highlighted my favorite books under the category of Shelf Talker. I love reading shelf talkers at books stores and libraries; they are helpful resources when deciding what book to buy or read. My hope is the Shelf Talkers on this blog provide the same kind of service for you.

There have been a total of 24 Shelf Talker posts over the past year. As I recently read through this list of books I couldn’t help thinking, “Oh, I love that book!,” an embarrassing number of times.

I decided these books were just so good, I had to pass them on in a more tangible way, which brings me to the giveaway!

Chapter Books for New Readers - a book list

When our kids learn to read, it is a big deal. Easy readers are a great and obvious place to start. Once our kids master the easy reader, it’s time to dip their toes into the wonderful world of chapter books.

There are a lot of series that help kids make this transition. Magic Tree House and June B. Jones come to mind. Short, entertaining and abundant these are the books that move our kids into the world of chapter books and independent reading.

Today’s list includes some of my recent discoveries in the beginner chapter book genre. These books are geared towards early readers, but they are all so good readers of any age can enjoy them. A few are stand alone books, a few are series. If you have a new reader, check them out and be sure to read along with your child. I know you will enjoy them too.

Quick Picks: What My Kids are Reading

As I have been blessed with a large passel of kids with a variety of ages, interests, and reading likes and dislikes, I thought I’d do a “quick pick” list inspired by them. Below are the books my kids are currently reading. If you are looking for ideas for your young reader, maybe one these books will inspire them.

Recommended Reading for your Teenager from Mine

I am often asked for recommendations for readers that fall into the teenage sector. It can be hard to find books that capture their attention and aren’t overrun with sex, violence and language. So, I asked my teen reader for her recommendations. She gave me a list of eleven. A few have been pulled from middle-grade shelves and one is geared towards adults, but the majority come from the YA shelves of our library. Maybe one of them will spark the interest of your teen reader.

From Amazon: Fifteen-year-old Lina is a Lithuanian girl living an ordinary life -- until Soviet officers invade her home and tear her family apart. Separated from her father and forced onto a crowded train, Lina, her mother, and her young brother make their way to a Siberian work camp, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Lina finds solace in her art, documenting these events by drawing. Risking everything, she imbeds clues in her drawings of their location and secretly passes them along, hoping her drawings will make their way to her father's prison camp. But will strength, love, and hope be enough for Lina and her family to survive?

From Mya: I love the sense of community between the people and the family in this book as they travel through labor camps and other hard trials. I also love the kind, loving and determined mother in this story.

From Amazon: World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

Told in alternating points of view and perfect for fans of Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, Erik Larson's Dead Wake, and Elizabeth Wein's Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this masterful work of historical fiction is inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the
 Wilhelm Gustloffthe greatest maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys unearths a shockingly little-known casualty of a gruesome war, and proves that humanity and love can prevail, even in the darkest of hours.

From Mya: I had never heard of this ship sinking and I was astounded and horror struck by the story. This book is amazing at portraying the emotions and trials at the end of World War II in Germany. I couldn’t put it down.

From Amazon: Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

From Mya: I love the character of Cal and how she is always trying to learn new things and how she doesn’t follow the norms of the time period. I also really loved her relationship with her grandpa.

From Amazon: Fifteen-year-old Amadou counts the things that matter. For two years what has mattered are the number of cacao pods he and his younger brother, Seydou, can chop down in a day. The higher the number the safer they are. The higher the number the closer they are to paying off their debt and returning home. Maybe. The problem is Amadou doesn’t know how much he and Seydou owe, and the bosses won’t tell him. The boys only wanted to make money to help their impoverished family, instead they were tricked into forced labor on a plantation in the Ivory Coast. With no hope of escape, all they can do is try their best to stay alive—until Khadija comes into their lives. 

She’s the first girl who’s ever come to camp, and she’s a wild thing. She fights bravely every day, attempting escape again and again, reminding Amadou what it means to be free. But finally, the bosses break her, and what happens next to the brother he has always tried to protect almost breaks Amadou. The three band together as family and try just once more to escape.

Inspired by true-to-life events happening right now, The Bitter Side of Sweet is an exquisitely written tour de force not to be missed. 

From Mya: I love this book because it was a story that I had never heard of before. I also love how close the brothers were to each other and how they looked out for each other. I hate that this actually happens and isn’t always a happy ending.

From Amazon: In this companion novel to The Wednesday Wars, Doug struggles to be more than the "skinny thug" that some people think him to be. He finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer, who gives him the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.

From Mya: This book is sooo good! I love it because of it’s Jane Eyre references (one of my favorites!). And, I love how this kid hates everything about the town he moves to, but as life goes on he falls in love with it.

From Amazon: As the fiftieth anniversary approaches, there's a renewed interest in this infamous 1955 murder case, which made a lasting mark on American culture, as well as the future Civil Rights Movement. Chris Crowe's IRA Award-winning novel and his gripping, photo-illustrated nonfiction work are currently the only books on the teenager's murder written for young adults.

From Mya: This book told the story of Emit Till and his murder case from an unbiased perspective. It was thought-provoking and a book I was glad I read.

From Amazon: In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty were also the casualties of war. Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece is unique, sweeping, unforgettable—the dramatic story of the battleground for America’s destiny.

From Mya: I love, love, love how this book gave me a totally new perspective on the Battle of Gettysburg. I also love how the author gives you a good understanding of the men who fought in that battle in a way that makes you root for them as the story is told.

From Amazon: It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened.

After his mother's death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to bring her back. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Sam begins his search for the Tree of Life--the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Sam to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift? 

From Mya: This was a good book. It did a good job of showing the pain of a loved one’s death and the fight between good and evil during that time. I am looking forward to reading the sequel!

From Amazon: As twelve-year-old Marlee starts middle school in 1958 Little Rock, it feels like her whole world is falling apart. Until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is everything Marlee wishes she could be: she's brave, brash and always knows the right thing to say. But when Liz leaves school without even a good-bye, the rumor is that Liz was caught passing for white. Marlee decides that doesn't matter. She just wants her friend back. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are even willing to take on segregation and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

From Mya: I love how the main character wants to fight for what is right even though it might risk the safety of everyone she cares about. I could relate with her and really loved reading this book.

From Amazon: It's 1943, and eleven-year-old Dewey Kerrigan is en route to New Mexico to live with her mathematician father. Soon she arrives at a town that, officially, doesn't exist. It is called Los Alamos, and it is abuzz with activity, as scientists and mathematicians from all over America and Europe work on the biggest secret of all--"the gadget." None of them--not J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Manhattan Project; not the mathematicians and scientists; and least of all, Dewey--know how much "the gadget" is about to change their lives.

From Mya: This book gave me a new perspective on the atomic bomb and what it might have been like for the families of the scientist who worked on it. I really enjoyed reading it.

From Amazon: The New York Times bestselling true story of an all-American girl and a boy from Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.

It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin's class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. 

Martin was lucky to even receive a pen-pal letter. There were only ten letters, and fifty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one.

That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives.

In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends --and better people--through their long-distance exchange. Their story will inspire you to look beyond your own life and wonder about the world at large and your place in it.

From Mya: The amazing thing about reading this book is getting to watch this unique relationship survive and bloom even though hardship and distance. Their friendship was so special and powerful to read about. My coach told me the audio book is amazing too.

Let’s keep the list going. What have your teens been reading that they would recommend?

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Book #4: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

My kids are back in school and I am excited to get back to sharing books with you. To transition into business as usual, I thought I’d start things off by highlighting my favorite reads from this summer. 

Book #4:  Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Book #3: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

My kids are back in school and I am excited to get back to sharing books with you. To transition into business as usual, I'm starting things off by highlighting my favorite reads from this summer. Today is day 3; let me tell you about book 3.

Book #3:  Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Quick Pick Books for When Your Kids Don't Know What to Read Next

Have you ever walked into your local public library with your kids determined to emerge well-stocked with armloads of books only to find yourselves overwhelmed and unsure what books to pluck from their overstuffed shelves?

Me too! 

With so many options, it can be challenging to figure out exactly what book to read next. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here are 10 books (covering a variety of genres and ages) to give you some direction. The next time your kids feel library overload, see if they'd like to give one of these stories a try: 

Quick Picks - May Edition

Some of my current reads make it into lists that go straight to the blog, others will make it to future lists yet to be determined. And some best fit this list, a list of what I've been reading lately.

Below are three books (all very different from each other) I have enjoyed over the past month and wanted to share. 

What have you and your kids been reading lately? 

The Wednesday Wars

If you are looking for a book to make you laugh, cry, and thoroughly enjoy the reading of… Let me tell you, I have the perfect book for you. 

I first read The Wednesday Wars several years ago. I gave it five stars. I recently read it again to see if it was as good as I remembered, and I had my daughter read it too.

There was a bit of trepidation in this move. When you pick up a book to read again or offer it to someone else to read, there is a wondering if the book will hold up. You wonder if you will love it as much as you did the first time you read it. I was thrilled when my daughter loved it too, and for me, it was just as good the second time around, maybe better.


12.75 year-old Boy Seeking Books of Sport and Adventure

Jonah is an almost teenager who loves the Cubs, playing with his dog and playing video and board games. The thing he likes most about reading is that you can go at your own pace and do it whenever you have the time. However, he says that when a book is slow reading can be boring, especially when you are a slower reader. When he is looking for a book to read, he looks for sports books, graphic novels and books filled with adventure. He will also pick up a book if his friends are reading it and it looks good. 

I am excited to help Jonah with a few personalized picks. To help me help him, I asked Jonah to share three of his favorite books and one he was not so crazy about. Here are his favorites:

Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is my favorite novel in verse to date. I am amazed at how every free-verse poem has the ability to stand alone as a work of art, and yet shared together they link to tell a beautiful, heart-filled, stick-with-you kind of story.

This is the story of a young girl and her family who flee wore-torn Vietnam. They leave on a boat and eventually make their way to America where a family in Arkansas takes them in. 

5 (or more) Novels in Verse that Will Make you Fall in Love with the Genre

The first time I pulled a novel in verse off the shelf, I opened it, saw that it looked like one long poem and quickly put it back. A year later I decided to give one a try and checked out a copy of Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. I quickly learned I had made a mistake by putting that book back on the shelf so long ago. After that, it did not take long for me to fall in love with the genre.

 Most novels in verse contain well-crafted stories told through carefully chosen words. I am often amazed at how different authors utilize poetry, some through free verse and others through more structured forms of poetry to tell their stories.  The novel in verse is also accessible to a wide variety of readers. Because of the large amount of white space on the page, they are relatively quick reads making them a good pick for avid and reluctant readers alike. 

Below are five-is to get you started. Please add to the list in the comments. I am always on the look out for more. 

What I've Been Reading - the April Edition

Some of my current reads make it into lists that go straight to the blog, others will make it to future lists yet to be determined. And, some may never grace a list, but I want to share them anyway which is why I do posts like this one. :)

Below are three books I have enjoyed over the past month and wanted to share.

What have you and your kids been reading lately?