My love of reading came naturally. I remember being read to as a small child, seeing my parents reading regularly, and exploring my grandma’s loft library on many a quiet afternoon. I’ve only been to three continents (one was when I was a toddler and the other is where I live), but I have been all over the globe through the pages of a book. Not only have I explored countries, but I have explored times.
I owe one of my favourite genres–historical fiction–my knowledge of the Salem witch trials, the expulsion of the Acadians, the Resistance fighters in WWII, the plight of the Loyalists in the American Revolution, the role of minstrels in Medieval Europe, the saga of orphan train children, and so much more. Historical fiction has shaped how I view my own culture, my world, my place in history, my story. Because these books retell history through the eyes of ordinary people, they prove how important ordinary people are to the shaping of the world.
This is a theme echoed in the pages of the Bible, the greatest non-fiction historical record. God moves in ordinary people doing ordinary things to form His Kingdom. Consider the sling of David, the needle of Lydia, the offering of the widow, the pen of Isaiah, the loaves of the lad, and the sword of Ehud.
So, whether you are a-child-at-heart historical fiction lover like myself, a mom looking for good reading material for your children, or an adult wanting an easy read, here is a list of ten fantastic historical fiction reads in children’s literature.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Kit Taylor, a rich orphaned young woman moves from the Barbados to Wethersfield, MA. She puts a human face on the Salem witch trials. Speare manages to illuminate the prejudice and ignorance that can trigger mass hysteria, without becoming hysterical herself. This is also a story of finding belonging and the relationships that make life valuable.
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
This book gives even long-time Bible readers an inside view of Judean culture in the days of Jesus. Reading this book, I began to glimpse through the eyes of Daniel, a young blacksmith and clandestine freedom fighter, the struggle it would have been for the Jews to accept a Kingdom of Peace under the threatening sword of Rome. (I’m presently reading this one for the 4th time.)
The Hollow Tree by Janet Lunn
I read this as a preteen and reread it this summer to discover what exactly it was that I had loved about it. Enter a dutiful “mouse” of a girl, who out of that sense of duty finds the courage to hike through the wilderness carrying the final message of her spy brother, after her brother hangs for being a spy. An orange tom cat, a bear cub, and a red-headed stranger all add spice to the story of a young woman coming into her own in the middle of the American Revolution.
Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray
Adam joins his minstrel father in traveling for a trade but loses both his father and faithful dog Nick along the way. I think what I liked about this book was simply the different culture of Medieval times and imagining life back then. This one is on my “to-read-again” stack.
Abby–Lost at Sea by Pamela June Walls
The charm of this first book of the Abby series includes pirates, salty sea, and a dolphin delivery on an Hawaiian island. Although the main character is a girl, her side kick is her friend Luke, which makes these adventures on the high seas exciting for both genders.
Twenty and Ten by William Pene du Bois
This gem of a book takes less than eighty pages to relay the tale of a school of twenty German children and their teacher successfully hiding ten Jewish children in their side of the mountain. The climax of the story comes when the Nazi’s are tricked by an innocent toddler confusing fact and fancy.
From Anna by Jean Little
Jean Little has written a plethora of quality children’s literature, but From Anna is probably my favourite. Also written during WWII era, the story pulses with full-bodied characters. I always read this story to my students, because it cultivated their compassion for the less fortunate. Anna is handicapped by her poor eye sight, but manages to overcome this obstacle when her family moves to Canada to escape the Natzi regime.
Moho Wat by Kenneth Thomasma
Moho Wat is similar to the previous book in that the main character is handicapped. In this case, a mountain lion steals Moho Wat’s arm. He overcomes his challenges by learning to shoot a bow with his feet and through adventures in the wilderness rescues Wind Flower, who has been captured by an enemy tribe. He also makes a discovery that greatly helps his people.
The Disappearing Stranger by Lois Walfrid Johnson
This book is the first in the series Adventures in the Northwoods in which Johnson combines the following: early American history, mystery, and the challenge of blending two families with a second marriage. I like how she portrays Swedish and Irish culture, the tough work of forging relationships, and the adventurous spirit of Kate, her brother Anders, and their friend Erik. (As you can tell, this copy is well-loved.)
The Last Stubborn Buffalo in Nevada by Stephen Bly
This book is really the third in the series, but it’s my favourite so here it stands. Written in Gold Rush era, Nathan T. Riggins comes of age roping a buffalo amongst the sage brush and finding a way to transport it to the big city with a city slicker photographer, his two friends Colin and Leah, and even the occasional outlaw. While the story is far-fetched, Nathan learns principles valuable for life.
Whether you take the time to find one of these good novels or not, I hope you remember that within the big stories of history like pandemics, the stories of ordinary individuals have eternal significance.
Throughout this post, you may click on the book images to purchase them on Amazon, for which I receive a small commission. (The cover may be different.) However, if you are local, I’d be happy to lend you one if I have access to the one you want and if we can arrange a safe way to get it to you.