A couple of weeks ago, I posted a few middle-grade books I read and recommended on my Instagram stories. Those posts resulted in several lovely conversations with parents via DM about books for kids. One of those conversations was about middle-grade historical fiction, a genre I read quite a bit of recently! I collected all my favorites of the previous two years and then narrowed them down to less than ten books.
If you have been following me for a while, you will recognize the books on this list. This list includes some old favorites we all know and love and only one new release. Don’t be afraid to favor well-known classics. Those books have stuck around for a reason! Also, the authors and stories we might find old are brand new to kids. I purposely didn’t include giants like Alan Gratz, Ruta Sepetys, or the I Survived series/Magic Treehouse Series.
I put the list in a PDF you can save or print out and take to the library or bookstore. Enjoy!
My Favorite (Mostly) Middle-Grade Historical Fiction Books
A Place to Hang the Moon
I wrote about A Place to Hang the Moon by Kathleen Albus when I first read it. It’s still a book I recommend frequently. Now that I have had it in the library for a while, I recommend it routinely. It’s a book students finish. I had a very reluctant 6th-grade student devour this book! Every morning at drop-off she gave me a passionate synopsis of the reading she did the day before. It made me so happy!
Sarah, Plain and Tall
I was in high school when Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan was released (I’m old), so I didn’t read it when it came out. I read it when I found it cleaning out the library when I first started working there, and since I’m a sucker for the arranged marriage trope, I inhaled it like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup on the same day. Don’t worry; it’s not a tawdry romance novel. This is a sweet book about kids looking for a mama to love and has a Little House on the Prairie feel due to the late 19th-century setting. This is the first book of a five-part series, but I have only read the first book.
I have Pax by Sarah Pennypacker shelved in my general fiction section of the library instead of with the other historical fiction books, but it belongs on this list nonetheless. Pennypacker doesn’t name the war in which this book about a boy and his fox is set. She leaves it up to the reader’s imagination, and from speaking with the students, most of them pick WWII. This is a classic hero’s journey, or the monomyth, where the character (Peter) goes on a journey to complete a goal/quest (find Pax, his best friend/fox) and returns home forever changed. Pax is one of the books that got my reluctant reader son to read, so it will always have a special place on my shelf. Years later, as a high school freshman, he eagerly read the sequel, too.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
While not old enough to be considered a classic, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is another middle-grade historical fiction book I missed out on when it was first released. Mark my words, though, anything DiCamillo writes has staying power. She writes future classics, and this story about Edward Tulane, a cold-hearted toy rabbit who loves only himself until he is separated from the little girl who adores him, is a future classic. The book follows our pompous little china bunny as he travels across time and country, acquiring new owners, and listening to their hopes, dreams, and histories. This is another book I give to students begging them to give it a chance. It took my breath away when I read it!
Save Me a Seat
I wrote about Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan a while back, and I still love it. The novel is about Joe and Ravi. Joe is a small-town kid who is figuring out school now that his best friends have moved away. Ravi is an immigrant from India who is also struggling to figure out school. They have nothing in common except their school counselor and the class bully–or do they? Save Me a Seat was a great book that even my most reluctant readers enjoy. Even though it’s not historical fiction, I put Save Me a Seat on this list because the class book Joe and Ravi are reading is another classic I adore called Bud, Not Buddy.
Bud, Not Buddy
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis deserves every award it’s won and a few it hasn’t. I love this middle-grade historical fiction book! Bud, Not Buddy is how children’s literature should be written. Bud is on a (hero’s) journey in 1936 Flint, Michigan. Now that his mother is dead, he wants to find his father, but he doesn’t have much to go on – just a flyer for a jazz band and his very own Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself. Along the way, Bud (not Buddy) encounters a car-driving vampire, a monster-infested woodshed, and even, blech, a real live girl.
The Beatryce Prophecy
Yes, The Beatryce Prophecy is another Kate DiCamillo book, and there is another hero’s journey. I have a type! It’s hard to summarize a story about a girl, a monk, and a demonic goat, but I’ll try. Gentle Brother Elk finds a mysterious girl, covered in blood, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat, a goat all the monks fear due to its temperamental personality.
As Brother Elk nurses Beatryce back to health, he discovers her dangerous secret. Together they embark on an extraordinary journey because “we shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.” The Beatryce Prophecy is slightly dark in spots, but it’s such a good story about the importance of education, perseverance, and the power of love. Is it any wonder that DiCamillo chose the Middle Ages as her setting in this age of constant tech?
The Nerviest Girl in the World
The Nerviest Girl in the World by Melissa Wiley is the only book I haven’t read on this list. I have it on order for the library. Pearl spends her days on the family ostrich farm until she stumbles into stunt work on these new things called “motion pictures.” She loves the excitement, the money, and the challenge. The only thing Pearl doesn’t love is lying to her mother, who has no idea Pearl is jumping out of burning buildings!
I hope you enjoyed this list of middle-grade historical fiction. I had fun putting it together! If you would like me to make a different list, let me know! I tend to stick to books I’ve read, so I can be confident of what I’m recommending. For this reason, my lists may not always have new releases. I also put my picks into a PDF that you can save to your phone or print out and carry to the library or bookstore. Happy reading!
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