What is it about history that makes it so intriguing? Our innate desire to understand where we came from? The challenge of figuring out how we came to be where we are today? The drama of past events and the personality of the characters involved? A drive to dig deeper into the facts of history to pull out a somewhat complete story?
All the above?
Whatever the reason, the power of history draws us in like no other area of human study. History seeps into the cracks of everything because everything has a history. The middle-grade years are not immune to the magnetic draw of history. In fact, it is probably at this age where history is most appealing.
History is more than facts and dates. It lived and breathed. Each historical event documented in a single paragraph of a textbook has been distilled, sifted, cleaned up, manipulated, and finally written from a library-sized store of viewpoints, documents, accounts, and physical artifacts. That is the beauty of history. It is alive. It is vibrant. It shifts and changes with discovery and time.
As a reader and a writer, I am crazy over history. Researching history is a rabbit hole for me. I often get lost in the deep forest of the topic and have to force myself back on the intended path, while jotting notes of interesting things found in the deep forest, of course. I do have a special place for history. Maybe it’s because I’m creatively still stuck in a middle-grade mindset. Maybe it’s because history is a nice balance to my professional life in science.
Whatever the reason, I am drawn to history, especially the American Civil War. Growing up in Kansas City, I have a particular interest in the Border War between pro-slavery Missouri and Free State Kansas. This conflict was the lit match that ignited the powder keg of the Civil War. So many little stories surround American Civil War and the wealth of information in diaries, personal accounts, newspapers, magazines, photographs, and books, provides resources. A writer’s dream.
One of the beautiful things about history in literature, besides there being a nearly infinite source of subject matter for the writer or reader, is its seamless integration into both fiction and nonfiction. A piece of history works in historical fiction as a dramatic foundation on which to build the fiction upon. The piece of history performs just as well as the central component in nonfiction, where the actual facts and occurrences are under the spotlight. Narrative nonfiction appeals to me, in particular, because it artfully weaves the facts to present them as an engaging story.
As we stand at the edge of the winter/holiday season and contemplate a “historical” reading list for those long, cold, windy nights (at least like we have here in Kansas), I’ve assembled two TBR suggested titles list of historical middle grade books. The first is a historical fiction list of middle grade books with a heavy influence of time, place, and event. The second list is historical nonfiction, many of the narrative variety. (I feel I should probably apologize for the large percentage of the nonfiction list being from Steve Sheinkin, but HIS BOOKS ARE AWESOME. It is no small wonder middle grade readers flock to his books where history not only comes alive, but jumps off the page.)
Each list consists of ten books. Each list could have easily have been 50 books. There is so much great middle grade historical fiction and nonfiction out in the world it was hard to leave fabulous books off my lists. Since there exists a finite amount of bandwidth, though, the self-imposed limit was set at ten. If you have favorite historical middle grade books to add or comments on my humble list, please leave a comment. I am always looking for more historical reads.
Ten TBR Historical Fiction Titles
1. OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt
Troubled family life in 1968 New York.
2. IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE by James M. Marshall III
A modern retracing of Crazy Horse’s life in the 1870’s by a grandfather to his grandson.
3. JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY’S MINE by Caroline Starr Rose
The Klondike Gold Rush, 1896
4. HOW I BECAME A GHOST by Tim Tingle
Choctaw Trail of Tears, 1831
5. ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
Civil Rights in Oakland, CA, 1968
6. MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool
1918 WWI & 1936 Depression in Southeast Kansas
7. HIDDEN ROOTS by Joseph Bruchac
Native identity in upstate NY in 1950 and the Vermont Eugenics Survey ~1930’s
8. BOXERS AND SAINTS by Gene Luen Yang
China’s Boxer Rebellion in 1900
9. WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary D. Schmidt
Long Island, 1967-68. Vietnam, religious identity
10. THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE by Louise Erdrich
1847 Ojibwa community in Lake Superior region
Ten TBR Historical Nonfiction Titles
1. MARCH Graphic Novel Trilogy by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
2. THE NOTORIOUS BENEDICT ARNOLD: A TRUE STORY OF ADVENTURE, HEROISM & TREACHERY by Steve Sheinkin
3. LINCOLN’S GRAVE ROBBERS by Steve Sheinkin
4. BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD—AND STEAL—THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON by Steve Sheinkin
5. BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson
6. PARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore
7. UNDER SIEGE! THREE CHILDREN AT THE CIVIL WAR BATTLE FOR VICKSBURG by Andrea Warren
8. PHINEAS CAGE: A GRUESOME BUT TRUE STORY OF BRAIN SCIENCE by John Fleischman
9. TILLIE PIERCE: TEEN EYEWITNESS TO THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG by Tanya Anderson
10. UNDEFEATED: JIM THORPE AND THE CARLISLE INDIAN SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAM by Steve Sheinkin