15 Extremely Interesting Historical Fiction Chapter Books
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History can sometimes get bad press. I know when I was growing up, I hated it. This was my least favorite course (sorry teachers!), mainly because the way it was presented was so boring. We never read any good books about it – in fact, I don’t remember that we read any history novels, up to high school. But luckily that has changed… I hope? There are so many great books of historical fiction chapters and novels that bring history to life.
Whatever period or historical event you want to learn more about, there is something for you. My son is entering first grade, and he and I are progressing through Magic tree house series, for example – and he loves to hear about all the different places and times. We mark the time period in our history timeline notebook, and that inevitably leads to searching for things on the iPad and watching videos on the hour.
The story can get bogged down in dates and times, and it can be easy for children to lose sight of the fact that it’s about people, families, children, events and so much more. different stories to explore. In this way, it can remain impersonal and “other”. But historical fiction can change that.
The following books of historical fiction chapters are just a glimpse of what’s out there, and I’ve listed them in chronological order. Here’s more historical fiction for kids, as well as historical fiction for middle schoolers.
Chapter books set in the 1800s
Show me a sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
Inspired by the true story of a deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard, this is the story of Mary Lambert, whose great-great-grandfather was the first deaf islander. Many people in her community are now deaf and she is proud of her history. But his brother died recently and land tensions are emerging between the English settlers and the Wampanoag. And then there’s the newly arrived scientist who wants to “study” Mary and her deafness. It is a compelling book on colonialism, ableism and racism with themes that are still relevant today.
Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Slavery is over, but 10-year-old Sugar doesn’t feel free, working in the fields of the River Road Sugar Plantation, where she lives. She always finds a way to have fun, including playing with Billy, the white plantation owner’s son, whose friendship is forbidden. When Chinese workers are brought in to help harvest the cane, the older River Road workers are not happy. Sugar befriends an elder and a young worker, who teach him their traditions. She quickly realizes that she can bridge the two communities and cultures, and bring everyone together.
Set of books from the 1900s to the 1930s
Petra Luna’s Barefoot Dreams by Alda P. Dobbs
Set in 1913 during the Mexican Revolution, this story is about Petra Luna, a 12-year-old girl whose mother has just died. Before her father is taken away by soldiers, she promises him that she will watch over the remaining members of the family—her abuelita and her younger sister and brother—until everyone can be reunited again. They go on the run, towards the American border, where Petra hopes for a better life for everyone. Timely and important, this is a book you won’t soon forget.
The Rise of Esperanza by Pam Munoz Ryan
Esperanza leads a fairly privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico — and she assumed it would always be that way. But tragedy strikes, and she and mom must flee to California, ending up in a farm labor camp. She’s not used to the hard work there, the challenges of the Great Depression, or the exclusion she faces. But she must find a way out – her future and that of her mother depend on it.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
Stella lives in Bumblebee, North Carolina, which is isolated. Although she can’t go to certain places, the Klan hasn’t bothered anyone for a long time – except one night, she witnesses an unwelcome harbinger of what’s to come. As her community changes before her eyes, Stella faces her own failures but also finds the inner strength to keep moving forward.
World War II books
28 days: a novel of resistance in the Warsaw ghetto by David Safier
We are in 1942. Mira, 16, lives in the Warsaw ghetto with her family. When she learns that the ghetto will be liquidated – meaning everyone will be killed or sent to concentration camps – she knows she must help her family survive. And then she meets a group of people who plan to resist – the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
When my name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park
Sun-hee and his older brother Tae-yul live in Korea, but it’s under Japanese occupation. This means that they study Japanese in school and anything about their Korean heritage and culture is banned. When World War II arrives, the Japanese expect the Koreans to fight with them. Not only is Sun-hee surprised by this, but she’s even more surprised when her brother enlists to help protect their uncle, who is suspected of being part of the resistance. A story of family, survival and secrets, this is a story not to be missed.
Chapter books set in the 1950s and 1960s
no more indian by Charlene Willing McManis and Traci Sorell
Regina’s family has always lived on the Grand Ronde reserve and she has always been Umpqua. But then the government signs a bill that says his tribe no longer exists. When her father enrolled in the Indian Relocation program, they moved to Los Angeles. The family struggles to find their way without their tribal community, and questions about identity and belonging arise.
A crazy summer by Rita Williams Garcia
We are in 1968. Delphine, 11, watches over her two little sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She had to, since their mother left them seven years earlier when she moved to California. When they go to visit her for the summer, their mother is not at all what they remember. When they just want to go to Disneyland, she sends them to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers – and their summer is nothing like what they expected.
How to find what you’re not looking for by Veera Hiranandani
Loving vs. Virginia was recently decided, overturning laws banning interracial marriage. Ariel Goldberg, 12, is suddenly faced with changes: her family’s Jewish bakery is in financial trouble, and her older sister has just run away with an Indian boy. She observes all the activism and political events around her, trying to understand what she thinks about each issue. She misses her sister and struggles with a learning disability that her parents don’t understand. She explores her place in the world and where she is, while confronting anti-Semitism against her family, as well as racism within her family.
Chapter Books in the 1970s and 1980s
It’s not that awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
Zomorod and her family just moved (again), this time to Newport Beach, California, and she decided to start fresh with the name Cindy. It’s the late 1970s and Iran is in the headlines a lot, with protests and a revolution. Although she does her best to fit in with everyone, Cindy can’t help but notice anti-Iranian sentiment, especially after Iran takes American hostages. After following her for several years, this book is a touching story of family, friendship and discovering who you are.
Planet Earth is blue by Nicole Panteleakos
Nova is autistic and non-speaking, and eagerly awaits the launch of the Challenger. The love of space is something she had shared with her sister Bridget, but now Bridget is gone and Nova is in a new foster home. Most people fired Nova for not talking, but Bridget never did. Now her teachers realize all that Nova has to share and she is making friends on her own. But what Nova is most looking forward to is the launch – will Bridget keep her promise and show up?
Chapter books set in the 1990s and beyond
Troublemaker by John Cho
Jordan is 12 years old and Los Angeles is at a crossroads: the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King have been acquitted and a Korean store owner has shot and killed Latasha Harlins, a black teenager. Tensions run high and Jordan, who is Korean American, feels like he can never measure up to his sister. When his father leaves one evening to check out the family store, Jordan comes face to face with racism in his community.
Where is my place by Tara White
During the Oka Crisis of 1990, Carrie never felt like she belonged anywhere. Her adoptive parents are strict and she resents this. She meets her Mohawk family for the first time and begins to engage more with her roots. Slowly, she begins to understand where she belongs in the two worlds.
Nine, Ten: A History of 9/11 by Nora Raleigh Baskin
In this book, which takes place a few days before September 11, four children face different challenges: Sergio is struggling with an absent father, Will is dealing with mourning the loss of his father, Naheed is dealing with the reactions of people deal with her headscarf and Aimee starting a new school while her mother flies to New York for work. When their lives intersect because of that fateful day, neither of them could have imagined how things would change.
Which do you read first? For even more options, check out other historical fiction books for kids and these historical fiction books for middle schoolers.