books, Literacy, Reading

Some of My Favorite Historical Fiction Books Right Now

I just finished Ruta Sepetys’ new book Salt to the Sea which I received as an ARC at ILA.  It was amazing.  As I poured over the historical notes in the book, I marveled at the dedication and know-how that it takes to create a masterful historical fiction book, and Ruta Sepetys is a master at it.  I know that some of my students live and breathe for historical fiction and therefore thought a list of some of my favorite historical fiction chapter books would only be in order.

I have to start with the book that made me want to make this list; Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys.  This book is a masterpiece, told in multiple perspectives and once again taking a little known event and giving it its proper place in history telling the tale of one of the largest maritime disasters in history that happened in 1945.  The only unfortunate part is that this book is not released until February, 2016, but do yourself a favor and pre-order it now.  I just did.

Ever since The False Prince, Jennifer A. Nielsen has been one of my favorite authors, so I was terribly excited when I read her new historical fiction novel A Night Divided about a young girl and her brother trying to reunite with their father in a divided Berlin.  This book was a page turner and also offered an incredible glimpse of what life was like in East Berlin.

I have loved Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson for a few years, trying to pass it into the hands of as many students as possible.  The story follows Hattie as she tries to prove up on her uncle’s homesteading claim.  There was so much I didn’t know about the trials and tribulations of this time, I am so glad I read this book to teach me.

Although intended for a more mature reader, I did have a copy of The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow in my 5th grade library.  This loose interpretation of the famous German Boxer Max Schmeling’s experiences after KristallNacht is one that a student declared the best book he had ever read.  I don’t think I can give it a bigger recommendation than that.

Is it awful to admit that the reason it took me so long to read the incredible The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley was because I didn’t like the cover?  Oh when will I ever learn?  This book is an amazing account of what it felt like to be a child in London during WWII and especially the children that were transported to the countryside to live with strangers for protection.  A must add.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool is a quirky book that grows on you as you as you read it.  Students tend to not pick this one up by themselves, but once I have book talked it , it always finds it home with “that” kid that falls deeply in love with it.

I had the distinct honor of seeing Pam Munoz Ryan speak, and even play the harmonica, at ILA this summer and it only strengthened my belief that she is a genius.  Echo, her latest book, is a masterpiece with three seemingly different stories woven together perfectly all surrounding WWII but in three very different places.  I cannot wait to hand this to as many students as possible.

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine was a Global Read Aloud finalist, need I say more?  With its tale of two girls becoming friends in segregated Little Rock, I felt like I held my breath until the end of the story.  I have used this for book clubs as well with much success.

It seems only fitting that I end with another Ruta Sepetys book Between Shades of Gray.  A remarkable book that details the forcible relocation of Lithuanians that happened during WWII.  Books like this are the reason historical fiction is so important to have for students.

I purposefully am trying to highlight newer books to me, but please do not forget about these amazing books as well that have already stood the test of time.  Some of these include

The Watson’s Go to Birmingham- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

I actually have a bit of hard time with Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  Being  born and raised in Denmark and having a grandfather that was a resistance fighter during the war, this book has taken something very hard in my country’s history and packaged it a little bit too neatly.  However, it does give a taste of what Denmark was like during WWII, but certainly not the full story.  If you have more mature readers, have them read The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Moose.  That will give a much more comprehensive and astounding look at what really happened during World War II in Denmark.

So which ones have I forgotten?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.

13 thoughts on “Some of My Favorite Historical Fiction Books Right Now”

  1. I have a question. I am wondering other teachers thoughts about book reports. I need a different form of accountability. I have immersion classes, Chinese, in 5th grade. I have 2 1/2 hours with each class a day. Time is short and precious. Individual presentations are not possible. Forms can get boring. Any other ideas?

    1. I think it depends on what type of accountability you need, as well as what your standards say. I moved away from book reports a few years back because they were boring and not the way students wanted to speak about their books any way. Now we work backwards, looking at the standards first and then seeing how we can show mastery of those standards. A lot is done through small written entries or group conversations.

      1. My students love to blog about the books they have read. This is easy to manage and students can share their reading life with their peers

      2. I have to tell you, I set up a blog on my webpage and have the kids put their book blog in the comments. I am so happy with the results in so many ways. The kids are responding to each other. I like the accountability I see. The kids are holding each other accountable. Thanks again for sharing the ideas.

    1. Persopolis may be a bit young for 6th grade. Interesting you would pick two banned/challenged books to ask about, Mike.

  2. I love many of these and am glad for the suggestion of the ones I didn’t know about. I have many 8th graders who liked Number the Stars when they were younger, so I’m glad to know about The Boys Who Challenged Hitler for a little more depth and subtlety. Have you read Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein? Challenging and moving with great female central characters and solid friendship between women.

  3. Though I love the list and have read/own some of the titles I was saddened to see the dearth of books set in Asia or by authors of Asian descent. As an international teacher in China, I am always on the lookout for suggestions that will work well with my population.

  4. One of my favorite historical fiction books is Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. It is set during the Great Depression and gives us a heartbreaking peek into one family’s struggle.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s