History was one of my least favorite subjects in school. Math took number one for least favorite, followed closely by Economics and Geography—but history was up there. I just couldn’t wrap my head around all the dates, the countries involved, and how it related to me at the time.  

But even though I didn’t like history, I loved historical fiction. I felt, at the time, like I could relate more to the characters in an historical fiction novel than I ever could to actual history. Those books (and as a 90s kid, most of the historical fiction I read were the ‘Dear America’ books) allowed me to step into the shoes of someone close to my age who was experiencing something I had never experienced, and probably never would. Through historical fiction, I came to America on the Mayflower, saw the terrors of the Civil War, came to Oregon in a wagon train, and camped with the Donner Party (Seriously. My America book 13: The Journal of Douglas Allen Deeds).  

What these series’ did for historical fiction was pave the way for it to grow and evolve—to go deeper into the human experience. Historical fiction grew from episodic epistolary books, to award-winning literature. Authors realized that kids could handle the hard topics that come with looking at history. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t still gaps that need to be filled.  For example, historical fiction set in the United States featuring Black main characters tends to stick to the narratives of slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement when there are many stories to tell from different periods.  

What historical fiction did for me was make history matter. It made history irresistible. It gave me a mental timeline so that I knew the Civil War came after the Revolutionary War, for instance. Still, it also encouraged me to identify with other voices, views, cultures, and times. 

Historical fiction taught me empathy and compassion. It helped me to see the similarities that lie just underneath our differences. 

As I got older, the thoughts I had while reading historical fiction got deeper. I thought about my own voice and my own views. I asked myself questions like, “What side should I be on?” “Is there even a right side?” 

Historical fiction made me realize that I AM history and what I do, the choices I make, matter.  

As a librarian who frequently hears from parents that their children don’t like history in school—or find reading historical nonfiction difficult, I point them toward historical fiction for the following reasons: 

  1. It creates a context for current events and how they have been shaped by the past. 
  1. It provides for the exploration of human interaction and behavior in extreme circumstances. 
  1. It educates about history in a more compelling and memorable way (sorry, history teachers!) 
  1. It helps bridge generational divides by bringing to life formative periods for older relatives. 
  1. It fires the imagination and builds a greater appreciation for changes locally and globally.  

If you (yes, you can be an adult and read excellent middle-grade reads!), or your middle-grade reader want to dive into some history, here is a list of great historical fiction. 

Middle Grade Historical Fiction