I love historical fiction because authors have a wonderful talent for making history come alive. History is so much more than dates and facts—it’s stories and real people and how they lived and what they felt. Teaching kids about history through historical fiction is a great way to get them excited, and help them draw connections to their present. These 50 must-read historical fiction books for kids show a wide spectrum of time periods and experiences, and will hopefully make history come alive!
For more historical fiction, check out this list of 30 fascinating historical fiction books for middle school readers! Or, this list of the 50 best historical fiction books for adults.
The best historical fiction books for kids
Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
This is the book I hand kids and parents who tell me they love Little House on the Prairie. Set in the 1840s, it’s about an Ojibway family living near Lake Superior. Erdrich’s book (the first in a series) is an important perspective on history and a great way for kids to learn about the past from a Native perspective.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
When Esperanza and her family are forced to flee their privileged lives on a ranch in Mexico to a farm camp in California during the Great Depression, Esperanza must adapt to a new life of hard work and rise to meet the challenges of her new home.
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
Jobs are scarce in the 1930s, so when Turtle’s mama gets a job as a housekeeper for a lady who doesn’t like children, she’s sent to live with family she’s never met in Key West, Florida. Key West is full of adventure, cousins, and family secrets that Turtle is quick to uncover.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
When sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are sent to stay with their mother, Cecile, in Oakland, California, for the summer, they’re excited for Disneyland and reconnecting with their mother. But Cecile isn’t the mother they expect, and puts them into a day camp run by the Black Panthers, opening their eyes to their family history and futures.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwtiz
Set in 1242 France, this book with multiple stories is like a Canterbury Tales for kids. The tales of William, Jacob, Jeanne, and her dog Gwenforte all wind together to tell an extraordinary story about escaping prejudice and justice.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowery
When the Nazis occupy Denmark, Annemarie and her family take in her best friend Ellen, who is Jewish, and pass her off as a member of the family until they are able to smuggle her out of the country to Sweden.
Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Sugar lives on the River Road sugar plantation, where slavery is over but life is far from easy. When a group of Chinese workers are brought in to help on the plantation, not everyone is happy. But Sugar befriends one of the young Chinese workers, and discovers that she just might be able to bridge the cultural gap.
Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Set during the Great Migration in the 1940s, this book tells the story of Langston, who moves from Alabama to Chicago. Once in Chicago, Langston discovers the library, which is open to everyone, and another Langston—the poet Langston Hughes.
When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park
Sun-hee and her family live in Korea, which is under Japanese occupation. Their own cultures, language, even their names are forbidden by the Japanese. But when WWII comes, the Koreans are expected to fight by Japan’s side, and Sun-hee’s brother enlists even as her family keeps secrets about the Korean resistance.
The Case of the Stolen Sixpence by Holly Webb
The first in the Mystery of Maisie Hutchins series, this book is about Maisie, convinced she’d make an excellent detective if just given the chance. Maisie keeps track of the comings and goings in her Victorian London boarding house until she observes a crime go unpunished and sets out to seek justice herself.
The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford
The first in the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series, this book follows young Lady Ada Byron and Mary Godwin, clever girls and best friends who form a detective agency to apprehend exceptionally clever criminals.
Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler
If your kid doesn’t quite have the reading stamina for Anne of Green Gables, or is just wild for graphic novels, then this gorgeous adaptation of the L.M. Montgomery classic is perfect. Orphan Anne is accidentally sent to live on a farm on Prince Edward Island with two elderly siblings who wanted a boy, but is able to charm her way into their hearts with her vivid imagination and passionate loyalty.
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older
In an alternate past, dinosaurs roam Civil War–era New York. Magdalys and her friends are orphans at the Colored Orphans Asylum, and when their friends are kidnapped, they flee to Dactyl Hill in Brooklyn, where they learn to ride dactylback and plot to rescue their kidnapped friends.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
When sheltered Winnie Foster discovers a boy drinking from a mysterious spring under a tree in the woods, she meets the Tucks, an immortal family who have lived for years. As she learns about their story, the wonders they’ve seen, and the dangers they face, she must make a life-altering choice.
Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher
Based on a true story, the polar bear sent by the King of Sweden to the King of England as a gift. Arthur is put in the bear’s cage as punishment, but shockingly she doesn’t harm him. He’s somehow able to handle her, and that makes him valuable on the perilous journey to the bear’s new home.
Phoebe the Spy by Judith Berry Griffin
Someone is plotting to kill George Washington, and it’s up to young Phoebe, a spy placed in his home as a housekeeper, to figure out who before it’s too late!
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
Segregation is just a way of life in Stella’s small North Carolina town, and she navigates it the best she can. But when she’s out late one night and sees something she’s not supposed to, Stella is propelled to take a stand.
A Stitch in Time by Daphne Kalmar
In 1927 Vermont, 10-year-old Donut is recently an orphan. Her aunt comes to stay with her, and a plan to whisk Donut off to Boston. But Donut loves the natural beauty of her Vermont home, and together with her friend Tiny hatches a plan to stay.
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
Turner Buckminster is the son of the new preacher in Phippsburg, Maine, and he hates it there. The only interesting person is Lizzie Bright, who lives on an island just off the coast, with a community founded by former slaves. When the townspeople formulate a plan to get Lizzie’s community to evacuate the island and make way for tourism, Turner is left to bear witness to the tragedy that unfolds.
Unbound by Ann E. Burg
This novel in verse tells the story of Grace, whose family warns her to keep her mouth shut and her head down when she’s sent to work in the big house. But the injustice proves to be too much, and when Grace says something that she an’t take back, she and her family are forced flee slavery into the swamps, where they must dodge danger in pursuit of freedom.
Skunked!: Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet by Jacqueline Kelly
In this illustrated chapter book adaptation of the Newbery Honor book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Calpurnia’s little brother discovers a baby skunk in need of a home. Keeping the baby skunk a secret from Mother is easy enough…until his littermate shows up, also in need of help! This is the first in a series!
Step Up the Plate, Maria Singh! by Uma Krishnaswami
All 9-year-old Maria Singh wants is to be on the first girls’ softball team in her California town in 1945. But as she and her teacher fight for the right to play, Maria’s eyes are opened to the racism and prejudice that plague not just her Indian-Mexican-American family, but many families in her community perceived as different.
Winnie’s Great War by Lindsay Mattick and Josh Greenhut
This novelization expands on the story of Winnie, the bear that was born in Canada, adopted by Captain Harry Colebourn and taken to Europe to travel with the Veterinary Corps during WWI, and would eventually find a home in the London Zoo, where she met Christopher Robin Milne and became the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh.
Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan
Rachel lives with her parents in British-occupied East Africa, where they serve as missionaries. When her parents die from influenza, Rachel is tricked by her scheming neighbors into being sent back to England, but she cannot give up her dream of building her parents’ mission hospital.
Betty Before X by Renée Watson and Ilyasah Shabazz
Set in 1945 Detroit, Betty Before X is a novelization of the true story of Dr. Betty Shabazz’s girlhood. Growing up feeling unloved, Betty turns to church and social justice movements to find her purpose, setting the foundation for growing up and meeting Malcolm X and becoming a civil rights icon in her own right.
The Story Collector by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb
Eleven-year-old Viviana lives in one of the apartments in the New York Public Library and knows almost everything there is to know about it. But when her claim that the library is haunted backfires on her, it’s up to Viviani and her friends to solve not one, but two mysteries in the library!
The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Kenny and his family take a trip from their home in Flint to Birmingham, Alabama, to visit their grandmother in the hopes that she can straighten out his older brother. They arrive just as her church is bombed in one of the darker moments in the Civil Rights movement.
Paper Boy by Vince Vawter
Little Man is great at baseball, but not so great at interacting with others thanks to his stutter. But when he takes over his friend’s paper route one summer, he finds that talking with certain people is absolutely unavoidable.
Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson
Audacity is an orphan living at Miss Maisie’s Home for Wayward Girls in the early 1910s. She longs for adventure beyond always getting in trouble, and gets her wish when Commodore Crutchfield mysteriously brings her to Washington, D.C., where she inadvertently becomes embroiled in a plot against President Taft.
Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
Twelve-year-old Glory has to deal with ever-shifting friendships and loyalties as her town decides whether or not to keep the segregated community pool open in their small Mississippi town in 1964.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
This novel in verse tells the story of young Hà, who witnesses the fall of Saigon and immigrates to Alabama with her family. Alabama is so different from their homeland, and while it’s full of excitement, Hà longs for her home and to know what happened to her missing father.
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine
Starting middle school in 1958 is terrifying for Marlee, but luckily for her she makes a friend in Liz, who makes everything a little less scary. But when Liz leaves school abruptly and rumor says it’s because she was passing for white, Marlee must summon her courage and fight to get her friend back.
Sylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling
Based on a true story, Sylvia and Aki are two young girls living in California whose stories intersect in a landmark case that paved the way for desegregation in U.S. schools.
Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff
Lily and her family spend every summer at her family’s beach house in Rockaway, but this year is different: her father is about to head off to war, and her best friend has moved. Lily strikes up a friendship with Albert, a refugee from the war, but the lies they both tell may cost Albert his life.
Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
Avi’s Newbery-winning novel is about 13-year-old Crispin, who must flee his village when he’s accused of a crime he didn’t commit and his life is at stake. He’s running from danger, but headlong into a mystery about his parents and past. This is the first in a series.
Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Set in the 1970s, Sunny is sent to live with her grandfather in Florida to keep her from a secret back at home.
Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin
Ten-year-old Sasha is looking forward to finally joining the Young Pioneers, the Communist Party’s group for young people, but finds everything going awry when the time comes in this Newbery Honor book.
Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm
It’s post–WWII in New Jersey and Penny is looking forward to a carefree summer when she learns firsthand the realities of prejudice and the lingering after effects of war, even in her own family.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord
Shirley Temple Wong is struggling to make friends in her new home when Jackie Robinson and his tremendous success in the 1947 season give her a way to connect with her peers.
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Anna and her brother Caleb wait in anticipation for someone to answer their father’s newspaper advertisement for a new wife and mother.
The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
Wood kicks off the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series with this novel about young Miss Penelope Lumley, who becomes a governess for three children who have been raised by wolves.
The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Boy is an outcast in his village, until one day a mysterious pilgrim recruits Boy on his quest across Europe to collect the relics of Saint Peter.
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
Abilene Tucker feels abandoned by her father when he sends her to live with a friend while he takes a job, so she heads to his hometown to learn about his history—and her own.
Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar
Ten-year-old Anjali is shocked when her mother joins Gandhi’s freedom movement, and must learn to re-think the meaning of bravery and freedom when her mother’s methods go against convention.
The Midnight Tunnel by Angie Frazier
Suzanna works at her family’s inn in New Brunswick when a girl goes missing. Her uncle, a detective, comes to solve the case, but Suzanna can tell that something isn’t quite adding up…
The Night Garden by Polly Horvath
Franny isn’t too bothered by WWII, until some neighbor children move in with her family while their mother goes off to find their father, a mechanic at a nearby base who might be involved in something dangerous, and the kids get swept up in the mystery.
Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens
Best friends Daisy and Hazel establish a detective agency in their 1930s boarding school when their science teacher dies and her body mysteriously disappears.
The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Bicycle-loving Marcel is upset when the Nazi invasion of France cancels the Tour de France, but when he stumbles upon some secrets that put his family at danger, he’s given an opportunity to make a most dangerous bicycle journey to pass long important information.
A Star in the Storm by Jean Haiti Harlow
When all non-sheepherding dogs are banned, Maggie hides her beloved Newfoundland, Sirius, to keep him with her. But when a steamer crashes off the coast, she’s faced with a difficult choice: use Sirius to rescue the survivors and risk his getting discovered, or continue keeping him a secret?
Zora and Me by Victoria Bond
A fictionalization of Zora O’Neale Hurston’s early years, this book follows young Zora, who discovers what happens when her tall tales begin to take on a life of their own.
What are your favorite historical fiction books for kids?