10 Great Historical Fiction Titles

Historical fiction is a great way to bring literature into the social studies classroom — see “Why and How I Teach With Historical Fiction” by Tarry Lindquist. Here are 10 outstanding examples of the genre:

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson — As the Revolutionary War rages on, Isabel and Curzon are reported as runaways, and the awful Bellingham is determined to track them down. With purpose and faith, Isabel and Curzon march on, fiercely determined to find Isabel’s little sister Ruth, who is enslaved in a Southern state. The final book in Anderson’s ‘Seeds of America’ trilogy. “A rich cast of characters, nonstop adventures, lively dialogue, vivid battlefield descriptions, budding romance, and an informative appendix are hallmarks of this excellent novel and this compelling, must-have historical fiction series” (School Library Journal).

Audacity by Melanie Crowder — A gorgeously told novel in verse written with intimacy and power, this book is inspired by the real-life story of Clara Lemlich, a spirited young woman who emigrated from Russia to New York at the turn of the twentieth century and fought tenaciously for equal rights. “This fictional narrative, based on Lemlich’s real-life experiences, illuminates the labor-union movement, especially the women’s strike known as the Uprising of the 20,000” (Booklist).

Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden — Freed from slavery, Mariah and her young brother Zeke join Sherman’s march through Georgia, where Mariah meets a free black named Caleb and dares to imagine the possibility of true love, but hope can come at a cost. “This moving and engrossing portrayal of a little-known historical tragedy belongs on all YA shelves” (School Library Journal).

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse — In 1943 Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, teenage Hanneke–a ‘finder’ of black market goods–is tasked with finding a Jewish girl a customer had been hiding, who has seemingly vanished into thin air, and is pulled into a web of resistance activities and secrets as she attempts to solve the mystery and save the missing girl. “Thoroughly researched, this work brings history alive in a clear and concise way that rings true” (School Library Journal).

The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe — Follows Dita Kraus from age fourteen, when she is put in charge of a few forbidden books at Auschwitz concentration camp, through the end of World War II and beyond. Based on a true story. “Like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief (2006), it’s a sophisticated novel with mature themes, delivering an emotionally searing reading experience” (Booklist).

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand — On the eve of her marriage to a stranger, sixteen-year-old Lady Jane Grey is swept in a conspiracy to usurp the throne from her cousin. “Wonky, offbeat, and happily anachronistic the references run the gamut from Shakespeare to Monty Python, with plenty of nods to The Princess Bride this fantasy adventure politely tips its hat to history before joyfully punting it out of the way” (Booklist).

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry — In mid-thirteenth century Provence, Dolssa de Stigata is a fervently religious girl who feels the call to preach, condemned by the Inquisition as an “unnatural woman,” and hunted by the Dominican Friar Lucien who fears a resurgence of the Albigensian heresy; Botille is a matchmaker trying to protect her sisters from being branded as gypsies or witches–but when she finds the hunted Dolssa dying on a hillside, she feels compelled to protect her, a decision that may cost her everything. “The panic and suspicion of post-Inquisition France is omnipresent, giving the story of a supposed heretic a constant edge of danger” (School Library Journal).

Soldier Boy by Keely Hutton — Follows Ricky from 1987-1991, and Samuel in 2006, as they are abducted to serve as child-soldiers in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Includes historical notes and information about Friends of Orphans, an organization founded by Ricky Richard Anywar, on whose life the story is partly based. “A must-purchase for teen collections, with the understanding that this text portrays traumatic childhood violence associated with civil war” (School Library Journal).

The Steep & Thorny Way by Cat Winters — A sixteen-year-old biracial girl in rural Oregon in the 1920s searches for the truth about her father’s death while avoiding trouble from the Ku Klux Klan in this YA historical novel inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. “Winters amplifies the story by weaving Oregon’s troubling true history state-sanctioned discrimination, eugenics, forced sterilization throughout the tale, adding weighty, unsettling context to the slow-burning mystery” (Booklist).

An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder — In Bolivia in 1999, when their father is unjustly arrested and their mother leaves, Francisco, seventeen, and his sister Pilar, eight, must move to the dirty, dehumanizing, and corrupt prison. “This hard-hitting, ultimately hopeful story will open readers’ eyes to a lesser-known historical moment and the far-reaching implications of U.S. policy” (Booklist).

 

She Blinded Me With Science Books!

Every year, for over 40 years, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has published its list of Outstanding Science Trade Books, considered the best science, engineering and design books for students in grades K-12.

These titles would be great choices for science teachers interested in hosting literature circles — “a popular reading strategy that emphasizes student interest and conversation” — in their classrooms. Learn more here: “Literature Circles For Science” (William Straits and Sherry Nichols, NSTA, 30 October 2006).

Here are some highlighted recommendations for high school students (all are available in the CA Library collection):

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti — What happens when a person’s reputation has been forever damaged? With archival photographs and text among other primary sources, this riveting biography of Mary Mallon looks beyond the tabloid scandal of Mary’s controversial life. “Expertly weaving together both historical background and contemporary knowledge about disease and public health, Bartoletti enlivens Mallon’s story with engrossing anecdotes and provocative critical inquiry while debunking misconceptions” (Booklist starred review).

A Global Warming Primer by Jeffrey Bennett — Is human-induced global warming a real threat to our future? Most people will express an opinion on this question, but relatively few can back their opinions with solid evidence. But the truth is, the basic science is not that difficult. “Without moralizing, Bennett offers strong evidence for the effects of global warming and urges cooperation and action across political party and international lines to prevent a calamitous future” (School Library Journal).

The Story of Seeds: From Mendel’s Garden To Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around the World by Nancy Castaldo — With a global cast of men and women, scientists and laypeople, and photographic documentation, Castaldo chronicles where our food comes from, and more importantly, where it is going as she digs deeper into the importance of seeds in our world. “This stellar interdisciplinary resource may need hand-selling to get readers beyond its plain packaging, but be prepared to satisfy readers’ thirst for more information about, for instance, protecting Russia’s international seed vaults during WWII, finding Glass Gem corn, and fighting biopiracy. A terrific, engrossing resource” (Booklist starred review).

Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling — Shares the story of how the daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie discovered artificial radioactivity and won a Nobel Prize in spite of being denied an advanced education, inspiring physicist Lise Meitner to make a vital discovery about nuclear fission. “Black-and-white period photos, scientific asides and diagrams, and a time line enhance the well-cited text. A thorough and engaging study of two female scientists worth their weight in radium” (Booklist starred review).

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman — A summary of today’s environmental challenges also counsels teens on how to decode conflicting information, explaining the role of vested interests while identifying the sources behind different opinions, helping teens make informed choices. “The presentation of facts and the author’s positive message are what shine here. An excellent and thought-provoking take on a well-worn subject” (School Library Journal).

Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg — A fascinating account for teen readers that captures the history, science, and economic and cultural implications of the harvesting of cacao and creation of chocolate. Readers of Chew On This and The Omnivore’s Dilemma will savor this rich exposé. “Covering controversy over labor laws, the chemical makeup of chocolate, and recent attempts to map the cacao genome, Frydenborg offers a wealth of information that will likely encourage students to think critically about the ecological and human cost of their favorite candies and maybe even prompt them to choose sustainable alternatives” (Booklist).

Steve Jobs: Insanely Great, A Graphic Biography by Jessie Hartland — Told through a combination of black-and-white illustrations and handwritten text, this fast-paced and entertaining biography in graphic format presents the story of the ultimate American entrepreneur, the man who brought us Apple Computer, Pixar, Macs, iPods, iPhones, and more. “Luddites and iFans alike should find this volume an illuminating introduction to Jobs’s life and the recent history of consumer electronics” (School Library Journal).

Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow — Traces the efforts of doctors to halt the spread of the plague during the 1900 outbreak in San Francisco, discussing how political leaders tried to keep the epidemic from being publicized and the scientists working to unlock the secrets of the disease. “The intertwined themes of prejudice against Asian Americans, public health officials hampered by politicians, and mistrust of scientific research (which indicated that fleas carried plague from rodents to humans) make the story complex, revealing a good deal about human nature as well as the period and the disease itself” (Booklist).

Magnificent Minds: 16 Pioneering Women in Science and Medicine by Pendred E. Noyce —  Introduces readers to the lives, sayings, and dreams of sixteen women over four centuries and chronicles their contributions to mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, computer science, and medicine. “A wonderful collection of stories…[Noyce provides] explanation and context of both a scientific and a geopolitical nature” (Shirley Malcolm, head of Education and Human Resources, American Association for the Advancement of Science).

Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef — This riveting biography explores the exceptional life of a woman who defied the stifling conventions of Victorian society to pursue what was considered an undesirable vocation. “Budding scientists will enjoy seeing the changing theories about contagion, such as the later-debunked miasma theory, of which Florence was a staunch believer. A captivating and inspiring study of one woman’s perseverance and the good that came from it” (Booklist starred review).

Best Adult Books For Teens

In addition to the Best Books for Young Adults lists we follow here on the CA Library blog, we also track lists of adult books that have teen appeal, notably from School Library Journal and Booklist. Here are some of the best adult books recommended for teens from 2017 (all are in the CA Library collection):

Fiction

The Power by Naomi Alderman — A rich Nigerian boy; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. When a vital new force takes root and flourishes, their lives converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls and women now have immense physical power– they can cause agonizing pain and even death. “[A] novel that is both wildly entertaining and utterly absorbing…makes for an instant classic, bound to elicit discussion and admiration in equal measure” (Booklist starred review).

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden — Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. When Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow, the new stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. “Arden’s lyrical writing will draw teens in and refuse to let them go. A spellbinding story that will linger with most readers far beyond the final page” (School Library Journal).

Setting Free The Kites by Alex George — For Robert Carter, life in his coastal Maine hometown is comfortably predictable. But in 1976, on his first day of eighth grade, he meets Nathan Tilly — confident, fearless, impetuous — who changes everything. Their budding friendship is forged in the crucible of two family tragedies as the boys struggle to come to terms with loss. “An eloquent meditation on loss and the necessary action of letting go” (Booklist).

Bookburners by Max Gladstone et al — Magic is real, and hungry. It’s trapped in ancient texts and artifacts, and only a few who discover it survive to fight back. When Detective Sal Brooks joins a Vatican-backed black-ops anti-magic squad, together they stand between humanity and the magical apocalypse. “This collection (and the series as a whole) is recommended for those looking for a breezy, entertaining, and exciting fantasy read” (Booklist).

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig — Ginny, and autistic teen, has finally found her ‘forever home’– a safe place with parents who will love and nurture her. But Ginny has other plans. She’ll steal and lie and exploit the good intentions of those who love her — anything it takes to get back what’s missing in her life. “Ludwig’s triumphant achievement is borne from his own experience as the adoptive parent of a teen with autism, and his gorgeous, wrenching portrayal of Ginny’s ability to communicate what she needs is perfection” (Library Journal).

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng — In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — and no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. “Ng explores the complexities of adoption, surrogacy, abortion, privacy, and class, questioning all the while who earns, who claims, and who loses the right to be called a mother” (Publishers Weekly).

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak — Until May 1987, fourteen-year-old Billy Marvin of Wetbridge, New Jersey, is a nerd, but a decidedly happy nerd. Then Playboy magazine publishes photos of Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White, Billy meets expert programmer Mary Zelinsky, and everything changes. This is a love letter to the 1980s, to the dawn of the computer age, and to adolescence — a time when anything feels possible. “Strongly recommended for fans of nerd culture and 1980s throwbacks such as Stranger Things, though Billy’s wry narration and the novel’s crazy shenanigans may draw in a broader audience of readers looking for irreverent humor” (School Library Journal).

The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen — In Yolen’s first story collection in more than ten years, readers will discover new and uncollected tales of beloved characters, literary legends, and much more. “These highly entertaining retellings are perfect for teen fans of fairy tales and classic literature, though they are easily enjoyed without any background knowledge” (School Library Journal).

Nonfiction

Girl Up: Kick Ass, Claim Your Woman Card, and Crush Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates — This empowering survival guide provides no-nonsense advice on sex, social media, mental health, and sexism that young women face in their everyday life — from one of the emerging leaders in the feminist movement. “Girl Up is an intimate, laugh-out-loud funny, and adorably illustrated call to arms for the next generation of warrior women” (Booklist starred review).

Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey by Ila Jane Borders and Jean Hastings Ardell — The autobiography of Ila Jane Borders, who despite formidable obstacles became a Little League prodigy, MVP of her otherwise all-male middle school and high school teams, the first woman awarded a baseball scholarship, and the first to pitch and win a complete men’s collegiate game, and the first woman in the modern era to win a professional ball game. “Thoroughly readable and engaging, this inspiring autobiography deserves a spot on all sports shelves and, with Title IX in the news lately, serves as a timely memoir about gender equity in sports” (School Library Journal).

We Have No Idea: A Guide To The Unknown Universe by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson — PHD Comics creator Jorge Cham and particle physicist Daniel Whiteson have teamed up to explore everything we don’t know about the universe: the enormous holes in our knowledge of the cosmos. Armed with their popular infographics, cartoons, and unusually entertaining and lucid explanations of science, they give us the best answers currently available for a lot of questions that are still perplexing scientists. “[The] irreverent sensibility, clearheaded writing, and optimistic outlook make this a great read for reluctant science readers and even for young adults interested in the big ideas on the scientific horizon” (Booklist).

Rest In Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin — This portrait of Trayvon Martin shares previously untold insights into the movement he inspired from the perspectives of his parents, who also describe their efforts to bring meaning to his short life through the movement’s pursuit of redemption and justice. “A well-told and gripping portrayal of the killing of a son and the subsequent legal process, with all its twists and turns” (School Library Journal).

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman — Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, son of a giant, blood brother to Odin, and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. “A spectacularly entertaining and elucidating collection of stories with wide crossover appeal” (Library Journal).

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith — From a top scientist and the creator of the hugely popular web comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, a hilariously illustrated investigation into future technologies — from how to fling a ship into deep space on the cheap to 3D organ printing. “With infectious enthusiasm, the Weinersmiths serve up the perfect combination for curious, critical minds. Popular-science writing has rarely been so whip-smart, captivating, or hilarious” (Booklist starred review).