Middle-grade historical fiction is probably the only kind of historical fiction that I like, at least for me. A contemporary girl is what I’m all about when it comes to reading adult books, and I’m all about them. I don’t know what’s so great about middle-grade historical fiction. It might be because it’s written to be more appealing and easy to read. Both ways, I’m in.
So, of course, all these middle-grade historical fiction picks have a lot more going for them than just the fact that they’re written by men. People who like history from China, the United States, Kenya, Cuba, and Chile will like these ideas. There are also stories about living with war, grief, moving, and more in these middle-grade historical fiction picks.
Updated for August 2021: This post has been changed to say that it has been done You can now find the historical fiction books by the time period in which they are set, so you can look for them.
Middle Grade Fiction Set in the 1100’s
The Crystal Ribbon
Huanan is a village that lived in medieval China. The Great Huli Jing is the deity that rules there. Li Jing, who is 12, has a very different name from the Huli Jing, but the sound of her name is close enough to make people tease her all the time. It could also be a sign of a greater destiny and power. Life for Jing isn’t easy. In order for everyone to stay alive, Jing has to be sacrificed. Her father is a poor tea farmer.
To the Koh family, she is sold as a bride. She is going to be their wife and nursemaid to their three year old child. Even when Jing is treated badly by the Koh’s and sold into a worse situation, she feels bitter about it. She thinks her only option is to run away and find a new home. When a spider helps Jing make a way out, and a bird helps her find her way, Jing sets out on a journey to get back to Huanan–and back to herself.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1800’s
Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children
Sally Hemings, one of Jefferson’s slaves, had two of Jefferson’s children with her. This story tells a darker part of American history from the point of view of three of Jefferson’s slaves, including two of Jefferson’s own children. Slavery and freedom become more clear as each child grows up and tells his own story. This raises questions about what “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” really mean. In this heartfelt story, we learn more about what it was like to be one of Jefferson’s “invisible children.”
Show Me a Sign
Published in 2020: March 3, 2020
In the past, Mary Lambert has always felt safe and secure on her favorite place in the world, Martha’s Vineyard. Her great-great-grandfather was the first English person to settle on the island and the first deaf person. There are now many people there who are deaf, including Mary. Most people can communicate in sign language, and it’s easy for them to do so. Mary has never felt alone. She is proud of her family history.
But recent events have brought about a lot of change. Mary’s brother died, leaving her family broken apart. Tensions are rising between English settlers and the Wampanoag people over land. And a clever young scientist has come to the island to find out why so many people on the island are deaf. It doesn’t take long for his maniacal desire to find answers to turn Mary into a “living specimen” in a cruel experiment. It’s about her fight to save herself that makes this book both poignant and penetrating. It looks at how we think about abilities and disabilities.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1840’s
Gold Rush Girl
As a child, Victoria Blaisdell wants to be free and have fun. She also wants to go with her father when he sails west to look for real gold! That’s why it’s 1848 and Tory can’t even go to school, much less travel all the way from Rhode Island to California. Tory wants to be in charge of her own future, so she stows away on the ship. The city of San Francisco is very hectic and full of wild and dangerous men. However, Tory has found freedom and friendship there, even though the city is dangerous. When her father is out in the gold fields, her younger brother, Jacob, is taken. So, Tory goes on a dangerous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of the San Francisco Bay that is full of abandoned ships and is dangerous to look for.
This person is loved for telling good stories. Avi is at his best when he brings us back to a time of hope and risk, brought to life by a heroine readers will love. This is a vivid, engrossing history book because it has a lot of good information and a lot of suspense.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1850’s
The Journey of Little Charlie
Charlie, who is 12 years old, is having a hard time: His sharecropper father has just died, and Cap’n Buck, the most feared man in Possum Moan, South Carolina, has come to collect a debt from the boy’s father. When Charlie is afraid for his own life, he makes a deal with Cap’n Buck. He agrees to look for some people who are accused of stealing from the cap’n and his boss.
It’s not too bad of a deal for Charlie until he meets the fugitives and finds out who they are. Charlie is torn between his guilt and his survival instinct, and he needs to figure out what to do next quickly. Soon, Cap’n Buck will be on board.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1860’s
Last of the Name
They arrive in New York City in 1863. Danny O’Carolan is 12 years old. Kathleen doesn’t want to be separated from her only family member, so she and her younger sister find a job in domestic service. Danny pretends to be a girl in order to avoid being sent to the children’s workhouse or becoming a drummer boy for the Union army. He does this reluctantly. When he sneaks off to spend a few hours as a child and show off his Irish dancing skills, he learns about the many different neighborhoods in New York. It’s also causing tensions between the Irish and free black people because of the Civil War draft, though. In a dangerous world, how can Danny find a safe place to call home?
Echo (Also, 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s)
At this time, it was published on February 24, 2015.
Otto is lost and alone in a forbidden forest when he meets three mysterious sisters. He soon finds himself entangled in a complicated quest that includes a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica. This is how it works:
They each become linked to each other decades later when the same harmonica comes into their lives. All of the kids have to do a lot of hard things: save their father, protect their brother, and keep their family together. Finally, they are pulled together by an invisible thread of fate, and their suspenseful solo stories come together in an orchestral crescendo.
It was published on February 14, 2017, and it was
Twelve-year-old Callie Wilcomb and her family are slaves, but the Civil War gives them hope that they might be able to get free soon. It was May 23, 1861, when the State of Virginia agreed to leave the Union. As time went on, the laws of Virginia opened up a window where they didn’t apply any more. It was because of the Contraband Law that slaves no longer had to be sent back to their owners, giving them some level of protection and safety. With the possibility that Callie and her family could break free of their bonds for good, Callie wants to learn and become more educated. She wants to teach others one day. Despite hardship and loss, with love and strong family ties, Callie proves that freedom is in the stars for her.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1870s
In River Road sugar plantation, Sugar is ten years old. She lives next to the Mississippi on the River Road sugar farm. Having to work in the fields all day doesn’t make her feel very free. Sugar, on the other hand, has a good way of making her own fun, especially when she teams up with Billy, the white plantation owner’s son.
As soon as Chinese workers come in to help harvest the cane, Sugar sees her chance to learn more about the world. She has always wanted to know more about the world. The older River Road people are afraid, but Sugar is very interested. As she gets to know Beau and Master Liu, they teach her about their culture, and she, in turn, teaches them about life on a farm. As time goes on, Sugar realizes she must be the one to bridge a gap in culture and bring the people of the town together. This is a story about friendships that don’t seem like friendships at all. They can change our lives for good or bad.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1880’s
Prairie Lotus is a powerful, moving, and multilayered book about a girl who wants to fit in and achieve her dreams. She wants to get an education, become a dressmaker in her father’s shop, and make at least one friend. Linda Sue Park, a well-known, award-winning author, has put a young half-Asian girl, Hanna, in a small town in the heart of the United States in 1880. She has to deal with the town’s almost-unanimous prejudice against Asians in order to get used to her new surroundings. Hanna is the narrator of the book, and it has some heartbreaking moments but also a lot of humor. Readers will fall in love with Hanna’s witty, observant voice.