List Fun: Middle Grade American Historical Fiction

Reading historical fiction as a kid is one of the reasons for my long love of history. Through historical fiction, I could connect with interesting people of the past who struggled against and overcame huge challenges. In the Cybils Elementary and Middle Grade Fiction Category, there are about 100 historical fiction nominees, finalists, and winners that bring a variety of time periods, locations, and cultures to life through the stories of historical and fictional young Americans.

Here are ten:

sophiaswarSophia’s War: A Tale of the Revolution by Avi (2012 nominee)—During the Revolutionary War, Sophia and her parents live in British-occupied New York while her beloved brother is imprisoned by the British. Sophia must help her family survive, but she also wants to fight against the British. She begins to spy for the Americans and uncovers a treasonous plot. She might be the only one who can save West Point.

jeffersonJefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2011 nominee)—Three young slave boys grow up at Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson’s plantation. They struggle with the contrast between Jefferson’s championing of freedom while they remain enslaved by him. Two of the boys, Beverly and Maddy, have an added struggle. Not only are they Jefferson’s slaves, they are also his sons.

saltSalt by Helen Frost (2013 nominee)—In this verse novel set during the War of 1812 on the northwestern frontier (now Indiana and Ohio), the families of Anikwa, a Miami boy, and James, the son of an American trader, have been friends their entire lives. When the faraway war between the Americans and British comes to their homes, the boys and their families feel pressured to choose sides. However, both families risk their own safety to help each other survive.

lincolnLincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells, and illustrated by P.J. Lynch (2009 nominee)—In this touching book–great for younger readers–two of Abraham Lincoln’s mischievous sons, Willie and Tad, love to fetch Lincoln home from his law office for their family supper. Then their life is upended when he runs for President, wins, and leads the nation as it tears itself apart by war.

chickadeeChickadee by Louise Erdrich (2012 nominee)—Set in the 1860s, Chickadee and his Anishinabe (Ojibwe/Chippewa) family live in the forest of northern Minnesota. But when Chickadee is kidnapped, his family searches for him and ends up on the Great Plains where they must learn new things to survive. Meanwhile, Chickadee escapes his kidnappers and determines to return to his family. He finds help from the small bird he is named after, as well as from an uncle who is traveling with an ox cart train.

boatballardBo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill, illus. by LeUyen Pham (2013 nominee)—In this quiet book, set in1920’s Alaska, two gold miners team up to raise Bo, an abandoned baby girl. The story takes place over a year’s time as the about-four-year-old Bo helps out at the mining camp and spends time with her friends in the neighboring Eskimo village.


mightymissmaloneThe Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis (2012 nominee)—During the Depression, African-American Deza Malone and her family use humor and love to fight poverty and racism. Together, they face illness, injury, hunger, and joblessness. But when Deza’s father leaves Gary, Indiana, to find work, and then disappears, Deza and her family give up their home and jump a train to find him.


wartossedseaAcross a War-tossed Sea by L.M. Elliott (2014 nominee)—Although told from the point of view of Charles and Wesley, two British boys evacuated to Virginia from Nazi-Blitzed London, this story shows what life was like for many on the American Home Front. Not only do the boys learn to fit in with their host family, but they also deal with language and cultural differences, stand up to bullies and racism, face their fears, and worry about their parents. Then, German POWs are brought to the neighborhood.

sylviaSylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling (2011 nominee)—This story is based on the factual lives of two young girls during WWII. In 1942, Japanese American Aki and her family are ordered to leave their California farm and are sent to an incarceration camp far away. Mexican American Sylvia and her family rent Aki’s farm. However, when Sylvia and her brothers are denied entry to their neighborhood school, Sylvia’s father leads a lawsuit to end school segregation in Orange County, California. Meanwhile, Sylvia and Aki become good friends.

lionsoflittlerockThe Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (2012 finalist)–In Little Rock, Arkansas, 1958 is known as The Lost Year because the public high schools were closed to avoid integration. However, quiet 12-year-old Marlee becomes friends with Liz, the new girl in the all-white junior high school. Liz helps Marlee find her voice. But when people discover Liz has been “passing” as white, Marlee uses her new courage and words to help Liz and to bring Little Rock whites and blacks together.

–Deb Watley, Digging forHistory’s Stories for Kids