We recently held a book review event for our children’s librarians. We had a panel of four reviewers and talked about new fiction for middle grades through high school.
As I was creating the list of books I wanted to review I realized with no small amount of shock that I had a long list consisting of…historical fiction?! I am known for my weakness for angsty young adult lit and graphic novels. Since when do I read so much historical fiction?? Apparently I am very late to the game according to some of my librarian friends, but I was surprised to look on the shelves around me and realize that the most recent stand-out novels are some heart-pounding, gut-wrenching historical fiction titles.
Who knew I’d be describing books in this genre like I would The Hunger Games?!
With this new interest in mind, I’ve made a list for you of what I’ve managed to inhale thus far, in no particular order. They are all equally fabulous.
1. West of the Moon by Margi Preus
I have yet to read a book by Margi that isn’t smart, impeccably researched, and infinitely curious. Weaving Norwegian folklore and a harrowing immigration story, 13 year old Astri flees a poverty-stricken life in 19th century Norway, rescuing her younger sister along the way. Enthralling and unflinching, the parallel stories help the reader understand how mythology and folklore can illuminate our understanding of history. For mature middle grade readers.
2. My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!) by Alison DeCamp
If there’s a funnier middle grade novel out there I haven’t read it yet. Debut author DeCamp brings us to a logging camp in the upper peninsula of Michigan in the late 1800’s. Young Stanley wonders where his long-lost father is, imagining his father’s exploits and hoping to have his own during the summer spent at his uncle’s camp. Unfortunately, Stanley’s wild imagination keeps him busy fending off his cousin Scary Geri and his 99% evil Granny, and (fortunately, for Stanley) keeps him away from any log-rolling adventures on the wild river currents, accident prone as he is. This is an easy sell to any kid looking for some fun and lots of humor (who will incidentally get lots of heart, too).
3. The War That Saved My Life by Kim Brubaker Bradley
Exquisite writing inspires this WWII story of a girl shunned because of her clubfoot, her mother’s casual abuse stunting any possibility of a normal life until Ada decides to run away with her brother during an evacuation from London’s air raids. Ada’s resilience in the face of great adversity gives her wings to soar.
4. The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Page turner of the year! Trains! Yetis! Hags! The Circus! Treasure! Villains! Hop on board The Boundless, the most luxurious and longest train ever conceived and built on the Transcontinental Railway. Frontier danger and fantasy merge into heart-pounding adventure. This title is on the newest Dorothy Canfield Fisher list and is one of my favorites.
5. X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon
The coming-of-age years of Malcolm X (born as Malcolm Little) were difficult and tumultuous, and, of course, shaped him to be the leader he was. Powerfully captured by one his five daughters, Ilyasah, and Montpelier author Kekla Magoon (a writer I suggest you and your kids get to know!), this is an honest portrayal of the young man, the hardships and the experiences that shaped him. For young adult readers.
6. [Available in August] Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (author of the fabulous Al Capone series)
Set in San Francisco in 1900 as concern and rumors begin to fly about the plague, this is a perfect-pitch portrayal of one girl trying to understand the strange goings-on around her. Lizzie’s passion for medicine and brave curiosity lead her into Chinatown and into the heart of some dark truths about race and class.
Stay tuned next week for more suggestions (historical fiction and otherwise) to add to your summer reading list!
Jane Knight is the children’s book buyer for Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, VT.
Featured image from West of the Moon by Margi Preus