Historical fiction is a genre that can transport readers to different times and places, while exploring the challenges and triumphs of characters living through various historical events. Middle school students, in particular, can benefit greatly from reading historical fiction, as it can help them develop empathy, critical thinking skills, and a deeper understanding of history. In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of historical fiction for middle school students and recommend ten of the best historical fiction books for this age group, five set in ancient times and five set in modern times.
Why Historical Fiction is Important for Middle School Students
Historical fiction provides middle school students with a unique opportunity to learn about the world outside of their textbooks. By exploring the lives of characters who lived through significant historical events, students are able to gain a deeper understanding of the past and how it has shaped the world today. But the benefits of historical fiction go beyond the acquisition of knowledge; they also help young readers develop important life skills.
Enhancing Empathy and Understanding
One of the key benefits of historical fiction is its ability to instill empathy in its readers. By immersing themselves in the lives of characters from different times and cultures, middle school students learn to view the world from multiple perspectives. They begin to understand the feelings, thoughts, and struggles of people who are different from themselves, ultimately fostering a deeper sense of compassion and creating more thoughtful global citizens.
For example, in the novel “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, readers are transported to Denmark during World War II and follow the story of a young Jewish girl and her family as they attempt to escape the Nazis. Through this story, readers gain a deeper understanding of the fear and uncertainty that Jewish families faced during this time, as well as the bravery of those who helped them.
Making History Come Alive
Historical fiction allows middle school students to experience history in a way that is much more engaging than reading a textbook. By providing a first-hand glimpse into the lives of people who lived through fascinating historical events, these stories make history come alive, giving young readers a more vivid understanding of the past.
For instance, in the novel “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne, readers are transported to a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and follow the unlikely friendship between a German boy and a Jewish boy on opposite sides of the fence. Through this story, readers gain a deeper understanding of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and the devastating impact it had on millions of people.
Encouraging Critical Thinking
Reading historical fiction also helps middle school students develop critical thinking skills. As they reflect on the characters’ experiences and decisions, they are challenged to analyze the reasons behind those choices, as well as the consequences. This process, in turn, can inspire discussions and debates about the complexities of human behavior and the numerous factors that influence historical events.
For example, in the novel “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963” by Christopher Paul Curtis, readers are transported to the height of the Civil Rights Movement and follow the story of an African American family as they travel from Michigan to Alabama. Through this story, readers gain a deeper understanding of the struggle for racial equality and the courage of those who fought for it.
Overall, historical fiction is a powerful tool for middle school students to learn about the past, develop empathy and understanding, and hone critical thinking skills. By immersing themselves in these stories, young readers can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexities of history and the individuals who lived through it.
Top 5 Historical Fiction Books for Middle Schoolers Set in Ancient Times
For middle school readers who love to explore the lives of characters living through monumental events and challenges of the past, historical fiction books set in ancient times are a great way to learn about different cultures and customs. Here are five recommended historical fiction books that will transport readers to ancient times:
The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
The Golden Goblet is a Newbery Honor-winning book that tells the story of Ranofer, a young Egyptian boy whose dreams of becoming a goldsmith are shattered after the death of his father. Forced to work for his cruel half-brother, Ranofer discovers a golden goblet that might change his destiny. Set in ancient Egypt, this novel is a thrilling adventure that weaves a tale of intrigue, mystery, and personal growth.
Readers will be transported to the land of the pharaohs, where they will learn about the daily life of ancient Egyptians, their beliefs, and their customs. They will also get a glimpse of the challenges faced by young people in ancient times, as Ranofer struggles to overcome his difficult circumstances and pursue his dreams.
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
The Bronze Bow, a recipient of the Newbery Medal, is set during the Roman occupation of Israel. The novel follows Daniel, a Jewish boy who is determined to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the Romans. Along the way, he learns about friendship, loyalty, and the power of forgiveness.
This gripping tale combines historical accuracy with a powerful, character-driven story to captivate middle school readers. They will learn about the social and political context of ancient Israel, as well as the customs and traditions of the Jewish people. They will also get a glimpse of the challenges faced by those who dared to resist the Roman occupation.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
The Thief is an award-winning novel that follows the story of Gen, a skilled thief who is released from prison by the King’s Magus on the condition that he helps steal an ancient treasure. Set in a fictional world inspired by ancient Greece, this thrilling adventure is filled with surprising twists, political intrigue, and unforgettable characters, making it a must-read for fans of historical fiction.
Readers will be transported to a world of gods and goddesses, where they will learn about the myths and legends of ancient Greece. They will also get a glimpse of the political and social context of ancient Greece, as well as the customs and traditions of its people.
Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
Eagle of the Ninth tells the story of a young Roman officer named Marcus, who embarks on a dangerous journey to find the lost Ninth Legion in Britain. Set against the backdrop of Roman-occupied Britain, this captivating novel combines high-stakes adventure with rich historical detail to create an unforgettable reading experience for middle school students.
Readers will be transported to a world of ancient wars and battles, where they will learn about the military tactics and strategies of the Roman army. They will also get a glimpse of the daily life of the people of Britain, as well as their customs and traditions.
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
A Newbery Medal winner, The Door in the Wall is set during the Middle Ages in England. The book follows Robin, a nobleman’s son, who becomes paralyzed and must learn to overcome his disability with the help of a kind monk named Brother Luke. Through his journey, Robin discovers inner strength and courage as he faces adversity and learns valuable life lessons.
Readers will be transported to a world of knights and castles, where they will learn about the chivalric code and the values of medieval society. They will also get a glimpse of the challenges faced by people with disabilities in the Middle Ages, as well as the role of religion in medieval life.
Top 5 Historical Fiction Books for Middle Schoolers Set in Modern Times
These five highly recommended historical fiction books, set in more recent times, explore a diverse range of modern historical events, offering middle school students a chance to engage with the past in an accessible and relatable way.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Fever 1793 follows the harrowing story of 14-year-old Matilda Cook as she navigates the streets of Philadelphia during the deadly yellow fever epidemic of 1793. This gripping tale combines historical detail with emotion and suspense, providing readers with an engaging account of a tragic event in American history.
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Telling the powerful story of Esperanza, a girl who must leave her privileged life in Mexico for a new life as a migrant worker in Depression-era California, Esperanza Rising presents an important look at the immigrant experience and the resilience of the human spirit. The novel offers a rich exploration of themes such as family, social inequality, and the power of hope.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
This Newbery Honor and Schneider Family Book Award-winning novel is set during World War II in England. It tells the inspiring story of Ada, a young girl born with a clubfoot who has never been allowed to leave her small London apartment. When she and her brother are evacuated to the English countryside, Ada discovers a new world of opportunity and the power of love and determination.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
A Newbery Medal winner, Number the Stars follows ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen, a Danish girl living during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. The novel chronicles Annemarie’s bravery and resourcefulness as she helps her best friend, a Jewish girl named Ellen, escape the Nazis by smuggling her to Sweden. This moving story offers important insights into the Holocaust and the power of friendship and courage in the face of adversity.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Set during the Great Depression, this Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award-winning novel tells the heartwarming story of Bud, a ten-year-old orphan who sets out on a journey to find his father, armed with nothing but a suitcase and a few small clues. Along the way, Bud encounters challenges, danger, and friendship, offering readers a memorable and inspiring story of hope and perseverance.
In conclusion, historical fiction is an invaluable tool for middle school students, providing them with an engaging and multidimensional view of history while developing crucial life skills. The ten recommended historical fiction books featured in this article can serve as an excellent starting point for young readers looking to explore the rich world of historical fiction.
How do you know a novel is appropriate for a middle school child?
If a book is labeled middle-grade, it will be appropriate for children aged between 8 and 12.
Is it good for kids to read historical fiction?
Yes, absolutely. Historical fiction is a brilliant way to introduce children to the cultural conventions of different societies and to teach them how life has evolved throughout time.
Who writes the best historical fiction for middle school children?
Lauren Woke writes beautiful novels about World War I that offer children an age-appropriate introduction to one of the most traumatic periods of human history.