As someone that has spent time in the children’s room, I have witnessed more than one panicked student, or parent, as a reading assignment for a particular kind of book comes due. Sometimes it is biographies, or sports fiction, or realistic fiction. It can be hard to know what to choose when assigned a book far outside your normal reading preferences, or when the student in question does not read much on their own anyway. Here are some options for Middle School age students assigned to read historical fiction, and have no idea where to start.Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner is likely appeal more to girls because it is about the Spartan princess Helen as she disguises herself as a boy. She learns to fight and has adventures to prove that she should be able to make decisions about her own life. On one level, the story is about a spoiled princess using her mind and status to get her own way, but larger issues of women’s rights, slavery, choice, and individual destiny play their part as well. The era is well portrayed and the book is entertaining while leaving the reader looking for more. Thankfully, if this book sparks interest, there is a sequel, Nobody’s Prize, in which Helen manages to join the quest for the Golden Fleece on the Argo.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson takes place as Philadelphia becomes overwhelmed with mosquitoes and rumors of fever. Many have taken ill near the docks, and the number of deaths is growing. Mattie Cook is just 14, and has just lost a friend to the fever, but she has no time to mourn. New patrons overrun her family’s coffee shop and Mattie’s fears about the fever are all but overshadowed by dreams of business success. However, the fever begins to strike closer to home and Mattie’s work to build a new life must give way to a new fight-the fight to stay alive. An accurate and compelling look at the times, and the lives of young people of the era.City of Orphans, written by Avi and illustrated by Greg Ruth takes place on the streets of New York City in 1893. Newsboys like thirteen-year- old Maks Geless need to watch out for gang leaders like Bruno, and tier plots to take control of all the newsies on the lower East Side. While on the run Maks meets Willa, a strange girl who lives alone in an alley but has spunk and skills. Maks must find a way to free his sister Emma from the city jail where she has been imprisoned after being accused of stealing a watch. Bartleby Donck, an eccentric lawyer guides Maks and Willa in the the search for the truth. The novel offers readers action, mystery, a look at historic New York, and a story about the love of family.
This is just a sampling of the available titles that might fit the bill. If these books appeal to you and your young readers I also suggest browsing our books by Markus Zusak, Henry Aubin, Ross Collins, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Susan Fletcher, Julius Lester, Lois Lowry, Gill Harvey, and Christopher Paul Curtis. Do not forget that our librarians are always available to help you find these books, or to make further suggestions.