Thursday, March 26, 2020

Historical Fiction for Kids

Historical fiction can do much more than bring dull names and dates alive; it can spark a lifelong passion. What got me into history and Classics was a book I read aged 18. It literally changed my life. 

My fave historical novels are those which combine historical accuracy with a great story and compelling characters. 

Here is a list of ten of the best, all suitable for kids or YA readers.

1. The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault 
Classical Athens (c. 430 - 400 BC) ages 14+
A gripping tale of a boy growing up in Classical Athens during the time of the philosopher Socrates and with the Peloponnesian War as a backdrop. This book changed my life because it made me realise how fascinating history could be. Mary Renault is the Queen of Historical Fiction. She is my idol.

2. Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian 
Nelson’s Navy (early 1800’s) ages 14+
If Mary Renault is the Queen of Historical Fiction, then Patrick O’Brian is the King. Almost as fluent in Greek as he was in Latin and most fluent in the language of ships and sailing, O’Brian is another one of my idols. My husband and I knew we were ‘meant to be’ on our first date nearly thirty years ago when we both named his Aubrey/Maturin series as our favourite books of the moment. My husband often says, ‘In Patrick O’Brian, a storm is more exciting than a battle, and a dinner party can be more entertaining than either of those.’ Master and Commander is the first of a 20-book series.

3. True Grit by Charles Portis 
Wild West (late 1800s in America) ages 10+
Mattie Ross – deadpan, devout and determined – is one of the great heroines of any period, and she’s only 14. Both movie versions were good, but this better than both rolled up together.  This is one of my top books of all time: ‘Fill your hands’ with it! The audiobook read by Donna Tartt is perfection. 

4. The Once and Future King by T.H. White 
Arthurian England (c. 500 AD) ages 8+
There are lots of fab books about King Arthur (like those of Kevin Crossley-Holland and Philip Reeve) but this one will always have a very special place in my heart. It is the closest to fantasy of any of the books on this list, and it is pure magic.

5. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliffe 
Roman Britain (c. 100 AD) ages 10+
Densely-written evocative depiction of Britain in the Roman period. Colder, grittier and with much more blue woad than my Roman Quests series, also set in Roman Britain. 

6. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder 
American Pioneer West (late 1800s) ages 10+
The covers make them look babyish but they are most definitely not. Adults will love them, too. This is a vividly-told, clear-eyed reminiscence of a pioneer girl. Moving, quietly dramatic and humbling. Best of all, there are seven more books in the series.  

7. The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer 
Europe during Peninsular Wars (early 1800s) ages 14+
Based on the true story of a Spanish girl during the Napoleonic wars who sought refuge with British troops. She marries a British soldier, impresses everyone with her beauty and bravery, learns English in London and finally accompanies her husband on the Waterloo campaign for the story’s climax. My husband loves this book so much that he reads it yearly. 

8. Blitzcat by Robert Westall 
England during WWII (1940s) ages 8+
Great story about a cat during the Second World War by the same author who gave us The Machine Gunners. This is a story that has stayed with me, as all great stories do. Animal lovers will love it because he really gets into the head of a cat. 

9. My Family and other Animals by Gerald Durrell
Greek isle of Corfu (1930s) ages 8+

Supposedly this is a biographical account of the childhood of the conservationist Gerald Durrell and therefore not strictly fiction, but much of it is embellished and I love it so much that I’m going to include it on this list. It bears very little resemblance to the 2016 ITV series which is more about his mother. This one is about the joy of nature, life and family. Try the first few chapters. You’ll be hooked. 

10. I am David by Ann Holm 
Europe (late 1920s) ages 10+
A boy escapes from a concentration camp in a nameless country. With nothing but a map and a compass he crosses Europe in search of the mother he has never known. He is wary, distrustful, older than his years. And yet in many ways he is a baby, with his journey across Europe a kind of rebirth. Full of sensory detail and tiny joys as well as tragedies, this is the perfect story to put our current problems in perspective! 

Happy Reading! 

Caroline Lawrence is the author of over 35 historical novels for kids aged 7-14. Start with her first, The Thieves of Ostia, or her most recent, The Time Travel Diaries. Check out her website HERE

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