Check out our picks for best historical fiction books for kids!
Facts are interesting, but the stories that history inspires is what truly has the power to transport us to different time periods and bring the vital lessons of the past to life.
We’ve got some amazing children’s books to get your older elementary school-early middle school kid excited to learn about historical events. Scroll on for just a few.
Best Historical Fiction Books for Kids on Epic
By: Margi Preus
This early chapter book, inspired by the true story of French villagers who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis during WWII, follows a group of teens who stand up for what’s right.
One Jewish boy learns to forge documents to help his mother and saves hundreds with his newfound skills. Another boy smuggles people to Switzerland. And a girl summons her courage to deliver messages for the resistance. Each kid faces extreme danger as they fight to keep others safe and fight the forces of the Gestapo in this inspiring tale of courage and resilience.
Written by: Tracy Daley
Illustrated by: Eric Freeberg
It’s 1935 in Elsinore, California, and amid hardships due to the Great Depression and drought, 11-year-old Joseph McCoy has to work shining shoes to help keep his family afloat. One of the few Black people in a mostly white community, Joseph is getting by through hard work, and coping through his special relationship with his sister. But when an all-Black Civilian Conservation Corps work camp arrives, it sparks racial tension and prejudice runs rampant through the town. The camp soon comes under threat and Joseph must help save the camp and bring his family hope for the future.
Written by: Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by: Amy June Bates
When Gittel and her mother attempt to immigrate to America from Poland, Gittel’s mother is blocked from leaving the country by a health inspector due to a suspected eye infection. So young Gittel must continue on alone. Her mother gives her a piece of paper with the address for her cousin in New York, but by the time Gittel gets to Ellis Island, the ink is smeared and she can’t make it out.
This story, heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, is inspired by the true story of Lesléa Newman’s grandmother and her journey to Ellis Island.
Esperanza Renace (Spanish-language audiobook)
Written by: Pam Muñoz Ryan
The time is during the Great Depression. Esperanza has become used to a life of privilege, filled with beautiful dresses, servants and a loving Mama, Papa and Abuelita always there to take care of her. But when tragedy strikes, Esperanza and her mother must flee their ranch in Mexico and settle in a camp for farm laborers in California. She now faces a life of hard work and financial hardship. Things get even more tough when her mother gets sick and the workers go on strike. Esperanza must find a way to rise above her struggles and face her challenges head on, because their lives depend on it.
By: Lesa Cline-Ransome
After 11-year-old, African American Langston loses his mother in 1946, he and his father move from Alabama to start over in Chicago’s Bronzeville district. He feels like he’s giving up everything he loves—family, friends and the familiarity of home. Langston is often alone and has a hard time fitting in at his new school, but he finds one bright spot in his new, solitary life: a library that’s open to black children during a time when public spaces were deeply segregated.
He finds refuge in the library for hours and days, and then he comes across a writer that catches his interest—a poet also named Langston.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Audiobook)
By: Brian Selznick
Filled with old-world charm, this tender, spellbinding mystery audiobook is perfect for kids who love adventure and intrigue.
An orphaned and mechanically-interested Hugo fights to survive. In fact, he secretly lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station all on his own. Life has always been tough, but when his fate meets that of a quirky, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs the station toy booth, Hugo’s secret life and all of his secrets are put in jeopardy.
Set in England in 1724, Oliver Cromwell Pitts wakes up to discover his house has flooded in a recent storm and his father has gone missing. With no food or money, Oliver must fend for himself, and sets out on his own to track down his father. Along his journey he encounters excitement and peril.
If your older kid or tween appreciates mystery, adventure and a good amount of thrill, “The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell” won’t disappoint them.
More Best Historical Fiction Books for Kids
Here are a few other beloved historical fiction books not available on Epic that we highly recommend:
Number the Stars
By: Lois Lowry
This award-winning book follows a young girl’s experience in WWII-era Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s 1943 and 10-year-old Annemarie dreams of life before the war, along with her Jewish best friend Ellen. Life in Copenhagen is hard enough, as it’s plagued with food shortages and Nazi soldiers marching through streets. But things take a dangerous turn when the Jews of Denmark are forced to “relocate.” Annemarie’s parents take in Ellen, who must pose as a family member to avoid identification. It isn’t long before Annemarie must embark on a dangerous mission to save her friend.
This riveting story is a heart-filled, kid-friendly way for children to learn about the holocaust. Available on Amazon Audible.
The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963
By: Christopher Paul Curtis
Meet 10-year-old Kenny and his family, known as the “Weird Watsons” in their hometown of Flint, Michigan. When Momma and Dad decide to take the family to visit Grandma in Birmingham, it’s road trip time, and Dad brings home the Ultra-Glide, an expensive, ultra sleek record player for ride. Heading south during one of the most important times in the civil rights movement, things go from funny to tragic and touching as they drive toward one of the darkest time periods in America’s history.
This remarkable Newbery Honor shows kids how laughter and family can help us get through even the hardest times. Narrated by Levar Burton on Amazon Audible!
City of Orphans
This engaging, meticulously researched piece of historical fiction transports readers to 1893 New York City where young newsboy Maks Geless makes his own way in the gritty world of the city streets.
Along with his new friend Willa, he must stand up to a gang of bullies and clear his sister’s name after she’s imprisoned for theft. Available on Amazon Audible.
By: Laurie Halse Anderson
It’s the summer of 1793, and Mattie Cook lives a normal life above her family’s coffee shop with her mom and grandfather, trying to turn the family business into the best in Philadelphia. But when fever breaks out and spreads through the streets, her mother gets sick. Mattie flees with her grandfather, only to discover that there’s nowhere free of the disease. Her only choice is to figure out how to survive the panic enveloping the city. This detailed historical novel is a riveting and suspenseful take on what life can be like in an epidemic. Available on Amazon Audible.
A Few Honorable Mentions
- “Sarah, Plain and Tall,” by Patricia MacLachlan
- “Al Capone Does My Shirts,” by Gennifer Choldenko
- “For Freedom: the Story of a French Spy,” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
That’s it! Hope you enjoy this list of best historical fiction books for kids. If these books get your kid wanting more history-related books, check out our post “Best History Books for Kids of All Ages,” which includes nonfiction, as well as titles for younger kiddos.