Middle-grade historical fiction is probably the only kind of historical fiction I enjoy. These historical fiction books for middle schoolers present history in a highly appealing format. I’m a contemporary girl through and through when it comes to adult fiction. I’m not sure what it is about middle-grade historical fiction — perhaps because it’s written to be more appealing and easier to read? Either way, I’m always on board.
Of course, all of these middle-grade historical fiction recs have more than the his-fic angle going for them. In this list, you’ll find recommendations featuring Chinese, American, African-American, Kenyan, Cuban, Chilean history and more! These middle-grade historical fiction picks also tackle other topics such as living with war, grief, moving, children with special needs and more.
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90 Best Historical Fiction Books for Middle Schoolers
Here are 90(!) of the best historical fiction books for middle school:
Middle Grade Fiction Set in the 1100s
The Crystal Ribbon
Published: January 31, 2017
In the village of Huanan, in medieval China, the deity that rules is the Great Huli Jing. Though twelve-year-old Li Jing’s name is a different character entirely from the Huli Jing, the sound is close enough to provide constant teasing-but maybe is also a source of greater destiny and power. Jing’s life isn’t easy. Her father is a poor tea farmer, and her family has come to the conclusion that in order for everyone to survive, Jing must be sacrificed for the common good.
She is sold as a bride to the Koh family, where she will be the wife and nursemaid to their three-year-old son, Ju’nan. It’s not fair, and Jing feels this bitterly, especially when she is treated poorly by the Koh’s, and sold yet again into a worse situation that leads Jing to believe her only option is to run away, and find home again. With the help of a spider who weaves Jing a means to escape, and a nightingale who helps her find her way, Jing embarks on a quest back to Huanan–and to herself..
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1800’s
Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children
Published: September 15, 2011
This story of Thomas Jefferson’s children by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, tells a darker piece of America’s history from an often unseen perspective-that of three of Jefferson’s slaves-including two of his own children. As each child grows up and tells his story, the contradiction between slavery and freedom becomes starker, calliing into question the real meaning of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This poignant story sheds light on what life was like as one of Jefferson’s invisible offspring.
Show Me a Sign
Published: March 3, 2020
Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected on her beloved island of Martha’s Vineyard. Her great-great-grandfather was an early English settler and the first deaf islander. Now, over a hundred years later, many people there — including Mary — are deaf, and nearly everyone can communicate in sign language. Mary has never felt isolated. She is proud of her lineage.
But recent events have delivered winds of change. Mary’s brother died, leaving her family shattered. Tensions over land disputes are mounting between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. And a cunning young scientist has arrived, hoping to discover the origin of the island’s prevalent deafness. His maniacal drive to find answers soon renders Mary a “live specimen” in a cruel experiment. Her struggle to save herself is at the core of this penetrating and poignant novel that probes our perceptions of ability and disability.
Published: February 1, 2022
Under the cover of night, twelve-year-old Homer flees Southerland Plantation with his little sister Ada, unwillingly leaving their beloved mother behind. Much as he adores her and fears for her life, Homer knows there’s no turning back, not with the overseer on their trail. Through tangled vines, secret doorways, and over a sky bridge, the two find a secret community called Freewater, deep in the swamp.
In this society created by formerly enslaved people and some freeborn children, Homer finds new friends, almost forgetting where he came from. But when he learns of a threat that could destroy Freewater, he crafts a plan to find his mother and help his new home.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1840’s
Gold Rush Girl
Published: March 10, 2020
Victoria Blaisdell longs for independence and adventure, and she yearns to accompany her father as he sails west in search of real gold! But it is 1848, and Tory isn’t even allowed to go to school, much less travel all the way from Rhode Island to California. Determined to take control of her own destiny, Tory stows away on the ship. Though San Francisco is frenzied and full of wild and dangerous men, Tory finds freedom and friendship there. Until one day, when Father is in the gold fields, her younger brother, Jacob, is kidnapped. And so Tory is spurred on a treacherous search for him in Rotten Row, a part of San Francisco Bay crowded with hundreds of abandoned ships. Beloved storyteller Avi is at the top of his form as he ushers us back to an extraordinary time of hope and risk, brought to life by a heroine readers will cheer for. Spot-on details and high suspense make this a vivid, absorbing historical adventure.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1850’s
The Journey of Little Charlie
Published: January 30, 2018
Twelve-year-old Charlie is down on his luck: His sharecropper father just died and Cap’n Buck — the most fearsome man in Possum Moan, South Carolina — has come to collect a debt. Fearing for his life, Charlie strikes a deal with Cap’n Buck and agrees to track down some folks accused of stealing from the cap’n and his boss.
It’s not too bad of a bargain for Charlie… until he comes face-to-face with the fugitives and discovers their true identities. Torn between his guilty conscience and his survival instinct, Charlie needs to figure out his next move — and soon. It’s only a matter of time before Cap’n Buck catches on.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1860’s
Last of the Name
Published: April 2, 2019
Twelve-year-old Danny O’Carolan and his sister, Kathleen, arrive in New York City in 1863. Kathleen refuses to be parted from her only remaining relative, so she finds a job in domestic service for herself and her younger…sister. Danny reluctantly pretends to be a girl to avoid being sent to the children’s workhouse or recruited as a drummer boy for the Union army. When he occasionally sneaks off to spend a few hours as a boy and share his rich talent for Irish dancing, he discovers the vast variety of New York’s neighborhoods. But the Civil War draft is stoking tensions between the Irish and free black populations. With dangers escalating, how can Danny find a safe place to call home?
Echo (Also, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s)
Published: February 24, 2015
Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.
Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.
Published: February 14, 2017
Twelve-year-old Callie Wilcomb and her family are slaves, and the Civil War gives them hope that freedom may be on the horizon. On May 23, 1861, the State of Virginia ratified their vote to secede from the Union. In Virginia, a window was opened where the laws of the land no longer applied. Because of the Contraband Law, slaves no longer had to be returned to their owners, granting them a measure of protection and safety. With the possibility of Callie and her family escaping their bonds forever, Callie is eager to learn and become educated and hopes to teach others one day. Through hardship and loss—with love and strong family ties—Callie proves that freedom is in her stars.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1870s
Published: May 7, 2013
Ten-year-old Sugar lives on the River Road sugar plantation along the banks of the Mississippi. Slavery is over, but laboring in the fields all day doesn’t make her feel very free. Thankfully, Sugar has a knack for finding her own fun, especially when she joins forces with forbidden friend Billy, the white plantation owner’s son.
Sugar has always yearned to learn more about the world, and she sees her chance when Chinese workers are brought in to help harvest the cane. The older River Road folks feel threatened, but Sugar is fascinated. As she befriends young Beau and elder Master Liu, they introduce her to the traditions of their culture, and she, in turn, shares the ways of plantation life. Sugar soon realizes that she must be the one to bridge the cultural gap and bring the community together. Here is a story of unlikely friendships and how they can change our lives forever.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1880’s
Published: March 3, 2020
Prairie Lotus is a powerful, touching, multilayered book about a girl determined to fit in and realize her dreams: getting an education, becoming a dressmaker in her father’s shop, and making at least one friend. Acclaimed, award-winning author Linda Sue Park has placed a young half-Asian girl, Hanna, in a small town in America’s heartland, in 1880. Hanna’s adjustment to her new surroundings, which primarily means negotiating the townspeople’s almost unanimous prejudice against Asians, is at the heart of the story. Narrated by Hanna, the novel has poignant moments yet sparkles with humor, introducing a captivating heroine whose wry, observant voice will resonate with readers.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1900’s
The Nerviest Girl in the World
Published: August 18, 2020
Pearl lives on a ranch where her chores include collecting eggs and feeding ornery ostriches. She has three older brothers, who don’t coddle her at all. And she knows a thing or two about horses, too.
One day, Pearl’s brothers get cushy jobs doing stunts for this new form of entertainment called “moving pictures.” They’re the Daredevil Donnelly Brothers, a Death-Defying Cowboy Trio. Before she knows it, Pearl has stumbled into being a stunt girl herself–and dreams of becoming a star. The only problem is, her mother has no idea what she’s up to. And let’s just say she wouldn’t be too happy to find out that Pearl’s been jumping out of burning buildings in her spare time.
Filled with action, humor, and heart–not to mention those pesky ostriches–The Nerviest Girl in the World introduces a spunky heroine whose adventures will have kids on the edge of their seats and whose sense of humor will have them laughing until the very last line.
The Island at the End of Everything
Published: April 10, 2018
Ami lives on Culion, an island in the Philippines for people who have leprosy. Her mother is among the infected. Ami loves her home: with its blue seas and lush forests, Culion contains all she knows and loves. But the arrival of malicious government official Mr. Zamora changes her world forever. Islanders untouched by sickness are forced to leave for a neighboring island, where the children are placed in an orphanage.
Banished across the sea, Ami is desperate to return to Culion before her mother’s death. She finds a strange and fragile hope in a colony of butterflies. Can they lead her home before it’s too late? Heartrending yet hopeful, celebrated newcomer Kiran Hargrave’s novel is a story about loss, perseverence, and faith.
The Star That Always Stays (WWI)
Published: July 12, 2022
When bright and spirited Norvia moves from the country to the city, she has to live by one new rule: Never let anyone know you’re Ojibwe.
Growing up on Beaver Island, Grand-père told Norvia stories—stories about her ancestor Migizi, about Biboonke-o-nini the Wintermaker, about the Crane Clan and the Reindeer Clan. He sang her songs in the old language, and her grandmothers taught her to make story quilts and maple candy. On the island, Norvia was proud of her Ojibwe heritage.
Things are different in the city. Here, Norvia’s mother forces her to pretend she’s not Native at all—even to Mr. Ward, Ma’s new husband, and to Vernon, Norvia’s irritating new stepbrother. In fact, there are a lot of changes in the city: ten-cent movies, gleaming soda shops, speedy automobiles, ninth grade. It’s dizzying for a girl who grew up on the forested shores of Lake Michigan.
Despite the move, the upheaval, and the looming threat of world war, Norvia and her siblings—all five of them—are determined to make 1914 their best year ever. Norvia is certain that her future depends upon it… and upon her discretion.
But how can she have the best year ever if she has to hide who she truly is?
Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna
Published: September 14, 2021
It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna’s mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for the family she has left—her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito—until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.
Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: “They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios—they’re not meant to go far.” But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border—a life where her barefoot dreams could finally become reality.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1920’s
Beyond the Bright Sea
Published: May 2, 2017
Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift in a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow’s only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar.
Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn’t until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.
We Own the Sky
Published: September 6, 2022
It’s Maine, 1924, and the Ku Klux Klan is on the rise.
Davy and Jo Michaud have been recently orphaned. Taken in by a distant relative―a famous aviator―they are now working with a group of stunt pilots who spend their time wing walking, leaping from plane to plane, and flying through fireworks! But though the stunts are dangerous, the real threat is building behind the scenes.
The KKK is on the rise in Maine that summer, inspired by the racial fears promoted in Birth of a Nation. They spew hatred of immigrants, Blacks, Jews, and French Catholics―that last, a rage that will be directed at Davy and Jo.
When Davy and Jo cross paths with the Klan, they get tangled up in a terrible revenge plan, and held as hostages. Can they escape with their lives?
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1930’s
Published: October 1, 2000
Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.
Stella by Starlight
Published: January 6, 2015
Stella lives in the segregated South—in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Others she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years.
But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community—her world—is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.
Bea and the New Deal Horse (Great Depression)
Published: March 28, 2023
Bea wakes to Daddy’s note in a hayloft, where he abandoned her with her little sister after the stock market crash took everything: Daddy’s job at the bank, their home, Mama’s health and life.
How is Bea supposed to convince the imposing Mrs. Scott to take in two stray children? Mrs. Scott’s money and Virginia farm are drying up in a drought and the Great Depression, too. She might have to sell her beautiful horses, starting with a dangerous chestnut that has caused tragedy in the past and injures her stableman shortly after Bea arrives.
But wrestling with her own hurts and fears, Bea understands the chestnut’s skittish distrust. She sees hope in the powerful jumper—if he can compete at horse shows, they might save the farm, and maybe Bea can even win a place in Mrs. Scott’s heart.
Three Strike Summer (Great Depression)
Published: August 30, 2022
In Three Strike Summer, young Gloria and her family lose their farm when an unending drought leads to a lack of produce. They move to California to find work and eventually start picking peaches on a farm. The family is also reeling from the loss of Gloria’s baby brother and struggling to contain Gloria’s spunky attitude which often gets her in trouble. At the farm, Gloria quickly discovers a baseball team (with only boys! who don’t want a girl on the team!) and is ready to do what it takes to join the team. At the same time, ripples of discontent with working wages lead to organizing that puts Gloria and her family in a precarious position.
Our Castle by the Sea
Published: April 30, 2019
Growing up in a lighthouse, 11-year-old Pet’s world has been one of storms, secret tunnels, and stories about sea monsters. But now the country is at war and the cliff tops are a terrifying battleground. Pet will need to muster all her bravery to uncover why her family is being torn apart.
This is the story of a girl who is afraid and unnoticed. A girl who freezes with fear at the enemy planes ripping through the skies overheard. A girl who is somehow destined to become part of the strange, ancient legend of the Daughters of Stone.
The War That Saved My Life
Published: January 8, 2015
Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
Elsie Mae Has Something to Say
Published: September 5, 2017
Elsie Mae is pretty sure this’ll be the best summer ever.
She gets to explore the cool, quiet waters of the Okefenokee Swamp around her grandparents’ house with her new dog, Huck, and she’s written a letter to President Roosevelt that she’s confident will save the swamp from a shipping company and make her a major hometown hero. Then, news reaches Elsie Mae of some hog bandits stealing from swamper families, and she sees another opportunity to make her family proud while waiting to hear back from the White House.
But when her cousin Henry James, who dreams of one day becoming a traveling preacher like his daddy, shows up and just about ruins her investigation with his “Hallelujahs,” Elsie Mae will learn the hard way what it really means to be a hero.
Full of Beans
Published: August 30, 2016
Grown-ups lie. That’s one truth Beans knows for sure. He and his gang know how to spot a whopper a mile away, because they are the savviest bunch of barefoot conchs (that means “locals”) in all of Key West. Not that Beans really minds; it’s 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. With no jobs on the island, and no money anywhere, who can really blame the grown-ups for telling a few tales? Besides, Beans isn’t anyone’s fool. In fact, he has plans. Big plans. And the consequences might surprise even Beans himself.
Looking for Me: …in This Great Big Family
Published: April 17, 2012
One of twelve siblings growing up in Depression-era Baltimore, Edith isn’t quite sure of who she is. Between working at her father’s diner, taking care of her younger siblings, and living in the shadow of her more mature sisters, she feels lost in a sea of siblings. When a kind teacher encourages Edith to be a teacher herself one day, Edith sees prospects for a future all her own. Full of joy, pain, humor, and sadness, this novel in verse is an enduring portrait of one family’s pursuit of the American dream.
The Magic in Changing Your Stars
Published: August 4, 2020
Eleven-year-old Ailey Benjamin Lane can dance—so he’s certain that he’ll land the role of the Scarecrow in his school’s production of The Wiz. Unfortunately, a talented classmate and a serious attack of nerves derail his audition: he just stands there, frozen. Deflated and defeated, Ailey confides in his Grampa that he’s ready to quit. But Grampa believes in Ailey, and, to encourage him, shares a childhood story. As a boy, Grampa dreamed of becoming a tap dancer; he was so good that the Hollywood star and unofficial Mayor of Harlem, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, even gave him a special pair of tap shoes. Curious, Ailey finds the shoes, tries them on, taps his toes, and makes a wish. In the blink of an eye, he finds himself somewhere that if most definitely no place like home! Featuring an all-African-American cast of characters, and infused with references to black culture and history, this work of magical realism is sure to captivate and inspire readers.
The Swallow’s Flight
Published: May 27, 2021
In England, Ruby has no friends because of the speckled blotches on her face that kids say look like dirt. And Kate is sickly all the time, her older siblings each taking turns looking after her. Ruby and Kate’s first meeting is nearly disastrous, but the two lonely girls soon strike up a friendship. Their connection becomes all the more important when England joins the war against Germany and the blitz begins overhead.
In Germany, Erik and Hans are best friends filled with plans for their future: Erik taking over their beloved local zoo, and Hans serving pastries right outside the gates. They never expected to be forced to join the national service, training as pilots and tasked with hurting people.
And in London a mistreated dog roams the streets looking for handouts, and for a friend.
The Lost Year
Published: January 17, 2023
Thirteen-year-old Matthew is miserable. His journalist dad is stuck overseas indefinitely, and his mom has moved in his one-hundred-year-old great-grandmother to ride out the pandemic, adding to his stress and isolation.
But when Matthew finds a tattered black-and-white photo in his great-grandmother’s belongings, he discovers a clue to a hidden chapter of her past, one that will lead to a life-shattering family secret. Set in alternating timelines that connect the present-day to the 1930s and the US to the USSR, Katherine Marsh’s latest novel sheds fresh light on the Holodomor – the horrific famine that killed millions of Ukrainians, and which the Soviet government covered up for decades.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1940’s
The Length of a String
Published: May 1, 2018
Imani knows exactly what she wants as her big bat mitzvah gift: to meet her birthparents. She loves her family and her Jewish community in Baltimore, but she has always wondered where she came from, especially since she’s black and almost everyone she knows is white. When her mom’s grandmother–Imani’s great-grandma Anna–passes away, Imani discovers an old diary among her books. It’s Anna’s diary from 1941, the year she was twelve–the year she fled Nazi-occupied Luxembourg alone, sent by her parents to seek refuge in Brooklyn. Written as a series of letters to the twin sister she had to leave behind, Anna’s diary records her journey to America and her new life with an adopted family. Anna’s diary and Imani’s birthparent search intertwine to tell the story of two girls, each searching for family and identity in her own time and in her own way.
A Place to Hang the Moon
Published: February 2, 2021
Kate Albus’s debut middle-grade book, A Place to Hang the Moon follows three orphaned kids in England during the WWII evacuation. Orphans William, Edmund, and Anna (aged 12, 11, and 9) are evacuated after their (not nice) grandmother dies. The kids are instructed not to disclose how well off their family is until they’re placed with a new family that feels like a forever family.
In their new countryside dwelling, the kids are placed with several poorly matched families. The first family has twin boys that are just horrid and the second family is too poor (and could care less about them besides the money she’s paid to look after them). Through it all, the children take solace in each other, stories from William about their parents, and their love of books and the town library.
The Orphan Band of Springdale
Published: April 10, 2018
It’s 1941, and tensions are rising in the United States as the Second World War rages in Europe. Eleven-year-old Gusta’s life, like the world around her, is about to change. Her father, a foreign-born labor organizer, has had to flee the country, and Gusta has been sent to live in an orphanage run by her grandmother. Nearsighted, snaggletoothed Gusta arrives in Springdale, Maine, lugging her one precious possession: a beloved old French horn, her sole memento of her father. But in a family that’s long on troubles and short on money, how can a girl hang on to something so valuable and yet so useless when Gusta’s mill-worker uncle needs surgery to fix his mangled hand, with no union to help him pay?
Betty Before X
Published: January 2, 2018
In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born.
Published: May 10, 2022
Danny Timmons has looked up to Jack Bailey ever since Jack saved two small children from drowning during the Great Flood of 1940. Now, with his father away fighting in World War II and his mother about to have a new baby, Danny relies on Jack’s friendship and guidance more than ever.
So when Jack goes missing without a trace from their small Appalachian town, Danny is determined to find him. He wonders if Jack’s abusive father could be behind his disappearance, or if it has anything to do with Yonder—a hidden magical town Jack once spoke of, where flocks of rainbow birds fly through the sky and they’ve never heard of war. As answers elude him, Danny begins to fear that he didn’t know Jack as well as he thought.
Ultimately, Danny’s investigation forces him to reckon with even larger questions: What is America fighting for in this war? What role do each of us play in stopping injustices, big and small? And is there such thing as a true hero?
Published: May 3, 2016
Despite growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and though her bullying seems isolated at first, it quickly escalates. Toby, a reclusive World War I veteran, soon becomes the target of Betty’s attacks. While others see Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. And as tensions mount in their small community, Annabelle must find the courage to stand as a lone voice for justice.
The brilliantly crafted debut of Newbery Honor– and Scott O’Dell Award–winning author Lauren Wolk (Beyond the Bright Sea, Echo Mountain), Wolf Hollow is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl’s resilience, strength, and compassion help to illuminate the darkest corners of history.
The Night Diary
Published: March 6, 2018
It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.
Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.
Told through Nisha’s letters to her mother, The Night Diary is a heartfelt story of one girl’s search for home, for her own identity…and for a hopeful future.
How High the Moon
Published: March 5, 2019
In the small town of Alcolu, South Carolina, in 1944, 12-year-old Ella spends her days fishing and running around with her best friend Henry and cousin Myrna. But life is not always so sunny for Ella, who gets bullied for her light skin tone, and whose mother is away pursuing a jazz singer dream in Boston.
So Ella is ecstatic when her mother invites her to visit for Christmas. Little does she expect the truths she will discover about her mother, the father she never knew and her family’s most unlikely history.
And after a life-changing month, she returns South and is shocked by the news that her schoolmate George has been arrested for the murder of two local white girls.
Skylark and Wallcreeper
Published: October 2, 2018
While helping her granny Collette evacuate to a makeshift shelter in Brooklyn during Superstorm Sandy, Lily uncovers secrets of her grandmother’s past as a member of the French Resistance during WWII.
Hurricane Sandy is flooding New York City, and Lily is at a nursing home with her grandmother, Collette. Lily visits Collette often, as she is beginning to lose her memories. When the National Guard shows up to evacuate the building and take them to safety at the Park Slope armory in Brooklyn, Lily’s granny suddenly produces a red box she’s hidden in a closet for years. Once they get to safety, Lily opens the box, where she finds an old, beautiful Montblanc pen. Granny tells Lily that the pen is very important and that she has to take care of it, as well as some letters written in French.
But Lily loses the pen in the course of helping other nursing home residents, and as she searches the city trying to find it, she learns more about her grandmother’s past in France and begins to uncover the significance of the pen with the help of her best friend, a quirky pen expert, and a larger-than-life, off-Broadway understudy. Told in alternating sections (2012 and 1944), this engaging book explores a deep friendship during difficult times and the importance of family.
Under the Broken Sky
Published: October 15, 2019
Twelve-year-old Natsu and her family live a quiet farm life in Manchuria, near the border of the Soviet Union. But the life they’ve known begins to unravel when her father is recruited to the Japanese army, and Natsu and her little sister, Asa, are left orphaned and destitute. In a desperate move to keep her sister alive, Natsu sells Asa to a Russian family following the 1945 Soviet occupation. The journey to redemption for Natsu’s broken family is rife with struggles, but Natsu is tenacious and will stop at nothing to get her little sister back.
Literary and historically insightful, this is one of the great untold stories of WWII. Much like the Newbery Honor book Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Under the Broken Sky is powerful, poignant, and ultimately hopeful.
The Summer We Found the Baby (WWII)
Published: August 4, 2020
On the morning of the dedication of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island, eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, find a baby in a basket on the library steps. At the same time, twelve-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli is on his way to the train station to catch the 9:15 train into New York City. He is on an important errand for his brother, who is a soldier overseas in World War II. But when Bruno spies Julie, the same Julie who hasn’t spoken to him for sixteen days, heading away from the library with a baby in her arms, he has to follow her. Holy everything, he thinks. Julie Sweet is a kidnapper.
Of course, the truth is much more complicated than the children know in this heartwarming and beautifully textured family story by award-winning author Amy Hest. Told in three distinct voices, each with a different take on events, the novel captures the moments and emotions of a life-changing summer — a summer in which a baby gives a family hope and brings a community together.
Searching for Lottie (WWII)
Published: February 26, 2019
A long-lost cousin, a mysterious locket, a visit to Nana Rose in Florida, a diary written in German, and a very special violin all lead twelve-year-old Charlie to the truth about her great-aunt Lottie in this intriguing, intergenerational mystery.
Charlie, a budding violinist, decides to research the life of her great-aunt and namesake for her middle school ancestry project. Everyone in Charlie’s family believes Great-Aunt Charlotte (called Lottie), a violin prodigy, died at the hands of the Nazis, but the more Charlie uncovers about her long-lost relative, the more muddied Great-Aunt Lottie’s story becomes. Could it be that Lottie somehow survived the war by hiding in Hungary? Could she even still be alive today?
In Searching for Lottie, Susan Ross has written a highly personal work of historical fiction that is closely inspired by her own family history, exploring the ongoing effects of the Holocaust on families today. Includes a letter from the author describing the research that shaped this story.
All He Knew
Published: August 11, 2020
Henry has been deaf from an early age―he is intelligent and aware of langauge, but by age six, he has decided it’s not safe to speak to strangers. When the time comes for him to start school, he is labeled “unteachable.” Because his family has very little money, his parents and older sister, Molly, feel powerless to help him. Henry is sent to Riverview, a bleak institution where he is misunderstood, underestimated, and harshly treated.
Victor, a conscientious objector to World War II, is part of a Civilian Public Service program offered as an alternative to the draft. In 1942, he arrives at Riverview to serve as an attendant and quickly sees that Henry is far from unteachable―he is brave, clever, and sometimes mischievous. In Victor’s care, Henry begins to see how things can change for the better.
Heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful, Helen Frost’s All He Knew is inspired by true events and provides sharp insight into a little-known element of history.
Published: August 14, 2018
It’s 1946. Langston’s mother has just died, and now they’re leaving the rest of his family and friends. He misses everything– Grandma’s Sunday suppers, the red dirt roads, and the magnolia trees his mother loved.
In the city, they live in a small apartment surrounded by noise and chaos. It doesn’t feel like a new start, or a better life. At home he’s lonely, his father always busy at work; at school he’s bullied for being a country boy.
But Langston’s new home has one fantastic thing. Unlike the whites-only library in Alabama, the Chicago Public Library welcomes everyone. There, hiding out after school, Langston discovers another Langston–a poet whom he learns inspired his mother enough to name her only son after him.
The Watcher (WWII)
Published: November 4, 2014
Berlin, Germany. How did Wendy end up in such a place? Just a few months ago, she was enjoying her time in Maine, supporting the American war effort.
But she was kidnapped, then betrayed by her own mother, who is actually a Nazi spy. As a new Berliner—and now a German—Wendy is expected to speak in a language she’s never known and support a cause she doesn’t believe in.
There are allies, though, among the Germans. Allies who have been watching over Wendy since she arrived. And Wendy, along with her new German shepherd puppy, must confront them. If only she can find them.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1950’s
Indian No More
Published: December 10, 2019
Regina Petit’s family has always been Umpqua, and living on the Grand Ronde Tribe’s reservation is all ten-year-old Regina has ever known. Her biggest worry is that Sasquatch may actually exist out in the forest. But when the federal government enacts a law that says Regina’s tribe no longer exists, Regina becomes “Indian no more” overnight–even though she lives with her tribe and practices tribal customs, and even though her ancestors were Indian for countless generations.
Now that they’ve been forced from their homeland, Regina’s father signs the family up for the federal Indian Relocation Program and moves them to Los Angeles. Regina finds a whole new world in her neighborhood on 58th Place. She’s never met kids of other races, and they’ve never met a real Indian. For the first time in her life, Regina comes face to face with the viciousness of racism, personally and toward her new friends.
Meanwhile, her father believes that if he works hard, their family will be treated just like white Americans. But it’s not that easy. It’s 1957 during the Civil Rights era, and the family struggles without their tribal community and land. At least Regina has her grandmother, Chich, and her stories. At least they are all together.
In this moving middle-grade novel drawing upon Umpqua author Charlene Willing McManis’s own tribal history, Regina must find out: Who is Regina Petit? Is she Indian, American, or both? And will she and her family ever be okay?
Out of Left Field
Published: May 1, 2018
Every boy in the neighborhood knows Katy Gordon is their best pitcher, even though she’s a girl. But when she tries out for Little League, it’s a whole different story. Girls are not eligible, period. It is a boy’s game and always has been. It’s not fair, and Katy’s going to fight back. Inspired by what she’s learning about civil rights in school, she sets out to prove that she’s not the only girl who plays baseball.
With the help of friendly librarians and some tenacious research skills, Katy discovers the forgotten history of female ball players. Why does no one know about them? Where are they now? And how can one ten-year-old change people’s minds about what girls can do?
A Place to Belong
Published: May 14, 2019
World War II has ended, but while America has won the war, twelve-year-old Hanako feels lost. To her, the world, and her world, seems irrevocably broken.
America, the only home she’s ever known, imprisoned then rejected her and her family—and thousands of other innocent Americans—because of their Japanese heritage, because Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Japan, the country they’ve been forced to move to, the country they hope will be the family’s saving grace, where they were supposed to start new and better lives, is in shambles because America dropped bombs of their own—one on Hiroshima unlike any other in history. And Hanako’s grandparents live in a small village just outside the ravaged city.
The country is starving, the black markets run rampant, and countless orphans beg for food on the streets, but how can Hanako help them when there is not even enough food for her own brother?
Hanako feels she could crack under the pressure, but just because something is broken doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. Cracks can make room for gold, her grandfather explains when he tells her about the tradition of kintsukuroi—fixing broken objects with gold lacquer, making them stronger and more beautiful than ever. As she struggles to adjust to find her place in a new world, Hanako will find that the gold can come in many forms, and family may be hers.
Finding Junie Kim
Published: May 4, 2021
Junie Kim just wants to fit in. So she keeps her head down and tries not to draw attention to herself. But when racist graffiti appears at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out.
Then Junie’s history teacher assigns a project and Junie decides to interview her grandparents, learning about their unbelievable experiences as kids during the Korean War. Junie comes to admire her grandma’s fierce determination to overcome impossible odds, and her grandpa’s unwavering compassion during wartime. And as racism becomes more pervasive at school, Junie taps into the strength of her ancestors and finds the courage to do what is right.
Published: July 21, 2020
North Korea. December, 1950.
Twelve-year-old Sora and her family live under an iron set of rules: No travel without a permit. No criticism of the government. No absences from Communist meetings. Wear red. Hang pictures of the Great Leader. Don’t trust your neighbors. Don’t speak your mind. You are being watched.
But war is coming, war between North and South Korea, between the Soviets and the Americans. War causes chaos–and war is the perfect time to escape. The plan is simple: Sora and her family will walk hundreds of miles to the South Korean city of Busan from their tiny mountain village. They just need to avoid napalm, frostbite, border guards, and enemy soldiers.
But they can’t. And when an incendiary bombing changes everything, Sora and her little brother Young will have to get to Busan on their own. Can a twelve-year-old girl and her eight-year-old brother survive three hundred miles of warzone in winter?
Haunting, timely, and beautiful, this harrowing novel from a searing new talent offers readers a glimpse into a vanished time and a closed nation.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in 1960’s
Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth (Vietnam War)
Published: April 3, 2018
When eleven-year-old Reenie Kelly’s mother passes away, she and her brothers are shipped off to live with their grandmother. Adjusting to life in her parents’ Midwestern hometown isn’t easy, but once Reenie takes up a paper route with her older brother Dare, she has something she can look forward to. As they introduce themselves to every home on their route, Reenie’s stumped by just one–the house belonging to Mr. Marsworth, the town recluse. When he doesn’t answer his doorbell, Reenie begins to leave him letters. Slowly, the two become pen pals, striking up the most unlikely of friendships.
It All Comes Down to This
Published: July 11, 2017
It’s 1965, Los Angeles. All twelve-year-old Sophie wants to do is write her book, star in the community play, and hang out with her friend Jennifer. But she’s the new black kid in a nearly all-white neighborhood; her beloved sister, Lily, is going away to college soon; and her parents’ marriage is rocky. There’s also her family’s new, disapproving housekeeper to deal with. When riots erupt in nearby Watts and a friend is unfairly arrested, Sophie learns that life—and her own place in it—is even more complicated than she’d once thought.
Leavened with gentle humor, this story is perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia.
The Last Grand Adventure
Published: March 20, 2018
It’s 1967 and twelve-year-old Bea is in need of some adventure. Her mother is off in San Francisco, while her father has just gotten remarried in Los Angeles. Bea has gained a younger stepsister, and she’s not thrilled about her blended family. So when her ailing grandmother, Pidge, moves to an Orange County senior-living community and asks if Bea would spend the summer helping her get settled, Bea is happy for any excuse to get away.
But it turns out, her grandmother isn’t interested in settling in. What she really wants is to hop a train back to Atchison, Kansas—where she thinks she’ll be reunited with her long-missing sister: Amelia Earhart. And she wants Bea to be her sidekick on this secret trip.
At first, Bea thinks her grandmother’s plan is a little crazy. But Pidge has thirty years of letters written in “Meelie’s” unmistakable voice, all promising to reunite. This might be the adventure Bea needs…
With letters in hand, Bea and Pidge set off on their quest to find Amelia. But getting halfway across the country proves to be more of an adventure than either of them bargained for. And their search for Amelia leads to some surprising truths about their family—and each other.
A Night Divided
Published: August 25, 2015
With the rise of the Berlin Wall, Gerta finds her family suddenly divided. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, yet she can’t help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.
But one day on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Gerta concludes that her father wants her and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?
A Seed in the Sun
Published: October 25, 2022
Lula Viramontes aches to one day become someone whom no one can ignore: a daring ringleader in a Mexican traveling circus. But between working the grape harvest in Delano, California, with her older siblings under dangerous conditions; taking care of her younger siblings and Mamá, who has mysteriously fallen ill; and doing everything she can to avoid Papá’s volatile temper, it’s hard to hold on to those dreams.
Then she meets Dolores Huerta, Larry Itliong, and other labor rights activists and realizes she may need to raise her voice sooner rather than later: Farmworkers are striking for better treatment and wages, and whether Lula’s family joins them or not will determine their future.
She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)
Published: June 26, 2018
The year is 1966. The Vietnam War rages overseas, the Beatles have catapulted into stardom, and twelve-year-old Rhode Island native Trudy Mixer is not thrilled with life. Her best friend, Michelle, has decided to become a cheerleader, everyone at school is now calling her Gertrude (her hated real name), and the gem of her middle school career, the Beatles fan club, has dwindled down to only three other members–the least popular kids at school. And at home, her workaholic father has become even more distant.
Determined to regain her social status and prove herself to her father, Trudy looks toward the biggest thing happening worldwide: the Beatles. She is set on seeing them in Boston during their final world tour–and meeting her beloved Paul McCartney. So on a hot August day, unknown to their families, Trudy and crew set off on their journey, each of them with soaring hopes for what lies ahead.
Lucky Broken Girl
Published: April 11, 2017
In this unforgettable multicultural coming-of-age narrative—based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s—a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed. Ruthie’s plight will intrigue readers, and her powerful story of strength and resilience, full of color, light, and poignancy, will stay with them for a long time.
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English—and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen—a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.
Published: April 18, 2023
It’s 1964, the Space Race is well underway, and eleven-year-old Magnolia Jean Crook and the other residents of Totter, Texas, are over the moon about UFOs.
The whole town is gearing up for the First Annual Come on Down Day—in just one week, they are hoping to host any and all space aliens who would like to visit Earth. But right before the kick-off party, a meteorite goes missing—and MJ’s beloved grandmother Mimi, who is the vice president of the Totter Unidentified Flying Object Organization, is the prime suspect.
MJ is desperate to show the town that this Crook is not a thief. The only problem is that there is a lot of evidence against her, and Mimi herself isn’t helping things. She’s acting suspiciously, pulling disappearing acts, and worst of all, can’t seem to answer any questions about where she was or what she was doing.
But much like UFOs, extraterrestrial visitations, and sending people to space, the impossible has been known to happen.
One Crazy Summer
Published: January 26, 2010
Eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. But when the sisters arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with their mother, Cecile is nothing like they imagined.
While the girls hope to go to Disneyland and meet Tinker Bell, their mother sends them to a day camp run by the Black Panthers. Unexpectedly, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern learn much about their family, their country, and themselves during one truly crazy summer.
Cuba in My Pocket
Published: September 21, 2021
When the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 solidifies Castro’s power in Cuba, twelve-year-old Cumba’s family makes the difficult decision to send him to Florida alone. Faced with the prospect of living in another country by himself, Cumba tries to remember the sound of his father’s clarinet, the smell of his mother’s lavender perfume.
Life in the United States presents a whole new set of challenges. Lost in a sea of English speakers, Cumba has to navigate a new city, a new school, and new freedom all on his own. With each day, Cumba feels more confident in his new surroundings, but he continues to wonder: Will his family ever be whole again? Or will they remain just out of reach, ninety miles across the sea?
How to Find What You’re Not Looking For
Published: September 14, 2021
How to Find What You’re Not Looking For is such an intriguing title. Add to it the fact that it’s written by Veera Hiranandani, author of the bestselling middle grade title, The Night Diary and I knew I had to read it. This book follows 12-year-old Ariel whose life is upturned when her big sister (the best of them all), Leah, elopes with her Indian-American boyfriend after the Loving vs. Virginia ruling. Ariel’s parents are upset, Ariel is struggling with being able to write well at school, and she can’t stop thinking about her sister and everything happening in the world.
When Winter Robeson Came
Published: January 11, 2022
When Winter Robeson came to visit his cousin, Eden in the summer of 1965, he had another agenda. Winter is a 13-year-old boy visiting Los Angeles from Mississippi. Unbeknownst to Eden and her family, Winter isn’t just there to see Disneyland — he’s looking for his father J.T. Robeson who came to LA 12 years ago and never returned. Eventually, he gets Eden to help him on his search. Not long after, the Watts Riot erupts.
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1970’s
I Lived on Butterfly Hill
Published: March 4, 2014
Celeste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until one day when warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates start disappearing from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.
The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” Before they do, however, they send Celeste to America to protect her.
As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?
Published: September 9, 2014
For fans of Jennifer Holm (Penny from Heaven, Turtle in Paradise), a heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.
Published: March 14, 2023
It’s the 1970s, and Judi loves to shoot hoops in the driveway with her brother and his friends. She hopes she can join a basketball team someday, but her school doesn’t have a female team. So when she gets to high school, she chooses the next best thing: cheerleading with her best friend Stacey. But one day, the school announces that they’re starting a team for the girls because of the Title IX ruling. Unfortunately, as willing as the girls who sign up are (Judi inclusive), there’s little to no funding for their team. They have to DIY their jerseys and practice only when the boys’ team isn’t using the court. On top of that, Stacey is upset that Judi has left cheerleading to play ball, and some girls want to quit because they’re so frustrated. Can Judi and the team make it work?
Clouds Over California
Published: July 11, 2023
Stevie’s life is fluctuating rapidly. She’s starting over in a brand new middle school. Quiet and observant, it’s hard for her to make friends. Plus, her mind is too occupied. The tension in her home is building as her parents’ arguments are becoming more frequent. To top it all off, Stevie’s older cousin Naomi is coming to live with the family in an attempt to keep her from a “bad” crowd—The Black Panthers.
Stevie agrees to keep Naomi’s secrets. She’s the cool big cousin, after all, and Stevie can’t help but notice the happy, positive effect the Black Panthers are having on Naomi’s confidence and identity—just like how Mom is making decisions for herself, even when Dad disapproves.
Stevie feels herself beginning to change as well. But one thing remains the same: she loves both of her parents, and she loves them together. Can her family stay in one piece despite the world shifting around them?
Orange for the Sunsets
Published: April 2, 2019
Asha and her best friend, Yesofu, never cared about the differences between them: Indian. African. Girl. Boy. Short. Tall.
But when Idi Amin announces that Indians have ninety days to leave the country, suddenly those differences are the only things that people in Entebbe can see—not the shared after-school samosas or Asha cheering for Yesofu at every cricket game.
Determined for her life to stay the same, Asha clings to her world tighter than ever before. But Yesofu is torn, pulled between his friends, his family, and a promise of a better future. Now as neighbors leave and soldiers line the streets, the two friends find that nothing seems sure—not even their friendship.
Tensions between Indians and Africans intensify and the deadline to leave is fast approaching. Could the bravest thing of all be to let each other go?
The Colors of the Rain
Published: September 18, 2018
This historical middle grade novel written in free verse, set against the backdrop of the desegregation battles that took place in Houston, Texas, in 1972, is about a young boy and his family dealing with loss and the revelation of dark family secrets.
Ten-year-old Paulie Sanders hates his name because it also belonged to his daddy—his daddy who killed a fellow white man and then crashed his car. With his mama unable to cope, Paulie and his sister, Charlie, move in with their Aunt Bee and attend a new elementary school. But it’s 1972, and this new school puts them right in the middle of the Houston School District’s war on desegregation.
Paulie soon begins to question everything. He hears his daddy’s crime was a race-related one; he killed a white man defending a black man, and when Paulie starts picking fights with a black boy at school, he must face his reasons for doing so. When dark family secrets are revealed, the way forward for everyone will change the way Paulie thinks about family forever.
The Colors of the Rain is an authentic, heartbreaking portrait of loss and human connection during an era fraught with racial tension set in verse from debut author R. L. Toalson.
Stealing Mt. Rushmore
Published: August 18, 2020
Nellie’s dad had planned on having four boys to name after the presidents on Mt. Rushmore. He got George, Nellie, Tom, and Teddy. No Abe.
It’s the summer of 1974. Nellie’s turned thirteen. Her best friend, Maya, has a crush on a boy. President Nixon might get impeached. And her mom’s run off. The money for their family road trip to see Mt. Rushmore is missing and her dad’s crawled into bed and won’t get up.
Nellie’s sure the trip out West will fix her family, and she’ll do almost anything to come up with the cash. But she begins to wonder why it’s always her, the girl, who’s stuck with the dishes and everything else. And how can a mom just up and leave with no note, no forwarding address, no nothing?
The Long Ride
Published: September 24, 2019
The Long Ride by Marina Budhos is the story of three mixed-race girls in the 1970’s. Francesca, Jamila, and Josie are chosen to be part of a trial desegregated school experience.
All three girls live in a mostly white Queens neighborhood and have parents who’ve worked hard to get them into great schools in mostly white neighborhoods. Naturally, the parents worry about switching their daughters’ schools to one in a “bad” (read, mostly Black) neighborhood. Francesca’s parents reject the opportunity and move her to a private school instead. This leaves Josie and Jamila alone at the new school.
The girls soon realize that they’re out of their comfort zones. Josie and Jamila grow distant when Josie doesn’t make it into the same gifted kids program. The former becomes closer to the Spanish girls in her class. Then Jamila forms a new friendship with a Black boy, John, but because she’s half Black and half white, their burgeoning relationship must remain at school.
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel
Published: May 3, 2016
Zomorod (Cindy) Yousefzadeh is the new kid on the block . . . for the fourth time. California’s Newport Beach is her family’s latest perch, and she’s determined to shuck her brainy loner persona and start afresh with a new Brady Bunch name—Cindy. It’s the late 1970s, and fitting in becomes more difficult as Iran makes U.S. headlines with protests, revolution, and finally the taking of American hostages. Even mood rings and puka shell necklaces can’t distract Cindy from the anti-Iran sentiments that creep way too close to home.
Inside Out and Back Again
Published: February 22, 2011
Inspired by the author’s childhood experience as a refugee—fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama—this coming-of-age debut told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.
This Harper Classic edition includes an author’s note explaining how and why Thanhha Lai translated her personal experiences into this book, an interview with the author, an activity you can do with your family, tips on writing poetry, and discussion questions.
Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope—toward America.
Sunny Side Up
Published: August 25, 2015
Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather for the summer. At first she thought Florida might be fun — it is the home of Disney World, after all. But the place where Gramps lives is no amusement park. It’s full of . . . old people. Really old people.Luckily, Sunny isn’t the only kid around. She meets Buzz, a boy who is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they’re having adventures of their own: facing off against golfball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors. But the question remains — why is Sunny down in Florida in the first place? The answer lies in a family secret that won’t be secret to Sunny much longer. . .
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 1980’s
While I Was Away
When twelve-year-old Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand the basic Japanese they speak to her, they make a drastic decision to send her to Tokyo to live for several months with her strict grandmother. Forced to say goodbye to her friends and what would have been her summer vacation, Waka is plucked from her straight-A-student life in rural Kansas and flown across the globe, where she faces the culture shock of a lifetime.
In Japan, Waka struggles with reading and writing in kanji, doesn’t quite mesh with her complicated and distant Obaasama, and gets made fun of by the students in her Japanese public-school classes. Even though this is the country her parents came from, Waka has never felt more like an outsider.
If she’s always been the “smart Japanese girl” in America but is now the “dumb foreigner” in Japan, where is home…and who will Waka be when she finds it?
Red, White, and Whole
Published: February 2, 2021
Red, White, and Whole is Rajani LaRocca’s newest middle-grade verse novel. The year is 1983 and 13-year-old Reha is caught between two cultures: her Indian family and community at home; and the all-American experience at school and with her white “school best friend.” But it’s not all rosy. Her mother doesn’t approve of Reha acting more American than Indian. She makes all of Reha’s clothes herself, and is upset when Reha says she would like to go to the school dance.
Reha is understandably frustrated at her mother’s lack of understanding, but she’s about to have more problems. Her mom is diagnosed with leukemia and Reha’s life is turned upside down. Between school, family issues, and navigating her affection for a boy in her neighborhood, Reha has her plate full.
All the Greys on Greene Street
Published: June 4, 2019
SoHo, 1981. Twelve-year-old Olympia is an artist—and in her neighborhood, that’s normal. Her dad and his business partner Apollo bring antique paintings back to life, while her mother makes intricate sculptures in a corner of their loft, leaving Ollie to roam the streets of New York with her best friends Richard and Alex, drawing everything that catches her eye.
Then everything falls apart. Ollie’s dad disappears in the middle of the night, leaving her only a cryptic note and instructions to destroy it. Her mom has gone to bed, and she’s not getting up. Apollo is hiding something, Alex is acting strange, and Richard has questions about the mysterious stranger he saw outside. And someone keeps calling, looking for a missing piece of art. . .
The Story That Cannot Be Told
Published: October 8, 2019
Ileana has always collected stories. Some are about the past, before the leader of her country tore down her home to make room for his golden palace; back when families had enough food, and the hot water worked on more than just Saturday nights. Others are folktales like the one she was named for, which her father used to tell her at bedtime. But some stories can get you in trouble, like the dangerous one criticizing Romania’s Communist government that Uncle Andrei published—right before he went missing.
Fearing for her safety, Ileana’s parents send her to live with the grandparents she’s never met, far from the prying eyes and ears of the secret police and their spies, who could be any of the neighbors. But danger is never far away. Now, to save her family and the village she’s come to love, Ileana will have to tell the most important story of her life
Not Your All-American Girl
Published: July 7, 2020
In Not Your All-American Girl, Lauren is Jewish and Chinese. It’s the 1980s and Lauren and her best friend — who’s blonde with blue eyes — do everything together. So when they don’t have any sixth-grade classes together, they’re bummed! They decide that they will audition for their school’s musical so that they can at least have that time together. Lauren’s audition goes swimmingly, and she’s obviously the better singer than Tara (even better than any of the other kids), but when the cast list is released Lauren is only part of the ensemble and Tara is cast as lead. Upon confronting the director, she explains that Lauren’s half-Jewish, half-Chinese looks don’t match the role of “all-American girl” in the “all-American town” depicted in their musical.
This encounter opens Lauren’s eyes to several microaggressions and brings to the fore her issues with being biracial and looking different from other at her predominantly white school. Looking for a relatable figure, she beings to nurture a love for the singer Patsy Cline whom she mistakenly assumes is also Jewish. There are also changes at home with her mother looking to enter law school, which would make her even less available to Lauren. With the help of her family and two grandmothers, Lauren learns to find her place, while keeping her friendship with Tara.
Published: March 13, 2018
In this semi-autobiographical debut novel set in 1983, Vanessa Martin’s real-life reality of living with family in public housing in Newark, New Jersey is a far cry from the glamorous Miss America stage. She struggles with a mother she barely remembers, a grandfather dealing with addiction and her own battle with self-confidence.
But when a new teacher at school coordinates a beauty pageant and convinces Vanessa to enter, Vanessa’s view of her own world begins to change. Vanessa discovers that her own self-worth is more than the scores of her talent performance and her interview answers, and that she doesn’t need a crown to be comfortable in her own skin and see her own true beauty.
Auma’s Long Run
Published: September 1, 2017
Auma loves to run. In her small Kenyan village, she’s a track star with big dreams. A track scholarship could allow her to attend high school and maybe even become a doctor. But a strange new sickness called AIDS is ravaging the village, and when her father becomes ill, Auma’s family needs her help at home.
Soon more people are getting sick—even dying—and no one knows why. Now Auma faces a difficult choice. Should she stay to support her struggling family or leave to pursue her own future? Auma knows her family is depending on her, but leaving might be the only way to find the answers to questions about this new disease.
Planet Earth Is Blue
Published: May 14, 2019
Twelve-year-old Nova is eagerly awaiting the launch of the space shuttle Challenger–it’s the first time a teacher is going into space, and kids across America will watch the event on live TV in their classrooms. Nova and her big sister, Bridget, share a love of astronomy and the space program. They planned to watch the launch together. But Bridget has disappeared, and Nova is in a new foster home.
While foster families and teachers dismiss Nova as severely autistic and nonverbal, Bridget understands how intelligent and special Nova is, and all that she can’t express. As the liftoff draws closer, Nova’s new foster family and teachers begin to see her potential, and for the first time, she is making friends without Bridget. But every day, she’s counting down to the launch, and to the moment when she’ll see Bridget again. Because Bridget said, “No matter what, I’ll be there. I promise.”
Published: October 6, 2020
It’s the summer of ’83 on Trowbridge Road, and June Bug Jordan is hungry. Months after her father’s death from complications from AIDS, her mother has stopped cooking and refuses to leave the house, instead locking herself away to scour at the germs she believes are everywhere. June Bug threatens this precarious existence by going out into the neighborhood, gradually befriending an imaginative boy who is living with his Nana Jean after experiencing troubles of his own. But as June Bug’s connection to the world grows stronger, her mother’s grows more distant — even dangerous — pushing June Bug to choose between truth and healing and the only home she has ever known.
Trowbridge Road paints an unwavering portrait of a girl and her family touched by mental illness and grief. Set in the Boston suburbs during the first years of the AIDS epidemic, the novel explores how a seemingly perfect neighborhood can contain restless ghosts and unspoken secrets. Written with deep insight and subtle lyricism by acclaimed author Marcella Pixley, Trowbridge Road demonstrates our power to rescue one another even when our hearts are broken.
We Dream of Space
Published: May 5, 2020
In We Dream of Space, siblings Cash, Fitch, and Bird move through the daily trials of pre-teen life in the 1980’s.
Fitch and Bird are twins who are now in the same grade as their older brother, Cash — because Cash was held back in the seventh grade. Bird is a space aficionado and dreams of being an astronaut. Fitch has anger issues and hates that he’s getting crushed on by a girl he doesn’t like — and whom his best friends consider unattractive. Cash feels lost and cannot seem to find his place anywhere. It doesn’t help that the situation at home is tense, with parents who are constantly bickering and a family that cannot seem to make time to talk as a unit or nurture their children.
All three siblings share a science teacher, Ms. Salonga, who is a failed applicant to the Teacher in Space program. Nonetheless, she builds lessons around the Challenger launch, with Bird becoming the most invested. Bird is eagerly anticipating the Challenger launch and is a huge fan of Judith Resnik — the Challenger’s Mission Specialist. She even has internal conversations with her about her dreams and insecurities. This novel follows the siblings until the ill-fated launch day which changes their relationship forever.
Center of Gravity
Published: March 24, 2020
In Center of Gravity, Tessa has become more anxious after losing her mother to breast cancer. This middle-grade novel is set in 1985, which I guess would make it historical fiction. To soothe her anxiety, Tessa cuts pictures of missing kids out of milk cartons. For her, it is crucial that every next milk carton bear the face of a child not already in her collection. So, at lunch, she has to take time sifting through milk cartons to find a new face.
Tessa’s new compulsion is alienating her from her childhood best friend, who is embarrassed by Tessa’s odd decision to take her milk carton home after school. Things get worse when Tessa’s father comes home one day with a new woman, Lila. Lila is in her early twenties and pregnant with Tessa’s father’s child. The two marry quickly and move to Lila’s childhood home — gifted to them by her parents — in California. Understandably, Tessa is shaken, but things start to take a turn for the better when she meets a group of boys who play foosball at the rec center.
Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.
Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.
Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.
Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?
It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?
Dream, Annie, Dream
Published: January 25, 2022
As the daughter of immigrants who came to America for a better life, Annie Inoue was raised to dream big. And at the start of seventh grade, she’s channeling that irrepressible hope into becoming the lead in her school play.
So when Annie lands an impressive role in the production of The King and I, she’s thrilled . . . until she starts to hear grumbles from her mostly white classmates that she only got the part because it’s an Asian play with Asian characters. Is this all people see when they see her? Is this the only kind of success they’ll let her have—one that they can tear down or use race to belittle?
Disheartened but determined, Annie channels her hurt into a new dream: showing everyone what she’s made of.
The Magical Imperfect
Published: June 15, 2021
The Magical Imperfect is a middle grade verse novel about a boy named Etan. Etan develops selective mutism after his mom has to go to a treatment facility for a mental disorder in 1980’s San Francisco. Around that time, mini-earthquakes are frequent and Etan tries to keep up his daily schedule, which is basically school and then time with his grandfather. Sometimes, he helps an older shopkeeper in the neighborhood walk her dog and run errands. It is while he is on one of those errands that he meets Malia, a Filipina-American girl with severe eczema.
Etan and Malia become fast friends and he gets a closer look at how debilitating her eczema is. He also realizes that Malia loves singing and has a beautiful singing voice. Etan wants to take Malia’s suffering away, and he thinks his grandfather’s Dead Sea clay can make a difference — perhaps even heal Malia’s eczema. He also suggests that she sing in the community’s talent show. But will the clay work? And will Malia and Etan’s friendship survive the challenges it faces?
Middle Grade Historical Fiction Set in the 2000’s
Published: September 10, 2019
In Broken Strings, Shirli Berman has her eyes set on a role in her school’s play. It’s 2002, just after the Twin Towers and the death of Shirli’s grandmother (Bubie). Even though she doesn’t eventually score her desired role, she ends up playing another one of the key roles anyway. To add to it, her stage husband is Ben Morgan, the most popular boy in school.
At the same time, Shirli is also learning about her family’s history from her grandfather (Zayde) who has been silent on the matter his entire adult life. When she’s in the attic looking for costumes and props for the play, she stumbles on some of her grandfather’s personal items that raise many questions in her mind about his past and may explain some of his present behavior, like why he doesn’t let anyone sing in the house, for example.
Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero
Published: September 7, 2021
Yusuf Azeem is not a hero like his dad who talked down a gun man in their small-town A-Z Dollar Store. But his dad’s heroism doesn’t prevent him from getting worsening hateful notes in his locker telling him to “Go Home.” Yusuf and his friend Danial had expected that this would be their year — their entry into middle school and a chance to compete in a robotics contest. However, when some of the townspeople, including a group called the Patriot Sons try to stop the construction of their town’s mosque and begin to target Yusuf and other Muslims in the community, they are forced to take a stand.
Big Apple Diaries
Published: August 17, 2021
Big Apple Diaries is Alyssa Bermudez’s graphic memoir detailing her life experiences in New York City between the 7th and 8th grades. Her middle school years also coincide with the attack on 9/11 and the book documents the impact on her and her circle. Prior to that, though, Alyssa is an average tween who attends a Catholic co-ed school, likes doodling, and has a crush on a schoolmate named Alejandro. Her parents are also divorced, so she spends time between each of their apartments in New York.
The Places We Sleep
Published: August 25, 2020
It’s early September 2001, and twelve-year-old Abbey is the new kid at school. Again.
I worry about people speaking to me / and worry just the same / when they don’t.
Tennessee is her family’s latest stop in a series of moves due to her dad’s work in the Army, but this one might be different. Her school is far from Base, and for the first time, Abbey has found a real friend: loyal, courageous, athletic Camille.
And then it’s September 11. The country is under attack, and Abbey’s “home” looks like it might fall apart. America has changed overnight.
How are we supposed / to keep this up / with the world / crumbling / around us?
Abbey’s body changes, too, while her classmates argue and her family falters. Like everyone around her, she tries to make sense of her own experience as a part of the country’s collective pain. With her mother grieving and her father prepping for active duty, Abbey must learn to cope on her own.
Written in gorgeous narrative verse, Abbey’s coming-of-age story accessibly portrays the military family experience during a tumultuous period in our history. At once personal and universal, it’s a perfect read for fans of sensitive, tender-hearted books like The Thing About Jellyfish.
That’s all for this list of 90 middle-grade historical fiction novels! While some of these are popular, I hope you’ve found one new to you. Which of these middle school historical fiction books have you read? Which ones did I miss?
More Middle School Book Lists
- Non-fiction books for middle schoolers
- Graphic novels for middle school
- Middle grade books about space
Pin This Post – 90 Best Middle-Grade Historical Fiction Books