So You Want to Read Historical Fiction? Featuring Carrie Gelson and Maria Selke


This post is the second in a new “So You Want to Read” series designed for my students in Children’s Literature. My course is online this semester, which means that many of my students are learning at a distance and I can’t do what I like to do best to grow readers: show up to class with a big stack of books specially chosen for each student. This “So You Want to Read” series is an attempt to bridge that distance and make personalized recommendations for each student that might also be valuable for other readers. The first post in the series is So You Want to Read Wordless Picture Books?.

Shay requested recommendations for historical fiction. I have a few favorites to recommend, but because this is not an area of particular #booklove or expertise for me, I turned to my wonderful PLN and asked for some help from Carrie Gelson and Maria Selke. (And can I just say, my TBR list exploded as Carrie and Maria started recommending books that sound awesome!)

My own five favorite works of historical fiction:

bud not buddy

Bud Not Buddy, written by Christopher Paul Curtis, is set during the Depression and tells the story of ten-year-old Bud, who sets out on a road trip to find the man he believes to be his father. It’s funny and heartbreaking, the best kind of book.

catherine called birdy

In Karen Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdy, set in 1290, we meet the feisty Catherine who is quite disgruntled by the boring tasks she’s set to do as a girl and very much hoping to avoid an arranged marriage to a man she detests.


I love Louise Erdrich’s entire Birchbark House series, but I’m especially fond of Book Four, Chickadee. The series follows an Ojibwe family in northern Minnesota in the 1800s. Books 1-3, for those who like to read in order, are The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, and The Porcupine Year. They’re all wonderful.

invention of hugo cabret

Brian Selznick’s gorgeous illustrated novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is set in Paris during the early twentieth century and weaves together the history of early cinema, trains, and automata in an intriguing mystery.  Don’t be put off by the length of this book: half of it is pictures!

rock and river

Kekla Magoon’s The Rock and the River is set in Chicago in 1968 and focuses on the Civil Rights Movement, as seen through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Sam, who is torn between the values of non-violent activists, represented by his father, and the exciting new world of the Black Power movement his older brother introduces him to.

A Top Ten List of Historical Fiction Recommended by Carrie Gelson

I’m including a very brief blurb for each title to identify topic and historical time period.

lions of little rock

The Lions of Little Rock. School integration in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1958.
wicked and just

The Wicked and the Just. Life in medieval Wales.

hattie big sky

Hattie Big Sky. Trying to prove up on a homesteading claim in 1918 Montana.

one came home

One Came Home. A missing sister combined with passenger pigeons in 1871 Wisconsin? I’m intrigued.

out of the easy

Out of the Easy. A prostitute’s daughter dreams of escape to college in 1950 New Orleans.

every day after

Every Day After. In Depression-era Alabama, girl tries to cope with father’s abandonment and mother’s shut down.evolution of calpurnia tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Budding naturalist on the Texas frontier in 1899. Strong relationship with grandfather.

beholding bee

Beholding Bee. Bee is a freak show carnival attraction in this novel set in New England in 1942.


Crow by Barbara Wright. A historical event I’d never heard of: in 1898, white supremacists staged a coup in North Carolina intending to disenfranchise African Americans.

turtle in paradise

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. Turtle’s mother sends her to Florida to live with relatives in this novel set in 1935.

A Top Ten List of Historical Fiction Recommended by Maria Selke

lions of little rockMaria also recommended The Lions of Little Rock. Guess I’d better read it now!bluffton

Bluffton by Matt Phelan. A group of vaudeville performers, including future film star Buster Keaton, summer in Michigan in 1908 in this graphic novel.

storm in barn

The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan. Set in Kansas in 1937, this graphic novel depicts a family trying to survive the Dust Bowl.

actual truthful adventures of becky thatcher

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson. Set in Missouri in 1860, Lawson tells the real story of the events in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer.


code talker

Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac. A novel about Navajo code talkers during World War II.
esperanza rising

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. Esperanza is forced to flee her native Mexico and settle in California during the Depression.

fever 1793

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. A novel about the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793.

out of the dust

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Verse novel about the Dust Bowl and Depression.

the trial

The Trial by Jen Bryant. A verse novel telling the story of the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, accused of kidnapping and murdering Charles Lindbergh’s son, in 1932.



Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. A novel about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911.

And just in case these aren’t enough books to keep Shay (and me!) reading for the next few months, there is also a major book award dedicated to historical fiction: the Scott O’Dell Award.

Happy reading!


7 responses to “So You Want to Read Historical Fiction? Featuring Carrie Gelson and Maria Selke”

  1. Marj Avatar

    All of these look interesting! This is much more my style! Thank you.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      You’re welcome! Hope you find something good to read here–I’m making a trip to the library today because there are several of these that I must read right away!

  2. […] recommendations post for historical fiction, featuring Top Ten lists by Carrie Gelson and Maria […]

  3. […] Timberlake’s Newbery Honor, One Came Home, was a book I included in a recent post on middle-grade historical fiction featuring recommendations from Carrie Gelson and Maria Selke. Historical fiction isn’t my […]

  4. Michelle Isenhoff Avatar

    Reblogged this on Bookworm Blather and commented:
    I didn’t have a post ready for tomorrow, partly because I’ve been meeting new people on Twitter this afternoon. I don’t do that very often. Luckily, I stumbled onto this great post on children’s historical fiction–my favorite genre to read and write in!– by educator Elisabeth Ellingon (whom I just followed on Twitter). It includes a super list of tween titles. Hope you find a few newbies to add to your tbr list!

  5. Patricia Tilton Avatar

    Have read a few of these and want to check out others. Am reviewing a new Kirby Larson book. Thanks for such a great list.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Hope you find something to enjoy! I’ve started reading my way through the list and love everything I’ve read so far.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: