What book is similar to "Number the Stars" for my 9 year old?
December 15, 2013 3:37 PM   Subscribe

My nine year old just read "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry. It is her first introduction to really high quality historical fiction. She is excited to read more books that teach her about history, but are also fun to read because they are fiction. Do you have any ideas about historical fiction books that are excellent quality like "Number the Stars" but that are age appropriate for my nine year old? Thank you.
posted by lynnie-the-pooh to Media & Arts (42 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
What about all the American Girl books?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:39 PM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Has she read the Little House books yet?

Other favorites for that age: Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi.
posted by mynameisluka at 3:44 PM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I remember liking The Eagle of the Ninth at about that age.

If she's not upset by the Holocaust (I don't remember how intense Number the Stars is--it doesn't take place in a concentration camp in any case), we read Daniel's Story in fourth grade. We read Snow Treasure in third grade and I remember really liking that. (And The Diary of Anne Frank. Apparently they decided the only age-appropriate way to teach about nazism was in language arts.)
posted by hoyland at 3:46 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

The mention of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle made me remember Johnny Tremain and My Brother Sam is Dead. I remember listening to them on tape, so they might be a bit ambitious for a nine year old to read.

We read The Children of Topaz as well in fourth grade, which is about Japanese internment. (I swear we read things in school that weren't about the Second World War. But other than the one about Krakatoa and the hot air balloon, they apparently weren't that memorable.) I didn't read it in school and I was nine when it came out, so I probably read it a little older, but I remember liking Under the Blood Red Sun.
posted by hoyland at 3:54 PM on December 15, 2013

Christopher Paul Curtis does some great historical fiction for that age group, such as Elijah of Buxton (set in Canada in the U.S. in the 1860s), The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 (1960s), The Mighty Miss Malone (1930s), and Bud, Not Buddy (1930s).

Louise Erdrich's Birchbark Series (set in the U.S. in the 1840s) is also highly recommended.
posted by northernish at 3:55 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I remember really loving The Golden Goblet. Set in ancient Egypt, Newberry winner.
posted by frobozz at 4:05 PM on December 15, 2013

A Gathering of Days by Joan Blos
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:05 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not knowing your daughter's reading level, I'm just going to free-associate historical fiction I loved between about 7 and 12.

All the Little House Books.

All the Anne Of Green Gables books. (Some of the later ones get a little real in terms of things like infant mortality, so maybe hold off on anything after around book 4 or 5 until you can figure out exactly how sensitive she is to this stuff.)

Sarah, Plain and Tall?

Caddie Woodlawn?

The True Confessions Of Charlotte Doyle

As you can see, there is an absolute whack of books about 19th century American life aimed at exactly her demographic. Go to any library and grab a book with a girl in a sunbonnet on the cover, and it'll probably be right up her alley.

The Witch Of Blackbird Pond!

All Of A Kind Family (which I think is also a series, or at least there is a sequel and possibly a third.)

Island Of The Blue Dolphins

One of my all time favorite books, so much so that I still have my copy of it (and my dream is to someday adapt it into a film) is Quest For A Maid. It's about a young girl living in 13th century Scotland who gets swept up into a sprawling odyssey to bring a Danish princess to Scotland to solve a succession crisis somewhat caused by her older sister.

Just like the Pioneer Girl glut, there are also a WHOLE FRICKING LOT of books about kids and young teens dealing with World War II.

Snow Treasure is a great suggestion for right this minute, if she liked the "Nordic kids fight the Nazis" angle specifically. It's basically exactly the same story as Number The Stars.

A little old for her in terms of reading level, but there's also Summer Of My German Soldier, about a 14 year old Jewish girl in Arkansas who meets, befriends, and exchanges some very PG-13 smooches with a German POW. Also deals a lot with Jim Crow South type issues.

Journey to America and Silver Days are about a Jewish family who emigrate to America just prior to WW2.
posted by Sara C. at 4:06 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, and The Wizard Children of Finn was an excellent one I read over and over. Mythological/historical, but the story and writing were wonderful and it's surprising how many times in later life points of Irish mythology crop up that I first heard of in this book.
posted by frobozz at 4:15 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Lady Grace Mysteries are a very highly recommended kids' series set in Elizabethan England; the titular character is a 13-year-old lady-in-waiting who solves mysteries in the royal court--the conceit is that the books are her "daybooks" (diaries). According to Amazon they're aimed at 8-12 year olds so the reading level and content should be appropriate for your daughter.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:56 PM on December 15, 2013

Yes! The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Quest for a Maid. Also, there is a huge corpus of WWII/Holocaust literature that I loved, including Orgel's The Devil in Vienna (also about a friendship between two girls, one non-Jewish and one Jewish) and Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic (a girl opens the door for Elijah and goes back to the shtetl, then to a concentration camp), and The Endless Steppe (about the Siberian gulag). These are pretty heavy but I had a total appetite for historical suffering at that age.

What about Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and its sequels? I think the narrator of the books is 9 or 10 in the first one. These are also pretty upsettingly frank about experiencing anti-Black racism in the Jim Crow South.

I also loved Jean Fritz's Homesick, My Own Story, about growing up as the child of missionaries in pre-WWII Shanghai so much I thought for several years I had dreamed it.

My sister LOVED the Dear America series and anything by Ann Rinaldi at this age, but as with the American Girl books, they don't necessarily have the same writerly panache as the more Newberyish books. They are pretty educational though, as she and I continue to reference them in our late twenties.
posted by kickingthecrap at 5:08 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

2nding Johnny Tremain, as it was one of my absolute favorites at that age.

Another that I highly enjoyed, particularly for its strong female protagonist, was Pam Muñoz Ryan's Riding Freedom. I probably read that book at least four times.
posted by krakus at 5:09 PM on December 15, 2013

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor is about growing up African-American in the Deep South in the 1930's (the sequels are also good). I second The All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor (there are five books in the series) about growing up in tenements in New York City in the 1900's. Bonus learning about Jewish holidays, if she doesn't already know.

Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes by Frank Gilbreth (~1910-1940's) and The Ornament Tree (set in 1918 Seattle) by Jean Thesman may be a bit beyond reading level, but are appropriate for the age if readable.

The Lark in the Morn by Elfrida Vipont about growing up a Quaker in 1930's England. The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy about living in Hungary during World War I.

Some more World War II and aftermath books: From Anna by Jean Little, The Sky is Falling (and sequels) by Kit Pearson, The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig, Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.

American Girl books are neat, but may be aimed a year or two younger than she is. They do have a neat section at the end of each book explaining more about the history that the story told.
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:12 PM on December 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh - and the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer might be worth a look too. Their genre is more mystery than straight out historical (they're about Sherlock Holmes's younger sister), but they focus quite a bit on daily life in the Victorian era, particularly what it was like for girls and women of various classes, and incorporate historical figures like Florence Nightingale.

I also recall Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman being a very good read. It's in the form of the diary kept by a 14-year-old nobleman's daughter in 1290 and imparts a lot of information about medieval life while following Birdy's attempts to thwart the suitors her father arranges for her.
posted by northernish at 5:12 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I never read them (loved myself some trashy Sweet Valley High at an inappropriately young age), but I remember this series called The Boxcar Children that was super popular with my peers and prominently displayed in my classroom library as a kid.

Also, I think it might be fun for you to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to her. The language is dimple and that book just stays with me; I still reread it.
posted by discopolo at 5:13 PM on December 15, 2013

Shurik is nonfiction about the Siege of Leningrad aimed at your daughter's age group and well-received by some kids I know (they were about seven and nine when it was read aloud to them). It reads like fiction - beautiful young actress begins working as a nurse during the siege of Leningrad and meets an orphaned boy, who comes to live at her hospital for the duration of the siege. It reminds me of Number the Stars in that it does a good job of touching on some of the sad, tragic parts of war while maintaining a tight focus on optimistic, successful protagonists.

I can also recommend Catherine, Called Birdy - as well as Karen Cushman's other novels - for a look at the middle ages.
posted by posadnitsa at 5:17 PM on December 15, 2013

Also, I think it might be fun for you to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to her. The language is simple and that book just stays with me; I still reread it.

ATGIB comes up all the time in askme threads on books for girls. I think a lot of people forget that this novel (while amazing literature) is not really for most tweens. I'd use caution on this wonderful novel before age 13. Parents should at least vet it first. There is some really disturbing stuff including the main (child) character being attacked by a rapist serial killer and her mother shooting the guy in the nick of time (but not before a graphic description of the traumatic semi-assault.) Other scenes, too, are really too much for the typical 9 year old, even the humiliations of poverty, alcoholism, and the shaming of the promiscuous aunt. I have a feeling people here are going to say, "I read this book at 7!" It's just that as a parent, with friends who are parents, I'm warning parents to make sure it's ok for their particular kid. It is a far cry from Number the Stars.

That said, I'm seconding All of a Kind Family. It's like a more benevolent Tree Grows in Brooklyn mixed with the Little House books. Perfect for a 9 year old. ANd it's the first of a series, like the Little House books, so you can go on with the characters.
posted by third rail at 5:46 PM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's been well-covered, but I just want to chime in and say that I loved Catherine, Called Birdy so much as a young girl that I have purchased copies of it to reread multiple times as an adult.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:25 PM on December 15, 2013

Letters from Rifka was one of my favorites that's right in the historical fiction realm. I seriously loved that book!

This thread makes me want to go back and re-read all of these books I loved as a kid!
posted by sherber at 6:33 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Around your daughter's age, I liked Stepping on the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn. Also WWII-themed, but about American kids.
posted by Coatlicue at 6:38 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (and will throw in a rec for its sequels, Let the Circle Be Unbroken and The Road to Memphis). I was…really into WWII books for a while, and one of my favorites when I was around her age is So Far From the Bamboo Grove, which is about a Japanese family fleeing Korea. There are some disturbing images (a baby dies, and if memory serves at one point a person deprived of water drinks his own urine), but I must have read that book 10 times.
posted by Charity Garfein at 7:36 PM on December 15, 2013

I think I must have been around this age when I was obsessed with the Orphan Train series.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:14 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding Catherine, Called Birdy (Cushman has other historical titles, but none so good), the All-of-a-Kind Family series and the Little House books. And I want to enthusiastically second the American Girl books, particularly those written by Valerie Tripp. They are written for girls at precisely this age, are accessible, littered with historical details, feminist, and fairly complex. Kit and Molly's stories are particularly great if she's interested in the 1930s and 40s.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:35 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh there are some FANTASTIC suggestions.

I will throw in Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. It takes place in Philadelphia in 1793 when it was seat of the US government, during the yellow fever epidemic. It was one of my favorites when I was a kids' bookseller, and I have a copy put aside for when my niece is older (a while from now, she's one. :D)
posted by bibliogrrl at 9:30 PM on December 15, 2013

Oh! And the Great Brain books by Fitzgerald! I LOVED them when I was a kid, they're about a family in Utah at the turn of the last century. The dad loves inventions and the narrator's older brother is the cleverest kid in town. Really hilarious books.
posted by bibliogrrl at 9:33 PM on December 15, 2013

I just thought of more: Journey to Topaz: A Story of the Japanese American Evacuation and Journey Home by Yoshiko Uchida. (Like Little House and Betsy-Tacy, she fictionalized her own life and experiences.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:58 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Betsy Tacy and Eleanor Estes' Moffatt books.
posted by brujita at 9:59 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

People have already said a lot of my favorites but I will second Journey Home by Yoshiko Uchida, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, Christopher Paul Curtis' books, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, and any of Karen Cushman's books.

Also check out Laurence Yep's books about Chinese immigration to California.
posted by amapolaroja at 10:29 PM on December 15, 2013

When I was a kid I loved Calico Captive, The Bronze Bow, Johnny Tremaine and anything by Rosemary Sutcliff. (Although now I think about it, you may want to preview the Sutcliff and steer clear of her retelling of the King Arthur story.) If you can find it used or in a library, she may also enjoy the Mantlemass Chronicles which is a series that follows a family through a couple of centuries of English history.
posted by scairdy chicken at 10:39 PM on December 15, 2013

retelling of the King Arthur story.

Speaking of, she's probably a bit too young for The Once And Future King, but you should have that waiting in the wings for when she's ~12.
posted by Sara C. at 10:48 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Daddy Long Legs and Goodnight, Mister Tom at that age, but the former is mildly disturbing in that the protagonist (an orphan) ends up falling in love with her father-figure benefactor and the latter is also fairly disturbing in terms of child abuse/loss of best friend themes.

I'd second (or third or nth) the Anne of Green Gables books - the infant mortality/First World War stuff kind of passed me by then, and didn't really hit me until I re-read them when I was older.

Only you know what your kid can handle - and my reading at that age was basically totally unsupervised, which is probably why I read a bunch of disturbing stuff that turned me into the disturbed adult I am today.
posted by terretu at 12:52 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Eva Ibbotson writes really wonderful young adult romances about girls in the 1900s to 1930s doing absolutely marvelous artistic things, like joining the ballet or being theater stagehands or writing music while escaping Nazis. They might be a little above her reading level but they're charming and sex is generally implied and off stage.

Johnny Tremain is taught to kids that age because the language is so lovely that you hope it infects them with graceful writing. Good stuff.

I live and breathe Anne of Green Gables and Lucy Maud Montgomery's other books. I've read them seriously every year since I was twelve or so because they make the world better.

Noel Stretfield's "shoes" books, such as Ballet Shoes, illustrate life in wartime Britain through the 50s or so for children living through it. Some are more time-tied than others.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:47 AM on December 16, 2013

Also nobody has mentioned Louisa May Alcott's Little Women yet which was fairly contemporary when she wrote it but is historical fiction now. :) Nine is not too young for it, especially the first half. (It was originally published in two books, the first one focusing on adolescents, the second on young adults.)

But you should also totally ask her school librarian, they live for this kind of question and there is some really wonderful middle-grades historical fiction being written right now that we're all too old to know about. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:05 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I loved The Sword in the Stone at her age.

And in terms of books which now read as historical - Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, and anything by E.Nesbit. Ballet Shoes is great as well.

Judy Blume wrote a 50s set novel called Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself. It doesn't focus on personal problems in the way her other books do (which you might feel make them unsuitable for her age), but does cover social issues of the time.

Following on from the WWII theme - I Am David was really popular when I was that age, and there's also When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and The Diary of Anne Frank (I read that at nine though I believe that was the more sanitised version).

I'm sure there'll be some great graphic novels out there as well!
posted by mippy at 4:27 AM on December 16, 2013

My daughter really likes the Roman Mysteries books by Caroline Lawrence. The author also has a website and she clearly knows what she's talking about in terms of the history part.
posted by crocomancer at 4:33 AM on December 16, 2013

I just realized that my dumb brain forgot to also mention A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, by E.L. Konigsburg.
posted by Coatlicue at 6:09 AM on December 16, 2013

I really loved Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski which is about a young settler girl being raised in the Iroquois nation.
posted by Saminal at 6:41 AM on December 16, 2013

Diary of Anne Frank

Ring Rise, Ring Set isn't historical, it is futuristic "what would happen if we had another ice age" that my class read at the same time as Number the Stars, but it is the same high-quality writing.

I would also scan through the Newbery Award winners since they are always very high quality books for children of about that age, such as Jacob Have I Loved. Good Reads has a list of best children's historical fiction.

You could also try Clan of the Cave Bear series, though it might be a bit advanced reading and of course has smutty tingles too.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:22 AM on December 16, 2013

Clan Of The Cave Bear is waaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy to old for her. And really not the sort of thing you want to be handing to your 9 year old as Good Literature.

Clan Of The Cave Bear is something you discover for yourself on the 50 cent books rack at the local thrift store when you're 14. I was lucky to have parents who let me read pretty much whatever, unscrutinized, from about the age your daughter is now on up, and in high school I read piles of messed up sexy pulp like Cave Bear, VC Andrews, etc. But there's something sort of weird about just handing it to your kid, like, "Hey, you should read this messed up book!"
posted by Sara C. at 9:10 AM on December 16, 2013

Ok thanks... my memory of cave bear is fuzzy, of course I remembered the smut but I also thought it was cool to wonder what it would be like to wander the earth with grunting language etc. I think I read it at 13.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:39 AM on December 16, 2013

If learning about history is one of the objectives, it doesn't hurt to remember that not all historical fiction is historically accurate. Native American/First Nations history is particularly prone to mispresentation in many North American children's classics.

American Indians in Children's Literature, run by Dr. Debbie Reese, is a great resource for checking out which children's books offer a factual representation of aboriginal people and which are full of racist stereotypes and misrepresentation.
posted by northernish at 9:45 AM on December 16, 2013

Goodnight Mr Tom is assigned reading in many British schools during Year 5 (9 and 10 years old), so I'd say it is age appropriate even though it goes to some dark places and is totally going to make her cry.
posted by the latin mouse at 2:31 PM on December 17, 2013

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