Great historical fiction for YOUNG kids?
December 29, 2013 5:42 PM   Subscribe

I want to get my girl (8 years old) some highly readable historical fiction. I have two goals: (1) get her great, interesting stuff to read that will entertain her and broaden her horizons, and (2) more specifically, get her books set in places that we may actually go, since it's so much more interesting to visit places when you have a context for them.

My girl is an enthusiastic but not really precocious reader - I don't really know what average is for her age, but for comparison, she recently gobbled up the Oz series, and Carroll's Alice books; but he also is comfortable with the A to Z mysteries, which seem much younger to me.

Do you know of books geared to this age (2nd grade, 8 years old) that are really fun reads, and that take place in interesting historical settings, especially Europe, at points in history say, up to the FIRST World War? (WW2 falls into a different, non-entertainment, family history category for us and is not something I want to focus on yet.)

Bonus points for:

French, Italian, British or Israeli setting
Kindle version available
Not too scary

posted by fingersandtoes to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I read A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver at around this age and LOVED it. The protagonist is Eleanor of Acquitaine.
posted by lalex at 5:48 PM on December 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

It mostly takes place at sea, but my whole fourth or fifth grade class loved The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Bonus female empowerment themes!
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:50 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

The Secret Garden would be perfect -- it was gifted to me as an 8-year old, I adored it, and I still have the book 20 years later with my grandmother's inscription.

The American Girls books are also a sure bet, and there are quite a number of them now.

Although it takes place in Canada, Anne of Green Gables was my all-time favorite, although I don't think I started that series until I was 11 or so.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:53 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I re-read Catherine, Called Birdy multiple times. A free-spirited young noble girl in 13th century England!
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:54 PM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

They aren't really historical fiction, but many of the books in the Magic Tree House series take the characters to historical locales, often for encounters with famous historical figures.

They're very entertaining, have very positive social values, and they do provide general cultural background on a wide variety of historical topics and figures. Plus there are lots of them.
posted by alms at 5:54 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really loved A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, but at age 8 a lot of it will probably either go right over her head or upset her. Maybe in a couple of years? Catherine, Called Birdy, though, has the protagonist acting more like a kid.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:59 PM on December 29, 2013

Here's a list of historical fiction for kids. You'll have to sift for age-appropriateness, but there are a lot of good ideas here, including the Little House books, which I adored when I was a kid.
posted by bunderful at 6:00 PM on December 29, 2013

Nthing Charlotte Doyle & Catherine Called Birdy

I loved, 'Murder for Her Majesty' by Beth Hilgartner, about a girl who's father is murdered in Elizabethan England and she hides from the murderers by pretending to be a boy in the York Minister's Boy Choir. (it's not as gruesome as I just made it sound) A lot of it is the ins and outs of life in the Choir in Elizabethan times.

This one's American, but I can't help but throw it in. By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman is about a boy and the family butler that run away together during the gold rush to strike it rich and save the family when they find out that all the money is gone.
posted by Caravantea at 6:02 PM on December 29, 2013

Oh, and it's not really capital-H historical fiction, but Edward Eager's Knight's Castle is wonderfully written, a fun introduction to medieval England, and includes visits to some real-life sites.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:02 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm giving this suggestion with a grain of salt, because I honestly think the franchise is a bit of a trap (the dolls are so expensive!), but I grew up thinking American Girls was just a book series -- I believe you can buy the books alone on amazon or something similar -- and they are geared towards that age range, and feature a different historical period for each girl. Obviously just covers American history, though.
posted by likeatoaster at 6:02 PM on December 29, 2013

This recent AskMe had a lot of good suggestions that might interest you.

I also really liked Adam of the Road when I was around that age (medieval England).
posted by pitrified at 6:06 PM on December 29, 2013

Another American book, but has she read 'Island of the Blue Dolphins?' that's another classic. About a Native girl who ends up stranded on an island off the coast of Santa Barbara for 18 years in the 19th century.
posted by Caravantea at 6:09 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was a huge fan of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder at that age. There are plenty of places across the west and midwest associated with the books that you can visit.
posted by kimdog at 6:25 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Noel Streatfeild wrote a number of books set around the UK: Ballet Shoes, Circus Shoes, and Skating Shoes are enjoyable ones to start with. (And despite most of her books being names "Something Shoes" they aren't actually a series.)

Kate Seredy's The Good Master and The Singing Tree are lovely -- the second one deals with World War I, so your call on whether you want to wait a bit or not . (It's pretty gentle for a book with war happening around them.) They are set in Hungary.

Memail me if you want more books that are fun in Europe, but not historical.
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:36 PM on December 29, 2013

Going back a bit further, there are some Ancient Rome suggestions in this thread.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:37 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Door in The Wall, a book I loved as a kid. It's set in England during the fourteenth century, about a boy who wants to become a knight but who loses the ability to walk.
posted by PussKillian at 7:03 PM on December 29, 2013

They're set in the US, but I remember enjoying the Dear America series around that age. Each book addresses a different historical period trhough a fictional girl's diary, and many are pre-WWII.
posted by eponym at 8:31 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

In addition to the selections above, I'd call the Children's Books librarian at your downtown library. From my own experience, these people are familiar with every children's book ever written and they're delighted to offer good ideas. They're also good sources for who's reading what in different age groups.

Keep that little one reading!
posted by aryma at 8:54 PM on December 29, 2013

I came in to mention the Dear America series, too. I couldn't get enough of them when I was younger; the first person narrative made the history feel very real and alive.
posted by chatongriffes at 9:33 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Moffats
All of a Kind Family
posted by brujita at 4:19 AM on December 30, 2013

The Wool Pack, "Set in the Cotswolds near Burford, Oxfordshire, The Wool-Pack begins in 1493 when Nicholas Fetterlock, the twelve-year-old son of a rich wool merchant, learns from his father that he is betrothed to Cecily Bradshaw, the daughter of a rich cloth merchant." The kids luckily like each other and have serious adventures.

The Green Knowe books, "a series of six children's novels written by Lucy M. Boston, illustrated by her son Peter Boston,[1] and published from 1954 and 1976.[2][3] It features a very old house, Green Knowe, based on Boston's home at the time, The Manor in Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire.[4] In the novels she brings to life the people who she imagines might have lived there."

And the Willoughby Chase books, which are a lot of fun, though not exactly historical. Close enough for an interesting period feel. They have ferociously evil villains. I remember being 7 and reading the first instalment in a kid's comic, never got the next episode, was delighted to catch up with the story as an adult. "Set in an alternative history of England, it tells of the adventures of cousins Bonnie and Sylvia and their friend Simon the goose-boy as they thwart the evil schemes of their governess Miss Slighcarp. The novel is the first in the Wolves Chronicles, a series of books set during the fictional 19th century reign of King James III. A large number of wolves have migrated from the bitter cold of Europe and Russia into Britain via a new "channel tunnel", and terrorise the inhabitants in their continuing hunting." The film is also an excellent children's film.

Of course these are all a bit old-school! But there's also a bit of a cross-over in children's books between historical and outright fantasy: sometimes the fantasy is accurately historically detailed. Thinking of T H White's Once and Future King for a plausible picture of day-to-day Medieval living (arguably). But that might be a bit old for your daughter.

There are the Rosemary Sutcliff novels, including The Eagle of The Ninth, but again, they may be a bit old.
posted by glasseyes at 4:21 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gillian Avery has three great novels set in Victorian England - The Warden's Niece, The Elephant War and The Greatest Gresham - with fiery young women protagonists. I'd start with The Elephant War, about the fight to stop the sale of Jumbo the elephant to PT Barnum by the London Zoo. Highly entertaining.
posted by goo at 4:38 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

When he was that age, my brother LOVED the Magic Treehouse series, which follows two kids (I think around 8 years old) who time travel to various times/places (ancient Egypt, Pompeii, the Titanic, etc.) with Morgan le Fey, solving mysteries and meeting/helping interesting historical figures (I think Da Vinci features in some of them, for example).
posted by ChuraChura at 6:43 AM on December 30, 2013

The Carole Marsh Mysteries meet your #2 goal extremely well (get her books set in places that we may actually go) and at least part of your #1 goal (entertain and broaden horizons). There are 48 books set in US locations and 14 international books including England, France, Italy. I don't know that I would call it "great" reading although certainly in line with the Magic Treehouse series. The historical aspect is less as the setting is current day but takes into account historical considerations of the locations. The reading level is higher than the A-Z mysteries but not as high as many of the recommendations here. If she is particularly interested in any of the locations then there can be follow up reading.
posted by RoadScholar at 10:18 AM on December 30, 2013

« Older Need to remove a file from Yahoo Groups but we...   |   What was this sit-in space vehicle toy I had as a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.