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Children's Books: Historical Fiction

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While I was quite familiar with children's historical fiction in the form of novels and series, I was intrigued to find how successfully historical fiction is being done in picture storybook format for upper elementary and middle school students. I reviewed two that I particularly like: The Mary Celeste: An Unsolved Mystery in History and Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess, Page.

The Mary Celeste is one of a series of "history mysteries" by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple. The book is based on a true story from 1872. Castle Diary covers the experiences of 11 year old Tobias Burgess's services as a page in 1285. The illustrations add greatly to the books' appeal and to the reader's understanding of the story and time period.

I was pleasantly surprised at the number of children's literature online resources related to historical fiction for children. If you are a teacher or a parent looking for tips on selecting good historical fiction, you will want to read educator Tarry Lindquist's article"Why & How I Teach with Historical Fiction." For information on portrayals of women in history, read professor Kay E. Vandergrift's article, "Foregrounding Women in History in Children's and Young Adult Books."

If you are looking for reading lists, you will find quite a few, most annotated. Some are sorted by grade and/or age ranges, like my Historical Fiction for Middle Grade Readers (Grades 4-8, ages 9-14); some are sorted by time period. There are also theme lists, such as "Going West," an annotated list for middle school readers." Carol Hurst's Children's Literature site provides a lot of resources for teachers on "US History and Children's Literature." You will also find world history booklists and lesson ideas online, including Hurst's Integrating World History with Literature. For additional resources, see the Historical Fiction section of About: Children's Books.

A good deal of carefully researched and well written historical fiction is available for your child. However, not all historical fiction is accurate. You will want to be careful when choosing books or assisting your child in choosing historical fiction to read. Are the characters and setting true to the period? Does the action in the book realistically reflect what would have been found in the time period? Are the illustrations appropriate to the time period and activity being portrayed? Once you have answered these questions to your satisfaction, pick out the books that look most interesting. You will find that many of these books work equally well for independent reading and for reading aloud.

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