Tuesday, April 7, 2009

History Nerd

I admit it; I'm a nerd. I'm so okay with being a nerd, geek, whatever you want to call me that I gave up trying to be anything else long ago. My favorites nerdy topics are history and art history (I was an art history major college and seriously contemplated going to art history grad school.).

I love to incorporate history into our daily lives. My poor, deprived children don't realize that some people actually go on vacations which do not incorporate trips to museums and historical locales. History is so much more interesting if you can visualize where it occurred. Car Guy absolutely loved visiting the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park and tracing the battle's progression, and Curly Girl volunteers as a Junior History Interpreter at our local museum.

One of our favorite ways to learn about history, however, is by reading historical fiction which makes a time period come to life. When students only read dry history textbooks, it is no wonder that they find the subject incredibly boring. For our home school, our family covers history chronologically in four-year cycles, and I always try to find historical fiction books which correspond to the time period we are studying. For those of you who enjoy reading, especially with your children, I have listed some of my favorite historical fiction titles. Most of them are geared toward 4th-8th graders, but would work fine as read alouds with younger children. They are also appealing on their own as quick adult reads.

Angela's Top 10 Historical Fiction Books

10. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
Before reading it, I didn't think I would really enjoy this book. But, in the end, I found that Forbes's tome does a great job of bringing 1770s Boston and the early events of the Revolutionary War to life. Just a warning: Don't watch the Disney movie version of the book. It's awful and changes way too much of the book for my taste.

9. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Girl power at its finest! In 1832, Charlotte Doyle stows away on a ship going from England to America. Along the way, the heroine deals with a mutinous crew and learns about life at sea.

8. The Watsons Go To Birmingham- 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Hilarious and poignant all at the same time. As the African-American Watson family journeys from Michigan to Alabama, they head into one of the most disturbing domestic events of the 1960s. This book does a fabulous job of showing the difficulties African-Americans faced living in the segregated South. Additionally, "Ruby Bridges" is a great movie to complement a study of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.

7. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
This book is really a biography, but it is so interesting that it reads like a narrative. For some reason, I had never learned about Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), a brilliant scholar and sailor in early America. What an amazing man!

6. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
I just finished reading this book last night. Incredibly interesting concept of setting a historical fiction novel around Capernaum during the time of Christ's ministry. It includes Christ as one of many characters in the story, and does a great job of portraying what it must have been like for the Jews to live under Roman rule. Don't be turned off by this book if you're not Christian. It takes a literary approach to Jesus and doesn't preach or proselytize.

5. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
I admit to having a soft spot for this book since it was the first literature guide I wrote when I began writing classroom curriculum three years ago. After working in Afghan regugee camps, Ellis wrote this book to convey the women's stories she heard there. In the book, Parvana becomes her family's breadwinner after her father is arrested in the 1990s. What a fabulous way to help young adults understand the horrors of living under the Taliban and provide a springboard to discuss Afghanistan's still deplorable record of women's rights.

4. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
This was one of my favorite books as an early teen, and I fell in love with it again when I reread it last year. In the book, a spirited young lady is accused of witchcraft when she refuses to bow to society's narrow-minded norms. It also provides a great historical window into the Puritan and Quaker faiths in the late 1600s. For boys, however, I would check out Speare's The Sign of the Beaver. In it, a teen boy learns the Native American ways when he must survive on his own in the Maine wilderness in the early 1700s. About a year ago, Car Guy listened to this book on tape at bedtime every night for several months. Yes, I said months, several months.

3. Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott
Curly Girl and I absolutely loved all the nuances of this book. This classic leads into great discussions on all sorts of topics that are still pertinent today-responsibility, family, modesty, utilizing your personal gifts, personal deportment, etc. For a fabulous study of Alcott and her life in the mid-1800s, read her biography, Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs and The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick which follows a year in the life of a contemporary mother-daughter book club that reads Little Women. I can't tell you how much I recommend these books for tween and early teen girls.

2. Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
This is probably Curly Girl's favorite book that we have read because it combines history, adventure, and romance. Okay, I really liked it, too, and had trouble putting it down. It takes place in ancient Egypt when slave-girl, Mara, becomes involved in the court affairs of Thutmose and Hatshepsut during the 1460s-1470s BCE. Absolutely fabulous!

1. A History of US series by Joy Hakim
I'm cheating here because Hakim's series of ten books are not fictional at all. They encompass the entire scope of United States history from pre-history through the 1990s. I learned more American history reading this series than I ever learned in high school. If students read these in school, instead of the boring textbooks they usually have, many more young adults would probably fall in love with American history.

I know that this list lacks historical fiction novels targeted toward adults, and I hope to remedy that soon. One of my plans for the summer is to read, read, read while lounging by the pool. I would love to hear about your favorite historical fiction books, so I can add them to my summer reading list.


  1. This is wonderful! Thanks!
    For those of us history-illiterate people, can you put some dates or general timeline info in there so we can know when to slip them into school curriculum or so we can read them chronologically?

  2. Hi Jennifer, I'll go back in and add general dates or time period for each book. Great idea! Thanks!

  3. May I suggest "The Work and the Glory" by Gerald Lund :) I am a totaly nerd and proud of it, thanks.