Genre Spotlight: Historical Fiction

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You see this section here? It’s been growing on me lately! Up until recently, I’ve read maybe one or two historical fiction books a year. But this year, I’ve read a few that I’ve really enjoyed. Admittedly, the historical fiction genre can be a tough sell with students, but I am very optimistic about some of the titles I’ve read lately (such as Honeyman’s Fire Horse Girl and Anderson’s Fever 1793).

About our Historical Fiction section:


GENRE LABEL COLOR: yellow (the color of old newspapers)


  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Boyne)
  • Code Talker (Bruchac)
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Selznick)
  • The Red Necklace (Gardner)
  • Ruby Red (Gier)
  • Uprising (Haddix)
  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Kelly)
  • Prisoners in the Palace (MacColl)
  • Assassin (Myers)
  • The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins (Myers)
  • Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale (Napoli)
  • Ghost Girl: A Blue Ridge Mountain Story (Ray)
  • Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood (Richards)
  • A Break With Charity (Rinaldi)
  • Hunted: Brind series, book 2 (Russell)
  • Song of the Sparrow (Sandell)
  • Wonderstruck (Selznick)
  • Between Shades of Gray (Sepetys)
  • Distant Waves (Weyn)
  • Countdown (Wiles)
  • Someone Named Eva (Wolf)
  • The Book Thief (Zusak)


Middle school:

  • Al Capone Does My Homework (Choldenko)
  • Casualties of War: Book 4 (Lynch)
  • Finding Zasha (Barrow)
  • Hero on a Bicycle (Hughes)
  • Odette’s Secrets (MacDonald)
  • One Came Home (Timberlake)
  • P.S. Be Eleven (Williams-Garcia)
  • Prisoner B-3087 (Gratz)
  • Red River Stallion (Harrison)
  • Soldier Dog (Angus)
  • Tracks (Wilson)
  • Warriors in the Crossfire (Flood)
  • Hattie Ever After (Larson)
  • The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist (Engle)
  • Maid of Secrets (McGowan)
  • Nobody’s Secret (MacColl)
  • Then (Gleitzman)
  • Victoria Rebels (Meyer)

High school:

  • Out of the Easy (Sepetyz)
  • Tarnish (Longshore)
  • The Caged Graves (Salerni)
  • In the Shadow of Blackbirds (Winters)
  • Belle Epoque (Ross)
  • Cinders & Sapphires (Rasheed)
  • Five 4ths of July (Hughes)
  • Gilt (Longshore)
  • Heart of Glass (Gould)
  • A Moment Comes (Bradbury)
  • Starstruck (Shukert)


  • set prior to 1975 (see my justification in “Troubleshooting” below)
  • historical events are a major part of the story
  • does not fit better into another genre (such as Steampunk, which is Victorian period by definition, or High Fantasy, which includes medieval fantasy)
  • realistic in nature; there is no magical or fantastic element in it that would qualify it as fantasy


  • anything I book talk tends to do very well. On the “most popular” list above, I actively book talked 9 titles with classes in the past few months. Coupling war books with Vietnam protest music (I used and discussed CCR’s “Fortunate Son”) really got students excited about the Vietnam titles.
  • My students especially love anything about the Titanic disaster, major weather events, The Holocaust, Vietnam War
  • need more highly visual novels like Selznick’s Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck (both are told with text and full-page illustrations (about 50/50)
  • diary formats are always a hit, no matter the genre


  • Deciding what is “historical” and what is “recent history”Is the 1980s “historical”? Maybe, but not in my library. Setting my own birth year helps me be consistent about the cut-off date AND keeps me from feeling “historical” myself!
  • Where to put modern-day war books? Afghanistan? Persian Gulf? In my library, both go into Realistic Fiction.
  • Section popularity. If I didn’t book talk these books, many of them would never get checked out. Of my 18 genre sections, this one probably needs the most teacher and librarian endorsement.
  • What to do with time travel stories? I’m still struggling with this one. Right now, I just go with my gut–some books feel like Historical Fiction, but most could go into other genres. For example, I put My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century (Harris) into Romance/Chick Lit based mainly on the chick lit “feel” of the story when I read it. Ruby Red, on the other hand, went to Historical Fiction. Why? Well, I could not put it somewhere else. It feels historical more than sci-fi. I know that’s not very scientific of me, but it’s the best I’ve got right now. Would love to hear suggestions on this one!



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