The best novels for giving middle grade/young adult readers a peek into the life of real historical figures

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been a history nut since junior high trips to prehistoric Indian Mounds in Ohio. I transcribed an early town settler’s diary as a high school project. Traveling with my Air Force hubby gave me a window into faraway places. Allan Eckert’s narrative history of pioneer times grabbed my imagination. My children would love these gripping tales of settler versus Shawnee, yet they’d never crack the two-inch thick volume. I tried writing historical fiction on their level by bringing a young protagonist into the story. I had no idea I’d follow that first book with eight more, delving into the history of various famous Ohioans. 


I wrote...

Secrets in the Sky Nest

By Karen Meyer,

Book cover of Secrets in the Sky Nest

What is my book about?

Thirteen-year-old Nelly has just moved to Salem, Ohio, a Quaker town with many who support the anti-slavery cause. Her family joins the Underground Railroad, using the secret room Nelly discovers. When she overhears a plot to tar and feather her father, the new editor of the Anti-Slavery Bugle, she realizes there are enemies, even in Salem. Nelly has a chance to fight back when she joins in a rescue, but she learns the hard way that the rescued girl isn’t really free. When Nelly and her best friend at the Quaker girl’s school become the target of a mean trick by a classmate, Nelly wants revenge. Threats against her father stir Nelly to plan retaliation. Or will her faith teach her a better way?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Starting from Seneca Falls

Karen Meyer Why did I love this book?

I’m not a feminist and I don’t feel oppressed as a woman. But after reading this book, I’m glad that Elizabeth Cady Stanton hosted the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1858. The young protagonist, Bridie, has experienced some of the wrongs that Mrs. Stanton tries to put right. I enjoyed getting to know the famous activist through Bridie’s eyes. Bridie flees from a cruel master and finds work with “the strangest lady she’s ever met”. Mrs. Stanton comes across as a down-to-earth woman, not the crusader type at all. I laughed at the detail of the two young Stanton boys romping through the cabbages. Kudos to the author for including other events and issues for context—the Irish potato famine, poorhouses, the Free Soil Party, the Erie Canal, and the Underground Railroad. Young ladies will appreciate their privileges after reading this novel.

By Karen Schwabach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Starting from Seneca Falls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Celebrate the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment with another historical novel about women's suffrage from the author of The Hope Chest!

Bridie's life has been a series of wrongs. The potato famine in Ireland. Being sent to the poorhouse when her mother's new job in America didn't turn out the way they'd hoped. Becoming an orphan.

And then there's the latest wrong--having to work for a family so abusive that Bridie is afraid she won't survive. So she runs away to Seneca Falls, New York, which in 1848 is a bustling town full of possibility. There, she makes friends with…


Book cover of The Secret of Sarah Revere

Karen Meyer Why did I love this book?

Paul Revere’s name is famous, but I loved how this book made his home life real. Sarah, the middle child in a large family, reflects the whispering, the suspicions, and the taking sides among their friends as the British take over Boston. Sarah fears for her father when he begins to ride to warn nearby towns; now he’s a marked man. More than the history, Sarah’s regret at waiting too long to make up with a dear friend warns modern readers to learn from her.

By Ann Rinaldi,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Secret of Sarah Revere as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thirteen-year-old Sarah Revere knows her father is a hero. But she also knows that Paul Revere guards a secret about the start of the Revolutionary War that he'll tell no one--not his new wife, not his best friend, not even his trusted daughter. It seems everyone in her family has secrets. Sarah's even got one of her own--and it's tearing her apart.
Reader's guide included.


Book cover of Johnny Tremain

Karen Meyer Why did I love this book?

This novel showed me the high cost of liberty.

I was immersed in the sights and smells of 1774 Boston, caught up in the excitement of the Tea Party, and felt the growing tension as the David-and-Goliath war loomed. Johnny, even as his pride brings him low, gets my sympathy because his secret thoughts are like my own. I learned the quirks and strengths of the big names in Revolutionary War history. This classic novel does what the best historical fiction does—transports us to a bygone era and puts skin on the men and women who were merely names in our history books before.

By Esther Hoskins Forbes,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Johnny Tremain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

This thrilling Newbery Medal-winning novel about the Revolutionary War is a classic of children's historical fiction.

Fourteen-year-old Johnny Tremain, an apprentice silversmith with a bright future ahead of him, injures his hand in a tragic accident, forcing him to look for other work. In his new job as a horse-boy, riding for the patriotic newspaper The Boston Observer and as a messenger for the Sons of Liberty, he encounters John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Dr. Joseph Warren.

Soon Johnny is involved in the pivotal events of the American Revolution, from the Boston Tea Party to the first shots fired at…


Book cover of Attack of the Turtle

Karen Meyer Why did I love this book?

This first-person tale is perfect for boys who like to invent things—several of my young grandsons are in this category. During the Revolutionary War, a young man cobbled together a submarine to attack a British man-o-war ship. Nathan, his cousin, helped build it, though he’s afraid of water! He’s also afraid of the town bully. I love the way the themes work into the plotfacing fear and doing what you must do. Through Nathan we meet Benjamin Franklin, General Israel Putnam, and even glimpse George Washington. Worth the price of the book is the diagram of the “Turtle”, an ingenious invention that did play a part in our nation’s War for Independence.

By Drew Carlson, David A. Johnson (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Attack of the Turtle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the Revolutionary War, fourteen-year-old Nathan joins forces with his older cousin, the inventor David Bushnell, to secretly build the first submarine used in naval warfare.


Book cover of Spy for the Night Riders

Karen Meyer Why did I love this book?

Through the eyes of the young protagonist, I was immersed in this slice of Martin Luther’s life. The Luther we get to know plays the lute and chuckles at his own jokes, even in the midst of defending his beliefs from those in power. Young Karl Shumacher, Luther’s servant, becomes a key player when they travel to Wurms for the Imperial Council. Later, when Luther is kidnapped and taken to a lonely castle to keep him from being executed for heresy, Karl assists him. Readers (like me) who get hooked on the Jackson’s style of biographies of church leaders can choose from 39 more.

By Dave Jackson, Neta Jackson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Spy for the Night Riders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Introducing Martin Luther

Karl Schumacher was fifteen when he came to the German city of Wittenberg in 1520 seeking an education. He had been very fortunate that the esteemed university professor Doctor Martin Luther, had taken him into his household as a servant. Luther’s promise of tutoring Karl in exchange for his labor was the chance of a lifetime-until a poster on the church door declared his master a heretic!

Karl is asked to travel with Doctor Luther to appear before the emperor’s Imperial Council in the city of Worms. Will his life be at stake as well as Luther’s?…


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Acquaintance

By Jeff Stookey,

Book cover of Acquaintance

Jeff Stookey Author Of Dangerous Medicine

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Historical fiction writer Gay male Reader History buff Curious human

Jeff's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

As a young doctor, Carl Holman has experienced the horrors of World War I and the death of his lover, a fellow officer. Back home after the War, he befriends a young jazz musician who he hopes will become a companion he can share his life with. But this is Oregon: the Ku Klux Klan is gaining influence, homosexual acts are illegal, and such a relationship will jeopardize Carl’s promising medical career.

Musician Jimmy Harper has his own dreams for the future and his own obstacles to overcome before he will allow himself to accept Carl’s love. More than a gay love story, Acquaintance is a deep dive into gay and lesbian history based on extensive period research of the 1920s.

Acquaintance

By Jeff Stookey,

What is this book about?

As a young surgeon, Carl Holman has experienced the horrors of World War I and the loss of his lover, a fellow officer. Back home after the war, he befriends a young jazz musician who he hopes will become a companion he can share his life with. But this is Oregon: the Ku Klux Klan is gaining influence, homosexual acts are illegal, and such a relationship will jeopardize Carl’s promising medical career. Musician Jimmy Harper has his own dreams for the future and his own obstacles to overcome before he will allow himself to accept Carl’s love.
Acquaintance is a…


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