The best historical fiction for tweens and teens

Lisa Rowe Fraustino Author Of I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials, Massachusetts Bay Colony 1691 (Dear America Series)
By Lisa Rowe Fraustino

Who am I?

As an avid young White female reader of everything from cereal boxes to any book I could get my hands on, historical fiction was my favorite genre from an early age. I still love experiencing a different time and place vicariously through the eyes of protagonists different from myself. Both an author and a scholar, I’ve taught children’s and young adult literature for three decades and currently direct the Graduate Programs in Children’s Literature at Hollins University. My once contemporary PhD dissertation, Ash: A Novel (Orchard Books, 1995), has become historical fiction of sorts, due to the passage of time.

I wrote...

I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials, Massachusetts Bay Colony 1691 (Dear America Series)

By Lisa Rowe Fraustino,

Book cover of I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials, Massachusetts Bay Colony 1691 (Dear America Series)

What is my book about?

This is the compelling diary of a young girl who finds herself caught up in the turmoil and drama of the Salem Witch Trials.

Deliverance Trembley lives in Salem Village, where she must take care of her sickly sister, Mem, and where she does her daily chores in fear of her cruel uncle's angry temper. But when four young girls from the village accuse some of the local women of being witches, Deliverance finds herself caught up in the ensuing drama of the trials. And life in Salem is never the same.

The books I picked & why

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The Witch of Blackbird Pond

By Elizabeth George Speare,

Book cover of The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Why this book?

As a child, I loved books that transported me to a different time and place. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, winner of the Newbery Award in 1959, was one of the first and finest that did so. With her vivid characterization and details of setting and plot, Elizabeth George Speare sparked my interest in the history of witchcraft in New England, where I grew up. As a high school senior I even wrote a research paper on the topic, and eventually, I had the honor of writing the Dear America title about the Salem Witch Trials. The Witch of Blackbird Pond still holds up as a gripping and beautifully written story. However, readers should be aware that some characters hold sexist and racist attitudes that were common during the late 17th century.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

By Mildred D. Taylor,

Book cover of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Why this book?

By the time Mildred Taylor received the Newbery Award for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in 1977, I had moved on to reading historical fiction for adults. In grad school I studied all of the Newbery winners to learn how to write literary fiction for young readers, and I fell in love with the whole Logan family at first read, especially the nine-year-old narrator, Cassie. Taylor had the exceptional talent of being able to climb inside a child’s mind and take the reader through her lived experience with stunning psychological depth and truth. With heartfelt humanity, Cassie’s narrative puts readers inside a loving, proud, and independent land-owning Black family defying racism in 1933 Mississippi. 

A Single Shard

By Linda Sue Park,

Book cover of A Single Shard

Why this book?

By 2002, when Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shard got the Newbery Medal, I had begun publishing books for children and young adults and had many friends who were also authors. We had a game of following the major awards and debating which books we felt really deserved all of the accolades. A Single Shard was one we all agreed on. Set in twelfth-century Korea, it tells the story of Tree-ear, a homeless orphan boy who dreams of being able to make beautiful pottery like the masters in the nearby potters’ village. This book has it all—compelling characters, a suspenseful plot built on both relationships and adventures, and beautiful lyrical prose. Like all great historical fiction, it expands our knowledge of another time and place as well as humanity.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

By Jacqueline Kelly,

Book cover of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Why this book?

I cannot lie, the first time I read this book I thought the first few chapters luxuriated in a wonderful voice but were slow in getting to the plot and should have had an editor go at them with a sharp pencil. But then I got pulled into the middle, and by the end, I understood why The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate totally deserved the Newbery Honor in 2010. Every detail from the start contributed to the “evolution” of Callie Vee, the eleven-year-old narrator who in 1899 Texas has to face a life of domestic servitude when all she wants to do is become a naturalist. Anyone who’s been told she can’t do something just because she’s a girl will love reading this book over and over.


By Gary Soto,

Book cover of Jesse

Why this book?

In 2014, I was on the Phoenix Award Committee of the Children’s Literature Association, given to a book published twenty years prior that didn’t get a major award when it first came out. We decided to give the Phoenix to Jesse, published in 1994 by Gary Soto, about a seventeen-year-old who works in the fields with his brother while putting himself through junior college. I love the book for all the reasons in the committee’s description: "Jesse is both a coming-of-age story of one Mexican-American boy with a poetic sensibility and the story of a community and a country at a difficult time—facing poverty and prejudice and war, problems we are still facing today. Jesse offers an unembellished slice of life in Vietnam-era Fresno, California.” 

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