The best middle-grade novels about little known aspects of American history

Who am I?

As a child in New England, I climbed over stone walls wondering about the lives of those who built them. I devoured biographies and historical fiction, but I never imagined that I'd become a writer of such books for kids 8-14. First, I became a social studies teacher and, later, a librarian. I wanted my students to read about honorable characters striving to make the best of difficult but often little-known, historical situations. I demanded reliable details, a challenging conflict, and a resolution filled with hope for a better future. That is now my goal as a writer of children's books – and as a reader. These books meet those high standards. Enjoy! 

I wrote...

A Kidnapping In Kentucky 1776

By Elizabeth Raum,

Book cover of A Kidnapping In Kentucky 1776

What is my book about?

The Kentucky frontier was a beautiful place, but it was also a dangerous one. Jemima Boone and John Gass often heard wolves howling, bears growling, and snakes slithering through the tall grasses. There was no store, no school, no doctor at Fort Boonesborough. The settlers were on their own to deal with whatever threats arose. On a sunny summer day in July 1776, the crisis they faced was a kidnapping... based on a true event. 

The books I picked & why

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Woods Runner

By Gary Paulsen,

Book cover of Woods Runner

Why this book?

What an exciting tale! I've done lots of research about life on the American frontier during the Revolutionary War, but Gary Paulsen provided information that was new to me about British attacks on small frontier villages and prison ships anchored in New York Harbor. I couldn't stop reading. The author alternated the fiction story with nonfiction segments providing further explanation. Rather than interrupt the reading, they enhanced it, elevating the excitement I felt as Samuel searched for his missing parents.

Beyond the Bright Sea

By Lauren Wolk,

Book cover of Beyond the Bright Sea

Why this book?

Having grown up in New England, I thought I knew a lot about Massachusetts history, but Beyond the Bright Sea introduced me to a little-known aspect of life in the 1920s. Like twelve-year-old Crow, I wanted to find out why she was set afloat as an infant on the bright, blue sea off the Massachusetts coast. Who put this baby into the sea alone? Why? The mystery intrigued me as much as the history.

One Crazy Summer

By Rita Williams-Garcia,

Book cover of One Crazy Summer

Why this book?

This novel carried me to a world I'd never known - Oakland, California, in 1963. I loved the humor and quickly came to love the characters. What intrigued me was the portrayal of the Black Panthers and their work with children during that summer. The book offered a new and fascinating look into their world. It won both the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the Coretta Scott King Award. Well worth a read!

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

By Sheila O'Connor,

Book cover of Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

Why this book?

Reading a novel in letters feels like snooping into someone's private thoughts, and that's exactly how I felt as I read Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth. Reenie, age 11, writes letters that highlight the conflict between those who supported the Vietnam War and those who opposed it. Her letters ultimately reveal the situation faced by her family and by Mr. Marsworth. They are funny and heartfelt. History and family drama mix together in Reenie's letters and Mr. Marsworth's occasional response. O'Connor does a fabulous job of presenting controversial history in an engaging way. 

We Dream of Space

By Erin Entrada Kelly,

Book cover of We Dream of Space

Why this book?

I couldn't put the book down once I met Bird and her brothers, Fitch and Cash. I loved the passion with which 7th-grade teacher Mrs. Salonga prepared her classes for the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The novel brought back all the sadness of that event. I relived it with the characters from their unique perspectives as they watched the shuttle fall out of the sky. The book won numerous awards, including a Newbery Honor. What an emotional and satisfying read! 

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