The best historical children’s books that engage and enlighten

Why am I passionate about this?

In the wake of my father’s sudden death (when I was sixteen) I was left with many questions about my heritage. Why didn’t I know more about my parents and their homeland of Korea? Why wasn’t I curious enough to ask questions when my father was alive? Now I’m a Korean American author of many award-winning children’s books most of which are inspired by my family heritage. I’ve spent my adult life unearthing the past, immortalizing long-lost loved ones, sharing meaningful stories that would otherwise be forgotten. I’m drawn to historical fiction the way most people are to their smartphones. The truth is, there is no future without remembering the past.  

I wrote...

Book cover of The Hundred Choices Department Store

What is my book about?

1944, Sinuiju, northern Korea. Thirteen-year-old Miyook Pang has spent two years serving in the war effort on behalf of Japan during the Japanese Occupation of her country. Miyook endures exhaustion and illness, but only when she is sent to work in the dreaded dye factory does she experience spiritual death. Here she meets Song-ho, an orphaned boy, and unbeknownst to her, the brief encounter will prove fateful. When Japan loses the war, Russian soldiers capture her hometown leaving the city in ruin. With the Korean War looming, Miyook must take a dangerous flight south across the 38th parallel now guarded by armed soldiers. Here, once again, she encounters Song-ho, an event that will change the course of her life.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Prairie Lotus

Ginger Park Why did I love this book?

While my parents were born in Korea, they emigrated to America in 1954 and fell in love with western shows Wagon Train, The Big Valley, and Bonanza. As a child, I would watch reruns with them and imagine myself riding on a wagon train or living on a prairie. Imagine that―a Korean girl in the Old West! While fourteen-year-old Hannah Edmunds in Prairie Lotus, is half white (father’s side) and half Chinese (mother’s side) she is Chinese in the eyes of her LaForge neighbors in the U.S. Dakota Territory where her father sets up shop―a dress shop―in town.

The year is 1880. Hannah is the only Asian child in her class as was I throughout my primary school years in the 1960s and 70s. On the first day of school, Hannah hides her face under a bonnet. I didn’t wear a bonnet but when boys made fun of me (with words I dare not repeat here!), I often kept my eyes down. So much of this story is relatable to my own life both past and present. Hannah is half-orphaned (Hannah lost her mother) and so was I (I lost my father when I was a teenager). Hannah and I both navigate two worlds in the hopes of finding a place to call our own. When Hannah isn’t doing schoolwork, she works in her father’s dress shop, and when I’m not writing, I work at my chocolate shop. 

By Linda Sue Park,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Prairie Lotus 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?

Prairie Lotus is a powerful, touching, multilayered novel about a girl determined to fit in and realize her dreams: getting an education, becoming a dressmaker in her father’s shop, and making at least one friend.

Acclaimed, award-winning author Linda Sue Park has placed a young half-Asian girl, Hanna, in a small town in America’s heartland, in 1880. Hanna’s adjustment to her new surroundings, which primarily means negotiating the townspeople’s almost unanimous prejudice against Asians, is at the heart of the story.

Narrated by Hanna, the novel has poignant moments yet sparkles with humor, introducing a captivating heroine whose wry, observant…

Book cover of Weedflower

Ginger Park Why did I love this book?

This book, while it takes place in America, made me think of my mother who grew up in Japanese occupied Korea―she was forced to give up her Korean birth name for a Japanese name; forced to go to Japanese school and bow to large portraits of Emperor Hirohito; forced into the war effort at age twelve only to lose a finger while sewing buttons onto Japanese Imperial uniforms; Meanwhile, in America, a similar and heart-wrenching story unfolds in Weedflower, a story of innocent Japanese Americans going about their lives when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, Japanese Americans are no longer considered American―they are the enemy.

Twelve-year-old Sumiko has always struggled to fit in, but when the war breaks out, struggles turn to fear for her and her family, so much so, they have no other choice but to burn all precious possessions from Japan including photos of family members to prove their alliance to America; forced to erase all history of motherland Japan. And yet, after all of that, they’re still sent to a dreaded internment camp. This is a breathtaking, tear-jerking portrait of one of the thousands of Japanese American families who suffered and sacrificed everything during World War II. Sumiko, Japanese. My mother, Korean. Two girls who were victims of world powers.  

By Cynthia Kadohata,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Weedflower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Twelve-year-old Sumiko feels her life has been made up of two parts: before Pearl Harbor and after it. The good part and the bad part. Raised on a flower farm in California, Sumiko is used to being the only Japanese girl in her class. Even when the other kids tease her, she always has had her flowers and family to go home to.

That all changes after the horrific events of Pearl Harbor. Other Americans start to suspect that all Japanese people are spies for the emperor, even if, like Sumiko, they were born in the United States! As suspicions…

Book cover of Stella by Starlight

Ginger Park Why did I love this book?

“Nine robed figures dressed all in white,” begins this haunting story of the Ku Klux Klan arriving in the small town of Bumblebee, North Carolina. The year is 1932 and the town is, of course, segregated. Black and White. A line in the soil―just like the neighborhood street of my childhood in Springfield, Virginia that divided my Korean family from the white family who fought and failed to keep us from moving into our home. The reader will step into eleven-year-old Stella Mills' shoes and feel all her fear and anger over the injustices of her world that highlights voting rights. But young Stella harnesses her anger through words (much the way I did as a child) by creating a fantasy newspaper column called Stella Star’s Sentinel. Why didn’t I think of that? I only had my blue diary with a gold clasp. In Stella’s ‘newspaper’ she expresses how she feels, which prompts her to do good for her community and herself. 

By Sharon M. Draper,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stella by Starlight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Sharon M. Draper presents "storytelling at its finest" (School Library Journal, starred review) in this New York Times bestselling Depression-era novel about a young girl who must learn to be brave in the face of violent prejudice when the Ku Klux Klan reappears in her segregated southern town.

Stella lives in the segregated South-in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can't. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years. But…

Book cover of The Night Diary

Ginger Park Why did I love this book?

This book mirrors my mother’s flight from her hometown of Sinuiju in northern Korea to the south prior to the outbreak of the Korean War. The year was 1947. On a night full of moon and fear, my mother climbed over treacherous mountains and crossed a dark river in her quest for freedom, evading armed communist soldiers along the way. In The Night Diary, it’s the same year, 1947, but a different country and a different girl, and yet a similar story of family courage, of seeking refuge from violence. Young Nisha writes in her diary addressing each entry to her late mother, detailing in emotional and riveting fashion her family’s harrowing journey as the country’s partition (similar to Korea’s) eventually divides the land into two countries―India and Pakistan. A wonderful book―readers will be transported to another time and place.

By Veera Hiranandani,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Night Diary 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?

It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha…

Book cover of Number the Stars

Ginger Park Why did I love this book?

Number the Stars is one of my all-time favorite books―a book that inspired me to take my family stories to the next level to publication. My father grew up an impoverished boy on the outskirts of Seoul, Korea during the Japanese occupation of the country. He witnessed the brutal beating of his young minister father at the hands of Japanese police who were threatened by the men of the cloth who were few and far between in 1930s Korea.

Similarly, in Number the Stars, protagonist Annemarie Johansen lives in Copenhagen, Denmark under Nazi occupation where an underground uprising against the Nazis called the Resistance helps Jewish people escape safely out of the country to Sweden before they’re sent to the concentration camps. Annemarie’s family, though not Jewish, risk their own lives by pretending the daughter of Jewish friends’ is their own. A powerful read with riveting events that made me ruminate about the Japanese farmer who hid my father deep in the mountains during World War II, protecting him from recruitment into the Japanese Army.  

By Lois Lowry,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Number the Stars 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?

A powerful story set in Nazi occupied Denmark in 1943. Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen is called upon for a selfless act of bravery to help save her best-friend, Ellen - a Jew.

It is 1943 and for ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen life is still fun - school, family, sharing fairy stories with her little sister. But there are dangers and worries too - the Nazis have occupied Copenhagen and there are food shortages, curfews and the constant threat of being stopped by soldiers. And for Annemarie the dangers become even greater... her best-friend Ellen is a Jew. When Ellen's parents are taken…

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Tyrone the Tenor Mouse: The Singing Mouse of the Opera House

By Elizabeth B. Splaine,

Book cover of Tyrone the Tenor Mouse: The Singing Mouse of the Opera House

Elizabeth B. Splaine Author Of Devil's Grace

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Before becoming an opera singer, I received my Masters in Healthcare Administration and worked in various healthcare settings, from a community health center to a large teaching hospital. I learned first-hand how the best-intentioned clinicians can make mistakes, and how those mistakes can lead to unintended consequences that can harm patients. Although it’s terrifying to think about, the best defense is to self-advocate as much as possible. It’s your body and your decision. Don’t give away your power.

Elizabeth's book list on medical thriller/mystery with a spiritual twist

What is my book about?

Tyrone the mouse rehearses night and day to improve his singing voice, hoping he’ll earn the spotlight in the opera house where he lives surrounded by animal friends.

Ty secretly practices by hiding in the wings, singing along with the famous tenor, Roland L’Amour. When Roland becomes ill on opening night, Ty sees an opportunity to fulfill his dream. With the royal family in attendance, Ty nervously asks the opera house manager if he might play the lead role.

Although he’s nervous, with the support of his friends Stella, the precocious Persian cat, and Oscar, the mangy mutt, he finds the courage to take the stage and discovers that hard work and friendship can make any dream come true!

Tyrone the Tenor Mouse: The Singing Mouse of the Opera House

By Elizabeth B. Splaine,

What is this book about?

Tyrone the Tenor Mouse has a secret wish--to perform in the opera house where he lives with his animal friends, Stella the precocious Persian cat and Oscar the mangy mutt.

Ty learns the music by secretly singing along with a famous tenor named Roland L’Amour. When Roland becomes ill on opening night, Ty sees an opportunity to make his dream come true. With the royal family in attendance, Ty nervously asks if he can play the lead role.

With the support of his friends, he finds the courage to take the stage and discovers that hard work and friendship can…

  • Coming soon!

5 book lists we think you will like!

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