The best children’s books to bring history to life

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by history, and when I dreamed of being an author, imagined I’d write historical fiction. However, it took many writing detours to arrive there. (Nim’s Island, by the way, has no basis in historical fact!). When I first imagined the story that led to the Minoan Wings trilogy, I fell in love with researching this era, which is particularly intriguing because there are virtually no written records. Visiting the ruins of a four-thousand-year-old town on Crete under the guidance of an archaeologist who had not only excavated there but had become passionately involved with my imaginary characters, was an absolute highlight of my life. 

I wrote...

Cuckoo's Flight

By Wendy Orr,

Book cover of Cuckoo's Flight

What is my book about?

If Clio had stayed to load the kiln as she should have, she’d never have seen the ship. But she saw it, and the world changed. Now the oracle is demanding the greatest sacrifice: a young maiden to serve the goddess – and Clio’s grandmother creates a sacred statue to save Clio’s life.

But Clio is torn between the demands of guarding the statue and caring for her beloved horses. Disabled in an accident, she must try to put aside her own grief at no longer being able to ride – and in the process, save a friend’s life and stop a war. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The King Must Die

Wendy Orr Why did I love this book?

I first read this when I was twelve, and it was a reading experience that has really stayed with me. I was totally drawn into the story of Theseus and the Bronze Age world  – I had read a lot of mythology but this was the first time that I had seen mythological characters come to life as real people. When I started writing about the Aegean Bronze Age myself, I realized what a huge debt I owed to Mary Renault for this mixing of archaeological evidence with ancient myths. In fact, for fear of being overly influenced, I was afraid to reread The King Must Die until after I’d finished writing my book, which in many ways was truly inspired by this work.

By Mary Renault,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The King Must Die as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Theseus is the grandson of the King of Troizen, but his paternity is shrouded in mystery - can he really be the son of the god Poseidon? When he discovers his father's sword beneath a rock, his mother must reveal his true identity: Theseus is the son of Aegeus, King of Athens, and is his only heir. So begins Theseus's perilous journey to his father's palace to claim his birth right, escaping bandits and ritual king sacrifice in Eleusis, to slaying the Minotaur in Crete. Renault reimagines the Theseus myth, creating an original, exciting story.

Book cover of The Eagle of the Ninth

Wendy Orr Why did I love this book?

This was the book that made me want to write historical fiction. I cared so desperately about the characters that I wanted to be there with them, wishing I could do something to help; they are still very clear in my mind. We were living near the USAF Academy at the time, and I convinced my mother to drive me out to their library where I pored over and made copious notes on Roman military history so that I could write my own story about the missing Ninth Legion. (I still have the notes!) 

By Rosemary Sutcliff,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Eagle of the Ninth 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?

The Everyman edition reprints the classic black and white illustrations of C. Walter Hodges which accompanied the first edition in 1954.

Around the year 117 AD, the Ninth Legion, stationed at Eburacum - modern day York - marched north to suppress a rebellion of the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again. During the 1860s, a wingless Roman Eagle was discovered during excavations at the village of Silchester in Hampshire, puzzling archaeologists and scholars alike. Rosemary Sutcliff weaves a compelling story from these two mysteries, dispatching her hero, the young Roman officer Marcus Aquila, on a perilous journey beyond…

Book cover of On the Banks of Plum Creek

Wendy Orr Why did I love this book?

I still smile when I think of all the Little House on the Prairie books, though this was my favorite. The dramas may be small, but they feel real, and the wealth of small, skillfully woven details brings the characters and their world to life so that we can still relate to them, no matter how different our present-day world may be. 

By Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Banks of Plum Creek 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?

Classic tales by Laura Ingalls Wilder about life on the frontier and America's best-loved pioneer family.

After all their travelling, from the Big Woods and the Prairie, the Ingalls family have found a place to settle Plum Creek. Now Mary and Laura can go to school as there's a town close by. But how will they settle in such a busy place after the wild lands in which they've grown up?

The timeless stories that inspired a TV series can now be read by a new generation of children. Readers who loved Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and Heidi…

Book cover of Town Is by the Sea

Wendy Orr Why did I love this book?

This is a picture book, but not for very young children. The quiet, almost understated text and art add to the power of the story: a small boy’s experience of coal mining in Nova Scotia in the 1950s. (Though it wasn’t written till 2017). Reading it as an adult, and despite having lived in Nova Scotia as a teenager, I was completely rocked and almost disorientated as I began to grasp the reality of it. I’m not sure which aspect I found more disturbing – imagining the men in the long dark tunnels under the sea, or the boy’s complete acceptance that he would follow this way of life in his turn.  

By Joanne Schwartz, Sydney Smith (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Town Is by the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

While a young boy enjoys a summer's day, his thoughts constantly return to his father, who is digging for coal deep under the sea.

"An atmospheric, haunting story" - The Bookseller

Stunning illustrations by Sydney Smith, the award-winning illustrator of Footpath Flowers, show the striking contrast between a sparkling seaside day and the darkness underground where the miners dig. This beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of mining history to life. The ever-present ocean and inevitable pattern of life in a mining town will enthral children and move adult readers, as a young boy wakes up to the…

Book cover of Pagan's Crusade

Wendy Orr Why did I love this book?

I fell in love with the irrepressible Pagan as soon as I read this book. It’s difficult to imagine that life with the Knights Templar at the time of the Crusades was highly amusing – but despite the wealth of knowledge and detail that informs this book, it is wry and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Who wouldn’t love Pagan’s favorite curse: "Christ in a cream cheese sauce’?" 

By Catherine Jinks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pagan's Crusade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Wham! So here I am, standing in a sea of dirt, with a big mad Templar lobbing rocks at my head. Wham! Like some kind of martyr. Wham! He throws like a catapult.'All right, Pagan, that's enough.' (I should damn well think so.) 'Do you see what your problem is?'Wait - don't tell me. You are.It's twelfth-century Jerusalem, the time of the Crusades. Shrewd and scrappy Pagan has been plucked from the streets to work for Lord Roland, a Templar knight. Set against a background of mounting tension as Saladin's infidels close in on the Holy City, Pagan's Crusade is…

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Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time

By PJ Davis,

Book cover of Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time

PJ Davis

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Featured in "Best Middle Grade Fantasy Books" - Reedsy Discovery

"Fun & Fast Paced, This is Middle Grade Fantasy at its Best!" — Shaun Stevenson

"If you know any middle-grade readers who enjoy science fiction/fantasy with a mix of action, danger, and humor - recommend this book to them, or just go ahead and give them a copy." — The Fairview Review

“With elements of adventure, exploration, other worlds, and fantastical science, Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time is an exciting middle-grade novel with plenty of suspense… Behind the adventure are important messages about believing in oneself and finding inner strength.” — The Children's Book Review

"The plot of Nemesis and The Vault of Lost Time is a tapestry of surprises characterized by its unforeseen twists and turns. It’s this element of suspense that grips the readers, while the vivid descriptions create immersive visual experiences. Beyond its adventurous core, this mystery novel delves into themes of friendship and the nuanced dynamics of father-son relationships, offering a multi-layered reading experience." — The Literary Titan

Nemesis and the Vault of Lost Time

By PJ Davis,

What is this book about?

Thirteen-year-old Max is a daydreamer. It gets him into trouble at school, but his restless curiosity really turns problematic when he runs into a mysterious professor at his uncle's bookstore.

The old man informs Max that time is being sucked out of the planet by invisible bandits, stolen from unsuspecting people one breath and one sneeze at a time, and is being stored in a central vault. Once full, the vault will fuel a hungry horde of invaders looking to cross into earth, and cross out all its people.

What's more, the professor claims he knew Max's missing scientist father.…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in knights, coal mining, and Minnesota?

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