Tuesday, August 23, 2011

18 Favorite Historical Books

After almost an hour of AP Euro homework, it should be no surprise that I would choose to post a list of historical books that I'd recommend.  No historical fantasy - I have enough "favorites" of those to do a separate post.

1. The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane

What it's about: A youth named Henry encounters battle for the first time.  Read it for the realistic war scenes or for the slanted insights on how the ideals of courage and honor stand up in practice.

Time period: Civil War

2. Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes

What it's about: Johnny is a promising silversmith's apprentice, but when an accident cripples his hand, this avenue is closed to him.  Good thing his friend Rab has a job lined up for him - a job that will put him in the orbit of Revolutionaries.

Time period: American Revolution

3. The Slave Dancer, by Paula Fox

What it's about: Jessie Bollier, a boy with a fife, is kidnapped to work on a slave ship.  His experiences - from playing his fife to make the slaves exercise to even worse - are horrifying, heartbreaking, and powerfully written.

Time period: ~1840; the transatlantic slave trade

4. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo

What it's about: Jean Valjean is a peasant who was imprisoned for many years for theft and attempted escape.  For a time he makes a new life for himself, but an old nemesis from his past shows up - Inspector Javert.  And then the other 90% of the book happens.

Time period: 1815-1832; includes a student rebellion

5. Pagan Chronicles, by Catherine Jinks

What it's about: Pagan Kidrouk becomes the squire of Lord Roland de Bram in Jerusalem during the Third Crusade.  Seventh grade history should tell you how well that works out.  Their adventures continue in Europe.

Books in series: Pagan's Crusade, Pagan in Exile, Pagan's Vows, and Pagan's Scribe

Time period: Third Crusade and onward

6. Ben and Me, by Robert Lawson

What it's about: Amos the mouse narrates his life as Ben Franklin's advisor and friend.  For younger readers.

Time period: Ben Franklin's life

7. Call of the Wild, by Jack London

What it's about: A dog named Buck is kidnapped to be a sled dog in the Yukon.  He goes through a string of owners, some good and some awful.

Time period: Klondike Gold Rush; 19th century

8. Breath, by Donna Jo Napoli

What it's about: Fairy tale retelling without fantasy.  Salz is an ill but intelligent boy who is one of the few unafflicted by a mysterious plague of madness/rats.  Fortunately, this means he has a shot at finding the truth.  Unfortunately, the good people of Hameln think it's his fault.

Time period: Middle Ages Saxony

9. A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park

What it's about: Tree-ear, an orphan, becomes apprentice to a short-tempered master potter.  Obstacles aplenty follow.

Time period: 12th-century Korea

10. The Chosen, by Chaim Potok

What it's about: Somewhat Orthodox Jew Reuven Malter becomes friends with Super-Orthodox Jew Danny Saunders, who, as part of his rabbi training, is shunned by his father.  World events and their families' opposing views on the creation of Israel cause more tension.

Time period: WWII as seen from New York

11. Pirates!, by Celia Rees

What it's about: After Nancy Kingston's father dies, she is sent to live in Jamaica.  That, however, does not last long: she and a slave, Minerva, run off and become pirates.  Better than it sounds.

Time period: 1724; pirate age

12. Here Lies Arthur, by Philip Reeve

What it's about: A demythification of the tales of King Arthur.  Orphan Gwyna is taken in by the bard - and, supposedly, magician - Myrddin and witnesses firsthand how Arthur, the most thuggish of a band of thugs, can be turned into a legend through the power of storytelling.  Lots of action.  Not for the faint of heart.

Time period: 5th-6th century Britain; soon after Rome collapsed

13. The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare

What it's about: Daniel bar Jamin, a smith, joins a band of outlaws who want to drive the Romans out of Israel.  He meets Jesus.

Time period: circa 20 CE

14. Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare

What it's about: When Matt is left to guard his family's homestead, he expects only hostility from the native Americans.  Instead, they befriend him.

Time period: 1769; early settlers in Maine

15. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

What it's about: Huck Finn and a runaway slave, Jim, go down the Mississippi River on a raft and have adventures.

Time period: ~1840

16. Montmorency series, by Eleanor Updale

What it's about: After his release, a petty thief uses the sewers to steal stuff and thereby creates two new lives for himself: one as the gentleman Montmorency, and the other as Montmorency's servant Scarper.  Later books also involve anarchist plots.

Books in series: Montmorency, Montmorency on the Rocks, Montmorency and the Assassins, and Montmorency's Revenge

Time period: Victorian England

17. Shadow of a Bull, by Maia Wojciechowska

What it's about: To borrow from the last time I recommended this book, "Manolo’s father was a great bullfighter, and it seems everyone wants Manolo to take his place. Everyone, that is, except Manolo."

Time period: to be honest, I don't know

18. Briar Rose, by Jane Yolen


What it's about: Rebecca goes to Poland to find the truth of her Holocaust-survivor grandmother's stories about Briar Rose.  Poignant and haunting.

Time period: Rebecca's part is modern, but it's about WWII

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What are your favorite historical books?  And (ooh, look how sneaky I am, gathering data for another post) about which civilizations do they tend to be?

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