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Historical fiction for teenagers
Historical fiction is a wonderful genre and there is a huge and varied selection of books available for the teenage reader. Instead of just learning facts and dates by rote, children can enjoy reading historical fiction tales that come alive with detail in their imaginations. They get to experience much more of the past by seeing through the eyes of interesting characters, bringing them closer to action and helping them to imagine what it actually felt like to live in a bygone era. The following is a small selection of books that can be used to teach historical facts through the enjoyment of literature and stories.
Ancient Rome - I, Claudius by Robert Graves
This is a fascinating read about ancient Rome during the reigns of Emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and then Claudius, told through the eyes of Claudius himself. There is also a 1970s TV series based on the novel. I, Claudius is widely thought to be historically accurate and it has garnered many five star reviews on amazon. This book is not recommended for younger readers due to some of the content but older teenagers could benefit a great deal from studying this work to enrich any ancient history course.
Ancient Greece - The King Must Die by Mary Renault
This is arguably one of Mary Renault's best works. It features the early adventures of Theseus, the hero of Greek mythology. This story is action-packed and exciting and will keep teenagers enthralled from start to finish whilst teaching them about Greek mythology at the same time.
Middle Ages - Leonardo's Shadow or My Astonishing Life as Leonardo da Vinci's Servant by Christopher Peter Grey
This is a book set during the height of the Renaissance in Milan around the time da Vinci is painting the famous Last Supper. Grey skilfully intertwines fact with fiction so that the reader remains interested right until the end of the book.
Middle Ages - Mary Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer
This book centres around the life of Mary Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII. The story follows Mary as she experiences many trials and tribulations in the opposite of a rags-to-riches story with vivid descriptions of the society of the times. Meyer has certainly done her research and this accurate book will fascinate readers whilst teaching them about Tudor England.
Salem Witch Trials - The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller's play is a compelling but short read which gives teens an insight into the tragic events of the Salem witch hunts in Massachusetts in the 17th century. Miller's work is both historically accurate and thought provoking. He draws many parallels between the witch hunts and McCarthyism and the search for communists in America in the 1950s. Not only can this play therefore be used to support the study of 17th century America but it can also be used as the basis for the study of modern politics.
Civil War - The River Between Us by Richard Peck
This is a tale set in the early days of the American Civil War in Illinois and tells the story of the Pruitt family who have decided to take in two strangers who have fled New Orleans. The mystery behind the strangers' lives and their reasons for fleeing their home town will keep readers interested right until the very end of the book.
World War II - The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
Whilst the Diary of Anne Frank is a very moving and relevant book for students of World War II, The Devil's Arithmetic is a slightly lesser known book which is just as useful for teaching teens about this era. It is about a Jewish girl who is tired of her family's stories of the past until something amazing happens to her and changes her opinion forever. She is forced to travel backwards in time to a Nazi concentration camp in Poland in 1942 where she learns about the holocaust and also about the importance of having knowledge of the past.
World War II - Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
Milkweed is a story told through the eyes of a young Polish boy, Misha, who lives in Warsaw at the time of the holocaust. He finds himself alone and is adopted by a group of Jewish orphans. The story follows Misha as he tries to avoid detection and, ultimately, survive a situation which he himself does not completely understand.
There are, of course, many other novels which can be used to teach young people about history. Some well-known examples include: Of Mice and Men, Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Diary of Anne Frank and To Kill a Mockingbird. There are also many lesser known works of fiction which can be used to enhance the study of history. For a full list of books please check out www.historicalnovels.info and look for the YA section. Students of all ages can gain much from reading historical fiction; they can enhance their knowledge of the past whilst reading enjoyable and fascinating stories at the same time.