My tweenage historical bookshelf

On a recent visit to my mother’s house, I took a quick look through my childhood bookshelf. As a person who works with “material culture” on a daily basis, I found myself asking, “What do my belongings say about me?” And since my bookshelf was a time capsule of my middle school self, I can see a pretty entertaining version of myself from way-back-when.

RoundbookshelfFlickr photo by Let Ideas Compete.

In late elementary and middle school, I was a total book nerd. And I loved history.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve grown up to work at the National Museum of American History, focusing on the online OurStory program. I love finding great historical fiction picture books and making compelling history activities for young children and their families.

While OurStory is intended for children in grades kindergarten through four, I’ve put together some of my favorite series and authors for slightly older children (roughly grades five through eight) plucked from my own middle school bookshelf.

  • Ann Rinaldi- I loved that Ann Rinaldi told stories about women in American history. Some of my favorites were A Break with Charity and Finishing Becca.
  • Laurence Yep- Laurence Yep’s Golden Mountain Chronicles meant a lot to me as I tried to make sense of my Chinese-American background, but the great storytelling crosses cultures. Just take a look at the Newberry Honors.
  • The American Girl Collection- Back when I was a kid, there were only five “American girls.” Now the books show more of the America’s diversity and have expanded beyond the original stories by Valerie Tripp and Susan Adler. 
  • Also check out the Welcome to (Felicity/Samantha/etc)’s World books, I love them because they use historical objects to illustrate daily life in specific eras in time.

You can also take a look in the OurStory bibliography, which includes books that are appropriate for history fans ages Pre-K through adult.

What historical fiction books did you love as a middle schooler? Who was your favorite American Girl? What historical fiction books does your 5th-to-8th-grader love? Better yet, if you’re a middle schooler reading this: Write in with a few suggestions of historical fiction that’s popular today. Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Jenny Wei is an education specialist at the National Museum of American History.