How do you use historical fiction?

If you’re in a self-contained classroom, using historical fiction is a natural connection with your social studies content.  It is an awesome way to build background knowledge and help students make strong connections.

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But what about me? I don’t teach social studies.  I do know what our social studies teacher is teaching, and I try to share historical fiction titles that connect with the time period they are studying.

I also use historical fiction as read a louds, mentor texts, and literature circle texts.  Middle school students often dismiss historical fiction because they think it’s boring.  By choosing it as a read aloud, even though I may not even read more that a small sample from the book, I am tempting my students with a new genre.

So here are the top five historical fiction titles I’ve used to tempt my middle school students:

1.  Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

These five historical fiction books are perfect for middle school students.

This book takes place during the American Revolution; the story tells the story of thirteen-year-old Isabel and her younger sister who, at the opening of the novel, expect to be freed from slavery as their owner promised would happen when she died.  That doesn’t happen, and they sold to a Loyalist family.

The book addresses the historical events of the time making it a perfect book selection for students studying the Revolutionary War time period.

In typical Laurie Halse Anderson fashion, this book is including moving, vivid characters that your heart aches for.  This is the first book in a three-part series.

2.  Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

These five historical fiction books are perfect for middle school students.

The truth is, I stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish reading this book!  I loved it and could hardly breathe until I knew how it was going to end!

Set in Philadelphia during the famous yellow fever epidemic, fourteen-year-old Mattie is responsible for keeping her family safe during a time when people were literally falling down dead from yellow fever.

This book is a fast-paced read with a protagonist teens and tweens can relate to.  The history is so riveting behind this book!  Students regularly ask, “Is this based on a true story?”

3.  Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry  by Mildred D. Taylor

These five historical fiction books are perfect for middle school students.

This book address life for a poor African American family in the rural America in 1933.

This story is so compelling.  The reader feels bitterness over mistreatment of the characters who are trying to stand up for their rights against overwhelming bigotry.   We cheer for the small victories and fear for what is going to happen to Mama who stands up for what she believes in.

Not only is the plot engaging, but the writing is beautiful with vivid descriptions and interesting characters.  This is perfect for a mentor text for writing or reading lessons.

4.  Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac

These five historical fiction books are perfect for middle school students.

During World War II, Navajo Marines used their native language to send messages back and forth on the battlefield.  Their code couldn’t be broken by the enemy troops, and the success of the Marines at Iwo Jima is attributed to the code talkers.

This story goes much deeper, though, than the story of the code talkers.  It touches on the grave mistreatment of Native Americans and a drive to destroy their culture.

One year I had a group of 8th grade boys who loved reading about World War II; this book was one of their favorites.

5.  Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

These five historical fiction books are perfect for middle school students.

I absolutely love Jerry Spinelli.  He’s a brilliant writer, and this book is one of his best.  Of course, the subject matter is difficult since it’s about the Holocaust.  The story, which takes place in Warsaw, Poland is about an orphan boy who is befriended by Uri and his group of thieves.   The boy witnesses the Nazi invasion of Poland and life in the ghetto.

This well-written book is a good choice for middle school readers who are interested in learning more about the Holocaust.  Like so many other books about this time period, it is emotional and gripping.

More ideas for getting your students to read historical fiction…

  1.  Work with your social studies teacher.  Plan ahead, so you have books available.
  2. Get a wide variety of books on the same topic.  Your librarian will be a wonderful help.
  3. Don’t forget the power of a book display!  Valuable real estate on the top of a bookshelf can be used to make those titles enticing!
    Great ways to get your students to read historical fiction!
  4. Encourage your students to earn book badges.  Use the 22 U.S. History Reading Badges that are on my Teachers Pay Teachers Store to get your students to dig into a variety of historical events.
  5. Get your students talking about what they’re reading!  Hang a “Read It” board on the wall and allow students to write the title of the book they’ve read and how they liked it.  This is a resource that will grow as the year progresses!
  6. Implement book talks!  Another super fun and easy way to build a buzz around books.  If you need help getting started, check out the guide on my store.  Super easy to use!
  7. You can find a complete set of mini lessons for your literature circles here:

No matter what, be sure to introduce your students to historical fiction!

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