Historical Fiction for Middle School Students; Five Great Books to Stir Imagination

Getting the attention of middle school students is hard. They are too young to handle some of the most popular books and too old for a great deal of literature as well. They are trapped between two phases of life and their reading interests and abilities reflect that. Here are some fantastic works of historical fiction that can capture their attention and keep them thinking long after they have finished the book.

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline Cooney is an adventure story with strong elements of mythology. Anaxndra was only six years old when she was taken from her home on an island in the Aegean Sea. She seeks help from her goddess Medusa as circumstances compel her to pose as different other people to survive. She eventually ends up as a servant traveling with Helen and Paris as they make their way to Troy and becomes part of mythology and history. This novel is exciting and compelling. It could leave your middle school student ready to explore mythology and the writings of Homer.
Shen and the Treasure Fleet by Ray Conlogue is a swashbuckling adventure tale that will appeal to the middle school age boys as well as the girls. This work of historical fiction is set in fifteenth century China as the throne changes hands. Shen is thirteen and must take care of himself and his younger sister Chang as they take refuge with a traveling circus. While the historical figure focused on in the book, Zheng He, is not well known the detail and feel for the time is fantastic. The story truly helps readers understand the turmoil of the era and how people there age lived. The story is fast pasted and exciting, so your middle school student can get lost in the book and want to learn more about the time.
The Fire of Ares by Michael Ford is another work of historical fiction that will appeal to the boys. This book is the start of the Spartan Quest series and can be read by a wide age range, from fourth graders through twelfth graders. Lysander is a twelve year old caught between the Spartan ruling class and rebelling slaves. He has a foot in both worlds all because of a chance encounter triggered by his only valuable possession, an amulet called the Fire of Ares. There are no supernatural elements in the series, but parallels can be drawn with Harry Potter and other coming of age stories that blend two worlds. There is a great deal of realism about the treatment of slaves and life in ancient times, so there is historical knowledge gleaned between exciting battle and chase scenes. 

The Bronze Bow
 by Elizabeth George Speare is a historical novel featuring characters from the bible. Daniel's father is brutally killed by Romans so he goes in search for someone to lead the Palestine people and drive the Romans out. He learns about himself, life and human nature and discovers that love
can be more powerful than weapons of hate. Jesus and his teachings are a major aspect of the book, but the challenges and issues of the era are also very vividly portrayed. While the theology of the book will not play with all audiences, the trials of young Daniel and the journey to overcome hatred in lieu of tolerance and love are well done and a great read for middle school students of both genders.
Nobody's Princess by Esther Friesner will most likely appeal more to girls. In this work of historical fiction, the reader travels with Spartan princess Helen as she disguises herself as a boy to learn to fight and has adventures to prove that she should be able to make decisions about her own life. On the surface, the novel is about a selfish, spoiled girl using her mind and status to get her own way, but larger issues of women's rights, slavery and individual destiny play their part as well. The era is well portrayed and the book is entertaining while leaving the reader looking for more. Thankfully, there is a sequel, Nobody's Prize, in which Helen manages to join the quest for the Golden Fleece on the Argo.
These are five fun and fantastic books to get your middle school student interested in historical fiction; however, it is far from a comprehensive list. There are a large number of historical fiction novels written for children, teens and those in between. If these books appeal to you and your young readers I also suggest books by Markus Zusak, Henry Aubin, Ross Collins, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Susan Fletcher, Julius Lester, Lois Lowry, Gill Harvey, and Christopher Paul Curtis. 
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