Skip to main content

Historical Fiction: Before the 20th Century

History class making you think the past is dusty and dull? Make history come alive with a little help from the historical fiction reading lists!

In Historical Fiction: Before the 20th Century, explore the Medieval age, Salem Witch Trials, moving to the Western Frontier and the Civil War, plus much more!

To see historical fiction books from the 20th century and onward, click here.

Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

Colonial settler John Wakely is only 10 when his father dies, but he has already experienced the warmth and friendship of the nearby tribes. When he is apprenticed to a barrel-maker, John sees how quickly the relationships between settlers and natives are deteriorating. His friendship with Little Hawk will put both boys in grave danger.

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

In the town of Placid, Wisconsin, in 1871, Georgie Burkhardt is known for two things: her uncanny aim with a rifle and her habit of speaking her mind plainly. But when Georgie blurts out something she shouldn't, her sister is forced to flee and presumed dead. Refusing to believe the facts that are laid down before her, Georgie sets out on a journey to find her sister and bring her home.

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson

Eel has troubles of his own: As an orphan and a "mudlark," he spends his days in the filthy River Thames, searching for bits of things to sell. But even for Eel, things aren't so bad until that fateful August day in 1854 --- the day the Great Trouble begins. Mr. Griggs, the tailor, is the first to get sick, and soon it's clear that the deadly cholera --- the "blue death" --- has come to Broad Street.

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost

It’s 1812, and Anikwa and James spend their days exploring together in the forests of the Indiana Territory. Anikwa is a member of the Miami tribe, and James’ family members are traders who have ties to the Miami community as well as to the American soldiers in the fort. Now tensions are rising as the British and American armies prepare for battle and Native Americans from surrounding tribes protect their homeland. James and Anikwa must decide where their deepest loyalties lie.

Brotherhood by Anne Westrick

The year is 1867, the South has been defeated, and the American Civil War is over. But the conflict goes on. By day, 14-year-old Shadrach apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave. By night he follows his older brother Jeremiah to the meetings of a group whose stated mission is to protect Confederate widows like their mother. 

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

The Donner Party expedition is one of the most notorious stories in all of American history. It’s also a fascinating snapshot of the westward expansion of the United States, and the families and individuals who sacrificed so much to build new lives in a largely unknown landscape. The graphic novel focuses on the struggles of the Reed family to tell the true story of the catastrophic journey.

The Cup and the Crown by Diane Stanley

Master storyteller Diane Stanley returns to the intriguing world of The Silver Bowl to tell Molly's latest exciting adventure. The Cup and the Crown will be enjoyed by fans of Molly and by readers who are meeting this spirited heroine for the first time.

Changes for Addy by Connie Porter

Addy has begun to give up hope of ever having her family together. Then she gets word that baby Esther, Auntie Lula, and Uncle Solomon are on their way to Philadelphia. Addy searches the city for them, but the reunion she dreamed of is mixed with joy and deep sorrow. As Addy prepares for her reading at the Emancipation Celebration, she begins to doubt the words about freedom she is supposed to read. Momma reminds Addy that their family will always be together as long as their love and courage live in her heart.

Color Me Dark: The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, the Great Migration North by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack

Twelve-year-old Nellie Lee's family moves north to Chicago in search of a better life. Like many other African Americans, they hope to escape the racism of the rural south and take advantage of the opportunities in the city. Instead, they find themselves faced with a more sinister form of prejudice -- hatred within there own race.

Happy Birthday, Addy! by Connie Porter

Addy and her parents have moved to a boarding house. There Addy meets an inspiring friend, M'dear. Like many people who grew up enslaved, Addy doesn't know when she was born, so M'dear urges Addy to claim a day for her birthday. Then M'dear falls ill. When Addy goes out to get medicine, she faces prejudice--and danger. M'dear helps Addy overcome her anger and gives her a deeper understanding of freedom. When Addy finally claims a birthday, it is a special day indeed, and the whole city celebrates.

Chickadee by Louise Erdrich

Twin brothers Chickadee and Makoons have spent every day side by side and have done everything together since they were born --- until the day the unthinkable happens and the brothers are separated. Desperate to reunite, Chickadee and his family must travel across new territories, forge unlikely friendships, and experience both unexpected moments of unbearable heartache as well as pure happiness.

Season of Promise: Elizabeth's Jamestown Colony Diary, Book Three by Patricia Hermes

Elizabeth, who is finally reunited with her twin brother Caleb, continues to grieve for the death of her mother in this third and final volume of her diary. And things don't get much easier when the cruel Lord Delaware begins to impose strict new laws on the residents of the Jamestown colony, and her father decides to remarry. But Elizabeth's brave spirit carries her through the hard times and into happier ones, as she and her friends rebuild the colony's church and discover true happiness.

I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials, Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1691 by Lisa Rowe Fraustino

Deliverance Trembley lives in Salem Village, where she must take care of her sickly sister, Mem, and where she does her daily chores in fear of her cruel uncle's angry temper. But when four young girls from the village accuse some of the local women of being witches, Deliverance finds herself caught up in the ensuing drama of the trials. And life in Salem is never the same.

Cannons at Dawn: The Second Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart: Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1779 by Kristiana Gregory

Abigail Jane Stewart returns in this brand-new sequel to THE WINTER OF RED SNOW. The Revolutionary War toils on, but the Stewart family can no longer avoid getting involved. Abby's father joins the Continental Army, while Abby, her mother, and her siblings become camp followers. They face daily hardships alongside the troops and continue to spend time helping the Washingtons. Filled with romance and adventure, Abby's frontline view of the war captures the heartache and bravery of the soldiers, as well as the steep cost of freedom.

Felicity's Surprise by Valerie Tripp

Felicity is invited to a dancing lesson at the Governor's Palace, the most wonderful honor she can imagine. Mother promises to make a beautiful new gown for her. As the splendid event draws near, Mother becomes dreadfully ill. Felicity spends all her days caring for her, sadly accepting that there will be no new gown and no chance to go to the Palace. No chance, that is, until a glorious surprise reminds her that Christmastide is a time when hopes and dreams do come true.

Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, a French Slave Girl, New York Colony 1763 by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack

Lozette, or Zettie, is an orphaned slave girl who arrives with her French masters in New York Colony at the end of the French-Indian War. There, she must reconsider her loyalties when she is confronted with new landscapes, new conditions and new conflicts.

We Are Patriots: Hope's Revolutionary War Diary, Book Two by Kristiana Gregory

In this wonderful second book featuring Hope Penny Potter, the Revolutionary War wages on and Hope's daily life is much affected. The war has even kept her from her dear friend, Polly, whose parents are loyal to the King. But when Hope's much missed brother and father return, relief sets in, if only for a short while. For the plot thickens when Hope finds out that her father was with the Sons of Liberty and they will be in danger if anyone finds out.

When Freedom Comes: Hope's Revolutionary War Diary, Book 3 by Kristiana Gregory

In Hope's third and final diary, by Kristiana Gregory, we meet Hope once again in the middle of the Revolutionary War, as she continues to bravely face the turmoil and violence. Hope describes the realities of life in Pennsylvania as she is caught up in the midst of the Revolutionary War. Though the emerging nation's future is still uncertain, Hope remains optimistic and brave.

A Fine Start: Meg's Prairie Diary, Book 3 by Kate McMullan

In her third and final diary, by Kate McMullan, Meg continues to face the hardships of life on the prairie with her brave and sweet spirit. Meg continues to describe the daily realities on the prairie as she and her family make their lives in Kansas. Throughout these times of difficulty and joy, Meg is always courageous and thoughtful.

A Perfect Place: Joshua's Oregon Trail Diary, Book Two, 1848 by Patricia Hermes

It is the fall of 1848, and Joshua and his family have finally arrived in Oregon. Excited about their new home, they choose a place to build and raise a farm. Though life out West is trying, and they must cope with losses and setbacks, they also experience great success and joy.

As Far As I Can See: Meg's Prairie Diary, Book 1 by Kate McMullan

Margaret Cora Wells is a resilient young girl living in St. Louis where cholera has become an epidemic. When her mother and sister get sick, Meg wants only to tend to them. But, in an effort to protect his children, her father sends Meg and her brother, Preston, to their relatives on the Kansas prairie for the summer. After an adventurous journey, Meg and Preston arrive in Kansas where they learn about life in another part of the country, and even more about the politics of the time. Meg is sweet and strong with a deep moral sense and a real sense of humor.

Changes for Josefina by Valerie Tripp

Josefina's family holds a party to celebrate the end of the Christmas season. Josefina and her sisters handle all the preparations, and the party is a great success. But the girls' pleasure turns to shock the next morning when T'a Dolores announces she's leaving the rancho. Josefina and her sisters are sure T'a Dolores belongs with them and Papá, but their efforts to convince her only make matters worse. There's one person who could persuade T'a Dolores to stay--but how can Josefina get him to help?

Changes for Kirsten by Janet Shaw

Kirsten wonders if the cold Minnesota winter will ever end. It's crowded in the tiny log cabin, and Kirsten looks forward to the days she's allowed outside to help her brother Lars with his trap line. One day she brings home a baby raccoon she's found in the woods, and trouble begins. The raccoon gets loose and starts a fire that destroys the Larsons' home and everything in it. The future seems bleak, until Kirsten and Lars go back into the woods and make a frightening but important discovery.

Emily and Jackson Hiding Out by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

After escaping Child-Catching Services, Emily Wiggins and her orphan friend Jackson are now living with her loving aunt Hilda. But someone's snooping around for an orphan child on the run, and they know that Jackson is hiding nearby. Even worse, some sort of creature is coming to their gate when Jackson and Emily are home alone. What could happen next?

For This Land: Meg's Prairie Diary, Book 2 by Kate McMullan

In Kate McMullan's second book of Meg's Prairie Diary, Meg's family is reunited on the prairie. Their new life is soon jeopardized by not only the struggle against slavery and those who would have Kansas be a slave state, but also a devastating fire that threatens to destroy their home. But Meg's strong spirit helps her overcome the hardships of life on the prairie.

 

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle's homesteading claim.
For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie's been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle's homestead claim near Vida, Montana. Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a "Loyal" American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie's determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.

Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild, California Territory 1849 by Kristiana Gregory

Susanna Fairchild and her family are on board a ship sailing from New York to the West, where they plan to start a new life in Oregon. But tragedy strikes when Susanna¹s mother is lost to the sea. Hearing stories of great wealth, Susanna¹s physician father decides he wants to join the hordes of men rushing to California to mine for gold.

The Journal of Jedediah Barstow: An Emigrant On The Oregon Trail by Ellen Levine

Having lost his parents and younger sister when they tried to ford a river along the Oregon Trail, Jedediah Barstow decides to make his way to the Oregon Territory on his own. He is "adopted" by the Henshaw family, who allow him to travel in their wagon in exchange for his help with the daily maintenance work along the way. Jedediah's adventures, along with the friends he makes and lessons he learns, make for an unforgettable story of a brave young boy who sets off to discover a wild, new world.

The Wild Year: Joshua's Oregon Trail Diary, Book 3 by Patricia Hermes

Joshua continues to chronicle the pioneering life as he and his family continue to grow and thrive out West, in Oregon. Throughout these times of hardship and happiness, Joshua is always courageous and thoughtful.

Valley of the Moon: the Diary of MarĂ­a Rosalia de Milagros by Sherry Garland

María Rosalia is a Mestizo servant in a Spanish home. Orphaned years ago, she and her brother Domingo work on a ranch run by the stern Señor Medina. María¹s writing captures the intense tradition and culture of the Spanish as she observes the war that Alta California ultimately loses to the Americans.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

As the Revolutionary War begins, 13-year-old Isabel wages her own fight...for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.

Flying Free: Corey's Underground Railroad Diary, Book Two by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

In Sharon Dennis Wyeth's sequel to My America: Freedom's Wings, Corey and his family have escaped from slavery and the South and are now living in Canada. They own their own land, have made new friends, and Corey gets ready to go to school. But danger still remains across the river in Ohio, where slavecatchers lurk, waiting to capture escaped slaves to bring them back to their former masters. Corey, however, outsmarts them, and brings his friend Mingo to safety in Canada.

Message In The Sky: Corey's Underground Railroad Diary, Book 3 by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

In "Message in the Sky", Corey begins attending school, and his family, along with his friend, Mingo, are living well in Canada, where they've built their own farm. But, the Birdsongs cannot let go of the memories of their friends left behind in America. Corey and Mingo hatch a plan to help Aunt Queen, Mingo's adopted mother, escape, but Corey's parents forbid it, and start saving money to buy her freedom, instead. However, when Corey accidentally ends up on the American side of the Ohio River, he finds himself a conductor on the Underground Railroad!

A Time To Dance: Virginia's Civil War Diary, Book 3 by Mary Pope Osborne

In her third and final diary, by Mary Pope Osborne, Ginny continues to face rapidly changing times in the aftermath of the Civil War. Virginia Dickens continues to chronicle the aftermath of the Civil War, as she and her family move their lives from Washington, D.C. to New York City. Throughout the times of difficulty and joy, Ginny is always courageous and sweet.

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas: The Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman

Though they were from very different social groups, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas shared many of the same ideas.  Lincoln, the President of the United States, and Douglas, the most influential African American of his time, met together to discuss their personal ideas and beliefs on the country, which helped end the Civil War, reunite the nation, and abolish slavery by doing so.

Civil War Drummer Boy by Verla Kay

When Johnny joins the Confederate Army as a drummer boy, he enters a world full of patriotism and adventure, breathtaking hot-air balloons, cannons and campfires --- where his job is to drum rhythms that tell soldiers what to do. But the dangers of war are all around him and when he returns to the magnolia trees and cotton blossoms of his home, Johnny and the country are forever changed.

The Journal Of Rufus Rowe, Witness To The Battle Of Fredricksburg by Sid Hite

Sixteen-year-old Rufus Rowe runs away from home to escape his cruel stepfather. He finds work and shelter in Fredericksburg, Virginia, just as the Rebel troops begin to amass in preparation for a confrontation with the Union Army. At a time when no Southerner believes the South can be beaten, Rufus sensitively observes and records the gripping battle that takes place there.

The Journal Of Brian Doyle: Greenhorn on an Alaskan Whaling ShipThe, Florence, 1874 by Jim Murphy

Jim Murphy once again writes an exciting story of a young boy on the cusp of a great, and sometimes violent, world. Jonathan Dodge has run away from his father's house, fleeing his father's wrathful punishments. He signs on as a "greenhorn," a sailor on an Alaskan whaling ship. On the high seas Jonathan finds more adventure and danger than one boy could have hoped for.

Two Crafty Criminals!: And How They Were Captured by the Daring Detectives of the New Cut Gang by Philip Pullman

Benny Kaminsky and Thunderbolt Dobney lead a rag-tag gang of neighborhood rowdies on London's South Bank --- a place bristling with swindlers, bookies, pickpockets, and the occasional policeman --- with an aim to solve crimes. When counterfeit coins start showing up in their neighborhood, Thunderbolt fears his own father may be behind the crime, and his friends must devise a way to trap the real culprit.

More books like the ones on this list »