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Historical Fiction: American History

This reading list features books set during important American history, including the Revolutionary War, slavery, the Salem Witch Trials, the Wild West and the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and more!

These time periods may sound familiar from school lessons, but these books make American history come to life!

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky by Joe R. Lansdale

The Depression strikes a fatal blow to Jack’s life when his mother dies of sickness and his father commits suicide. Left with nothing, Jack, his classmate, Jane, and her brother, Tony, take their neighbor’s car and strike out for something, anything, better. But what they get is a dangerous and heart-pounding adventure that will change their lives forever.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

A tragedy forces Esperanza and her mother to flee their Mexican ranch for California during the Great Depression. They settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers, and Esperanza isn't ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances --- Mama's life and her own depend on it.

The Miner's Daughter by Gretchen Moran Laskas

Backbreaking work, threadbare clothes, and black coal dust choking the air -- this is what a miner's daughter knows. Willa Lowell fears that this dust marks her to be nothing else, that she will never win against the constant struggle to survive. Willa yearns for a better life -- enough food to eat, clothes that fit, and a home free of black grit. When a much brighter future is suddenly promised to her family, Willa knows it is a miracle . . . until she discovers that every promise has a price.

 

Your Eyes in Stars by M. E. Kerr

Two unlikely friends–Elisa, a German outsider, and Jessie, the daughter of the local prison warden–meet during the Depression. In Elisa's far–off homeland, a new dictator is spreading the stain of hate, but the two girls are absorbed in matters closer at hand. Together they explore their small town, dream of the future, and talk about Slater Carr, the angel–faced prisoner whose nightly bugle rendition of Taps holds their small town in thrall and whose actions, one Halloween night, will change everything.

Billy the Kid: A Novel by Theodore Taylor

William H. "Billy the Kid" Bonney Jr. loves to take risks. But Billy's luck runs out when, during a train heist, a passenger recognizes the nineteen-year-old outlaw. Fed up with his bad ways, Sheriff Willis Monroe, Billy's own cousin, decides to track him down. The Kid's two-timing partners are hunting him, too--and a posse wants Billy (and the sheriff) dead.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

At the center of Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning fifth novel is an almost unspeakable act of horror and heroism: a woman brutally kills her infant daughter rather than allow her to be enslaved. The woman is Sethe, and the novel --- part ghost story, part history lesson, part folk tale --- traces her journey from slavery to freedom during and immediately following the Civil War.

Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle

 

It is spring 1929, and Prohibition is in full swing. So when Ruben and Jeddy find a dead body washed up on the shore of their small town, they are sure it has something to do with smuggling liquor. Then Ruben meets the daring captain of the Black Duck, the most elusive smuggling craft of them all, and it isn’t long before he’s caught in a war between two of the most dangerous prohibition gangs.

Born Wicked: The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Book One by Jessica Spotswood

Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. But the truth is even worse: they're witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship --- or an early grave. 

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

From Manhattan speakeasies to downtown boarding houses, from the bridges of Brooklyn to estates on Long Island, BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS marks the beginning of a new series by The Luxe author Anna Godbersen, set in the last wild summer before the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Countdown by Deborah Wiles

It's 1962, and it seems everyone is living in fear. Twelve-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family in Washington, DC, during the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amidst the pervasive threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits in with her family, and look beyond outward appearances.

Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata

Told in part through the uncanny point of view of a German shepherd, Cracker! is an action-packed glimpse into the Vietnam War as seen through the eyes of a dog and her handler. It's an utterly unique powerhouse of a book by the Newbery Medal-winning author of Kira-Kira.

Dead Reckoning by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill

Jett is a girl disguised as a boy, living as a gambler in the old West as she searches for her long-lost brother. Honoria Gibbons is a smart, self-sufficient young woman who also happens to be a fabulous inventor. Both young women travel the prairie alone --- until they are brought together by a zombie invasion!

Devil on My Heels by Joyce McDonald

It’s 1959 in Benevolence, Florida, and life is as sweet as a Valencia orange for 15-year-old Dove Alderman. But there’s trouble brewing among the local migrant workers. Mysterious fires have broken out, and rumors are spreading that disgruntled pickers are to blame. Suddenly, black and white become a muddy shade of gray, and whispers of the KKK drift through the Southern air like sighs. The Klan could never exist in a place like Benevolence, Dove tells herself. Or could it?

Diva by Jillian Larkin

Parties, bad boys, speakeasies --- life in Manhattan has become a woozy blur for Clara Knowles. If Marcus Eastman truly loved her, how could he have fallen for another girl so quickly? Their romance mustn't have been as magical as Clara thought. And if she has to be unhappy, she's going to drag everyone else down to the depths of despair right along with her.

Guardian by Julius Lester

In a time and place without moral conscience, fourteen-year-old Ansel knows what is right and what is true. But it is dangerous to choose honesty, and so he chooses silence. Now an innocent man is dead, and Ansel feels the burden of his decision. He must also bear the pain of losing a friend, his family, and the love of a lifetime.

Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers

As an assistant at The Crisis, a magazine for the "new Negro," 16-year-old Mark Purvis rubs shoulders with Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. He's making money, but not enough. And when piano player Fats Waller entices him and his buddies to make some fast cash, Mark finds himself crossing the gangster Dutch Schultz.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

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. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends through letters and articles for her hometown paper.

Hazel by Julie Hearn

London, 1913. Hazel Louise Mull-Dare has a good life, if a bit dull. Her adoring father grants her every wish, she attends a prestigious school for young ladies, and she receives no pressure to excel in anything whatsoever. But when an American friend convinces Hazel to take a stand for women’s suffrage, her rebellious stunt lands her in more trouble than she ever could have dreamed: Hazel is banished to her grandparent’s sugar plantation in the Caribbean. There she is forced to confront the dark secrets of her family—secrets of slavery—and a shame that lingers on.

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

The story of America and African Americans is a story of hope and inspiration and unwavering courage. But it is also the story of injustice. Kadir Nelson presents an intimate introduction to the history of America and African Americans, from colonial days through the civil rights movement.

I Have a Dream Written by Martin Luther King, Jr., Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King gave one of the most powerful and memorable speeches in our nation's history. His words, paired with Caldecott Honor winner Kadir Nelson's magnificent paintings, make for a picture book to be treasured by children and adults alike.

Ingenue by Jillian Larkin

Clara was sure that once handsome, charming Marcus Eastman discovered her shameful secret, he'd drop her like a bad habit. Instead, he swept her off her feet and whisked her away to New York. Being with Marcus is a breath of fresh air—and a chance for Clara to leave her wild flapper ways firmly in the past. Except the dazzling parties and bright lights won't stop whispering her name...

Insight by Diana Greenwood

Along with the burdens of a difficult family, Elvira also bears a daunting secret --- she encouraged her father to enlist in WWII. Ever since he was declared missing in action, Elvira has felt responsible for his presumed death. But Jessie also carries a secret about the father she never met --- a secret so powerful that when her mother, Connie, learns of it, she sends the family on a journey to California with a traveling preacher. This powerful teen manuscript tells the story of a family's journey toward forgiveness and a young woman's journey toward faith.

Lunch-Box Dream by Tony Abbott

Lunch-Box Dream presents Jim Crow, racism, and segregation from multiple perspectives.  In this story of witnessing without understanding, a naïvely prejudiced boy, in brief flashes of insight, starts to identify and question his assumptions about race.

Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand

In 1978, Merle is in her first year of art school. In 1870, poet Arthur Rimbaud is on the verge of breaking through to the images and voice that will make his name. But the meshed power of words and art thins the boundaries between the present and the past and allows these two troubled, brilliant artists to enter each other's worlds.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY is the story of African American Cassie Logan and her family, fighting to stay together and strong in the face of brutal racist attacks, illness, poverty, and betrayal in the Deep South of the 1930s.

Rumors: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen

After bidding goodbye to New York's brightest star, Elizabeth Holland, rumors continue to fly about her untimely demise. As old friends become rivals, Manhattan's most dazzling socialites find their futures threatened by whispers from the past.

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she'll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including the maddeningly stubborn yet handsome Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.

Stormwitch by Susan Vaught

It is 1969, and Ruba has just moved to Mississippi from Haiti to live with her Grandmother Jones. It isn't long before Ruba finds herself threatened by the KKK and drawn into the fight for civil rights. But a hurricane barreling toward the coast changes everything, bringing Ruba and her family a measure of justice and a new acceptance.

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

She's fled from her family in Providence, Rhode Island, and she's broken off her tempestuous relationship with a boy named Billy, who's enlisted in the army. Nate Benedict is Billy's father. He's also a lawyer involved in the mob. He makes Kit a deal --- he'll give her an apartment and introduce her to a new crowd. All she has to do is keep him informed about Billy…and maybe do him a favor every now and then.

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin, author of ALICE I HAVE BEEN, shines a dazzling spotlight on another fascinating female figure whose story has never fully been told: a woman who became a 19th-century icon and inspiration --- and whose most daunting limitation became her greatest strength.

The Color of Fire by Ann Rinaldi

Someone is setting fires in New York City. It is 1741 and, as a colony of Britain, America is at war with Spain. The people in New York City are on a heightened state of alert, living in fear of Catholics acting as Spanish secret agents. Phoebe, an enslaved girl, watches as the town erupts into mass hysteria.   The mob won't rest until they find a mastermind behind the plan--someone Catholic--and there's suspicion that Phoebe's teacher Mr. Ury is a priest.

The Devil's Paintbox by Victoria McKernan

They say there are a hundred ways to die on the Oregon Trail, and the long wagon journey is broken only by catastrophe: wolf attacks, rattlesnakes, deadly river crossings, Indians, and the looming threat of smallpox, “the devil’s paint.” Through it all, orphans Aiden and Maddy and a hundred fellow travelers move forward with a growing hope, and the promise of a new life in the Washington Territory. But one question haunts them: who will survive the journey?

 

The Family Greene by Ann Rinaldi

Cornelia Greene’s mother, Caty, was once a beautiful bride who lifted the troops’ spirits at Valley Forge. Cornelia knows that rumors of Caty’s past hurt Cornelia’s father, but Caty claims she’s just a flirt. So Cornelia is shocked when she learns that Nathanael Greene may not be her real father.

The Far West by Patricia C. Wrede

As an unlucky 13th child who is also the seventh daughter in her family, life at the edge of the Great Barrier Spell is different from anyone else's that Eff knows. When the government forms an expedition to map the Far West, Eff has the opportunity to travel farther than anyone in the world. With Lan, her twin brother William, Professor Torgeson, Wash, and Professor Ochiba, Eff finds that nothing on the wild frontier is as they expected.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Written when Carson McCullers was 23, her novel's heroine is the strange young girl, Mick Kelly. The setting is a small Southern town. The characters are the damned, the voiceless, he rejected. Some fight their loneliness with violence and depravity, some with sex or drink, and some --- like Mick --- with a quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.

The History of the World According to Facebook by Wylie Overstreet

In August 2010, Wylie Overstreet published a satirical article called "If Historical Events Had Facebook Statuses" on the website CoolMaterial.com. Within a month, it had received 3 million views and had been "liked" by 120,000 Facebook users. In A WORLD HISTORY ACCORDING TO FACEBOOK, Overstreet expands this concept into a full-length history of the world, from its creation up through to the present day, as if Facebook had existed all along and Abraham Lincoln had written a status update about "taking the missus to the theater" on April 15, 1865 and Ben Franklin had done the same alerting his network that he'd signed the Declaration of Independence.

The Invisible World by Suzanne Weyn

Elsabeth James can hear people's thoughts and sometimes see what they see. When she sails with her sister, father and governess to America, however, she does not foresee that their ship will be wrecked in a storm. She washes up on a South Carolina plantation, where she falls in love with a boy she meets there and learns magic and healing from an unexpected source.

The Pox Party: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Vol. 1 by M. T. Anderson

Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother are the only persons in their household assigned names. Young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians' fanatical studies, but only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments --- and his own chilling role in them.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Set in South Carolina in 1964, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES is the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the town's fiercest racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina --- a town that holds the secret to her mother's past.

The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell

Heartbroken over the tragic death of her fiancé, 17-year-old Zora Stewart leaves Baltimore for the frontier town of West Glory, Oklahoma where she discovers that she possesses the astonishing ability to sense water under the parched earth. But when her aunt hires her out as a “springsweet” to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water.

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf

Using the most famous passengers of the Titanic, poet Allan Wolf offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse at the lives behind the tragedy, told with clear-eyed compassion and astounding emotional power.

Time's Memory by Julius Lester

Amma is the creator god, the master of life and death, and he is worried. His people have always known how to take care of the spirits of the dead – the nyama – so that they don’t become destructive forces among the living. But amid the chaos of the African slave trade and the brutality of American slavery, too many of his people are dying and their souls are being ignored in this new land. Amma sends a young man, Ekundayo, to a plantation in Virginia where he becomes a slave on the eve of the Civil War. How Ekundayo finds a way to bring peace to both the dead and the living makes this an unforgettable journey into the slave experience and Julius Lester’s most powerful work to date.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

One of the best-loved stories of all time, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is Harper Lee's classic novel of a lawyer in the Deep South defending a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

Tulsa Burning by Anna Myers

The day he buried his pa, Nobe Chase lost everything—his father, his home, and his dog, Rex. Worst of all, he had to move into town to live with Sheriff Leonard—dog killer, wife stealer, and secret law-breaker of all sorts. That day, Nobe found a new purpose for his life—revenge. Based on true events in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during May of 1921, Anna Myers has produced a powerful novel about a young man who must wrestle with his past and find the strength to pull free from the poisonous grip of hatred and abuse.

Vixen by Jillian Larkin

In this first installment of a new series set in the dangerous and exciting world of Chicago’s Prohibition-era speakeasies, an aspiring singer named Gloria embarks on a series of clandestine adventures, ultimately leading her into the arms of a black pianist. Meanwhile, Lorraine is hurt by her best friend’s secrecy and plans on ruining the reputation of Gloria’s country cousin, Clara. But nothing is as it appears: Clara hides a secret life of her own, and Lorraine is getting the attention she craves from all the wrong places.

Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy

A look at women's history from aboard a bicycle, which granted females the freedom of mobility and helped empower women's liberation.

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen

Samuel, 13, spends his days in the forest, hunting for food for his family. He has grown up on the frontier of a British colony, America. Far from any town, or news of the war against the King that American patriots have begun near Boston. But the war comes to them. And he learns that he must go deep into enemy territory to find his parents: all the way to the British headquarters, New York City.

Zora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

A fictionalization of the early years of a literary giant, this astonishing novel is the first project ever to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust that was not authored by Hurston herself.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

In an isolated cabin, 14-year-old Sig is alone with a corpse: his father, who has frozen to death only hours earlier. Then comes a stranger, who claims that Sig's father owes him a share from a horde of stolen gold. Sig's only protection is a loaded Colt revolver hidden in the cabin's storeroom. The question is, will Sig use the gun, and why?

Beautiful Days: A Bright Young Things Novel by Anna Godbersen

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Luxe comes the second book in an epic series set in the dizzying last summer of the Jazz Age.

Chasing Charity: Texas Fortunes Trilogy, Book 2 by Marcia Gruver

In this second book of the Texas Fortunes series, Charity Bloom is left stranded at the altar after her best friend takes off with her fiance. How will she ever show her face in town again? After Buddy Pierce discovers oil on the Bloom property, he realizes the real treasure may be above ground-in the form of Charity Bloom. Can he strike it rich in Charity? When her ex-fiance decides he wants her back, whom will Charity choose--the handsome roughneck or the deceitful rogue?

Envy: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen

Two months after Elizabeth Holland's dramatic homecoming, Manhattan eagerly awaits her return to the pinnacle of society. When Elizabeth refuses to rejoin her sister Diana's side, however, those watching New York's favorite family begin to suspect that all is not as it seems behind the stately doors of No. 17 Gramercy Park South. 

Splendor: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen

In the dramatic conclusion to the bestselling Luxe series, New York's most dazzling socialites chase dreams, cling to promises, and tempt fate. As society watches what will become of the city's oldest families and newest fortunes, one question remains: Will its stars fade away or will they shine ever brighter?

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

This is Manhattan, 1899. In a world of luxury and deception, where appearance matters above everything and breaking the social code means running the risk of being ostracized forever, five teenagers lead dangerously scandalous lives. This thrilling trip to the age of innocence is anything but innocent.

Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal

Filled with period art and photographs, anecdotes, and portraits of unique characters from the era, this book looks at the rise and fall of the disastrous social experiment known as Prohibition.

1776 by David McCullough

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough unfolds the dramatic story of those who marched with General George Washington in the year of the Declaration of Independence --- when the entire American cause was riding on their success.

Black and White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene "Bull" Connor by Larry Dane Brimner

In the 1950s and early 60s, Birmingham, Alabama became known as Bombingham. At the center of this violent time in the fight for civil rights, and standing at opposite ends, were Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene "Bull" Connor. Author Larry Dane Brimner first covers each man's life and then brings them together to show how their confrontation brought about significant change to the southern city. 

Columbine by Dave Cullen

On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma-City style, and to leave "a lasting impression on the world." In the tradition of HELTER SKELTER and IN COLD BLOOD, COLUMBINE is destined to be a classic. A close-up portrait of hatred, a community rendered helpless, and the police blunders and cover-ups, it is a compelling and utterly human portrait of two killers-an unforgettable cautionary tale for our times.

Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick

In 1957, a photograph was taken of a black high school girl walking stoically in front of Little Rock Central High School, being screamed at by a white girl. In this gripping book, David Margolick recounts how the photograph has unexpectedly followed both women throughout their lives.

Lab U.S.A. by Kevin Pyle

Electromagnetic mind-control, open-air biological testing in New York City subways, and clandestine dosing of citizens with psychotropic drugs are all part of America’s little known, yet well-footnoted, history of medical abuse. Lab USA chronicles and illuminates these and many more events through the medium of comix.

Ladies Of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation by Cokie Roberts

In this eye-opening companion volume to her acclaimed history Founding Mothers, number-one New York Times bestselling author and renowned political commentator Cokie Roberts brings to life the extraordinary accomplishments of women who laid the groundwork for a better society. Featuring an exceptional group of women, Ladies of Liberty sheds new light on the generation of heroines, reformers, and visionaries who helped shape our nation, finally giving these extraordinary ladies the recognition they so greatly deserve.

The Mets: A 50th Anniversary Celebration by Andy Martino and Anthony McCarron

In honor of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the amazin’ New York Mets, the New York Daily News has created the definitive commemorative tome for fans.This fascinating narrative includes more than 200 of the Daily News’s greatest Mets images and a fantastic foreword by Ron Darling, making this a must-have book for fans everywhere. Ya gotta believe!

Witch-Hunt Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials by Marc Aronson

Salem, Massachusetts, 1692. In a plain meetinghouse a woman stands before her judges. The accusers, girls and young women, are fervent and overexcited. The accused is a poor, unpopular woman who had her first child before she was married. The nightmare has begun: The witch trials will eventually claim twenty-five lives, shatter the community, and forever shape the American social conscience.

More books like the ones on this list »