Powerful Historical Fiction Books for Middle School

Get your tweens excited about history by having them read some powerful historical fiction books for middle school. It’s one of the genres that make up the larger list of the best books for middle school I’ve put together.

Historical fiction uses stories to introduce readers to the past, making it easy to imagine what it was like living years ago. While reading these books, older kids will meet famous historical figures and discover what challenges people faced during earlier time periods.

I learned years ago that adding quality historical fiction stories to our lessons made the subject come alive in a way that standard curriculum books didn’t. In fact, I believe that my oldest enjoys history so much because she fell in love with this genre at an early age.


Historical fiction uses stories to introduce readers to the past, making it easy to imagine what it was like living years ago. While reading these books, older kids will meet famous historical figures and discover what challenges people faced during earlier time periods.This post contains affiliate links.

Get Teens Hooked on History with These Historical Fiction Books

With a large number of amazing middle grade books out there based on history, it’s incredibly easy to teach older kids about the past in a way that will interest them. Add books like these to your lesson plans to help round out a particular time in history.

Carry On, Mr. BowditchEsperanza Rising (Scholastic Gold)


Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

From a young age, Nathaniel Bowditch faced many hardships and saw his dreams frequently dashed as he grew up. In his hometown of Salem, during the eighteenth-century, sailing was incredibly important. Most assumed he didn’t have the makings of a sailor because of his small size. However, he is placed on a boat after his family dies and his passion for learning, self-discipline, and willingness to work hard helps him find success, against all odds.

In fact, his mastery of astronomy, mathematics, and Latin led him to develop a navigational manual that is still in use today.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan 

Esperanza lived a life in Mexico full of privilege and wealth and she never thought things would change. But when tragedy strikes, she and her mother are forced to run to a farm labor camp in California. She isn’t prepared for the hard work, or the financial struggles they’re facing because of the Great Depression.

When her mom gets sick, she needs to find the strength within herself to overcome the many challenges she’s facing if they’re going to survive. 


The Invention of Hugo CabretNumber the Stars


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Don’t let the over 500 pages turn you away from this book because within the pages you’ll find almost 300 pages of beautiful and detailed illustrations. It’s a graphic novel and a picture book combined into one unique reading adventure. This book takes you back to the early days of film, specifically when the synchronized sound was added. Many of these movies are in the book’s illustrations.

Hugo Cabret is a boy who lives in Paris in 1931. Hugo finds an automaton (a wind-up mechanical figure that appears alive) and he and his father work to restore it. Unfortunately, Hugo’s father is killed and he goes to live with his uncle in the walls of the train station where he is taught how to repair the station’s clocks.

He continues to fix the clocks, even after his uncle disappears, while still working to rebuild the automaton. He hopes once it’s fixed, the metal man will give him a message from his deceased father. To fix the figure, Hugo must steal parts from an old toy seller. Once caught, Hugo’s life takes a dramatic turn. Will he let his secrets continue to isolate him?

In this work of historical fiction, you’ll meet a long-forgotten magician and filmmaker, George Méliès, the man credited with the first science fiction movie, who also happened to be a collector of automata.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

As World War II rages on, Annemarie, a 10-year-old Danish girl, goes from thinking about normal childhood things like school to worrying about her disappearing neighbors, frequent food shortages, and the many Nazi soldiers she sees around town.

As the Nazis begin relocating the Danish Jews, Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen, moves in with her for safety. But the search for Jews ramps up and Ellen is no longer safe in Denmark. Soon it is time for Ellen’s family to flee to Sweden and unforeseen events thrust Annemarie into a key role in their journey.

With lives at stake, she’ll have to be braver than she’s ever been.

One Crazy SummerOut of the Dust


One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Delphine is eleven years old and has had to take care of her two sisters since their mother left them in Brooklyn when she moved to California to start a new life. But during the summer of 1968, the three girls head out to Oakland, California to spend the summer with their mother. Unfortunately, the warm welcome they were hoping for, never materializes. And while they dream of spending the lazy days of summer visiting places like Disneyland, they are instead signed up for a summer camp run by the Black Panthers. 

Over the next few weeks, Delphine learns a lot about her mother, the world, the state of race relations in 1968, and herself.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Billie Jo is a fourteen-year-old girl living in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. During an accident that takes her mother’s life, Billie Jo’s hands are also scarred, keeping her from playing the piano, one of the things that used to make her happy. Life is extremely difficult for this family as they struggle to eke out an existence during the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Day after day, they have to watch their hard work be blown into the wind.

This book, which is told in verse, offers an un-yielding picture of how hard life was for Billie Jo. We see the dedication of the human spirit through these farmers who keep planting despite the long odds, on the will to survive, and the belief that someday the rain will come.

As you can see, there’s a wide variety of historical fiction available. They’re powerful, yet approachable stories, making them great tools for teaching history. Hopefully, you’re encouraged to add some titles from this genre to your tween’s reading list.

5 Powerful Historical Fiction Novels for Middle School Students

Additional Books for Middle School

Looking for even more books your middle schooler will enjoy? I’ve got you covered with even more reading lists, including books for animal lovers, adventure stories, personal growth books for tweens, and novels written by contemporary authors.

Using Technology to Support Reading

Whether you have a child who loves to read or struggles to finish a book, you should add some technology to your reading. Add some audiobooks to your lesson plans. They’re a lifesaver for some families, especially those with auditory learners. Kids can listen to them on their devices or you can play the books in the car while you run errands. You can even get 2 free books for free.

If your tween isn’t using a Kindle, I encourage you to consider it, especially if you have older kids who are constantly reading. Some classic stories can be download for free and tweens can borrow books from your public library onto their device.

Ultimately, when you embrace the format that fits your child best, it will help them learn from great stories, like the ones on this list.

What is your favorite historical fiction book for middle schoolers?

Megan Zechman
I love homeschooling! Learning is a way of life for our family. Most days you will find us exploring our Central Florida community, having fun while learning. I am constantly looking for new and interactive ways to engage my older children.
Megan Zechman
Megan Zechman
Megan Zechman

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