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Tween

14 Moving Historical Novels for Tweens

by Jennifer Garry

historical fiction for tweens

When my not-quite-12-year-old hears the phrase “historical fiction,” her nose immediately crinkles as if she just smelled bad milk. You can almost see the curtain of disapproval drop in front of her eyes as she starts to tune the rest of the sentence out. Boring.

But then I remind her that historical fiction only means that you’re reading a book that takes place in the past. It doesn’t force you to learn things (I leave out the “…but you will” part). It doesn’t mean dry and boring. It doesn’t mean you’ll have nothing in common with the characters. On the contrary, it makes you realize that some things — especially coming-of-age things — don’t change much with the passage of time.

The 14 books below are great examples of moving historical fiction for tweens that will connect them with the past and make them empathize with characters who aren’t so different from them after all.

  • Letters from Cuba

    by Ruth Behar

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    World War II changed many lives, and no two people had the same experience. Ruth Behar uses her family’s history to write the story of a young Jewish girl named Esther who flees Poland for Cuba. Separated from her sister, the girls stay in touch through letters, keeping each other updated on the conditions in their respective countries.

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  • Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

    by Sheila O’Connor

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    When Reenie moves to a new town after her mom dies, the transition isn’t so easy. Her new paper route gives her something to look forward to as she starts meeting all of her new neighbors — all of them, that is, except for Mr. Marsworth, the town recluse. Determined, Reenie leaves him letters and they become pan pals. When Reenie tells Mr. Marsworth (a pacifist) that she’s trying to stop her brother from enlisting in the Vietnam War, he helps her come up with a plan to keep her brother home. The unlikely friendship and unexpected plot twists will hold kids’ attention, while opposing viewpoints on war and politics are timely and certain to make them think.

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  • The Blackbird Girls

    by Anne Blankman

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    This heartfelt adventure novel about two Jewish girls after the Chernobyl power plant explosion combines family secrets, war, and friendship. Valentina and Oksana leave home to stay with Valentina’s grandmother in Leningrad. The girls must lean on each other as they learn about the lies and secrets their families kept from them. This powerful, award-winning novel is a must-read!

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  • The War That Saved My Life

    by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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    When World War II comes to London, Ada and her younger brother Jamie get sent out of the city to live in the countryside. The siblings feel relieved to get away from their cruel mother, and they find a loving home with a woman named Susan. But the evacuation program was supposed to be temporary. If they have to return to their mother in London, Ada and Jamie could lose the peace and happiness they found.

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  • She Loves You (Yeah, Yeah, Yeah)

    by Ann Hood

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    While the Vietnam War rages, Trudy’s life is taking a nose dive. Her best friend is becoming a cheerleader, her dad is growing more and more distant, and her beloved Beatles fan club has dwindled down to her and three of the least popular kids in middle school. With hopes of regaining popularity and proving herself to her dad, Trudy and her Beatles crew take a secret trip to Boston to see their favorite band. With themes like grappling with a rapidly changing world, connecting with unexpected people, and growing up, this one is incredibly relatable for today’s tweens.

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  • How to Find What You're Not Looking For

    by Veera Hiranandani

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    This book is a coming-of-age novel about a girl emerging from childhood, recognizing injustice, and speaking out against it. As soon as interracial marriage becomes legal, Ariel’s older sister elopes with a man from India. With her family’s Jewish bakery struggling to stay afloat, Ariel also notices racism against herself, her family, and her brother-in-law.

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  • When Winter Robeson Came

    by Brenda Woods

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    If you’ve ever been curious about the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965, this is an excellent introduction. Eden and her cousin Winter team up to look for his dad, who disappeared a decade earlier. But when riots and violence shake Watts to the core, the cousins do the only thing they can to help restore peace—sing a song from the heart.

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  • Woods Runner

    by Gary Paulsen

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    Thirteen-year-old Samuel spends his days hunting for food for his family. He has grown up on the frontier in colonial America, with no news of the war that has been started by American patriots. But the war comes to them when British soldiers and Iroquois attack, and Samuel’s parents are taken as prisoners. Determined to rescue them, Samuel follows and learns that he must go deep into enemy territory to find his parents: all the way to British headquarters in New York City. Woods Runner touches on the tragedy and horrors of war while keeping violence off the page.

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  • My Own Lightning

    by Lauren Wolk

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    Readers who loved the Newbery Honor-winning novel Wolf Hollow will love the sequel. The story picks up a few months later, with Annabelle still recovering from the bullying she experienced. Now, with a missing dog to find and an old rival returning, Annabelle learns that life and people are more complicated than she thought.

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  • War and Millie McGonigle

    by Karen Cushman

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    Nobody writes historical fiction like the Newbery Award-winning author of Catherine Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice. In her latest novel for children, Karen Cushman introduces readers to Millie McGonigle, a young girl in California. As Word War II reaches the US, Millie stays hopeful by focusing on positive things—family, friends, and first crushes.

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  • The Shakespeare Stealer

    by Gary Blackwood

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    Widge is a 14-year-old orphan in Elizabethan England. His fearsome master, a theater manager, orders Widge to steal Shakespeare’s unpublished play “Hamlet” — or else. Widge has no choice but to follow orders, so he works his way into the Globe Theatre and becomes friends with Shakespeare’s players along the way. While rich in period detail and colorful characters, the story comes down to friendship — something tweens from any time period can connect with.

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  • White Bird: A Wonder Story (A Graphic Novel)

    by R. J. Palacio

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    Readers everywhere have fallen for this graphic novel from the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling novel Wonder. It follows Julian’s grandmother as a young Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied France. With full-color artwork and interesting characters, this story is a beautiful tale of friendship in the face of peril.

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  • Turtle in Paradise

    by Jennifer L. Holm and Savanna Ganucheau

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    Kids who prefer reading graphic novels will enjoy this adaptation of Jennifer L. Holm’s modern classic. Follow Turtle as she adapts to life in Florida with her cousins, has adventures, makes friends, and learns family secrets. This heartwarming book is an excellent way to transport young readers into the past.

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  • Talking Leaves

    by Joseph Bruchac

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    When 13-year-old Uwohali’s father, Sequoyah, returns to the village after many years away, Uwohali can’t wait to reconnect. But Sequoyah’s new obsession with making strange markings causes tribe members to wonder whether he is crazy, or worse — practicing witchcraft. Uwohali discovers that Sequoyah’s strange markings are actually an alphabet representing the sounds of the Cherokee language. Although the novel is set 200 years ago, themes like blended families, an absent father, and figuring out your identity will resonate with modern readers.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated in 2022.