Historical Fiction 101: A Top Ten Tuesday Syllabus


Top Ten TuesdayThe childhood play opportunities are endless: some kids spend their afternoons playing round after round of tag and hide-and-go-seek; a few use their imagination to craft elaborate stories about their stuffed animals; and others indulge their inner princess with Disney store gowns. Myself? I adored playing school, a game that had me decorating a “classroom,” creating different worksheets, and convincing my little sister to act as the students :)

While my play school days are over, my love of learning and teaching have not disappeared, a fact illustrated by my excitement over this week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt: Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101 {it’s a wordy one!}. With the back to school season in full swing, it’s a fitting topic, and better yet, it allows me to share my favorite historical fiction novels. What books would you include? {And as always, this feature is hosted by the lovely ladies at The Broke and the Bookish}.

ChainsMy required reading list would begin with Laurie Halse Anderson’s widely acclaimed novel, Chains. Set at the time of the America Revolution, this heart-wrenching story is worth a read for its writing alone, but I continue to recommend it because of its unique and diverse point of view. For extra credit, one could pick up the Seeds of America sequel, Forge, which is just as powerful of a book!

RevolutionIt would only make sense that Historical Fiction 101 be taught in chronological order, so the next novel on the syllabus is Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution. Aptly named, the book switches between a modern-day setting and the French Revolution. It’s an interesting way to tackle historical fiction, and more importantly, Donnelly’s gorgeous writing suits the structure well. Extra credit seems to be the theme of the day, so pick up A Northern Light, also by Donnelly, in addition to this one. {review}

Under a Painted SkyMoving swiftly along to the 1800’s, we’re brought to Stacey Lee’s young adult debut, Under a Painted Sky, a story set along the Oregon Trail in 1849. Although I’ve only read this a few weeks ago, I’m already declaring it a historical fiction favorite due to the high attention to detail, the complex and engaging characters, and the vivid western setting. It’s hard to beat a combination like that.

The Evolution of Calpurnia TateThe historical fiction genre has novels aplenty on World War II and the events of the sixties, but the late 1800’s make less frequent of an appearance. Jacqueline Kelly’s gem of a novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is one of the few, bringing the 1899 Texas setting alive along with its feisty and curious main character. Attention has died down since the book was honored with a Newbery Medal, but there’s no better time than now to read it with the sequel already out on shelves.

UprisingI typically list the 1950’s and 1960’s as my favorite genres to read and learn about, but I’ve grown to love books set earlier in the century too. Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Uprising, a gripping novel on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, was my first foray into the time period, and I haven’t regretted it since! If you too have interest in immigration and Ellis Island, factories and child labor, or twentieth century city life, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Audacity are your extra credit selections.

Rose Under FireIt’s not wrong to say that Elizabeth Wein is the queen of YA historical fiction, as each of her newer releases deliver in character development, complex storylines, and accurate suspense. I recommend them all {my reviews for Code Name Verity and Black Dove, White Raven can be found here and here}, but I believe Rose Under Fire is her best. It’s by no means easy to read, but it’s an excellent choice to learn more about WWII and the horrific concentration camps. {review}

Out of the EasyRuta Sepety’s Between Shades of Gray comes highly recommended to me, but until I read it, I will continue to recommend her other piece of historical fiction, Out of the Easy. Taking place in 1950’s New Orleans, the atmosphere created is incredible, and though I read it a few years ago, I can still recall the novel’s dynamic characters. If Between Shades of Gray is just as good as this, I know I’m in for a good read. {review}

The Lions of Little RockIf Elizabeth Wein is the queen of young adult historical fiction, Kristin Levine is certainly the master of middle grade. All three of her novels have developed Levine’s signature style; her books always feature layered character relationships, a tense historical setting, and a well-paced plot of events. My personal favorite of Levine’s work is The Lions of Little Rock, which covers the integration of Little Rock students in the 1950’s. {reviews: 1 / 2 / 3}

The Notorious Pagan JonesThe Cold War is such an intriguing time in history, and I’m fascinated with the war’s cultural consequences. Unfortunately, the time spent covering the war in school is brief, so I look to my bookshelf for more information. Nina Berry’s The Notorious Pagan Jones was recently released – I myself just read it last month – but it has received far less attention than it deserves. I haven’t reviewed it yet, but trust me: it’s an absolute must-read.

The Carnival at BrayFinally, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in reading a lot of historical fiction, it’s that a story does not need to be placed one hundred years back in history to have an impact on its reader. The Carnival at Bray, Jessie Ann Foley’s debut, is set in 1993, when cell phones didn’t exist and the grunge movement was at its peak. Foley uses the time period to her advantage to create a setting as engrossing at the book’s sixteen year old protagonist, leaving readers with a strong tale of family, loss, and growth. {review}

Have a terrific Tuesday!


15 thoughts on “Historical Fiction 101: A Top Ten Tuesday Syllabus

  1. Love this post and your graphics, Bella! As usual, your writing is articulate and your choices astute. I don’t read a ton of historical, so I’ve put quite a few of yours on my list. The Carnival at Bray sounds great!

    My TTT

    Liked by 1 person

  2. one thing that most people don’t know about me is that i’m a secret history nerd. i loveee reading about different historical events which makes historical fiction one of my favourite genres. i’m actually super stoked about this list bc i haven’t read a bunch of these books with the exception of out of the easy. i’m always looking for more to read so this list will have me busy for a while! i also love how you organized them chronologically and picked books from different periods. i probably read about world war two the most (but it seems that that’s also one of the more popular periods too) but my favourite would have to be victorian england. just find it so cool!

    re between shades of grey: it was very interesting! a good read. personally i enjoyed out of the easy a bit more but bsog was really great too. it’s set during ww2 but it focuses on stalin which is an angle that isn’t often looked at and yeah it was really good. honestly world war 2 was so massive and invovled so many different countries i’m always surprised to see books set in world war 2 mostly dealing with hitler’s regime. but anyway, loved this post bella!

    Liked by 1 person

    • YES, history nerds are the best! I hope you give some of these a try – it’s nice to switch up the time periods you read about {I myself want to read more books set in Victorian England, so if you have recommendations, send them my way!}.

      And, good to hear about Between Shades of Grey! Stalin’s role in the war is rarely explored, so you have me even more excited to read it. I grabbed it at a book swap a few weeks ago, so I will likely get to it soon!

      Thanks for your comment! :)


  3. Oh how funny, my sister was just like you and I was the one made to attend all her lessons! Can’t say it did me any harm though :P

    I absolutely love historical fiction. My TTT has mostly historical (military) memoirs this week but all are fascinating and almost read like fiction. Everyone has such great topics that my to-read list is increasing as I type! Great list!

    My TTT

    Liked by 1 person

    • How funny! I hope my own sister feels the same way, haha :)

      And I’m always on the lookout for new nonfiction to read – it can be on anything, I just like to learn about different subjects! – so I will definitely take a peek at your list too.

      Thank you so much for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Historical fiction is my favorite genre so I really enjoyed reading through this list. I’ve read and loved Chains and Rose Under Fire, but I haven’t read any of the others on this list; I’ll have to check them out soon! Also, Between Shades of Gray was an amazing book. It was so heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time, and I think you would enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I had a hard time figuring out what genre the Carnival at Bray fell into. Mostly because I didn’t want to think of the decade of my childhood as being “historical”. Not many things in my life make me feel old, but realizing that a book that took place in during my childhood did. It was still one of the best books I’ve read all year though!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I can understand the discomfort! It WAS an amazing book though, I agree, so I’m glad the time period didn’t deter from your enjoyment :) Thank you so much for stopping by!


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