(Middle Grade writing level – no content concerns)
Attack of the Turtle takes place during the Revolutionary War. Nathan Wade has grown up a Patriot and he is there when his cousin, David Bushnell (a real historical figure) invents the first submarine
With this story, the history was much stronger than the character development. The text was written with a fifth-grade mentality and a 7th-grade vocabulary. Really the kind of “gee-whiz” attitude of the main protagonist was a bit too peppy to seem real. Beyond that, the story was a bit thin for a full book. I think this book is great for that student who just loves anything about war, but it’s just a book for the classroom shelf. Place it on the shelf and hand it out to that student who keeps asking you when you’ll be teaching about World War II.More info →
(Young Middle Grade - No content concerns)
Towers Falling is a book for younger readers. Rhodes took the story of 9/11 and made it appropriate for middle-grade students by having it told from the perspective of a girl who was learning about the event through school. Deja is in fifth grade and she was born after 9/11. Her family has recently been unsheltered and Deja has become protective and jaded by the experience of eviction. She is suspicious of her classmates despite their friendliness - Ben a new student from Arizona and Sabeen a girl from the city who shares about her Muslim culture. Ultimately Deja opens up to them and redefines her understanding of family and familial connections.
I would suggest this book for sensitive students who also struggle with conceptual understandings of history. The simplistic approach is gentle and unassuming and would attract those who require that approach to the topic.More info →
(Upper Middle-grade reading level - realistic depiction of slavery and violence)
Set in New York City on the eve of the American Revolution, Chains details the story of two sisters - Isabel and Ruth. Both were supposed to be freed when their owner died, however, they were denied their freedom by the owner's brother and sold to a brutal couple - the Locktons. Isabel's story is intertwined with history as Isabel finds herself spying on the Loyalist Locktons to help her friend Curzon - a fellow enslaved person in support of the Patriots.
The complexity and cruelty of slavery is written with compelling clarity as Isabel is betrayed again and again by others. The realities of Revolutionary life are also made clear as Anderson weaves in historical details in a way that reads as natural and purposeful. With an incredibly compelling plot, Chains is a page-turner that breaks beyond the genre. By writing a story from the perspective of an enslaved girl in New York City, Anderson redefined the genre of "revolutionary war novel."More info →
(Middle-Grade reading level - no content concerns except for the reality of war, including murder and death)
Samuel is a 13-year-old boy who spends his days in the woods hunting for food and working to provide for himself and his family. This area he calls “home” is invaded by British soldiers who kidnap Samuel’s parents. Samuel experiences many hardships, as well as the terrors of the Revolutionary War, along the journey to free his parents from New York City, where the British soldiers are stationed. He also befriends a girl named Annie, and they become like siblings as they are united in hardship.
Paulsen also incorporated nonfiction passages at the end of each chapter to provide insight into the history of the time period for readers.More info →
This book focuses on the children that resulted from the relationship* between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. It most specifically tells the story of two of those children – Madison and Beverly.
I absolutely loved this book. It’s a really good story, even though it doesn’t have much of a plot. I found myself picking up the book when I had a spare moment, even though it’s really a book for middle-grade children. By focusing on the children of Sally Hemings, it tells a story of slavery that discusses the unfairness of slavery, and the sadness of slavery, without exposing the horrifying brutality that slavery was for most. The author shows how the Jefferson children were treated differently than most other slaves at Monticello. It talks about a whipping at Monticello, a friend who was sold away, and about how some of the Jefferson children could “pass,” and some couldn’t. It’s really a story about a family, and how they dealt with the situation that had been handed to them by the color of their skin and their biological father.
Given that the author had to rely on a topic that was covered very little by official historical documents, the book really needs to be considered historical fiction. Still, I think the author created a very plausible narrative and an engaging story.
*(I recognize that many struggle with the idea of Hemings and Jefferson as a relationship. For the purposes of the term here, Jefferson did father her children. We don’t know what form that relationship took, and the book makes the assumption that Hemings had some agency. I think the book acceptably covers the topic at a middle-grade level.)More info →
(Middle Grade Reading Level - a depiction of the reality of slavery including - violence, rape, death, and murder)
Copper Sun is a well-crafted story with impeccable research and accuracy. Amari is in her mid-teens when she is captured and sold into slavery along the African coast. She is shipped across the Atlantic ocean, sold to an enslaver, and gradually finds a place in the new reality she is forced to endure. This book is realistic in its depictions and traumatically sad as a result. One of the best aspects of this story is the awareness of the spectrum of freedom for women in this time. Amari is certainly in slavery, however, the other women she encounters - Polly, an indentured servant, or Mrs. Derby, the young wife of Amari's enslaver - aren't quite free either. Worthy of a read-aloud in any classroom, as long as students are made aware of the truth of the unflinching story that will be told.More info →
I have a weakness for any story centered around British children sent to live in the countryside during WWII. I know that it's a common topic, but I just can't help myself. Bedknobs and Broomsticks anyone? The Chronicles of Narina? Unlike those fanciful tales, A Place to Hang the Moon is firmly centered in reality. Yet, this story still held a magical nostalgia and charm that I adored. The three children at the center of the story - William, Edmund, and Anna - have been recently orphaned, and they're sent to live with a family as evacuees. There is hope in this decision that they will find a family that will adopt them after the war's end.
I absolutely devoured this story. The nostalgia, the sweetness, and the character development are all there. The children are incredibly sympathetic and realistic all the same. While this story is historical fiction, the history lies very much in the background while the children's lives and experiences take center stage. Still, there is much to learn about the experiences of young evacuees during WWII and the hardships of daily life during that time. I even enjoyed the descriptions of the meals the children ate. I'm not sure this story has a place in the classroom, however, it is the perfect story to read to your children at bedtime. Like me, you might enjoy reading it all on your own!More info →
(Middle-Grade reading level - racism, mentions a lynching, an assault - however, all is dealt with appropriately)
This was a book I wished I had as a child. A "Little House on the Praire" styled book, but with a more worldly point of view. Hanna is a half-Chinese girl trying to make her way with her father in the Dakota Territory. She's an aspiring dressmaker who just wants the opportunity to attend school and be accepted by the all-white community. Written by Linda Sue Park, the text and story are expertly crafted at the perfect level for middle school readers. There are big and complex ideas framed with simple language.
The history of this time is embedded within the story without being too dark or needlessly laborious. Hanna is an incredibly likable and sympathetic character. The frustrations she faces from family, racism, and the social mores of the time are real and muddy. None of the characters fit into a neat box. This book deserves just as much love as the Wilder series, and I would love to see several more written.More info →
(Middle-Grade reading level - most of the fighting takes place far away, however, Sophia does witness the hanging of Nathan Hale at the beginning of the story.)
I've been a fan of Avi ever since I devoured the True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle when I was a kid. In Sophia's war, Sophia’s brother, a soldier, goes missing after the Battle of Brooklyn. Sophia befriends a British lieutenant, Andre, who comes to New York City and is stationed in her home. She hopes she’ll find help in him locating her brother, however, her brother languishes and dies on a British prison ship. Her brother's death inspires Sophia to become a spy embedded with the British Army, and she uncovers a crucial piece of information that will change the course of the war.
The pace of Avi's writing style will hook middle-grade readers and keep them engaged. This book incorporates tons of historical information, including discussions of the prison ships for Patriot soldiers in New York City, the betrayal of Benedict Arnold, the quartering of soldiers, and the general experience of life during wartime. It definitely belongs in any middle-grade history teacher's classroom library.
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(Middle Grade reading level - no content concerns, however, it does discuss the reality of war)
Nate was injured when he was young, and cannot do the one thing he really wants - serve in the Continental Army. Still, Nate is drawn into the war after his settlement is attacked by Mohawk Indians. Nate soon encounters a Native American boy his age and the two pair up to survive. Much of the story centers around the Battle of Minisink and the aftermath of that battle, which is told in historically accurate detail. This book is one of the few (unfortunately) that includes a Native American perspective of the Revolution War, and by adding that perspective, Mann adds tons of depth and complexity to the saga of the war.
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This is the second book in the Seeds of America series by Laure Halse Anderson. For this story, readers follow the perspective of Curzon, the traveling companion and friend of Isabel from the first book. This book focuses much more on actual wartime fighting and the wartime experience, as Curzon reluctantly re-enlists.
Anderson again tackles the dueling ideas of revolutionary freedom and freedom from slavery as Curzon wades through his own wavering status while fighting for the independent United States. While this is the second book in the series, it also stands on its own.More info →
Anderson brings a satisfying conclusion to the Seeds of America trilogy with Ashes. Isabel and Curzon are reunited with Isabel's sister, Ruth. The three end up in Yorktown right as the last major battle of the Revolutionary War is breaking out. Once again, Anderson perfectly weaves the history of those events with the personal narratives of the main characters. I highly recommend picking up the trilogy for your classroom library.More info →