When asked for suggestions regarding middle-grade fiction about the American Revolution, teachers are often provided with titles that were published long ago. In fact, the suggestion I see most often is Johnny Tremain, a book published in 1944! The books April Morning and My Brother Sam is Dead are also often referenced. While all three of these books are classics in children’s literature, newer titles have been released deserve more praise and attention.
Therefore, today I’m sharing a book list that includes more recent options and that widens the list of perspectives. I didn’t add every book that I read to the list, so consider this a curated list of books for students about the American Revolution. I hope you find a few that you can add to your classroom library and suggest to your students.
(Upper Middle Grade to YA reading level - no content concerns besides the violence of war)
There was so much to enjoy about this novel that it’s almost hard to know where to start! Readers who think that Sam’s story in The King’s Broad Arrow is just another example of the classic “Hero’s Journey” shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Kathryn Goodwin Tone’s debut novel. She did such a wonderful job of worldbuilding, from the challenges of growing up on the frontier of colonial American society and the feelings of injustice as early Americans struggled against British mercantilism, that it was easy to become engrossed in Sam’s adventures! This would be a wonderful novel for readers who need a dash of adventure to keep them engaged as they learn about the beginnings of the American Revolution from the eyes of someone not that different from themselves.More info →
Answering the Cry of Freedom profiles 13 African Americans who fought for freedom in some form during the Revolutionary Era. Some established their own settlements in Africa or Nova Scotia, others fought for the freedom of their family members, and others fought either with the Patriots or the British. The stories were compelling and many were new to me, even though I've been teaching this subject for many years. (This again speaks to why the narrative of U.S. History needs to be rewritten.) Teachers could use this book in a multitude of ways with students. Please pick up a copy for your classroom.More info →
(Middle Grade reading level - This book does show a realistic deptition of how a white teen girl might act towards the enslaved people that her family owns. She is somewhat oblivious to their concerns. Some students might find that attitude frustrating.)
This is a rare book that is told from the perspective of the experience of a southern girl named Susanna Bolling. Bolling lived on a plantation near Richmond, Virginia that was invaded and occupied by General Cornwallis in 1781. Most of the story is centered around Boling herioc nighttime journey to warn General Lafyette of an impending British attack. She displays a realistic perspective of the time, as she is rather ignorant of the plight of the enslaved people live and work on the plantation in close proximity. Still, I found that this story of her heroism fascinating enough to still recommend the story.More info →
(Younger Middle-Grade Level - No content concerns either than the reality of war)
Lauren Tarshis does her usual, masterful job at crafting a hero whose dangerous journey offers young readers a more emotional path to learning and I’ll admit it, I admire her for not sparing those readers from the harder-to-swallow truths. Whether it's Nathaniel’s struggles as a young orphan or his confusion over the place of slavery in a society committed to all men being equal, Tarshis certainly offers a more realistic view of early America.
Given the mix of misfortune that befalls Nathan and the strong focus on action and relationship building over history, this book is probably best for the young reader who is mature enough to handle the adult themes but who needs to be more emotionally engaged in the American Revolution before moving on to its “how’s and why's.”More info →
I was so excited to see that there was a History Smashers book about the American Revolution. These books take history and write it with a hybrid of text, images, and cartoons that allow students to SEE this history they're reading about. Further, these books often point out important information that traditional textbooks leave out. For instance, with this book, Messner starts right out with a land acknowledgement. Within the first chapter, she points to the hypocrisy of the Boston Tea Party, where the colonists dressed up as Native Americans to argue for their liberty... while also on land that colonists had taken from Native Americans. She then goes on to discuss the problems with Longfellow's poem regarding Paul Revere. Still, the text is not weighed down by this information, rather, it makes for a much more engaging read. Altogether, History Smashers: The American Revolution, includes a plethora of information dispelling myths about the Revolution while also conveying a more accurate version of the historyMore info →
(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 →
(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.
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 →
(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.
More info →
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 →
King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the American Revolution
(Middle Grade reading level - no concent concerns)
This book takes the history of the Revolutionary War and rewrites that history in a conversational tone that's more engaging for students. While I might quibble with the title (I know I at least taught a lot of the details from this book), I did enjoy the historical anecdotes and the depth of detail. (For instance, while I knew that John Malcolm was tarred and feathered, I did not know that he mailed the bits of tar and feathers back to the British government. His skin was attached in some places!) Even if teachers don't use this book with their classes, it provides fun details for classroom discussions.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 →
(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 →
I couldn’t find a book told from the perspective of a Native American by an indigenous author. If you know of a good one, please suggest it in the comments. Likewise, if you know of a great middle grade or YA book that’s missing from the list, please let me know.
How many of these are in your classroom library? What have you added to your list?