Historical fiction is a great way for kids to get a glimpse of the past if they don’t like reading non-fiction. Historical fiction allows readers to immerse themselves in the past, to feel what the characters feel and experience what the characters experience. Whether the issues are slavery or racial inequality, these books will give readers a peek into the past so we don’t repeat it.
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberley Brubak Bradeley
Thomas Jefferson was a great man, a leader in the Revolution, a founding father. But to Maddy and Beverly, he was the father they weren’t suppose to call papa, because Maddy and Beverly’s mother was Sally Hemmings, Jefferson’s slave. Thomas Jefferson didn’t make his sons work in the fields, and they were never beaten. He even gave them a violin and provided music lessons for them. But they weren’t free. Light-skinned Beverly learns that when he turns 21, he’ll be freed to live among white people. But how can he leave his darker-skinned brother Maddy, who doesn’t have the same option, behind? This powerful book shows Jefferson in a different light…as a patriot of freedman while his own sons lived in captivity.
Sylvia & Aki by Winifred Conkling
Based on true events, this story follows Sylvia, whose parents are from Puerto Rico and Mexico, and Aki, whose parents were born in Japan. Although both girls are American citizens, they do not enjoy the same rights as other children. When Aki’s family is forced into an internment camp, Sylvia’s father rents their farm in hopes of sending his children to a better school. But when they try to register, they’re told his children must attend the Mexican school instead. Sylvia’s father takes the matter to court and wins, a case that became the precedent for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1955. The story alternates between Sylvia’s struggles to attend school, and Aki’s struggles of being separated from her family and the poor conditions in the internment camp. This book will be great for social studies units, both on the impact of World War II and on equality.
Lunch-Box Dream by Tony Abbott
When Bobby and Ricky’s mother tells them they have to drive 1,300 miles to bring their grandmother back home, she promises that they’ll stop at several Civil War battle fields for Ricky, and they’ll fly back in an airplane for Bobby. While Ricky enjoys visiting each war site, Bobby finds himself confused and scared at the thought of so much death. The boy’s story is intermixed with a southern African-American family’s as they discover their son is missing a few towns over. Their worlds come together when a car accident forces Bobby and his family to take the bus. On it, they witness racial discrimination first hand as the African-American family struggles to find passage to locate their son. Based on a childhood experience, Abbott’s work will give children a lot to think about when it comes to the history of race relations in our country’s past.