Monday, August 12, 2013

Historical Fiction about Girls

I hope you noticed that I said about girls, not for girls. Some of these books will be more universally appealing than others—Number the Stars, The Green Glass Sea, The Book Thief, and The Ruby in the Smoke, especially—but I personally know boys who have appreciated all of them, and the same is true for adults (YA is not just for teens!). Four of them are books I loved as a child, and still love as an adult; the rest are books I read for the first time as an adult, and I enthusiastically recommend them all.

The Hope Chest, by Karen Schwabach
I've been so excited about this book ever since I started it, because it's the only junior or YA fiction I've ever seen that tells the story of the suffrage movement, and from the inside. It's written from the perspective of two young girls, Violet and Myrtle, who run away to join Violet's older sister in fighting for suffrage. Such a thrilling and well-written story (and if the title turns you off, let me tell you that I felt the same way and don't worry—it's much more interesting than it sounds).

This has been one of my favorite books ever since I can remember. I have always loved fiction about World War II, and it takes place in Denmark, which is an uncommon setting for American children's books. It's a short book, and the action is quick and exciting.

For me, this entire book was lovely, but I've also heard that it took some people a little while to get hooked, so just make sure you give it a good chance. Fans of Downton Abbey, especially, should appreciate it for the romantic atmosphere; it's set in early-1900s England, narrated by seventeen-year-old Cassandra, who lives with her family in a dilapidated old castle. Her father is a struggling writer, her stepmother communes with nature, and her new neighbors/landlords are rich Americans with two unmarried sons. The recommendation writes itself.

The premise for this book is fascinating and unique—eleven-year-old Dewey goes to live with her father in Los Alamos, where he is working on the Manhattan Project. I just loved the setting, and the characters and story are likable and engaging. It was really lovely to read about a girl with an aptitude for science.

I feel like you have to have been living under a rock to have missed at least hearing about this book. It's about a German girl named Liesel, who steals books and lives with a foster family in Munich during World War II. And it's narrated by Death. I think I just told you everything you need to know.

Karen Cushman is a really fantastic and popular writer of historical fiction, for good reason. This is my favorite of her books, about a girl in thirteenth-century England whose greedy father is trying to marry her off to one of several horrible suitors. She's smart and independent, and I liked her more than enough to overcome my annoyance with the phrase "corpus bones."

I've loved this book since about third grade, and I was absolutely giddy when I mentioned it to a sixth-grade boy at the Orem library, spent about three seconds describing it, and he grabbed it saying it sounded interesting. It is! It really is.

I liked this as a kid, too, but it wasn't until I reread it last year that I learned it was based on a true story. Historically fascinating, and the kind of book that sounds like it should be boring—person stranded alone on an island for several years? What would they do all the time?—but is absolutely not. 

There are a few books that have been passed around my family, read by my parents, my teenage brothers, and me, and loved by everyone. This was one of the first; it was part of the curriculum when my brothers were homeschooled, and they loved it so much they made everyone else read it, too. 

This book sat on my sister Talia's bookshelf for most of our teen years, and for some reason I formed an unfavorable opinion of it based on the cover, without ever having picked it up. When I did decide to read it one day, I had to laugh at myself, because it is an excellent, really engaging mystery (and I don't even especially care for mysteries). There are three sequels, but unfortunately I thought each one diminished in quality, so if you want my recommendation I would say just stop after the first.

I read this a few years ago for the first time, but I saw the Megan Follows movie when I was younger, and the book is just as much fun to read as the movie is to watch. I think Megan Follows is brilliant as Anne, but that wonderful personality comes across just as well through the text, and if you made it to adulthood without having read it (like I did), you really should remedy that soon.

Honestly, I feel like any book that was written before 1920 but still appeals to kids (in its original, unabridged form) is worth checking out. I was a voracious but impatient reader, and I loved this book. What child (or adult) doesn't love the idea of a secret place all their own?

Obviously. Scout Finch is smart, good-hearted, and independent. She's a great character and an excellent narrator for a brilliant book.

I loved this book when my parents gave it to me for my twelfth birthday. I grew up watching the Katharine Hepburn movie, and I have always loved this story. It's quiet and comforting to me, driven not just by the relationships between the sisters, but by each sister's personal journey of discovery. They have such lovely relationships, and the characters are just imperfect enough to be beautiful instead of annoying (probably because they were based on Alcott's own family).

Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink
Having, as I do, a complete and utter lack of interest in stories about the American West, it took me 28 years to finally pick up this book even though I've been hearing about it basically my whole life. I now know that it is for good reason. Caddie is a delightful character, and the story moves quickly enough that even if you are like me and don't care for pioneer stories, you'll enjoy this.

The Wild Girls, by Pat Murphy
Historical fiction is supposed to take place at least fifty years in the past, and The Wild Girls  is set in the 1970s so it doesn't technically count. It's such a great book, though, and it definitely does have the feel of a different decade, so I decided to include it anyway. The characters are lovable and the book handles serious issues well—neither too heavy nor too lighthearted in its treatment of them, and just right for the age group.

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