Historical Fiction: 20th-Century 


A New Century Dawns: 1900-1916 
Gloria Whelan. Angel on the Square.
In 1913 Russia, twelve-year-old Katya eagerly anticipates leaving her St. Petersburg home, though not her older cousin Misha, to join her mother, a lady in waiting in the household of Tsar Nicholas II, but the ensuing years bring world war, revolution, and undreamed of changes to her life.

Mary Jane Auch. Ashes of Roses.
Sixteen-year-old Margaret Rose Nolan, newly arrived from Ireland, finds work at New York City's Triangle Shirtwaist Factory shortly before the 1911 fire in which 146 employees died.

Lawrence Yep. Dragonwings.
In the early twentieth century a young Chinese boy joins his father in San Francisco and helps him realize his dream of making a flying machine.

Joan Lowery Nixon.  Ellis Island Trilogy
Joan Lowery Nixon explores this immigrant experience through the lives of three teenage girls: Irish Rose (Land of Promise), Jewish Rebekah (Land of Hope), and Swedish Kristen (Land of Dreams). Life in America at the turn of the century was not always as they had envisioned. Nixon's view of life in various big-city immigrant communities focuses on both the difficult realities and the dreams, hope, and promise that kept the newcomers going. 

Jennifer Donnelly. Northern Light.
In 1906, sixteen-year-old Mattie, determined to attend college and be a writer against the wishes of her father and fiance, takes a job at a summer inn where she discovers the truth about the death of a guest. Based on a true story.

Eve Bunting.  SOS Titanic. 
Teenage Irish immigrants experience the Titanic disaster in this novel for younger teens. 

Richard Peck. Teacher's Funeral.
In rural Indiana in 1904, fifteen-year-old Russell's dreams of quitting school and joining a wheat threshing crew are disrupted when his older sister takes over the teaching at his one-room schoolhouse after mean, old Myrt Arbuckle "hauls off and dies." Russell Culver is fifteen in 1904, and he's raring to leave his tiny Indiana farm town for the endless sky of the Dakotas. To him, school has been nothing but a chain holding him back from his dreams. Maybe now that his teacher has passed on, they'll shut the school down entirely and leave him free to roam. No such luck. Russell has a particularly eventful season of schooling ahead of him, led by a teacher he never could have predicted--perhaps the only teacher equipped to control the likes of him: his sister Tansy. 

The Great War & the Twenties: 1917-1928 
Karen Hesse.  A Time of Angels. 
Russian immigrant Hanna Gold and her two sisters experience the influenza epidemic of 1918 in Boston. 

Gail Carson Levine.  Dave at Night
Dave, a talented and lonely boy, sneaks out of the Hebrew Home for Boys and experiences the Harlem Renaissance. 

Michael Morpurgo. Private Peaceful.
When Thomas Peaceful's older brother is forced to join the British Army, Thomas decides to sign up as well, although he is only fourteen years old, to prove himself to his country, his family, his childhood love, Molly, and himself.

The Depression Years: 1929-1939 
Jackie French Koller.  Nothing to Fear.
Danny Garver takes responsibility for his sister and mother, when his unemployed father is forced to leave New York to look for a job in 1932. 

Karen Hesse.  Out of the Dust.  
In this spare and powerful novel, two years of farm life in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl are portrayed through the poetry of teenager Billie Jo. This book won the Newbery Medal. 

War & Prosperity, 1940-1959 
Iain Lawrence. B for Buster.
In the spring of 1943, sixteen-year-old Kak, desperate to escape his abusive parents, lies about his age to enlist in the Canadian Air Force and soon finds himself based in England as part of a crew flying bombing raids over Germany.

Theodore Taylor.  The Bomb.  
Sorry Rinamu decides on a dangerous plan to stop atomic bomb tests on the Bikini Atoll. 

Joseph Bruchac. Code Talker.
After being taught in a boarding school run by whites that Navajo is a useless language, Ned Begay and other Navajo men are recruited by the Marines to become Code Talkers, sending messages during World War II in their native tongue.

Graham Salisbury. Eyes of the Emperor.
Following orders from the United States Army, several young Japanese American men train K-9 units to hunt Asians during World War II.

Chris Crowe. Mississippi Trial.
In Mississippi in 1955, a sixteen-year-old finds himself at odds with his grandfather over issues surrounding the kidnapping and murder of a fourteen-year-old African American from Chicago.

Mildred Taylor.  Road to Memphis.  
The fifth in Taylor's series of novels about a black farm family finds high-school senior Cassie helping a friend escape a brutal encounter with three white boys and learning that justice is very unequal in Mississippi in December 1941. Among the other great titles in this series are Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (winner of the Newbery Medal) and Mississippi Bridge. 

Pete Hamill.  Snow in August.
In this adult novel for older teens, it's 1947; Jackie Robinson has joined the beloved Dodgers, and Irish-American Michael Devlin's life in working-class Brooklyn changes forever when he befriends Rabbi Judah Hirsch. 

George Ella Lyon. Sonny's House of Spies.
In a small Alabama town in 1947-1956, Sonny searches for answers about his father's disappearance, "Uncle Marty," who looks after the family, and Mamby, their black housekeeper.

Bette Greene.  Summer of My German Soldier.
A lonely Jewish girl befriends an escaped German prisoner of war, only to face denunciation by her family and local townspeople. 

Graham Salisbury.  Under the Blood-Red Sun.  
How would you get by if you were an eighth-grader and you suddenly became the man of the house? That's the situation confronting Tomi Nakari when his father and grandfather are arrested in Honolulu right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. 

Turmoil and Change, 1960-1975 
Walter Dean Myers.
  Fallen Angels
Harlem teenager and his platoon face a devastating tour of duty in 1967 in Vietnam. This powerful novel about young men fighting in Vietnam was written specifically for teens. 

Brian Yanskey. My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World.
In 1979 when his life in Mansfield, Iowa, seems to fall apart, seventeen-year-old Simon takes his father's car and sets out for Texas, looking for his birth parents and picking up a man claiming to be Elvis, two bums, and an abused young wife along the way.

Mark Delaney. Pepperland.
Struggling to come to terms with the death of her mother in the late 1970s, sixteen-year-old Beatles fan Star Cochran hopes to find closure by delivering to John Lennon a letter her mother wrote to him in 1964 but never sent.

Catherin Lewis. Postcards to Father Abraham.
When sixteen-year-old Meghan loses her leg to cancer and her brother to Vietnam, she expresses intense anger in postcards which she writes to her idol, Abraham Lincoln.

Ellen White.  The Road Home.
This novel describes a young woman's difficult adjustment to life back in the states after serving as a triage nurse in Vietnam. 

Trudy Krisher.  Spite Fences.
Poor and white, Maggie Pugh begins to see life in her hometown of Kinship, Georgia more clearly when she gets a camera. What she sees is a community riddled with violence, particularly against its black citizens. 

Marsha Qualey. Too Big a Storm.
When serious worrier Brady Callahan meets vivacious Sally Cooper, daughter of a wealthy Minnesota family, they develop a close friendship that helps they both grow and survive during the turbulent Vietnam War era.

Denise Gosliner Orenstein. Unseen Companion.
Bethel, Alaska -- a small community in a stark landscape where a powerful and richly textured story spins together, one voice at a time. It is the late 1960s as beaten teenaged Dove Alexie sits in prison. One day, Dove suddenly vanishes, and there is nothing in the prison records to mark his arrival or departure. Out of the tundra, four young people step forward with their stories

Christopher Paul Curtis.  The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963
For the Watsons, a black family living in Flint, Michigan, the civil rights movement is something in the background of their lives until a trip to Birmingham brings racist violence to them firsthand. 

Prosperity & War: 1982-1992 
Marsha Qualey.
  Hometown.
Returning to his father's hometown with his father, a Vietnam era draft dodger, as the Gulf War breaks out, Border Baker is forced to find his own identity and discover the importance of family. 

An End & A Beginning: 1993-2000 
Nancy Garden.
  The Year They Banned the Books.
When Jamie Crawford writes an editorial supporting her high school's new health curriculum, she finds herself in the middle of a community battle over sex education, homosexuality, and freedom of speech. 

Jane Yolen and Bruce Colville.  Armageddon Summer.
The "Believers" is a "millennialist" group, prophesizing the end time, or the collapse of modern technological society. Their leader has proclaimed that the world will come to an end on July 27, 2000, and that only 144 will be saved. He takes the "Believers" to a mountaintop in Massachusetts to await the judgment day. Armageddon Summer is the story to two teenagers, Jeb the skeptic and Marina the almost-believer, who go along reluctantly. 


Sources: 
Nawrot, K., "Making Connections with Historical Fiction," The Clearing House. July/August, 1996. 

From the Novelist database.

Updated January 2005

 

 

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