Siri Paulson recommends children’s historical fiction

Please give a big welcome to fellow WANA blogger Siri Paulson, who’s joining us here today to talk about some of her favorite historical fiction books from her childhood.

Siri Paulson author photo 2011

Thanks for having me, Rabia!

I’m here to talk about books, which thrills me to no end because I’m a book lover from way back. Growing up, I read all sorts of things, but one of my favorite genres was historical fiction. Other times and places held an endless fascination for me. It didn’t really matter when or where a book was set, as long as the setting was as unlike my Canadian suburban existence as possible.

But, of course, I had favorite periods. Here are a few of them, along with the books that inspired me most…

The Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Another of my preferred genres was fantasy, so anything with castles was automatically a hit. Wandering bards, artists’ guilds, and apprentices? Yes please!

  • Adam of the Road (1943) by Elizabeth Janet Gray. Set in the thirteenth century. A young boy who idolizes his minstrel father is thrilled to have the chance to travel with him. But when he loses his dog and is separated from his father, he ends up crossing England to find them again. Along the way, he meets other traveling performers, makes new friends, and of course, has many adventures.
  • The Door in the Wall (1949) by Marguerite de Angeli. Set in the fourteenth century. An English boy’s dreams of being a knight are dashed when he loses the use of his legs. With the help of a friar and a minstrel, he sets out for the castle where he was originally slated to become a page. There he discovers that one doesn’t have to be a knight to be brave, and sometimes a boy on crutches is the best-suited to save the castle. De Angeli also wrote Black Fox of Lorne, a thrilling tale about a pair of Viking twins in Scotland.
  • Master Cornhill (1987) by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. Set in the seventeenth century. A boy orphaned in the Great Plague becomes an apprentice to a Dutch mapmaker living on London Bridge, but his new home is jeopardized in the Great Fire of London. Full of wonderful details about mixing paints in the studio and selling printed songs in the market. I also loved  The Golden Goblet by the same author, about a servant boy in Ancient Egypt.

The Second World War

At some point I developed a strange fascination with the experiences of Jewish children during the war. I read The Diary of Anne Frank, of course, but also…

  • Number the Stars (1989) by Lois Lowry. Lowry is probably more famous for The Giver, but this was how I discovered her. A Danish girl and her family take in her Jewish best friend and try to keep her safe while still working with the Danish Resistance. The girls don’t know everything the adults are doing – secrets are kept from them for safety – but there’s enough for the events to be quite exciting while still realistic.
  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (1971) by Judith Kerr. A German Jewish girl and her family become refugees in the early 1930s, living in Switzerland and Paris before finally reaching England. She and her brother are young enough to be a little confused about the whole thing; they think it’s a big adventure, even though they know there’s danger…which keeps the book mostly lighthearted.
  • From Anna (1972) by Jean Little. The family here isn’t Jewish, but they do flee Germany in the 1930s. Anna, the youngest in the family, is klutzy and slow in school, so she’s terrified of moving to a new country where she doesn’t speak the language. But in Canada she discovers she’s not dumb after all, but visually impaired. Getting glasses is easy; learning to come out of her shell is harder. There’s also a sequel, Listen for the Singing.

Honorable mentions: ancient Egypt and Israel, pioneer-era North America, and nineteenth-century Britain. I also have to mention Lucy Fitch Perkins, who wrote a long series of books about twins in various countries and time periods – The Cave Twins, The Spartan Twins, The Puritan Twins, The Dutch Twins, and so on – though I wouldn’t be surprised if they read as very dated now.

Over to you! Which times and places are (or were) your favorite to read about? Any favorite historical novels or authors to share? Let us know in the comments!


seasons eternal ebook 200x300Siri Paulson is a science fiction and fantasy writer and an editor of both fiction (at Turtleduck Press) and non-fiction. She recently moved into a big old house in Toronto and is still wondering what she got herself into. In her spare time (when she has any) she dances, knits, and dissects movies.

Her short fiction can be found most recently in the anthology Seasons Eternal: Stories of a World Frozen in Time. You can read more about it at Turtleduck Press. Seasons Eternal is available in print, Kindle, or your ebook format of choice.

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  1. Rabia says

    Thanks, Siri, for your guest post! I was excited to see ADAM OF THE ROAD and THE DOOR IN THE WALL on your list, since I got them last year when we studied the Middle Ages in school. (We only read THE DOOR IN THE WALL, though, because of time constraints, but we all enjoyed it).

    My favorite historical fiction writer is Rosemary Sutcliff, especially her Roman Britain books. I also read books by Ronald Welch and Geoffrey Trease, including one about a boy who gets transported from modern times into the Middle Ages on the border between England and Wales. CUE FOR TREASON is set in Ancient Athens–also loved that one.

    • Rabia says

      Oh, and how I could I forget the delightful alternate history novels by Joan Aikin? I loved BLACK HEARTS IN BATTERSEA, plus sequels, and MIDNIGHT IS A PLACE.

    • Rabia says

      Siri, I’m saving up the titles you mentioned for when we get to the relevant historical periods in school!

      I’d recommend you give Sutcliff and Aikin a try. They are my favorites, but so very different.

  2. says

    Historical fiction has grown on me–when I was a kid, it wasn’t my favorite, but now it’s definitely right up there. A good medieval YA novel I read recently was The Ramsay Scallop, by Frances Temple. It deals with pilgrimages, cathedrals, and a betrothed boy and girl who aren’t quite sure they’re ready for each other. Happy reading :)

    • says

      Alina, that’s interesting, because I went the other way from you — the vast majority of what I read now is SF&F, with some classics thrown in. Wonder why readers drift? I haven’t picked up any straight historical fiction in quite a while. Any recommendations for adult books in the genre?

  3. Tami Clayton says

    Historical fiction is an interest of mine, though I am pretty limited on what I’ve read. Little House on the Prairie was my favorite as a kid. I’ll be checking out your recommendations. Thanks for sharing them!

    • says

      I was a big fan of those too, Tami. My sister and I used to play Little House often. Unfortunately, I was blonder and older so I had to be Mary, when everyone knows Laura was the cool one! 😉

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