Historical Fiction Picture Books

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. A great historical fiction book invites the reader to learn about a time and place in history while experiencing it through the eyes of contemporaneous characters.

Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsay, transports the reader to the 1950s, a period of time when Jim Crow laws and racial segregation existed in the south. Ruth and her parents embark on a road trip from Chicago to Alabama to visit her grandma. Ruth’s excitement begins to dissipate as her family is denied access to restrooms, restaurants and hotels because of racial segregation and discrimination. On their journey, Ruth’s family is given a copy of ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book,’ which lists businesses that welcome African Americans. Ruth and the Green Book (Guided Reading Level: R) is a great book for students in grades 1-5

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Pictured above is the cover of an actual copy of The Green Book.

Another remarkable historical fiction picture book is Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti, which takes place during World War II in Germany. Though Rose sees the soldiers and swastikas all around her, she has little understanding of what is going on. One day, Rose witnesses a young boy escape from a truck. Though he is quickly captured and forced back into it. Rose follows the truck and discovers a nearby concentration camp. She begins sneaking food to the emaciated prisoners until the day the camp is liberated. Rose’s death on the last day she visits the camp is implied.

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Rose Blanche is a very moving story. It portrays a young girl’s effort to understand the inhumane treatment of human beings. Though it is a picture book, the content is heavy and the ending is tragic. I would recommend Rose Blanche for students in grades 5 and up.

A Very Special Relationship with a Grandparent

Grandparents can play an important role in a child’s life. My own grandmother was one of the strongest role models in my life. She taught me the importance of kindness and acting with integrity. She was an incredible, loving and independent woman. The grandmother in Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, by Sharon Creech, reminded me so much of my own grandmother. Creech brings to life the precious relationship between grandmother and granddaughter so beautifully. The time I spent reading Granny Torrelli allowed me to remember her and to smile. 

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Granny Torrelli Makes Soup (Guided Reading Level: S) is about the friendship between twelve-year-old Rosie and her best friend Bailey. Granny Torrelli serves as the voice of reason and experience throughout the story. Her actions and words are deliberate but subtle. She shares experiences from her own childhood with Rosie to guide her, rather than to tell her what to do. 

The role of food and cooking throughout the story, also reminded me of visits to my grandmother’s house. In Armenian households, much like Italian ones, food is essential to shared family experiences. Simply replace soup and pasta with dolma and bereg.

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup is going to be our first read aloud this year in my 4th grade class. I can’t wait to share this book with my students.