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.

Series and Sequels

You know that feeling you get when you’ve just finished an amazing book? You loved the plot and grew attached to the characters. The central problem has been resolved, though smaller ones may remain up in the air. Then you learn that the author has released a sequel or that the book you just read is in fact part of a series, and the fun does not have to end just yet!

Books in a series or sequels to books are a great way to engage readers at all levels, particularly reluctant readers or struggling readers. The familiarity of characters, setting, plot line, and the type of problems the characters face allow the reader to feel like they have already done some of the hard work and can pick up where they left off. 

In a post earlier this week, I wrote about Because of Mr. Terupt. I recently read the sequel Mr. Terupt Falls Again by Rob Buyea.

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After a challenging fifth grade year, the students in Mr. Terupt’s class have the opportunity to loop up to sixth grade together. The book follows the same lovable characters as they navigate another action-packed school year.  

As a sequel, this book did not disappoint. Same great, complex and realistic characters. Peer pressure is front and center. Overall the same important themes emerge, the importance of sticking together, standing up for what you believe in, taking time to understand the point of view of others, etc. However, it is important to note that this sequel features a lot of mature topics, including substance use, smoking. Also physical development in girls is also a topic that keeps coming up, as the characters in the story are in sixth grade.Based on the content of the book I’d recommend it for middle school students rather than those in elementary school.  

The third book in the series, Saving Mr. Terupt, was just released, and I am looking forward to reading it. Stay tuned!