Ten of the Best Historical Novels for Children

Tony Bradman chooses. I don’t think I would ever have become a writer if I hadn’t discovered historical fiction when I was a boy. There was something powerful and liberating about being pitched into a properly realised past world. Good historical fiction – and this is something it shares with fantasy as a genre – can really stimulate a young imagination. It certainly helps you to understand that things haven’t always been the way they are now, but also that people have always had to face and overcome

The Viking Saga

Henry Treece, Puffin, 978-0-1413-6865-8, £6.99pbk

I’m cheating by including this because it’s actually a trilogy of three novels that were published separately then bound into one volume. But the Vikings in these tales of voyages,


and survival would admire my boldness in starting that way. The stories follow young Harald Sigurdson from his


as the son of a Viking chieftain to his last journey in search of vengeance against an enemy. I loved Henry Treece’s books when I was a boy, and this one distils the essence of the Viking Age into great fiction.

The Wheel of Surya

Jamila Gavin, Egmont, 978-0-7497-4744-2, £7.99pbk

This wonderful novel is worth reading at any time, but has particular relevance this year,

the 50th anniversary of the Partition of India. Marvinder and Jaspal are two Punjabi children plunged into the maelstrom of India in 1947. They flee their village

and become separated

from their mother, so have to make an epic journey across the sub-continent and then to England to be re-united with their father.

It’s a poignant and gripping story. 14 Books for Keeps No.226 September 2017 10

problems. My favourite historical novels told big stories too, tales packed with journeys and quests and peril and adventure. Just like all genres, historical fiction has gone in and out of fashion, but it seems to be popular with both writers and readers at the moment, and I’ve certainly been writing a lot of historical fiction myself. So my list of the ten best includes the classics that I grew up with, as well as some more recent books that might well last as long.

Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson, multiple editions

Stevenson’s classic is often overlooked in surveys of historical fiction for children,

but that’s

exactly what it is – RLS wrote it in the late-19th century, but it was set in the 18th. It’s the greatest pirate story ever of all time, and features the best-ever pirate in the character of Long John Silver, and a terrific young hero in the brave and resourceful Jim. Don’t be put off by its age – it’s a straightforward, accessible read with a plot that rattles along, and is full of action and adventure. Not to be missed at any age. .

Carrie’s War

Nina Bawden, Puffin, 978-0-4351-2202-7, £6.99 pbk

The evacuation of children from British cities at the beginning of the Second World War has long become a familiar subject, especially in schools, but this is one of the earliest novels about it and still one of the best. Carrie and her younger brother Nick are evacuated from London to a small town in rural Wales. They’re taken in by grumpy Mr Evans and his down-trodden sister, and Carrie is soon drawn into a long- running dispute.

Ultimately it’s

about a central theme of historical fiction – how the past affects all our lives.

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