The 5 Best American Historical Fiction Books to Read Aloud to Your Kids


Jim Trelease, author of the The Read-Aloud Handbook, shares four important reasons for reading aloud to children:

• Conditions the child to associate reading with pleasure;

• Creates background knowledge;

• Builds “book” vocabulary;

• Provides a reading role model.

The Department of Education reported back in 1983 that “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children” and said it was important that reading aloud continue throughout all the grades.

Whether your kids are in preschool or high school, whether they are homeschooled or attend public school, reading aloud is important for a child’s development. In these days when electronic and digital media pervade nearly every area of our lives, reading together as a family can provide an oasis and a joyful refuge from the daily deluge of smart phones, the internet, TV, and video games.

Our family especially enjoyed historical fiction as our boys were growing up. While we did read textbook-style narratives of history to get an overview, it was while reading historical fiction that the stories of our American heritage came to life for our children — stories of adventure, war, poverty, success, perseverance, and American exceptionalism.

I’ve listed below a few of our family’s favorites. Though not all are perfectly historically accurate on every point, they give an excellent sense of the times and the historical events. Moreover, the powerful stories will make history three-dimensional as your family is transported to another time and place a few chapters at a time. Though some of these books are written at a level kids in grades 5-8 can read for themselves, they’re so inspiring and educational that you should read them together.

1. Johnny Tremain — Esther Hoskins Forbes

Johnny Tremain is a 14-year-old silversmith apprentice in Boston in 1773. A tragic accident leaves him with a deformed hand and inadvertently plunges him into the intrigue and excitement of the early stages of the American Revolution. He meets famous Boston patriots and witnesses the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Lexington. You’ll love Johnny’s courage and determination and root for him chapter after chapter as the Revolution unfolds.