20 novels for tweens who like history

You guys know how much I love to read, and it’s been tough to see the love of reading my tween once have disappear now that she is a teenager. Technology gets in the way…and even though she might not be doing it right now, I know she will be back…I was too! That foundation from the early years really does stick. I’m thrilled today that online friend and author A. L Tait has written a blog post for me with some suggestions you might find useful too – especially in the lead up to Christmas and gifts needed at the end of the year which is (somehow) fast approaching.

I hope you love this list and encourage you to enter the giveaway for the new book and if not grab a copy when you see it in your nearest bookstore or online….


One of the things I like most about historical fiction is the ability to immerse yourself in another world. The biggest pictures are built on the tiniest details and books with historical settings have some of the best and most telling details ever.

As a writer, digging up those details is one of the most enthralling aspects of writing your stories. Even when your world is ‘almost history’ like the one in my new book The Fire Star, the first Maven & Reeve Mystery.

The Kingdom of Cartreff, Rennart Castle, Tallen… none of the places in The Fire Star actually exist, but all of them are built on the details of Medieval history (a period that I love). What people ate, which plants grew in their gardens, the hierarchy of life in a castle.

For me, the focus is on the story first. But the best stories thrive in the most vivid settings.

If your tweens are anything like me and love to escape into the past, this list of books will fit the bill

Early history

Tarin of the Mammoths trilogy by Jo Sandhu (Stone Age).

Tarin must leave his family and travel alone across a wild, unknown land to save the Mammoth Clan.

Swallows Dance  (Bronze Age, Crete) by Wendy Orr

Leira is about to start her initiation as a priestess when a violent earthquake leaves her home – and her family – in pieces.

Middle Ages

Wolf Girl by Theresa Tomlinson (Anglo-Saxon England)

When her mother is sentence to be hanged for stealing, Wulfrun sets out to prove her innocence.

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (England, 1290).

Can 14-year-old Birdy halt her upcoming marriage to a very unwelcome suitor? She’s determined to find a way.  Note, this is a 13+ read – there is violence, sex, death in childbirth and death in general (it is the Middle Ages, after all).

The Fire Star (A Maven & Reeve Mystery) by A. L. Tait

When the dazzling jewel known as The Fire Star is stolen, Maven, a maid, and Reeve, a squire, have just three days to find it, or lose everything.


The Mummy Smugglers Of Crumblin Castle by Pamela Rushby (England, 1873) Orphaned Hattie goes to live with her great aunt and uncle in their crumbling castle in the English Fens, where her aunt hosts mummy-unwrapping parties to save her home from ruin. When the mummy supply runs out, Hattie must venture up the Nile to search for more.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (Texas, 1899).

Callie explores the natural world around her with the help of her grandfather and comes up against what it means to be a girl at the turn of a new century.

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay (England, WWI).

Clarry and her brother Peter live for their summers in Cornwall that they spend with their grandparents and cousin Rupert. When Rupert is sent off to fight at the front, Clarry is unsure whether her family can survive this terrible war.

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner (Germany, 1929)

When Emil is sent on an errand in Berlin, things go wrong and he must team up with a gang of children to catch a thief.

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith (England, 1934)

Originally published as an adult novel, this classic is suitable for readers 12+. The journal of 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain captures her own, a ruined Suffolk Castle, and her eccentric penniless family.

Who am I? The Diary Of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937 (My Australian Story) by Anita Heiss.

This is the fictional diary of a young Aboriginal girl who was stolen from her parents under the White Australia government policy. Mary grows up in the Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home and is given the diary by the matron when she is ten years old.


Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden 

Carrie and her brother Nick have been evacuated from London and find themselves in a Welsh village and a hotbed of family drama.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley

Set in England in the early days of World War II, this novel tells the story of Ada, a poor girl from the East End who has a club foot and has never been outside her one-bedroom apartment. When word comes that children are to be evacuated, Ada escapes with her little brother Jamie and ends up being housed by Susan Smith, who is crippled by grief.

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell (Darwin and Sydney)

Poppy, is a young girl who faces danger, loss, grief and new love during one of the most tumultuous times in Australian history. She lives through the bombing of Darwin and is evacuated to Sydney where she must learn to make a new life for herself.

Haywire by Claire Saxby (Australia)

Life in Germany in 1939 is not safe for 13 year old Max Gruber so he is sent to his Uncle Ferdy in London, only to find himself sent to Australia aboard the famous ship Dunera. Arriving in rural Hay, and housed in an internment camp, he meets local boy Tom. The two new friends become allies, as their lives are affected by the growing conflict in far away Europe.

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (India, 1947)

India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India, creating tension between Hindus and Muslims. Twelve-year-old Nisha, half-Muslim and half-Hindu, becomes a refugee when her family tries to flee.


52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor (Australia, 1960s).

For Anna, the quest to find the most beautiful doll she has ever seen is the most important thing in the world. But it’s only one of the adventures to be had growing up in 1960s Australia.

When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn (Swaziland, 1960s)

On one level this is a story about teenage girls navigating friendship and life in a mixed-race boarding school in Swaziland in the 1960s. On the other, it explores race, class and gender. Shortlisted for the 2020 CBCA Book Of The Year award for older readers, it’s recommended for 13+.

Lenny’s Book Of Everything by Karen Foxlee (Ohio, 1970s)

Lenny’s younger brother has a rare form of gigantism and life isn’t always easy for the family. The bright spot every week is the arrival of the latest issue of Burrell’s Build-It-At-Home Encyclopedia. This novel is full of hope and sadness. Bring tissues.

Catch a Falling Star by Meg McKinlay (Western Australia, 1979).

Somewhere high above Frankie Avery, Skylab, one of the world’s first space stations is tumbling to Earth. For Frankie, old memories are rushing back with it. Winner of the 2010 WA Premier’s Book Award (Writing For Children).

Refugee by Alan Gratz (Germany 1938/Cuba 1994/Syria 2015).

Three different children with one common mission: escape from the horrors of their homelands.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (California, 1990s).

Mia Tang and her parents live and work at the Calivista Motel. Based on the author’s real-life experience of immigrating to America from China, the novel explores how one girl overcomes language barriers, discrimination and her own lack of confidence to find her voice.

I’m going to be giving away two copies of A.L Tait’s newest book (out beginning of this month) just leave a comment a below and I will chose a random winner by 9pm AEST this Sunday 13th September 2020 and send a copy directly to you. Giveaway is not in conjunction with the author…the copies are on me.

There are affiliate links in this post where there author will be paid a small fee for each sale from Booktopia (but you pay nothing extra).

A.L. Tait is the author of three ‘almost history’ series for middle-grade readers, including The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and The Maven & Reeve Mysteries. Find out more at allisontait.com.


  1. There are some great sounding books on that list. I have an older teen now but younger nieces. I have always loved to give books to kids as gifts starting with the toddler board books, every little one I know was given “moo, baa, la la la by Sandra Boynton. Truth be told there are a few books on that list that I really like the look of & wouldn’t mind reading myself

  2. Reading middle-grade and young adult fiction has been my saviour during this ‘year’ – Lenny’s Book of Everything is beautiful. Currently reading The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling and it is so good. The Year the Maps changed was also excellent. Perhaps it has something to do reading about kids ‘doing hard things’ that reminds me that I can too.

  3. Beverley O'Brien says

    Thank you for this! Wonderful. Now I have a few Christmas gifts sorted.

  4. Heidi Stacey says

    I always value these posts Beth! I have a tween who is currently struggling in this area. But she did absolutely love The War that Saved Me. So I’ll for sure be showing her the rest of the recommendations. Thanks x

  5. My 9.5 year old, Sophie is an avid reader…so much so that she won’t put her book away at the dinner table! She would stay up reading until midnight each night if we let her (which we don’t because we don’t want to deal with the tired, grumpy kid the next day!). I’m a teacher and have shared this list with my colleagues, Beth- thank you. Some I already had on my historical fiction list but I’m rapt to have these to add too!

  6. For my gorgeous grandchild who I’m so happy to say loves reading. Oh Harper, theres some wonderful books on the list ( maybe nan and you could share 🤞🏻)

  7. Fiona Smolenaars says

    So many suggestions in one place and diversity within the genre. Think we’ll start with Who An I? The diary of Mary Talence.

    • Congrats! You were chosen at random as one of the winners of this giveaway. I will shoot you an email to grab your contact details for a copy of the book. Keep an eye out! x

  8. Such a great list! One of the things I’m loving as my eldest ( very nearly a tween) is getting into longer chapter book is finding ones we both want to read- that are exciting & tense enough for him but not too scary, and easy comfortable reads for me. How good is it sharing a great book with someone you love.

  9. So many books here that I would love to read and share with my children when they’re old enough!

  10. Megan Al lawati says

    Two of my daughters are in this age bracket one in particular loves history- Ill definitely show the list to them

  11. This might be a suggestion for an older teen but I am 2 books into a trilogy by Nora Roberts which begins with a global pandemic but then incorporates Magicks, Elves and Fairies who save the world from the dark side. The first chapter could have been referencing our current Pandemic but it was written a few years ago! Jump onto booktopia and read the descriptions for more information.

  12. Great to have recommendations for my niece. Saved for gift ideas! A girl can never have too many books, and if they can include some history, bonus!

  13. Sarah Reilly says

    Thank you so much for this amazing list, my 11 year old daughter will only read historical fiction and we have had trouble finding some of late… this should keep her going for a while.

  14. Your teenager will circle back to reading, I promise! It may take a while, but the books will always be there waiting for her to come back. And with reading lists like this, how could she not?

  15. Love this post. My 14 year old daughter has read a couple of these and I will be looking out for the others for her and her younger sister.

  16. YKNR always have fantastic lists of book. Thank you so much for sharing these historic fiction books. Long summer holiday book list sorted! 🙏😍 I myself also will read with my tweens.

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