Books With a Little History

I’m currently working on a reading guide for Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising. I’m a big fan of middle-grade books based on historical events because a) they’re a great vehicle for cultural education and discussion among ESL students, and b) they feature a lot of themes that are recognizable to adults without characters being overly childish. You can also find historical books based on a wide range of cultures – even some that your students may relate to. I usually use these middle-grade books in my low-intermediate reading classes.

So if you’re looking to inject a little history into your reading class, check out this list of middle-grade historical novels!

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle (Cuba, 1896)

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (Kansas, Great Depression)

Heart of a Samurai by Maggi Preus (Japan, 1841)

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (England, WWII)

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost (Indiana Territory, 1812)

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (Little Rock, Alabama, 1958)

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper (North Carolina during segregation…couldn’t find the exact year)

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (Chile and the US, 1970s)

The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau (Mexico, 1950s)

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Geimenhart (American West, again, couldn’t find the exact year)

These are just a few to get you started! There are tons of really great historical novels out there that would work perfectly well in an ESL classroom. I have only read a few of these…the rest are based on Goodreads lists and recommendations…but one of my favorite things about teaching reading is discovering new stories along with my students. I’m currently on the lookout for good middle-grade historical fiction featuring Chinese or Arabic characters (since that’s usually the make-up of my classes), so I’ll be adding to this list in the future!



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