Last summer I did a lot of thinking and blogging about the awesome-ness that is summer reading. What could be better than walking around with a book tucked under your arm, on the look-out for a sunny place to sit a spell? Summer reading happens on the beach, on planes, in hammocks, in the park, or wherever else sunbeams and moments of respite might find you. Most importantly, summer reading does not complete any assignment or obligation. Just the contrary. Summer reading is, by definition, fun reading, and it usually has no purpose beyond that.
There’s no need to turn away from exciting stories just because the summer sun is a distant memory. For evidence, I turn to that most maligned and academic of genres: historical fiction. These five books are just a few examples of teacher-approved reading that will keep you (or that bookish girl in your life) reading long into the night, breathless and white-knuckled with excitement. These stories – about girls solving mysteries, breaking free, and breaking the mold – will feed the soul of the adventure lover. At least until summer rolls around again.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry: A realistic picture of German-occupied Copenhagen in the early 1940s. As more and more of their Jewish neighbors are taken away, the tension, fear, and anger among the city’s inhabitants increase dramatically. The main character Annabelle, a Christian girl whose family has close German friends, shows tremendous courage as she risks her safety to help her friends and fight for what she believes is right. A great book for third through sixth grade readers.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi: Charlotte Doyle is everything that a young girl in 1832 ought to be: polite, modest, devout. Until one day, when on her way to meet her family in America she mistakenly boards a ship run by a murdering captain and his mutinous crew. She eventually resigns the futility of maintaining a lady-like existence under such circumstances, and befriends the callous sailors. The story, told in diary form, is fast and thrilling, and enough to make any girl want to give it all up in favor of a life on the high seas. A good read for upper grade and middle school readers.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson: Anderson calls her historical fiction books “historical thrillers” for good reason. This book tells the story of Isabelle, a slave from Rhode Island wrongfully sold with her sister to a rich but cruel couple in New York City on the cusp of the American Revolution. Desperate to protect herself and her sister, Isabelle becomes a key player in the heated politics of the time, carrying important messages and taking great risks in the hopes that someone will help her gain freedom. Anderson is a gifted writer, and creates an intriguing, complex cast of characters, as well as a palpable sense of danger and excitement. I recommend this book for very fluent upper grade readers all the way through high schoolers. Many will want to follow this book with the newly-released sequel Forge .
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly: In her farming town at the start of the 20th century, girls were expected to take care of the house, learn to cook, mind their siblings, and hope for good marriages. The main character of A Northern Light Mattie Gokey breaks the mold in many ways. In between her chores, she manages to write beautiful stories and dreams of studying in a big city university. Love for family and her sense of duty pull at her hard while her ache for a more fulfilling life propels her away, and the tension between the two is well-developed and heartbreaking. As Mattie’s story unfolds, Donnelly also reveals clues to a young woman’s mysterious death at the resort where Mattie works and about the secret identity of Mattie’s scandalous teacher. A great book for middle and high school readers.
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak: Even though the main character of the book is only eleven years old, I think this book is best suited for high schoolers. Liesel Meminger, the book thief of the title, lives with foster parents in Nazi Germany, where they hide a young Jewish man in their basement. The books that Liesel steals, and eventually learns to read, become a metaphor for connection and love. This poetic book is full of mysteries, and will truly startle you with its beauty, humor, and truths. It is a rich and layered read, and one that would be well-suited to reading and discussing with others.
Shannon blogs about her bookish life at www.shannonrigney.com