Historical fiction can be fantastic for kids, teaching them about our past and inspiring them for the future. It can also be very exciting to read!
We talk more about reasons to share historical fiction with children in this article.
And here’s a list of some terrific Australian historical stories:
There are several book series available which deal with historical events through the eyes of child protagonists, and aim to make Australian history lively and ‘real’ for young readers. They include:
The Our Australian Girl series looks at different eras in Australian history through the eyes of ‘everyday’ girls. The stories are engaging, with a lot of fascinating detail, and universal issues such as family, friendship and standing up for what’s right. As we write this, there are 10 different girl characters in the series, with four books about each.
The Do you Dare series is aimed specifically at boys, with a classic adventure-story feel to the books. Each book centres on a key event or experience such as convict life, the Eureka Stockade, bushrangers and WWI.
Each instalment in the My Australian Story series is written in the form of a diary of a young person living during an important period in history.
All three of these series feature contributions from acclaimed, popular authors.
Some excellent stand-alone novels
Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park – First published in 1980, this now-classic novel tells the story of a girl transported from the modern day to Sydney’s The Rocks in the 1870s. Fascinating history, wonderful writing, a strong central character. Some readers will enjoy this in upper primary school, others in lower high school.
That Boy, Jack by Janeen Brian – Set in South Australia in the 1870s, this book focuses on two boys who’ve grown up in a mining town. Everyone assumes they will go to work in the mines, too, but Jack is terrified of the idea. Very thought-provoking, this book for upper-primary pulls no punches about the difficulties of life at the time. It’s beautifully written, and shows kids how far we’ve come …
Market Blues by Kirsty Murray – In this time-slip adventure set around the Victoria Markets, a Greek-Australian boy travels back to Melbourne in 1900 – the time of Federation. A very moving, evocative novel which will suit many kids in upper primary school.
Evan’s Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood– Fourteen-year-old Evan travels to the Turkish battlefields in WWI with his father, taking medicines and comforts to the soldiers. Kerry Greenwood is perhaps best known for the adult ‘Phryne Fisher’ mysteries. She’s passionate about history, and has created a very detailed, gripping account of life for those on the battlefield and those living behind the lines. This is for 12 plus.
Loyal Creatures by Morris Gleitzman – Morris Gleitzman’s historical fiction set in Europe is much admired and loved. Here, he tells an emotional, heart-wrenching Australian WWI story. A novel for high school readers, about a 16 year old Australian boy who enlists in the Australian Light Horse alongside his father, and discovers the true nature of war.
Crow Country by Kate Constable – Combining compelling family drama and an intriguing murder mystery, this time-slip novel follows three generations of families in a small country town in Victoria and their responses to racism. It won the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year for Younger Readers in 2012. For upper primary or lower secondary.
The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell – This very moving novel looks back at life in Darwin in the 1940s and the impact of WWII – the threat of Japanese invasion and bombing raids. It has a strong family setting, and is full of fascinating detail about life at the time. This one’s for readers of about 10 or 11, and up.
Books by Jackie French
Jackie French is a hugely popular storyteller who aims to engage and enthuse kids. Her many historical novels include:
The Night they Stormed Eureka – A timeslip novel which transports a teenager back to the 1850s goldfields. For readers of around 10 and up.
A Waltz for Matilda – French herself describes this as ‘the best book I have written’. For readers of around 10 and up, it’s set against the backdrop of the 1890s drought and shearers strikes and tells the story behind the iconic song ‘Waltzing Matilda’.
Jackie is the author of many other wonderful historical books including A Rose for the ANZAC Boys, Tom Appleby Convict Boy, The Goat who Sailed the World (a true story about Captain Cook’s voyage), The Girl from Snowy River, and Somewhere Around the Corner (set in The Depression).