I love recommending books. Loooooooove it. I happen to know an accomplished, Christian, homeschooled preteen who is an avid reader but wants to shield herself from inappropriate content. +10 points for high standards! Her mom approached me about getting some wholesome recommendations, and since the transition between kids/YA books can quite frankly be a dicey one, I thought I’d share them in case you know a similar book lover.
These were my parameters: no foul language, positive morality desired, non-romantic focus (why bring in the teen relationship drama any sooner than you have to, right?) and she enjoys historical fiction. To A.W., I hope you find something you like!
These books follow the everyday escapades of the four Moffat children and their widowed mother. It’s quite honestly been a while since I read them so the events of each are blending in my mind, but they’re fun reads about small-town life circa World War I. The kids plant Victory Gardens, open a museum, chisel money out of ice, and generally explore what it means to be a family and how to grow up. Side note – I’m patting myself on the back since I realized this technically qualifies as historical fiction. It will become blatantly obvious that fantasy is by far what I’m most familiar with, so I’ve got to take what little credit I can for staying in genre.
Princess Cimorene is independent, curious, dark-haired and smart. In other words, the exact opposite of what a princess should be. When she finds out she is to be betrothed to a dimwitted prince, she is having none of it. Cimorene runs away and becomes a dragon’s captive princess/cook/librarian – different from the other captive princesses she meets in that she wishes the knights coming to rescue her would simply go away. That being said, this book doesn’t degrade feminine traits or belittle the princesses who do want to get married. It’s about being true to yourself and finding your own way, with Cimorene leading the way as a rational, level-headed, no-nonsense heroine.
This one half qualifies as historical fiction. Jessie has spent her whole life in Clifton, growing up as a normal girl in the 1840s. But when diphtheria strikes and children begin to fall ill, Jessie’s mother breaks the truth to her – it’s actually 1996, and they’re living in a sort of historical preserve, a window to the past for tourists. The organization in charge has stopped slipping in modern medicine, so the task of sneaking out and finding help falls to Jessie. She has no time at all to adjust to the modern world, but the sick children she left behind don’t have any either.
Miri’s mountaintop village isn’t accustomed to being in the spotlight, but when it’s decreed that the next princess will be chosen from the local girls, that’s exactly what they get. The candidates are give a crash course in how to be royalty – the Princess Academy. Despite marriage being the overarching plot point, this is really more of a story about the importance of female friendships and deciding what you aren’t willing to change about yourself regardless of what the powers-that-be demand.
It has also been a long which since I’ve read this, so the particulars somewhat escape me, but I liked it well enough that I re-bought it at a library sale last year after selling my childhood copy probably a decade ago. The two titular princesses are polar opposites in everything except for how much they care for each other. Meryl is eager to leap into action, proclaiming that she will rid the kingdom of all monstrous creatures, and Addie is more than happy to let Meryl be her protector.
But when the Gray Death strikes the royal family, Meryl is the one who falls ill. It’s up to Addie to quest for a cure, using her unknown well of courage and an entertaining arsenal of magical items to outwit dragons, specters and hopefully death itself. I also just realized that this is by the same author of Ella Enchanted, which goes a long way in explaining why I like it. I don’t have a sister myself, but I imagine the bittersweet ending will tug on the heartstrings of anyone who does.
Princess Ani has always been looked at a little strangely, thanks to her ability to communicate with animals. In fact, she is unfairly stripped of her title as Crown Princess and betrothed to a foreign prince, a twist that she is not at all thrilled with. Even less thrilling is when her jealous lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during the journey with the intention of taking Ani’s place at the altar. Bereft and alone in a foreign country, Ani starts a new life watching over the king’s geese. Goose Girl is about contentment, courage, having pride in your abilities and heritage, and standing up for what’s right.
America’s population has swelled, forcing the implementation of a two-child limit law. Luke is an illegal Third, living in fear of being discovered by the Population Police. He secretly meets and befriends Jen, another Third who does not share his fears. Jen wants to speak out and defend the Thirds’ right to life, but Luke is afraid to come out of the shadows. While this is a decently lengthy series at seven books, the first can be read as a standalone. Books #2-7 take on an adventure vibe, but Among the Hidden remains grounded in reality and focuses on the value of human life.
Sylvie is quite literally a 12-year-old storybook princess – she lives in a book, dashing from page to page to act out whatever scene the mysterious Reader opens up to. But after 80 years of re-enacting the same story, she’s bored. When she does the unthinkable and makes eye contact with the Reader, she sets off a chain of events that will have her fighting for the survival of her book and everyone between its covers.
For starters, all the American Girl books are excellent, but I decided to include this series in particular because a) they aren’t as well-known, and b) the traditional books and History Mysteries are written for a younger demographic. The Girls of Many Lands books aren’t in print anymore, but you can get them all for a penny each on Amazon or see if your library still has them in circulation. They take the “American” out of “American Girl” and transport readers to eight different countries and historical time periods, including:
- Isabelle in Tudor England
- Cecile in France’s Palace of Versailles
- Leyla in Turkey’s Tulip Period
- Saba in Ethiopia’s Age of Judges
- Spring Pearl in China’s Second Opium War
- Minuk in Alaskan Territory
- Kathleen in Ireland’s Great Depression
- Neela in British-occupied India
Of all the books on this list, these are the only true historical fiction, and bring with them the most potentially touchy elements for my reader gal, who is from a strong Christian family. The heroines represent many different faiths and belief systems, with no emphasis given on one being more right than the other. That being said, I think they provide an excellent learning and discussion opportunity. In addition to well-rounded, thoughtful stories about standing up for yourself, your family and your culture, each novel has a small appendix of nonfiction information about the time period depicted. Some of the stories have harsher elements than others – death, poverty, slavery, war – but they’re still age appropriate for a preteen. My favorites are Cecile, Leyla, Kathleen and Isabelle.
This whimsical, mysterious, brick-sized book should truly be read by everyone. Hugo, an orphan living in a 1930s Paris train station, is enamored with all things clockwork. Alternating between text and sections of supremely gorgeous illustrations,* the story unlocks secrets both mechanical and personal. It’s about friendship and family, not letting the past drag you down and finding a way to keep on living. At 533 pages, it looks absolutely enormous, but since whole sections are told entirely through illustrations it easily can be read in 2-3 hours. And as a last tag, I haven’t seen the movie but have heard it’s quite good.
That’s all I’ve got for now! If you’ve got other titles you’d recommend for this age group, feel free to drop a note in the comments!
*The Invention of Hugo Cabaret won the 2008 Caldecott Medal, which is a huge deal because that award is for picture books, not novels. Brian Selznick is both the author and illustrator, and he has mad skills.