The Center for Children's Books


Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
What Your History Class Skipped: 20th Century World Historical Fiction - November 2013

Selected and annotated by Lindsey Bangert


Barrow, Randi G. Saving Zasha. Scholastic Press, 2011. 240 p. Gr. 4-7.
In Russia in the immediate aftermath of WWII, where everything German is considered traitorous, Mikhail and his family are still awaiting the return of his father from war. In the meantime, Mikhail finds a German Shepherd with its dying owner in the woods. Mikhail rescues the dog and, despite the dubious legality of owning it, quickly becomes attached. But now Mikhail's family must keep Zasha hidden from their friends and neighbors, including one particularly nosey classmate and a pair of thieves. 

Brooks, Martha. Queen of Hearts. Farrar, 2011. 224 p. Gr. 6-9.
During WWII in rural Canada, Marie-Claire and her two younger brothers contract tuberculosis from their uncle. All three are moved to a sanitarium, where Luc dies and Josee quickly recovers. Marie-Claire, however, remains ill for years, living in the sanitarium and slowly building a friendship with her lonely roommate, whose health is deteriorating. Along the way she falls for musician and fellow patient Jack and experiences the regular teenage struggles of growing up while dealing with the irregular treatments and lifestyle forced on tuberculosis patients.

De Graaf, Anne. Son of a Gun. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2012. 125 p. Gr. 5-8.
After being abducted from their school in Liberia, siblings Nopi and Lucky are forced to become soldiers in Liberia's civil war. Eventually they run away, but not before Nopi is beaten and made deaf while trying to defend her brother. Upon making it back to their home, the two are separated and end up on opposite sides of the war: Nopi as a rebel's wife and Lucky as a government soldier. Nopi manages to escape, but Lucky does not get out of the war for another five years, during which he finds himself fighting old neighborhood friends and witnesses the shocking horrors of war and death. While Lucky and Nopi's stories are fictional, the author includes letters and drawings from real former child soldiers and refugees.

Edwardson, Debby Dahl. My Name Is Not Easy. Cavendish, 2011. 256 p. Gr. 5-9.
Luke and his brothers are sent to a Catholic boarding school by their mother, although Luke is not actually old enough to attend and is promptly sent to a foster home without their mother’s knowledge. Tensions between white, Indian, and Eskimo students grows, exacerbated for the Inupiaq students by the Cold War when administrators urge students into a government program to ingest radioactive iodine as an experimental protection against the cold. The different student factions come together to rise against the school administrators and rescue the students and expose the abductions of indigenous children like Luke into white families.

Flores-Galbis, Enrique. 90 Miles to Havana. Roaring Brook Press, 2010. 292 p. Gr. 5-8.
After Castro's revolution in Cuba, ten-year-old Julian and his older brothers are evacuated from Havana to Miami via Operation Pedro Pan. Julian is forced to grow into new independence while facing the camp bully, Caballo, who succeeds in getting Julian's brothers sent to an orphanage in Denver. Eventually, Julian runs away from the refugee camp to live with fellow refugee Tomas, helping him on a risky rescue mission to bring more endangered Cubans to Miami.

Frost, Helen. Crossing Stones. Foster/Farrar, 2009. 184 p. Gr. 7-10
The Norman and Jorgensen families have always been friendly and helped each other’s farms, but in 1917, their relationships change, artfully depicted here in free-verse poems. Frank Norman enlists in a war that Muriel Jorgensen loudly protests, prompting her brother, Ollie, to run away from home and enlist as well. Frank’s sister, Emma, has to rethink her relationship to Ollie as Muriel tries to figure out what she wants out of life, traveling up to Washington to help her aunt imprisoned for being attending a suffragette rally and who is on a hunger strike. In addition to the war and suffrage movements, the families are also altered by the nascent flu epidemic.

Greenfield, Eloise; The Great Migration: Journey to the North illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Amistad/HarperCollins, 2011. 32 p. Gr. 2-4.
In a series of free-verse poems, Greenfield depicts the journey of millions of African Americans to the North between 1915 and 1930. These families dealt with the difficulties of moving to the North—by no means a utopia—after the open and frequent discrimination they faced in the South. Both the author and illustrator participated in the Great Migration as children and tell the stories of families like their own as their lives are changed forever.

Hiatt, Shelby. Panama: A Novel. Houghton Mifflin, 2009. 256 p. Gr. 10-12.
An unnamed teenaged protagonist is getting bored of her uneventful life in 1910 Ohio when her parents decide to move to Panama. While there, she meets and falls in love with a canal worker, Federico, who is busy gathering support for his political causes. Their romance forms the core of the story, though the author also uses the disparity of their roots to explore the socio-economic differences between the Americans in Panama and the Panamanians. Over the course of three years, the narrator matures and the canal is finished, forcing her and Federico into a heartbreaking goodbye.

Joffo, Joseph.A Bag of Marbles; ad. by Kris; illus. by Vincent Bailly, tr. by Edward Gauvin. Graphic Universe, 2013. 126 p. Gr. 6-10.
This graphic novel version of Joffo’s 1973 memoir recounts his experiences in Nazi-occupied France as a member of a Jewish family. Although Joffo, a successful barber, attempted to placate the Nazi soldiers at first, he eventually sends his two sons to the free zone. The two boys are careful in their new home and begin to settle in, but as they are about to start school, they receive word that their parents have been arrested. After the oldest son rescues their parents, the family is split up yet again in order to run from the Nazis.

Kadohata, Cynthia. A Million Shades of Gray. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010. 224 p. Gr. 5-8.
Y'Tin's plans of becoming an elephant trainer are thrown into jeopardy when, in 1973, American troops withdraw from Vietnam and the North Vietnamese army attacks his village. Separated from his family and Lady, his beloved elephant, Y'Tin and a group of friends escape the soldiers and set off to find their family members that survived the massacre. Along the way, Y'Tin must deal with the conflicts that arise amongst the boys and accept the fact that Lady is bonding with a herd of wild elephants. 

Kelly, Jacqueline. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Holt, 2009 352 p. Gr. 5–8
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Calpurnia Tate is sure of what her life holds in store: becoming a wife and mother. Her interest in nature, however, urges her to seek out her grandfather, who helps her in her scientific endeavors. While her confused parents try and impart domestic skills to Calpurnia, she chooses instead to work on her education with her Granddaddy, discovering a possibly new variety of plant.

Lasky, Kathryn. The Extra. Candlewick, 2013. 314 p. Gr. 7-10.
Lilo’s Sinti Gypsy family used to look down upon the Roma Gypsies before Hitler branded them all the same. After her family is separated, Lilo and her mother are chosen to act as extras in an upcoming movie before they can be sent to a labor camp by Hitler’s favorite filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl. Lilo, her mother, and Lilo’s new Roma friend, Django, are enthralled by the glamorous film set, but are still treated like prisoners. Django advises Lilo to position herself as important to the film, but Lilo and her mother are still scheduled to be deported to a camp after filming ends, prompting Lilo to attempt escape.

La Valley, Josanne. The Vine Basket. Clarion, 2013. 256 p. Gr. 5-8.
Mehrigul helps out on her family farm as the Chinese government encroaches on the land of the Uyghurs. Her brother is on the run, having participated in anti-Chinese protests, leaving his share of the chores to her and forcing her to quit school. Mehrigul thinks her family’s problems are solved when an American buyer pays what seems like an exorbitant amount of money for one of her baskets and promises that she will buy more in three weeks if Mehrigul continues to produce them. However, this new enterprise strains her family’s already tense environment.

Manivong, Laura. Escaping the Tiger. Harper/HarperCollins, 2010 224 p. Gr. 6-9
Vonlai and his family escape Communist-run Laos in 1982, only to be forced into Na Pho, a Thai refugee camp with equally poor conditions. Although he dreams of one day living in the United States, over the years Vonlai ages out of school, joins soccer teams, and learns to live with very few resources. A Royal Lao Army ex-colonel acting as a mentor to Vonlai advises him to never give up dreaming, even as violence threatens the refugee camp and Vonlai’s family.

Marsden, Carolyn. My Own Revolution. Candlewick Press, 2012. 174 p. Gr. 5-8.
Thirteen-year-old Patrik's drive to rebel might not be different from most teenagers’, except that he lives in 1960s Czechoslovakia under a Communist regime. He and his friend Danika are partners in their small acts of defiance, but when Danika starts dating the son of a party official, Patrik's rebelliousness escalates in hopes of regaining Danika's favor. While his parents, also struggling with the obedience demanded by the government, are deciding whether to leave, one of Patrik's public acts of dissent finally draws the wrong person's attention and forces the family to attempt escape.

McCormick, Patricia. Never Fall Down. Balzer + Bray, 2012. 216 p. Gr. 9 up.
Based on childhood of Cambodian activist Arn Chorn-Pond, Never Fall Down tells the story of Arn's enslavement by and escape from the Khmer Rouge in 1970s Cambodia. Despite witnessing horrendous tragedies, Arn retains his will to survive through the concentration camps and battlefields to escape and travel across Cambodia to Thailand, where he is eventually adopted by an American family.

Myers, Walter Dean. Invasion. Scholastic, 2013. 212 p. Gr. 7-10.
In May of 1944, World War II is still going strong, and new recruits continue to flood in. Many soldiers are confronted with the hardships of war, including Josiah “Woody” Wedgewood and Marcus Perry. Woody and Perry are acquaintances from their hometown in Virginia, but their differing races put them in in separate units in Normandy. While Woody is on the front line fighting because he is white, Perry is stuck in transport services, though they both are changed forever as the Allied forces storm Omaha Beach and secure St. Lo.

Ostlere, Cathy. Karma. Razorbill, 2011. 500 p. Grades 8-12.
When Maya’s Hindu mother commits suicide, she and her Sikh father journey from Canada to her parents’ home of India to scatter her mother’s ashes. While there, they are separated in the 1984 religious riots sparked by the assassination of India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Maya meets Sandeep, who helps her navigate the foreign country and overcome the trauma of the violence she has witnessed in order to find her father. This novel in verse explores the historical religious tension between Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus both within Maya’s family and India at large.

Pyle, Kevin C. Take What You Can Carry. Holt, 2012. 174 p. Gr. 6-9.
Two stories run parallel in Take What You Can Carry: Kyle, a bored teenager who has just moved to a new neighborhood in 1978 Chicago, finds himself with the wrong crowd, with his increasingly delinquent behavior ending in an eventual arrest; Himitsu, a Japanese teenager, finds his family uprooted and moved to an American internment camp during World War II, where his frustration leads him to act out. The two stories collide while Kyle is working off his shoplifting crime by helping the elderly Japanese man whose convenience store he robbed.

Quirk, Katie. A Girl Called Problem. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2013. 243 p. Gr. 6-9.
Shida and her mother are moving to a new village as part of President Nyerere's relocation program in 1967 Tanzania, and for the first time, Shida and other girls will have the chance to get a formal education. Shida is excited about the opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a healer, but not everyone is happy about the changes. When the new village seems cursed, Shida must convince the villagers to find the real reason behind the village's problems.

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. The Dreamer; illus. by Peter Sis.Scholastic Press, 2010. 372 p. Gr. 5-8.
This novel traces the fictionalized life of Neftali Reyes growing up in early 20th century Chile. As a boy he is given to daydreaming and is naturally emotional, upsetting his strict father. However, as Neftali grows into a young man, he begins to see the political injustices surrounding him and speaks up on behalf of himself and the native people of Chile. This novel is interspersed with illustration and verse to create an imagined portrait of the boy who would grow up to become the poet Pablo Neruda.

Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Grey. Philomel Books, 2011. 344 p. Gr. 8-12.
In 1941 Lithuania, Lina finds her family being pulled from their home and forced onto trains headed to Soviet concentration camps. After discovering that her father, who had been arrested earlier, is also in a prison camp, Lina begins to document her experience in drawings so that her father can find them later. Throughout the story, the prisoners form their own community, demonstrating the power of human compassion amidst even the worst of man-made tragedies. Drawing from her parents' experience of the Baltic genocide, the author includes a historical note for further reading.

Smelcer, John. The Great Death. Holt, 2009. 176 p. Gr. 5-8.
In 1917 Alaska, two sisters are left on their own after white settlers bring diseases that destroy their entire Alaskan Native village. Faced with no other choice, Maura and Millie must set out to find a new village to live in. Throughout this adventure story, they encounter dangers of the environment, like subzero temperatures and starvation, as well as dangers from settlers that they encounter. The novel is laced with bits of the folktale of Raven and includes a prologue that discusses the epidemics that destroyed much of the Native population of Alaska at the turn of the century.

Wallace, Jason. Out of Shadows. Holiday House, 2011. 282 p. Gr. 9-12.
When Jacko moves from England to a newly integrated boarding school in Zimbabwe in 1983, he finds the students of the school playing out the social and racial tensions felt throughout the country in the wake of the war that installed the new Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe. Though he begins by making friends with his black roommate, Nelson, over the course of four years, Jacko finds himself drifting towards school bully Ivan, whose family's wealth and status are threatened by Mugabe's changes. Jacko both witnesses and participates in acts of violence against Ivan's politically chosen victims, but eventually he must decide whether to stand up to Ivan or let the whole country suffer the consequences.

Yep, Laurence. The Dragon’s Child: A Story of Angel Island by Laurence Yep and Dr. Kathleen S. Yep. HarperCollins, 2008 133p. Gr. 4–6.
Yep Gim Lew’s father moves between America and his small Chinese village, where he re-establishes his role as the head of the family and impresses the village people with his success as he brings back an immigrant’s wages. To Gim Lew’s dismay, his father wants to take Gim Lew with him back to America, where Gim Lew will have to undergo intensive questioning by the United States government in order to be let into the country. Gim Lew’s stutter increases as he travels by boat to America, his father testing him on his answers every single day, anxious for when he will be questioned at Angel Island.

Top