Art & History

Historical Fiction for Kids – A Book Review

What better way to #jumpintohistory, than to immerse yourself in historical fiction for kids… but where to start?
With so many great titles to chose from, you might find it difficult to plump for one of them. Louise is a life-long bookworm, and lover of historical fiction, and has some great tips.

I have always loved reading fiction books about history, especially books about girls.

I grew up reading fiction books about the lives of girls: Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, L.M Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon and Anne of Green Gables, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did series. I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods series, which is the story of Laura’s life growing in 19th century America. I always wanted to be Laura and have adventures living in the middle of nowhere surrounded by woods, although I am still not very keen about the lack of indoor plumbing.

 

 

I went on to study history at university and became a history teacher. Now, I do a lot of research reading books and diaries written by women about their own lives. I love reading about women’s lives and the things they loved. I still read every book I can get my hands on, but only if they are written by women and are about women.

 

Catherine, Called Birdy

birdy

When I’m feeling tired or I have a cold, I always reread my favourite children and young adult fiction books. One of my absolute favourite books is called Catherine, Called Birdy, which was written by Karen Cushman.

Catherine is a young girl living in Medieval England. She is feisty, smart and trapped in a life that she hates. Catherine is the daughter of a not-very-wealthy man whose sole ambition is to wed Catherine to a very, very rich man.

In Medieval Europe, the value of girls was only in their ability to marry wealthy or powerful men to increase the wealth and power of their families. Girls weren’t allowed to marry for love and, despite the fact that women and girls worked, they weren’t allowed to work in paid employment outside the home. Young girls from poor families did work as servants but servants tended to be male.

Girls from families with property or titles weren’t seen as being “working women” despite most actually doing things that we consider work today. Women did work. It’s just that the men who wrote the histories of women focussed on men’s work and men’s politics. They didn’t think that women’s contributions were worth mentioning.

Catherine was exactly the type of feisty young girl whose life was ignored by historians. Catherine, Called Birdy is a fiction book but it is one of my favourite books about history. Catherine has no intention of marrying the ugly, mean old man her father wanted her to marry. Instead, Catherine wanted to be the pig-boy. I’m not sure I would want to be a pig-boy and live in the stables with the pigs but I’ve always wanted to be as feisty and smart and funny as Catherine.

I don’t think it matters what time we live in, books about history or books set in historical times let us dream secret lives full of mystery, humour and love. It also allows us to imagine the lives of girls who weren’t considered important by the men writing history. Catherine, Called Birdy might not be a story about a real girl but I think she’s the kind of girl I would love to have known.

 

Also, there’s a scene in the book with a flaming chicken of mass destruction which is flat out the funniest thing I have ever read.

 

 

Louise Pennington is a feminist writer and historian who still loves reading about women’s lives. Currently, she’s reading fictional biographies of Cleopatra and Eleanor of Acquitaine.
Recommendations for awesome books written by women are always welcome!

 

The great thing about reading classic novels is that they are generally easily available at your local public library. If you wish to buy a copy to read and reread, then here is where you can find them, in UK and in US. We have no affiliation with these stores, and earn no money from recommending them, and would always recommend trying your local independent book store first.

We have no affiliation with these stores, and earn no money from recommending them, and would always recommend trying your local independent book store first.

 

Where to buy these books – UK

Karen Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdie

Johanna Spyri’s Heidi

L.M Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon and Anne of Green Gables

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did series

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods

 

Where to buy these books – US

Karen Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdie

Johanna Spyri’s Heidi

L.M Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon and Anne of Green Gables

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did series

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods 

 

See also the book review of I, Coriander 

 

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Louise Pennington

Louise is a feminist writer and activist who loves women’s history, reading, feminism, cats and Star Wars.

She has three cats and two daughters. Louise also runs a blogging network for feminist writers called A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network.

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