TO BE READ Historical fiction

To Be Read is a new Words and Pictures feature with suggestions for what SCBWI members might like to read next. Do you have suggestions for us? Would you like to write a To Be Read yourself? See the end of the article.

At one SCBWI event I attended in 2015, an agent told the audience that any time older than 20 years before the present was considered historical fiction. Yes, a book about the 1990s is historical fiction... This is one of my favourite genres. Here are some books about the past that I'm looking forward to reading. If you have any more that look intriguing, could you add them in a comment? 


Black Powder, by Ally Sherrick

Being American, I don’t know much about the Gunpowder Plot beyond the detail that some men wanted to blow up Parliament. This 2016 book about a boy who has to choose between saving his father and betraying his country looks like a great way to learn more. Extra detail: Ally won the SCBWI Conference 10-word pitch contest with this book and wound up with a contract from Chicken House!

The Lost History of Stars, by David Boling

Lettie is a 14-year-old Afrikaner girl in South Africa at the turn of the last century. In a little-known episode, she and her family and thousands of others were interned in concentration camps during the Boer War. For solace she turns to her memories of stargazing with her grandfather. 

I like to read books so far out of my own world and experience–the Boer war is something I know very little about, and the concentration camps were the first in history.

Wave Me Goodbye, by Jacqueline Wilson

A London girl is evacuated during World War II, and billeted in a house with a reclusive owner along with two boys she doesn’t know. Shirley doesn’t even know she’s being evacuated — she’s been told it’s a ‘little holiday’.

As a child I was a huge Narnia fan, and the Narnia books begin the same way... so of course I'm still interested.

Beyond the Wall, by Tanya Landman

Cassia is a slave in Roman Britain. She has wounded her master and decides to flee north to freedom beyond Hadrian’s Wall — and her only hope is a slick young Roman who doesn’t seem at all trustworthy. 'Can one slave destroy the empire?'

Like hundreds of thousands of others, to me Roman Britain calls up images of Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliff's book from 1954 that I believe has never been out of print. This is the same world, and by the author of the prizewinning Buffalo Soldier, so it looks like a sure bet.

Beck, by Mal Peet

This was Mal Peet's last book; Meg Rosoff completed it after his death. A young boy with a white British mother and an African sailor father is orphaned and sent off to work on a farm in rural Canada, during the Great Depression. To be honest, this doesn’t sound like the kind of book I’d normally read — I tend to go for castles and ancient times — but it was the Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Year and shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. It’s good to read outside your comfort zone, so this ‘sweeping coming-of-age adventure’ is the next book I plan to read. 

Are you interested in writing a To Be Read? Or do you have books or a theme or genre you'd like to suggest? Let us know at or

Top photo: Children's library in Camarillo, California, photo by Gbucknor, Wikipedia

Julie Sullivan

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