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>Are historicals history?

>In my capacity as chair of the Scott O’Dell Award, I received a letter from a prominent author of historical fiction, bemoaning what she sees as a current lack of interest in the genre among publishers. I have no idea if this is true, as what publishers are in the market for now won’t reveal itself to me for at least a year. And while it’s true that fewer historicals seem to be published now than in the heyday of the Dear America series (which is being re-amped, I’ve noticed), the publishing of historical fiction seems to have been fairly consistent over the past decade. What do you think?

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. chorkiereader says:

    >I believe there will always be a welcome place at the table of young people for historical fiction. This year's Newbery was awarded to historical fiction. Where other types of fiction may seem popular at a moment of time, historical fiction is everlasting.

  2. Amy Cherrix says:

    >The success of award winners and honor books like When You Reach Me and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, at least speaks to the desire of adults to keep historical fiction in the marketplace. As a bookseller however, I am rarely approached by readers specifically seeking historical fiction. Contrarily, I meet many young readers who are fascinated by the historocity of steampunk novels and its reliance on Victorian culture.

  3. >Actually, all of the Newbery fiction titles from the last two years are historical fiction. I don't know what that says about the publishing side, but it's certainly not being ignored on the critical side.

  4. Melissa Rabey says:

    >I was intrigued by this question, since Libraries Unlimited published my Historical Fiction for Teens: A Genre Guide in December 2010.

    I would say that as Amy said, teens don't necessarily come in asking for historical fiction–but they do come in looking for books that have one foot in historical fiction. It certainly seems like there's plenty of novels being published that have some kind of historical setting–whether that's enough to make them historical fiction is another discussion!

  5. Sheela Chari says:

    >I think it boils down to the story. I agree that kids aren't necessarily looking for historical fiction. They're looking for a certain kind of story (strong female character, high-stakes, intrigue, etc), and sometimes a historical novel can provide that for them. Interestingly I was at the bookstore the other day looking for a book to give to a 12 year- old who "reads up." The bookseller and I went back and forth and we finally selected a historical, which she felt was great for tweens, who are ready for a meatier novel without the more mature content found in the dystopian/paranormal romance etc novels.

  6. >I suppose publishers have a lack of interest in historical fiction because of their expected bottom lines. The books simply have to sell. When I worked in school libraries, I was an advocate of more reading across the curriculum….especially with my social studies teachers. Unfortunately, today’s teachers have to spend too much time worrying about their students passing standardized tests and less time perfecting effective teaching techniques. Using historical fiction is a perfect way to engage students in this content area…and more reading will inevitably increase a publisher’s bottom line.

  7. rockinlibrarian says:

    >I just want to second what Sheela Chari said. Kids might not SAY they're interested in "historical fiction," but if it's got a good enough story they'll be all over it. And maybe publishers want their audience to be Everybody, but just because something isn't wildly popular doesn't mean there aren't a lot of people who love it anyway.

  8. Fourth Musketeer says:

    >I think it depends on how you define historical fiction–I have a blog dedicated largely to historical fiction for kids and teens (
    and I find plenty of new titles to review. You might not find them in your local chain bookstore) but the indies and the libraries are buying them. There are lots that are also historical fantasy–time travel, etc. with a historical setting or combinations of paranormal/historical fiction like Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution of last year. I don't see the genre as dying out at all, although it may not be as popular as Wimpy Kid.

  9. Shoshana says:

    >I recently made a reference list for the Brookline Booksmith staff of books in the kids' section with nonwhite characters, and I found that quite a few of the intermediate and YA titles were historical fiction. My sense is that much of the historical fiction published recently has a different purpose than that published a few decades ago–to tell the parts of the story that were left out the first/second/third time around.

  10. D.M. McGowan says:

    >There seems to be a consenses with commenters although it is being said in different ways.
    My three novels can be called historical fiction and from feed back I've recieved from readers they are popular with those from early teens to as ancient as I. However, if one tells the teens and twenties the story is historical fiction they aren't too excited until after they've dipped into the story.

    As for teachers and librarians the stories give students a look at Canadians (and Canada) of the late 1800s along with some entertainment to keep them reading.
    I'm selling fine … but, as with anything else, how do you market it?

  11. Cindy Vallar says:

    >As a reviewer for Historical Novels Review (from The Historical Novel Society), I see no evidence that publishers aren't seeking and publishing historical fiction. Over the years we've consistently received more galleys than we can review in an issue, which covers not only adult, but also children's and young adult historical fiction. In my capacity as an editor for HNS's Solander Magazine, I'll be spotlighting a soon-to-be published YA historical novel by Susanne Dunlap entitled In the Shadow of the Lamp.

  12. Loretta Ellsworth says:

    >I tend to agree more with the prominent author of historical fiction that you mentioned. Historical fantasy may be doing well, but straight historical fiction isn't. Publishers are looking for more commercial books and quite often historical fiction is not seen as commerical.
    I think in the coming years we will see a downward trend in the numbers in this genre even though it continues to win the big awards.

  13. >I have often found as a bookseller that the kids will grab anything if it looks interesting. I mean, the American Girl series is as popular as ever. Parents on the other hand seem to be a bit more picky. A strange trend I have noticed recently, parents will pick up books for their kids if it is set in the time period they grew up in. Which means novels about the seventies and eighties are beginning to draw some attention. And when parents are buying for their kid without the child present, they tend toward historical or contemporary rather than anything fantasy or sci-fi based.

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