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Historical heroes and heroines

These novels for intermediate and middle-school readers show landmark moments in history through the eyes of perceptive preteens.

Young Zora Neale Hurston and her friend Carrie are pulled into another mystery involving their tight-knit African American community in Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground. The main narrative, set in 1903, alternates with that of a girl enslaved on a Florida plantation in 1855. Their stories merge with a heart-stopping climactic scene. T. R. Simon’s suspenseful plot moves briskly even as it folds in profound, timely themes. (Candlewick, 9–12 years)

In The Button War: A Tale of the Great War by Avi, a group of Polish boys makes a game of stealing buttons from the changing cast of soldiers invading their village. Power-hungry and cruel group leader Jurek controls the contest; protagonist Patryk believes he can win and become a benevolent leader. Short, staccato sentences build dread, leading inexorably to tragedy. Readers are left with the consequences of one boy refusing to speak up. (Candlewick, 9–12 years)

In 1940s Chicago, recent Southern transplant Langston discovers Langston Hughes’s poetry at the library. Reading poetry helps the boy keep his late mother’s memory alive, find solace from grief, and make a friend. Written in crisply paced, short chapters, Lesa Cline-Ransome‘s Finding Langston is full of historical details of the Great Migration and African American literary culture, and may resonate with any child who has experienced grief or loneliness. (Holiday, 9–12 years)

At the start of The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani, half-Hindu, half-Muslim twelve-year-old Nisha and her family are forced to leave home after the 1947 Partition of India places their city in the newly created Muslim state of Pakistan. Hiranandani flawlessly renders that world-altering historical event through the diary of her insightful protagonist, providing enough contextualizing detail for readers who may not be familiar with the history while keeping focus on Nisha’s arduous literal and emotional journeys. (Dial, 9–12 years)

From the November 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College.

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