Some of the best historical fiction for upper-elementary and middle-school children invites readers to ponder such themes as how culture shapes identity … the significance of friends and family … and how all people have the same essential needs for home, food, shelter, love and acceptance. Students can hear news reports about immigration almost daily, but they might relate more easily to vibrant novels featuring spunky young protagonists who must make their way in a strange new land.
Candace Fleming’s Lowji Discovers America shows just how far it is from Bombay to Hamlet, Indiana. Nine-year-old Lowji is used to …
- a home on the 47th floor of an apartment building
- the sounds of honking cars, rattling trains and rumbling double-decker buses
- animals, even cows, running free in the city
- lots and lots of relatives – and a best friend
Lowji’s adventures in small-town America start right away with a fainting pig, a potty-mouthed parrot, and a man as big as a mountain. Leave room for a belly full of laughs with this lively, good-natured novel.
In her author’s note, Grace Lin notes, “Growing up Asian in a mainly Caucasian community was not a miserable and gloomy existence. But it was different. I wrote [The Year of the Dog] because it was the book I wished I had had when I was growing up, a book that had someone like me in it.” Pacy and her sisters are the only Taiwanese-American children at school until … Melody arrives. The girls become friends, enter a contest together, share a crush on the same boy, and enjoy the same food. Pacy even finds her true purpose in life. What will you find here? A charming story of friendship, self-discovery and a girl’s connection to her heritage, all told in a direct manner and dotted with amusing ink drawings. The charm continues in Lin’s sequel, Year of the Rat.
For a darker, more dramatic plot, try Donna Jo Napoli’s The King of Mulberry Street. Nine-year-old Beniamino’s mother leaves him on a ship in Naples, believing he will have a better life in America. Sailing into the New York harbor in 1892, the abandoned Jewish-Italian boy has his first and only new pair of shoes and acquires a new nickname, “Dom.” What he lacks, though, would alarm nearly anyone coming to the U.S.: he knows no English, has no one to greet him, and has no place to sleep. He spends his first night in a wooden barrel in an alleyway. Quick-witted Dom soon learns to avoid the cruel padroni, men who force homeless boys into slavery to work off their debts. As he struggles daily, Dom recalls the wise proverbs his Nonna taught him. He makes new friends and creates his own job by selling sandwiches. Based in part on her grandfather’s childhood, Napoli’s novel prickles with conflict, historical context, and unforgettable characters.