Elementary Travel through Time with 7 Historical Fiction Stories from CommonLit’s Digital Library
Discover engaging historical texts, and inspire students’ curiosity in history through CommonLit’s free online reading program.
Looking for historical fiction texts for kids? CommonLit’s free digital literacy program offers dozens of historical fiction texts to supplement your ELA curriculum and elevate students’ reading comprehension.
With this genre, you can help students build empathy through the stories of relatable fictional characters who overcome their challenges with courage and hope. Introduce students to these 7 historical fiction stories set in significant time periods, including the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, the Blitz in 1940-41, and the Bus Boycott in 1955-1956.
“The Basket Weaver” by Jacque Summers (3rd Grade)
Set thousands of years ago, this historical fiction tells the story of a shy Chumash girl named Yo’ee, who lives in the area that is now California’s southern coast. While weaving baskets, she overhears the chief telling a story to the village children. Yo’ee wishes that she could tell stories too, but is afraid that her voice is too quiet to be heard. She creates a special basket to help her tell a story to the village people at the Acorn Harvest.
Check out the Related Media video “Chumash Baskets'' to show students what Chumash baskets look like and how they are made. After presenting the video, ask the following questions, “What do you learn about how the Chumash make their baskets? How is this similar to the way Yo’ee and Grandmother make baskets in ‘The Basket Weaver’? Why do you think it was special for Yo’ee to learn how to make these baskets like this from Grandmother?”
“Building Liberty” by Susan Yoder Ackerman (3rd Grade)
In this historical fiction story set in 1876, a French girl named Colette writes letters to her American cousin describing the construction of the Statue of Liberty in her father’s workshop. Later, in 1885, when Colette is grown up, she tells her cousin that she will be on the ship delivering all the pieces of the Statue of Library to New York.
Show students the Related Media video “The Statue of Liberty for Kids,” so they can learn why the Statue of Liberty is an important landmark. Ask students to discuss what makes a landmark famous. Then, follow-up with this question, “In ‘Building Liberty,’ Colette explains what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes. Why is the symbol special and important?”
“The Hanukkah Candle” by Samantha Beal (3rd Grade)
During the WWII Blitz in England, Atara and her mother prepare to celebrate Hanukkah without her father who is serving in the war. Their celebration comes to a halt when an air-raid forces Atara and her mother to leave their home before lighting the menorah. During the air-raid, Atara loses the shamash candle and worries that she will disappoint her father by not lighting the menorah. When Atara and her mother return home, their neighbor gives them a candle to light the menorah, so they can continue their celebration.
Help students learn more about the Hanukkah holiday with the Related Media video “Hanukkah.” As students watch the video, ask how it helps them better understand how Atara and her mother felt about celebrating Hanukkah. After they finish watching the video, have students discuss Atara’s feelings on losing the shamash.
“Rosa Refuses” by Ruth Spencer Johnson (4th Grade)
In a historical fiction letter dated December 1955, a young girl named Shirley writes to her cousin about the bus boycott taking place in their hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. A year later, Shirley writes another letter to her cousin about the success of the boycott and writes that she sat in the front of a bus for the first time.
Show the Related Media video “Rosa Parks – Civil Rights Activist” to provide students with information about Rosa Parks' role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Ask students to discuss how Parks’ actions inspired the bus boycott. Why do students think the bus boycott didn’t take place when previous black women were arrested for not giving up their seats? How do the text and video show the obstacles that black people faced?
“Two Destinies” by B.C. Bond (4th Grade)
This historical fiction set in ancient Nepal follows a prince named Siddartha who dreams of leaving his palace to learn about the outside world. When Siddartha discovers that his horse is ill, he rushes to the stables to comfort it, realizing that he neglected his closest companion while daydreaming about the outside world. He learns that he is no stronger than his weakest subjects. This important lesson helps Siddartha pave his way to his destiny as a spiritual leader recognized today as Buddha.
Pair “The Buddha and the Four Truths” with “Two Destinies” and have students discuss how both texts teach about Buddha. Ask the following questions, “What is the genre and structure of ‘The Buddha and the Four Truths’? What is the genre and structure of ‘Two Destinies’? How do the two texts teach about the life and teachings of Buddha in different ways?”
“Eyes Looking to the Sky” by Christopher Hallman (5th Grade)
Set in the B.C. era, this story follows Makani, a Polynesian boy who is traveling across the ocean to Rapa Nui with his village and a skilled navigator named Kilolani. During the journey, a storm hits and destroys one of the villagers’ canoes. After Makani bravely saves his cousin Ka'imi from drowning, the navigator Kilolani recognizes Makani’s potential to become a navigator and begins to train him.
After students finish reading the text, show the Related Media video “How did Polynesian wayfinders navigate the ocean?” to help students learn more about the role of a navigator like Kilolani. Using the information from the video and the text, have students explain the important parts of Kilolani’s job and how he would use these skills to locate Rapa Nui (Easter Island).
“Black Blizzard” by Maurine V. Eleder (5th Grade)
This historical fiction takes place during the 1930s Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. The protagonist Betty is looking after her four-year-old sister, Mary Ann, as a sandstorm brews. During the storm, Betty and Mary Ann see their horse, Fancifoot, outside the barn. Worried that Fancifoot will get hurt, Betty acts quickly to get him to a safe place.
Present the Related Media video “The Dust Bowl” to provide students with information about what caused the Dust Bowl and the serious effects of the black blizzards that occurred during this time. Ask students to discuss why black blizzards were dangerous.
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