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Historical Picture Books and Children's Fiction
Photo by Jill Bowie

Travelling in Time: Adventures in History and Portals to the Past

Jackie McMillan —

Some marvellous reads to help us escape to other times.

At a meeting of Continued Sense of Wonder last year, we discussed books for children and young adults that have a historical setting or include time travel. 

Continued Sense of Wonder: Travelling in Time

As I write this, just over a year since we met to discuss books with historical settings written for young people, we are in Level 4 lockdown during a worldwide pandemic. None of us could have predicted one year ago that this pandemic-causing virus would be in our future. Presently, we all want it to be gone, and in the past. We look back fondly on our ability to get out and about: meeting with friends and family, going to school or work, going to the library, playing sports, and joining with others in shared recreational pursuits like concerts, movies and book groups.

Reading, however, is something we can still do, and it can help us during these troubled times. Reading, alone or together, can not only help fill our time, it can absorb, comfort and calm us, and act as an antidote to information overload from various media sources. Reading can also help us to connect and engage with the inner lives of others, and when reading historical stories we connect with people from another era and learn from them how to survive adverse and difficult times. 

Have a look at the selection of books below (links will take you to the library catalogue to print, e-book and other formats of each title). You will find the books we discussed in March 2019, as well as picture books that depict the past from around the world, with a separate list of New Zealand picture books, a selection of historical New Zealand novels, and a list of historical series, a list of novels that are set in wartime, and finally, although all of these books help aid readers to travel in time, there are books written for young people which include time travel. 

Our Choices, March 13, 2019

The Doomsday Book Connie Willis
Chosen for its powerful time travel story, suitable for a Young Adult audience, available as e-books and print from Dunedin Public Libraries.

By the Shores of the Silver Lake Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is the fifth book in the Little House series.
There are some recently published books about Laura Ingalls Wilder including her autobiography with additional notes and several biographies and documentaries.
See also picture book versions, My First Little House Books, of Laura Ingalls Wilder's stories below.

Torty and the Soldier: A Story of a True WWI Survivor Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston
See more New Zealand historical picture books further down this page.

Dawn Raid Pauline Smith (My New Zealand Story)
See others in the  My New Zealand Story series below.

Persepolis Marjane Satrapi
This graphic novel styled memoir, in the adult graphic novels collections, tells of a young girl growing up in Iran.

The Thieves of Ostia Caroline Lawrence
Check out others in Lawrence's Roman Mystery series, and also her P. K. Pinkerton mysteries set in the Wild West of the United States. See other historical series below.

The King of Men Olivia Coolidge
Tells a story of the classical character Agamemnon, King of Men, from Greek mythology.

I Marched with Hannibal Hans Baumann

Word to Caesar Geoffrey Trease

The Chronicles of Robin Hood Rosemary Sutcliff

Check out other historical novels by Coolidge, Baumann, Sutcliff and Trease from our Youth Stack. Ask at the Youth Desk for them.

Wonderstruck Brian Selznick

In the Dark Spaces Cally Black
Not set in the past, but instead Young Adult science fiction which is set in the future, which might make you think about choices in the present.

Time Travel Bath Bomb Jo Nesbo
Third in the series of Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder.

Check out more time travel stories below.

Song in the Forest Peter Hooper
This is the first novel in a trilogy set in a future, post-nuclear New Zealand. Followed by People of the Longwater and Time and the Forest.

No One Went to Town Phyllis Johnston
The first in a series set in colonial times in Taranaki. Followed by Black Boots and Buttonhooks.

Island at the End of Everything Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Above are the books discussed in one evening, but there are so many good books for children and young adults that give readers (whatever age you are) insight into history. The following is a selection of more great books set in the past.

Picture Books: Around the World

Prairie Day Adapted from The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Renée Graef
One of the My First Little House Books series. Others in the series include Going West, County Fair, Sugar Snow, The Deer in the Wood.

The Baby in the Hat Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Andre Amstutz

Peepo! Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Janet Ahlberg

My Dear Noel: The Story of the Letter from Beatrix Potter Jane Johnson

The Piano Man Debbi Chocolate, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Silent Movie Avi, illustrated by C. B. Mordan

Daisy Saves the Day Shirley Hughes

Ruby in the Ruins Shirley Hughes

A Soldier, a Dog and a Boy Libby Hathorn, illustrated by Phil Lesnie

Picture Books: New Zealand

The Anzac Violin: Alexander Aitken’s Story Jennifer Beck, illustrated by Robyn Belton
The true story of  a young soldier from Dunedin, Alexander Aitken, and his violin. Illustrated by Dunedin's Robyn Belton, recipient of the Inaugural Ignition Excellence Award.

Cook's Cook: The Cook who Cooked for Captain Cook Gavin Bishop
Listen to Dunedin's David Elliot interviewing Gavin Bishop at the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival in May 2019.

My Grandfather's War Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper

The Viaduct Postcard Susan Price, illustrated by Judith Trevelyan

Quaky Cat Diana Noonan, illustrated by Gavin Bishop
This was written in response to the 2010 Canterbury earthquake. It was followed by Quaky Cat Helps Out

Wooden Arms Sarah Johnson, illustrated by Scott Tulloch
A Maori language version, Poupou Tauawhi, is also available.

Changing Times: The Story of a New Zealand Town and its Newspaper Bob Kerr
This book is found in the children's graphic novels collection.

Children's and Young Adult Fiction:
New Zealand Historical Stories

The Runaway Settlers Elsie Locke

1918: Broken Poppies Des Hunt

Check out others in the Kiwis at War series

Enemy Camp David Hill

The Guardian of the Land Joanna Orwin

Also check out other historical New Zealand stories by Ruth Dallas, Eve Sutton, Jack Lasenby, Elizabeth Pulford and Joy Cowley.

Historical Novels and Fiction Series

The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures Brian Selznick

My Name is Victoria Lucy Worsley

The Mad Wolf's Daughter Diane Magras

Hetty Feather Jacqueline Wilson
Check out others in the Hetty Feather adventures.

Marly Walks on the Moon Alice Pung
Check out other stories in this series: Our Australian Girl

Survived the Japanese Tsunami, 2011 Lauren Tarshis, illustrated by Scott Dawson
Check out others in the I Survived series.

1854: Eureka Boys Penny Matthews
Check out others in the Do You Dare? series.

There are many historical fiction books for children that are written as though they are a diary. Check out books in the My Story series, as well as the My Royal Story, and My Australian Story and of course the My New Zealand Story series.

No Way BackValerie Wilding (My Story)

Gold!: the Journal of Mary Brogan, Otago, 1862 Pauline Cartwright (My New Zealand Story)

Assassin Grace Cavendish
Look for others in the Lady Grace Mysteries series

War Stories

Stolen Child Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
The companion book Making Bombs for Hitler is about Lida's sister Larissa.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit Judith Kerr

Maybe Morris Gleitzman
Check out others in his Once series. Listen to Barbara Larson interviewing Morris Gleitzman at the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival in May 2019.

Goodnight Mister Tom Michelle Magorian

I am David Anne Holm

The Silver Sword Ian Serraillier

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas John Boyne

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain John Boyne
Listen to Marjella Cullinane interviewing John Boyne at the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival in May 2019.

Put Out the Light Terry Deary

The Champion Maurice Gee

Chocolate Cake with Hitler Emma Craigie

The Book Thief Markus Zusak
Listen to Charlotte Graham-McLay interview Markus Zusak at the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival in May 2019.

Time Travel

Tom’s Midnight Garden Philippa Pearce

The Children of Green Knowe Lucy Boston
Check out other tales set at Green Knowe by Lucy Boston.

The Girl with the Red Balloon Katherine Locke

The Accidental Time Traveller Janis Mackay

Time Travelling with a Hamster Ross Welford

Tilly and the Time Machine Adrian Edmondson