There is nothing like a good historical novel for conveying the feeling of a particular era. When you find historical fiction that is also age-appropriate, you simply have to grab the opportunity to have your students read. There are a few books like this that I’ve assigned to my sixth graders.
The first is the book that my current students are reading right now — The Eagle by Rosemary Sutcliffe. This book does such a great job of giving an inside glimpse at the life of the Roman legions. The book takes place in Roman-occupied Britain and it tells the story of Marcus, a Roman centurion who is retired because of an injury. In the book Marcus searches Britain for the eagle belonging to his father’s legion, attempting to solve the mystery of the lost ninth legion. The book does such a great job of bringing the vocabulary and customs of the Roman military that when I spoke about them in class I could rest assured that the students already had a nice frame of reference. It is technically rated at a grade seven level, so it is a little challenging for my students, but I usually consider that a good thing.
My students’ second reader of the year will be The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Pierce. This is a great book to go along with the second Roman History block. It tells the story of Jesus as his following is developing from the perspective of a young boy in Jerusalem. It is a powerful book that tells the story of Jesus from a historical perspective in a way that is thought-provoking and interesting. The reading level is just perfect, too.
Crispin, The Cross of Lead by Avi is a great book for conveying the feeling of the Middle Ages. Though it is a great book, it is written at a pretty simple reading level. For this reason it would meet some students perfectly but for others it could be too simple. If you are not already familiar with Avi’s work he is a great author to turn to when you’re looking for a good read.
There are more and more options for readers out there. Post your own recommendations in the comments.