If you’re writing historical fiction, you obviously know a lot about the topic you’ve chosen. But when you’re writing for young readers, this can, in a way, become a problem. Kids haven’t necessarily studied the period you’ve picked in school, and they certainly haven’t done the research you have. Your challenge is to write a book that kids can understand while not talking down to them.
I remember one book I read at age seven, a short chapter book that took place during the Middle Ages. The author mentioned that the two main characters were worried for their father because he had gone to fight in the Crusades. At that age, I didn’t know what the Crusades were, and I became very confused. A few hints given in context—like mentioning that the Pope had called on all Christians to protect the Holy Land—would have made things much clearer.
When you write historical fiction, you are telling a story, and you don’t want to bog it down with too many facts. But you’ll also confuse your readers if you assume they know the topic too well. A well-written historical fiction book will introduce the facts subtly, giving readers the information they need while keeping the story moving. One valuable resource for finding books that do this well is John Gillespie’s Introducing Historical Fiction to Young Readers. It has an explanation of what makes a good historical novel for children, as well as an extensive list of books.
Melissa L. is the YA Editorial Assistant for Wonders and Marvels. You can read more about her here: Editorial Staff.