Sure, fantasy and imaginary worlds are exciting and lovely to read. But there’s something particular intriguing and enlightening about diving into lost worlds – in the one we currently live in. In a time before digital technology, where war, famine, and slavery were common, arise diverse stories that we can learn from immensely.
Our children can also glean valuable life lessons, be it learning historical facts about society, or learning from the grit and tenacity of the world’s forefathers. Reading realistic and historical stories will broaden their worldview, making them more tuned in to the tensions and issues surrounding our world.
So, in this article we have specially curated 8 books along the theme of historical fiction or non-fiction, with a specific focus on books set in different geolocations and cultures. If you are looking for a different type of read for your child, stick around for the ride!
Note: The books in this list, with the exception of the bonus list at the end, were retrieved from Singapore’s P4 GEP ‘Recommendations for Extensive Reading’. Thus, they are generally suitable for advanced readers from age 10, or tweens and teens. Parents may want to take precautions with some of the books as they deal with subject matters like abuse, violence, and other potentially traumatic events.
1. Totto-Chan, The Little Girl at the Window (Tetsuko Kuroyanagi)
What is it like to go to school in Japan during World War II? After being expelled from public school, Totto-Chan enrols in Tomoe Gakuen, a school unlike any other during its time. At Tomoe Gakuen, the headmaster Mr Kobayashi encourages freedom of speech, equality, and learning of English. And there, the children are sheltered, even oblivious, to the signs of war around them – a pity that this little oasis was short-lived…
A bestseller in Japan and around the world, Totto-Chan is in fact an autobiographical memoir of TV personality Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s childhood. A story of innocence, growth, and learning, it spurs youngsters to contemplate their own education and experiences in school.
Setting: 1940s Japan
Suitable for: Age 10 and up. Mention of war.
2. Chinese Cinderella (Adeline Yen Mah)
A poignant autobiography tells the story of Adeline Yen Mah’s troubled childhood in 1940s China. Her mother dies while giving birth to her, causing her family to deem her as a symbol of bad luck. Things only get worse after her father remarries: Her stepmother treats Adeline and her siblings cruelly, while showing favouritism towards her own children.
Despite the heavy subject, at its core, Chinese Cinderella is a tale of survival and finding acceptance. This inspiring narrative of overcoming hardships is one that encourages readers to seek courage and stay resilient despite their circumstances.
Setting: 1940s China
Suitable for: Age 12 and above. Mention of family abuse and emotional trauma.