Skip to content

What’s Hot in Children’s/YA Historical Novels

September 5, 2017


As UK Children’s/YA Book Reviews editor of the Historical Novels Review, I’m often struck by how different periods go in and out of fashion as the setting for a novel. In 2014, inevitably, the First World War was a popular background. Then there was a run on the Tudors: Jane Seymour, Lady Jane Grey, Shakespeare’s Globe (several), the Tower of London, and young boy spies working for Walsingham, etc.

At the moment, the Classical world is in. A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled when award-winning Tanya Landman’s new book, Beyond the Wall arrived. Her heroine, Cassia, is a slave girl in Roman Britain – and she’s on the run. Her only hope of safety is to get beyond Hadrian’s Wall, but with dogs on her trail and a bounty on her head, can she make it?

Then other Roman books fell onto my doormat, for example, Revolt against the Romans by Tony Bradman, ‘I’ve fought every kind of barbarian but the Britons are by far the worst’, says Marcus’s stern father. But is he right? Perhaps Marcus should talk to Tanya Landman’s Cassia and see what she has to say!



I love the Greenbergs’ historical Discover series; The Ancient Greeks is a lively, intelligent comic strip history of Ancient Greece. It is clear, witty, and there is an excellent timeline and a map at the end. It’s not exactly fiction but, as editor, I can include what I like! I felt that this book deserved a place because it illuminates Greek culture brilliantly which, in turn, enhances the reader’s enjoyment of novels set in Ancient Greece.

Anglo-Saxon times is another popular period for novels just now. Tony Bradman’s Anglo-Saxon Boy is set around the Battle of Hastings, seen through the eyes of Magnus, one of King Harold’s sons. Magnus really existed, though little is known about him, which, from a writer’s point of view, makes him an excellent candidate as a hero. You can do what you like with him, so long as it’s plausible.



Books by Terry Deary are always popular for younger children. He has just published four Saxon Tales. The King who Threw Away his Throne is set in 5th century Britain and is about King Vortigern – who may or may not have existed. The Dictionary of National Biography names him as the king who invited the Germanic chieftains, Hengist and Horsa, to Britain to help fight the Scots and the Saxons –and found himself double-crossed. However, in spite of the story being in Bede’s History and in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, modern scholarship suggests that all three of them are more mythic than real.

What I find interesting is that Victorian children would have known about Vortigern. The Anglo-Saxons fell out of favour as part of our National Story in the 1950s, so I’m pleased to see that it’s now back on the National Curriculum.

These are just a selection of books the HNR has reviewed recently. Doubtless, the November 2017 issue will be different again.


HNR August 2017


4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2017 4:20 pm

    A very insightful round up of what’s on trend in children’s historical fiction. Coincidentally, I have just finished reading Sebastian Barry’s ‘Days Without End’ (for adults) featured on the cover of HNR. It’s a blissfully absorbing and informative read. If you haven’t already – do!

  2. September 6, 2017 5:51 pm

    Thank you.

  3. September 12, 2017 4:25 pm

    Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely have a look at Beyond the Wall.

  4. Odette Elliott permalink
    September 27, 2017 6:10 pm

    This blogpost is full of interest. I too want to read Beyond the Wall. Odette

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: