5 Historical Fiction Books to Read if You Love The Book Thief

Posted by Abigail Barcus on

Historical fiction is a popular genre that has been on the rise since the early 2000s, and its popularity is no surprise to any historical fiction lover. As people learn more about the world during this instant information age, it makes sense to look to the past to see where we are coming from as well as to get a sense of both where the future is going. The desire to look back to make sense of our lives is strong, and understanding history through narrative is one of the easiest and most effective ways to live an experience during a particular period or place. It allows us to be able to look for patterns or similarities to our own lives. Readers can decide, in the safety of fiction, what we would or wouldn’t be willing to do in a similar situation. 
The World Wars in particular are of interest to readers because of the massive global impact and unprecedented use of modern technology that had never before been used. It’s one of the only blueprints we have as to how the entire modern world engaged in conflict. While the world is much different now than in the 1910s and 1940s, the values we are willing to defend like love, justice, and hope, are the same. Historical fiction gives us the gift of being able to live alongside the characters as they fight for what is right.
History isn’t only facts, as we may have been taught in school, but an account of real people’s lives, a narrative that may differ depending on who is telling the story. Fictionalization of the World Wars breaks a massive event down into digestible stories we are able to understand and empathize with. Again, giving people facts and numbers is one thing, but telling them the story of one person’s experience adds emotional depth that makes the story feel real.
The Italian Ballerina 
If you want a book that connects the past and present, this month’s featured title is for you. Present day, Delaney Coleman becomes a caretaker for her aging grandparents, one of whom is a World War II veteran. An Italian woman claims to have one of her family’s heirlooms. This sparks more questions than it answers, and Delaney starts a journey through present day Rome to find out about her grandfather’s true past. 1943 Rome, British ballerina Julia Bradbury is stranded in Nazi-occupied Italy and forced to take refuge at a hospital on Tiber Island. There’s a deadly sickness ravaging the quarantine ward, a fake disease known only as Syndrome K, that pulls Julia into one of the greatest cons in history. Based on true accounts of the invented Syndrome K, The Italian Ballerina juxtaposes past and present in a way historical readers are looking for, highlighting the heroes of this time. It gives readers a starting place for understanding the courage of those in the past and how we can continue being brave going forward. 
The Librarian of Saint-Malo
Libraries are in danger all over Europe with the Nazis burning and confiscating books. Jocelyn is the librarian in Saint-Malo, a small coastal town in France, and after her new husband gets drafted, she decides to be the defender of the books in her town. There’s an added element of interest in this historical novel because it is epistolary. The story is told through Jocelyn writing letters to a Parisian author she admires. Once the Nazis occupy Saint-Malo, Jocelyn is determined to resist. Stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary actions when necessary are inspirational. Jocelyn is the heroine that readers are going to love because she is fully human and imperfect. 
The Teacher of Warsaw 
It only took one day for 60-year-old Janusz Korczak’s life to change completely. Nazis invade his city of Warsaw in Poland and suddenly he’s an outcast in a place he used to be well respected. A teacher at the Dom Sierot Jewish orphanage, Janusz dedicates his life to protecting the children from the atrocities of war. When over 400,000 Jewish people are forced to live in a 1.3 mile ghetto, Janusz works with his friends to keep the children from getting sick and starving. With dignity and courage, Janusz leads the teachers and children of Dom Sierot with love to help them bravely face whatever trials may come. This story, based on a real-life hero, helps us remember that one person can make a difference in the world. It gives readers hope, reminding them of what amazing good humans are capable of even when facing the horrors of war. 
Children of the Stars 
Jacob and Moses Stein live with their aunt in Paris, where they lived a safe life. But then the great raid against Jews is unleashed in August of 1942, and the boys aren’t able to bypass the gendarmes, who catch them after their aunt tries to send them south to where their German playwright parents have been hiding. Jacob and Moses manage to escape their captors, but the road ahead isn’t easy or safe for the children. Sacrifice and hope go hand in hand in this novel, allowing readers to be completely submerged in history and the boys’ story. This book is for all historical fiction lovers who want an escape story. 
The Paris Dressmaker
Lila de Laurent is out of not only a job but a passionate vocation when Mason Chanel closes during the Nazi occupation. Nazi soldiers fill her beautiful Paris, where her life is one restriction, ration, and limitation after another. But the City of Lights hasn’t gone completely dark. There are still corners of the city where La Resistance is working to disrupt the Germans at every turn. Lila joins, where she is able to use her skills as a seamstress to infiltrate the elite and collect information for the resistance from the Hotel Ritz, one of the Nazi’s main hubs in Paris. Sandrine Paquet’s official job is to catalog the priceless works of art bound for Berlin, masterpieces stolen from prominent Jewish families. Sandrine isn’t only collecting records for the Nazis, she’s also collecting their secrets to give to the resistance. When she finds a gorgeous blush Chanel gown with the biggest secret she’s found yet, she might have Lila’s fate in her hands. Readers are going to be rooting for these women from page one through all the twists and turns. This book highlights how women helped in the resistance and how hope is always worth holding onto. 
As time marches on, we continue to learn from the past and from stories. Being able to travel through time in the pages of these books is an experience you don’t want to miss out on. 
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