Using Fiction to Teach History to Children and YA

Using Fiction to Teach History to Children and YA 1024 576 Reader Views

by Multi-award-winning author Terry Overton

Fiction works can be a fresh and exciting way to teach content that might feel boring or tiring when reading traditional educational textbooks and reference materials. Historical novels written about a specific period may draw readers because the characters convey what life was like in that era. The years during significant wars, World War II, for example, may attract readers because of the emotional narratives and plots of soldiers going off to war, survival, loved ones returning home, the loss of life in war, and the patriotism felt by those back home. Colonial times, the years of the Civil War, and the founding of the United States are the significant events often depicted in period fiction books. But how can history be taught to young readers through action adventures? Here are six techniques to use.

Techniques to Incorporate Historical Facts

Crafting a story that will jump off the page and teach historical facts requires captivating techniques. Young readers want the story to include attractive, quirky, solid characters and well-thought-out plots. But how can history be woven into the story without seeming like a list of facts or a lecture on historical events? Here are six techniques that work.


This is an exciting way to take young readers (and adults) through historical moments or events. However, adding other elements to the time travel will hook the kids. In The Newton Chronicles series, three teen characters search for a missing father who disappeared in Jerusalem. An uncontrollable time travel device sets the kids off on their journeys through prehistoric, ancient, and current periods. The kids wonder where and when they will land next. Young readers will use the descriptions of the setting to guess where and when in time the characters landed. Add a little humor, and readers will hurry through the three-book series. 

Clues to Puzzles

In the first book, The Covenant: The Messiah Brigade series (releases November 2024), the main character finds an old box full of trinkets, newspaper clippings, and photographs in an alley. This first discovery invites the reader to join the characters in the investigation. Finding a box of the unknown is intriguing to young readers who will want to help the characters discover the meaning of the items. New friendships form between an awkward, geeky boy, a female star basketball player, and a preacher’s son. They bond to figure out the pieces of history in the box. Their discoveries help them devise a plan to rid their school of bullies. 

Futuristic Books that Look Back

Throw young readers into a different world of the future where they can look back to learn a historical perspective. In The Underground Book Readers series, the teen characters are in a world of the future where books and schools are prohibited. The teen characters hide books deep in a cavern and are fascinated by the historical events of the past and how a free world was established in the world before. Learning about history is outlawed, which adds suspense to each minute the characters spend reading in the cavern. The young teens are amazed to read about the United States Constitution and other prominent events in world history.


 Talking between characters can convey historical information. The dialogue keeps the plot moving forward, and at the same time, teaches facts. In the Newton Chronicles series, the characters verbally reason out timelines of world events. In The Underground Book Readers series, the characters discuss the founding of a new free territory while reflecting on what they learned by reading their forbidden history books. Add the uniqueness of each character’s voice and the combination will interest the readers, provide instruction, and keep the pages turning.

Expert Characters

For educational purposes, at least one expert from each content area used in the plot will take part teaching history in the story. In the Newton Chronicles series, a preacher’s son conveys the biblical history and the meaning of certain clues. The same series has one gifted mathematician and one talented world traveler who understands and speaks the languages needed for time travel (Greek and Hebrew, for example). In The Underground Book Readers series, one of the main characters is on the autism spectrum and memorizes anything he reads or hears. He is uncomfortable with change, yet he has the mind of an encyclopedia. He recounts history as the teens plan to establish a new free government in the future. Another character in the underground series knows spying techniques and strategic planning. These skills are required to plan an escape to a free territory.

Elderly Character Reflections and Adult Expertise

Elderly characters in books for children and teens can work well to reflect on the history of another era. The character must be likable and respected by the younger characters. The reflections are meaningful to the readers, who otherwise have yet to understand the perspective of their own recent history. These reflections must be interjected into the story naturally with a disarming flavor. In the series The Underground Book Readers, an elderly grandmother is rescued by the teens and becomes the authority on the world before. Likewise, teens can seek out adults of any age with expertise to answer questions. In book one of The Newton Chronicles series, Soldiers, Temples, and Crystals, a professor at the local university provides answers about an archeological dig.

These techniques will keep the plots moving, the characters active, and the readers engaged and learning.

About Terry Overton

Terry Overton is a retired university professor of educational and school psychology. She has an Ed.D. in Special Education and a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her professional experience includes teaching public school at the university level and being a college dean. She has two children, seven grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter. Her writing and publication experiences include textbook and journal articles in special education and school psychology. She seeks to answer God’s call to share the good news and grow the church by writing Christian books and devotionals. Her books have won the Mom’s Choice Award, Christian Indie Award, Firebird Book Awards, American Writing Winner Awards, Bookfest Winner Awards, Pencraft Award, Reader Views Silver Reviewers Award, Heirloom Honorary Silver Adam Award, the Heirloom Honorary Eve Award, and International Book Award Finalist. Her books examine real-world events with a Christian worldview. She enjoys writing for young children, middle-grade readers, YA fiction, and adult-level novels.  

With a background in teaching adults and children, her stories often include a character with educational, behavioral, or learning challenges. Her Christmas series, The Oddball Ornaments, features a box of misfit ornaments who first learn the meaning of Christmas and then discover the meaning of forgiveness. In her series, The Newton Chronicles, a Messianic Jewish teen girl joins a brainiac boy and a pastor’s son, who accidentally set off a time-travel device and bounce around through time in no sequential order. In The Underground Book Readers Series, one of the main characters is on the autism spectrum yet often provides valuable information and leads the group of teens away from danger. Book one of an upcoming series, The Messiah Brigade, features an awkward middle school nerd who helps his school turn around a bully gang of kids. 

Book six of The Underground Book Readers series, Defiance Passage, was released on June 10, 2024. In it, a group of teens continues their quest for a free land.

The Underground Book Readers Series: Defiance Passage

In book six, Defiance Passage, The Underground Book Readers continue their quest to the free land. Traveling through the thick woods of the mountains in Virginia, they follow the rivers running through the valleys below. Stormy skies and cooler weather challenge their travel. Each day they risk being discovered by World Force soldiers and others lurking in the forest. Along the way, they discover mysterious people and new places they didn’t expect to visit. Did Kahn, Leena, and the group make a wrong turn? Are they lost? Will they escape the World Force and find the free land? Follow the adventures of The Underground Book Readers who are determined to find a territory free of the control of the World Force.

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