Dramatic true stories have the potential to grab our attention in ways that fiction never can. While daring rebellions, desperate pursuits, peril and courage are all staples of children's adventure novels, they become even more mesmerizing when drawn from real life.

We grown-ups consume a steady diet of nonfiction — you're reading the news right now. But articles about water main breaks may not be of much interest to the child in your life, and contemporary stories about conflict and disaster might be too upsetting. That's why we turn to history.


As parents and caregivers, sometimes we encourage kids to read nonfiction so that they'll pick up a few school-type facts during leisure reading.

But stories about people caught up in historic events also give young readers an opportunity to exercise their still-developing powers of empathy. Real-life drama allows them to put themselves in another's shoes and imagine how they would react to enslavement, persecution, hunger or injustice — but safely in the past, with the added assurance of knowing how the story ends.

What's more, some kids prefer true stories to fiction.

This is especially true of the choosy kids who are sometimes labeled "reluctant readers." They see little sense in reading something that's "not even true!" in the words of one outraged youngster.

Whether your kid is likely to identify with a fearless pilot, a determined activist, or an artist who forged her own way, he or she will find inspiration in these pages.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: The Underground Abductor (An Abolitionist Tale)

By Nathan Hale

This series of graphic novels is an exceptional choice for young people. The stories are exciting, the narrators are hilarious, and the history is on point. In fact, when asked about a panel depicting Harriet Tubman walking past Baltimore's Washington Monument, the author points out, "Full disclosure, I don't believe Harriet … would have taken a route through the middle of the city like this." Many local kids are lucky enough to have been introduced to Hale's books firsthand, at his very entertaining appearances at the Baltimore Book Festival. Bring the "Hazardous Tales" home and they will be read and re-read.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club

By Phillip M. Hoose

When the Germans rolled into Denmark in 1940, the Danish king and prime minister capitulated to Nazi occupation almost immediately. This decision enraged a group of young schoolboys, who planned and executed daring acts of vandalism, arson, and theft. The acts of the Churchill Club put them in grave danger and ultimately landed them in jail — but inspired their fellow Danes to initiate larger and more widespread acts of resistance. Much of the story is told by Pedersen, who vividly describes the frustration, anger, and fear that compelled these extremely young people to action.

First Flight Around the World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won the Race

By Tim Grove

If you flew from Seattle to Tokyo today, you would spend just under 10 hours in the air. But in 1924, it took three U.S. Army planes 46 days to make the same trip — and many didn't even make it, crashing into a mountain in Alaska. Each leg of this journey contains enough adventure and hardship for an entire book. The fliers faced snowstorms, crocodiles, wild winds, illness and engine failure. One of the planes, the Chicago, can be seen at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, its days of dodging icebergs long over.


Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March

By Lynda Blackmon Lowery as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley

"You're going to go to jail. Do not fight back. You might be pushed; you might be hit. Do not fight back."

How would you feel if you were a black teenager in Selma, cutting school every day to march, knowing the police would only let you walk a few blocks before rounding you up and taking you to jail? Ms. Lowery tells her remarkable story in a relatable, conversational tone, reliving her fear, her anger and her pride. Visitors to the recent exhibit of portraits of civil rights leaders at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture ("Struggle: Portraits of Civil Rights and Black Power") or anyone who has seen the movie "Selma" will welcome this perspective on the Selma Voting Rights March.

Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped Our History … and Our Future!

By Kate Schatz, illustrations by Miriam Klein Stahl

Short, powerful biographies — only a page long apiece — highlight some of the achievements of women who make us proud to be Americans. Whether their triumphs are artistic, like Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial, or athletic, as when Billie Jean King kicked the stuffing out of Bobby Riggs in a tennis match on live TV, or if they made their mark challenging injustice or fighting for the rights of the oppressed, all readers can find something of themselves inside this book.

Choosing Courage: True Stories of Heroism from Soldiers and Civilians

By Peter Collier

The Medal of Honor is the highest military award in the United States. It is awarded to an individual for "gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty" (only one woman, a Civil War surgeon, has been awarded the medal). But what does it take to behave so nobly? The stories in this book are full of soldiers pinned down by gunfire, rescuing wounded comrades, enduring gruesome torture, in conflicts from World War I to the present. Honest testimony of award recipients about their fear, sorrows, the pain of recovery, and survivor's guilt convey the human side of heroism.

Paula Willey is a librarian at the Parkville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. She writes about children's and teen literature in various national publications and online at unadulterated.us.