I haven’t been very impressed with the quality of books coming from the recent rise in teenage literature. Now, I know there are good books out there — there always are good books to buy — but most everything doesn’t look like it’s worth a whole lot. So today I’m being a rebel and making my own book list for teens — from books that are worth their weight and will teach you some history besides. These books are good books. They’re worth wasting an afternoon on. Enjoy!
1. Pontius Pilate | Best for: Age 15 and above, Adults
We all know Pontius Pilate as the guy who condemned Jesus to crucifixion. The man who had no backbone whatsoever to stand up and do what was right. What we don’t know, however, is what the rest of his life was like. Paul Maier did a marvelous job researching this story, and created a fascinating tale of ancient Rome and Israel, setting up the scene so we can understand better what was going on when Jesus was on the earth.
2. Hittite Warrior | Best for: Age 12 and above, Adults
What would it have been like to live in a typical Canaanite city during the days of the book of Judges? Through Uriah’s eyes, we see the fascinating tale of Barak and Deborah, Sisera and Jael, and get to watch God’s hand at work in many ways. This isn’t only a story of the Israelites at that time, though—it encompasses the Canaanite beliefs, their enemies of the time, and much more. While not completely Biblically correct, this is a wonderful, engrossing story that shows the time period in a clearer light than I have ever seen in any other book.
3. Twice Freed | Best for: Ages 12 – 15 and above
A Patricia St. John masterpiece, this enthralling tale of adventure, hate, and coming to Christ is well worth its place in the hall of Christian historical fiction. Onesimus, a slave, longs for freedom—but what price is he willing to pay in order to get that freedom? When the chance he’s been waiting for finally comes, he takes it—and realizes this isn’t really where he wants to be. He ends up meeting the Apostle Paul, but can he accept the teachings of love and patience that Paul seems to believe in so strongly? This story is a testament to the life and teachings of Paul, and is an encouraging reminder of the fact that God cares for each one of us—no matter who we are.
4. God King | Best for: Ages 10 – 15, Adults
This is another of Joanne Williams’ Biblical masterpieces. Through Taharka’s story, we get to see the amazing miracle of the Assyrians being defeated by the Lord through the faith of King Hezekiah. The story follows the little-known facts we have about a king of Egypt named Taharka, who had to deal with both a family revolt and the threat of the Assyrians. So while giving an amazing view of what it was like to be an Israelite at the time, we also get a great picture of Ancient Egypt and how difficult it would have been to be a pharaoh. Two wonderful stories pulled into one, which makes for lots of tension and a great novel.
5. The Golden Goblet | Best for: Ages 10 – 15 and above
Ancient Egypt: Ranofer longs to be a goldsmith, but his step-brother Gebu, a stonecutter, cares little for anything other than finding ways to get more gold. I had a hard time deciding whether or not to include this story in the list. While worth a lot when it comes to giving a feel for what Ancient Egypt was like, it isn’t a Christian story by any stretch of the imagination. The plot is great—you instantly feel sorry for Ranofer, and when bad goes to worse it’s really hard to put this book down. It’s also a fairly clean book, for the most part. While this story is definitely not twaddle, it does have a lot of mentions of the Egyptian gods, which means I can’t recommend it quite as highly as other stories (such as God King, above).
6. Titus: A Comrade of the Cross | Best for: Ages 10 – 15, Adults
Israel, at the time of Jesus Christ. Titus is trapped in a life not of his own choice, with his father a robber and his brother a cripple. Through his eyes—and some insights from others around him—the life and ministry of Jesus are shown in a new light. This is a great companion to studies of Jesus’ life, and a fascinating story of despair, hope, and new life.
7. Beyond the Desert Gate | Best for: Ages 12 – 15 and above
This is a great story about Judea in 70 AD. Philo’s father is a merchant, and in his travels he comes across a young man on the point of death after being captured by the Romans. This new friend can’t remember anything about his past, except that he thinks he helped a group of women and children escape Jerusalem when the Romans were taking over the city. Then the Romans come to their own quiet town, intent on gathering supplies and troops to crush the Jewish rebellion once and for all. One of Philo’s brothers goes to join the Jewish Zealots, and Philo has to work for the Romans in order to keep food on their table. With tension escalating in the family—and danger to themselves and their livelihood—can the family make the right decisions and thus get through this difficult time? This story brings the fall of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation to life.
8. The Eagle of the Ninth | Best for: Ages 10 – 15 and above
The ninth legion marched into the north of Britain—and never returned. Marcus, the son of the centurion who led the legion, is determined to find out what happened and bring the eagle back—thus preserving the honor of his father’s and the legion’s name. Then he is badly injured in a fight, and his quest appears to be an impossible dream. Will the ninth legion’s name always be disgraced? Can the warring tribes of Britain ever be under control of the Roman army? This story adds a whole new depth to the stories of Rome in Britain, and—along with a great adventure—shows the inner workings of the Roman army and how the British people lived in 1–200 AD.
9. The Bronze Bow | Best for: Age 10 and above, Adults
With the Romans ruling over Judea, life for Daniel is very hard. He hates what they have done to his countrymen and himself, and wants revenge—in any way, shape or form. While with the local band of rebels, he is able to unleash that hate at times, but then his grandmother falls sick and dies, giving him no choice but to abandon the outlaws and care for his sister. Meanwhile, a new teacher comes on the scene, preaching love and forgiveness. Daniel longs for the peace and joy he senses in this man Jesus and his followers, but in order to follow Him he must also forgive the Romans—and that is something he isn’t willing to do. This book is gripping from the very beginning, and doesn’t feel “flat” like so many other books I’ve read about Jesus and other famous men at the time. This story has a vibrantly real feel to it, and is a great favorite at our house.
10. The Ides of April | Best for: Ages 12 – 15 and above
Hylas’ master is found dead, and only by a miracle has Hylas not been captured and sent to prison as well. The other household slaves—including his mother—will be killed if the murderer isn’t found quickly. Can Hylas, with the help of his master’s son-in-law, discover the murderer before it’s too late? Set in ancient Rome, this story is very helpful when studying the Roman’s way of life. It’s also a good clean story that anyone would enjoy even without the history.
Question: What other great historical fiction books for teens have you read that aren’t on this list? Please share; I’m always on the lookout for more good books to read!