20th Century Book List for Young Teens
20th Century: World wars. A Great Depression. First flight. Space flight. Voting Rights. Civil Rights. Communism. Terrorism. Jazz. Nuclear weapons. Computers.
The 20th Century included huge, sweeping changes, inventions, and events which, more than any century previous, connected our globe.
A reader could read for years and not cover all the books on WWII alone; clearly, this list below is not exhaustive. Rather, it’s a collection of some of the works we think are great starting points.
Our 20th Century Book List for Young Teens includes political history, science history, social history, and Christian history in a mix of formats. Some are long, meaty titles; others are picture books or graphic novels. Many of these will be available in your local library.
Considerations: As a group, the resources below bring up themes and ideas from this tumultuous time that are best appreciated by children 12 years old and up. More mature readers could read the regular versions of the “Young Readers Versions” listed. If you have younger children, simply wait, or pick and choose carefully.
20th Century Book List for Young Teens
Titles linked to Redeemed Reader book reviews where applicable.
- Boxers and Saints by Yang (Boxer Rebellion; graphic novel; Christian history)
- The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward (autobiography; missions)
- Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Hopkinson (nonfiction; audio is quite well done, but do check the book out for the pictures!)
- First to Fly: How Wilbur & Orville Wright Invented the Airplane by Peter Busby (photo biography)
- Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (science + history; biography)
- Death on the River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Amazon Adventure by Samantha Seiple. (a look at this great man’s great character and force of personality as well as the hardships of map-making)
- The Grand Escape by Bascomb (nonfiction; WWI)
- Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood by Nathan Hale (nonfiction; graphic novel; WWI)
1920s-1930s: Roaring 20s and the Depression
- I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes/Brian Collier (poetry/picture book)
- The Dream Keeper and Other Poems by Langston Hughes (look for the version illustrated by Brian Pinkney)
- One Last Word by Nikki Grimes (poetry; Harlem Renaissance)
- Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman (photo essay)
- The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics by Daniel James Brown, Young Readers Edition (nonfiction; Depression era)
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (historical fiction; Depression era + Reconstruction)
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (historical fiction; Depression era)
- Breakthrough: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy (nonfiction; science history)
- *To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (historical fiction; a “must read”)
- Spooked: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow (nonfiction; radio history)
- *The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (autobiography; Christian in concentration camps)
- *The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix (graphic novel; Bonhoeffer)
- Lost in the Pacific, 1942 by Tod Olson OR Unbroken Young Readers Edition by Lauren Hillenbrand (the first is a less intense, but similar story as Unbroken: both are shipwreck stories and both have characters that come to know the Lord)
- Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Powerful Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (nonfiction; science/world history)
- My Friend, the Enemy by J. B. Cheaney (historical fiction; covers the Japanese “question” in America during WWII)
- Winston Churchill: Soldier, Statesman, Artist by John B. Severance (short biography)
- Jacob DeShazer: Forgive Your Enemies by Geoff and Janet Benge (biography)
- ***Obviously, there are MANY outstanding WWII resources; this is just to get you started***
Communism and the Cold War
- Animal Farm by George Orwell (allegory)
- The Giver by Lois Lowry (dystopian fiction, but clear thematic connections)
- Refugee by Alan Gratz (historical fiction; covers several decades)
- The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis (picture book/graphic novel)
- God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew (autobiography; missions)
Civil Rights (1960s)
- Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin by James L. Swanson (nonfiction)
- 12 Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner (picture book/photo-nonfiction)
- We’ve Got a Job: The Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson (nonfiction)
- The President Has Been Shot!: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson (nonfiction)
Vietnam War (1970s)
- The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (historical fiction; Vietnam War)
- Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai (novel-in-verse; Vietnam War)
- Hidden Figures Young Readers Edition by Margot Ketterly (nonfiction)
- Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca (nonfiction picture book)
- See our Lunar List for lots of titles about the Space Race
- Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot (nonfiction; church history)
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Young Readers Edition by William Kwakwamba (nonfiction; science history)
- Steve Jobs: Thinking Differently by Patricia Lakin OR Elon Musk and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance. One changed modern life through swift computing and handheld devices; the other may take us to Mars.
- Watch video footage of: Challenger explosion, Twin Towers, Berlin Wall, etc.
- A Twin Towers 9/11 story (there are several options)
- Ronald Reagan: Our 40th President by Winston Groom (a good overview of the 20th century through the lens of this amazing President)
What books are YOUR favorites for the 20th century for young teens? Let us know in the comments!
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