Young Adult Historical Novels: The 1920s and 1930s

The Jazz Age, the Great Depression,
and the Beginning of Nazi Germany


Jazz musician Cab Calloway

The 1920s are known for jazz artists whose music is still appreciated today. Baseball also became an important sport during these years. In the U.S., a law was passed prohibiting alcoholic drinks, leading some people, known as "bootleggers," to break the law by making their own "bootleg" alcohol, which drinkers often hid in small flasks that fit inside the legs of their boots. Other people made fortunes by smuggling boatloads of alcohol into the country from the Caribbean and elsewhere.

During the 1920s, many middle-class people began buying shares of stock in businesses, which rose dramatically in value until, in 1929, the values of these stocks suddenly crashed. Many people lost all or most of their money in this stock market crash. In 1930, a series of terrible drought years struck the U.S., destroying crops so that farmers could not earn a living. The poverty and economic hardship of the 1930s, known as the Great Depression, was felt worldwide. Germany's defeat in World War I led to economic hardship there, and Hitler took advantage of this to blame Germany's problems on the Jews. His rise to power led to the Holocaust, in which Jews were deliberately killed in concentration camps, and to World War II.


There wasn’t much in the way of alcohol addiction treatment in the early part of the 20th century. That, however, is no longer the case today, as there are hundreds of such facilities all over the country.



Abbreviations for Awards and Honors:

ALANCB = American Library Association Notable Children's Book
BBYA = An American Library Association "Best Books for Young Adults" pick
CM = Carnegie Medal
CMH = Carnegie Medal Honor Book
IBBY = International Board on Books for Young People Honour Book
JFA = Josette Frank Award
NA = Newbery Award
SOA = Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction


Jump to:

America in the 1920s
Europe in the 1930s
The Beginning of Nazi Germany
America in the 1930s


America in the 1920s

baseball card

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Libba Bray, The Diviners (2012), historical fantasy about an Ohio teen sent to live with her uncle, who runs a museum of the occult in New York in the 1920s, where she encounters a series of demonic murders.

Peggy Brooke, Jake's Orphan (2000), about a twelve-year-old boy who takes a job on a North Dakota tree farm in 1926 to escape the Minnesota orphanage where he lives. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Janet Fox, Sirens (2012), about a young woman whose father sends her to stay with rich cousins on Manhattan Island in 1925, where she discovers jazz, gangsters, and dangerous secrets.

Karen Hesse, Witness (2001), a novel in verse form about a small Vermont town in 1924 when the Ku Klux Klan moves in, and whose citizens are reluctant to do anything about the Klan until a shooting occurs.

Gail Carson Levine, Dave at Night (1999), about an orphaned boy who sneaks out of the unpleasant Hebrew Home for Boys and discovers Harlem's world of jazz in 1926. Recommended for ages 8-12.

Janet Taylor Lisle, Black Duck (2006), about a fourteen-year-old boy who discovers a dead body on the beach in 1929 and suspects it has something to do with bootlegging. BBYA.

Susan Hill Long, Whistle in the Dark (2013), about a Missouri boy who goes to work in a lead mine on his thirteenth birthday.

John Ritter, Choosing Up Sides (1998), about an athletically talented thirteen-year-old boy in 1920s Ohio whose father, a fundamentalist preacher, opposes his wish to play baseball. Recommended for ages 10-14.

Jean Thesman, The Storyteller's Daughter (1997), about a fifteen-year-old girl in Seattle during Prohibition who suspects her father may be illegally smuggling rum into the country, just before he disappears.

Timothy Tocher, Chief Sunrise, John McGraw, and Me (2004), about a fifteen-year-old boy who leaves his abusive father and goes to New York in to try out for the New York Giants baseball team. BBYA.

Cat Winters, The Steep and Thorny Way (2016), a retelling of Hamlet set in 1920s Oregon about a sixteen-year-old girl of mixed race searching for the truth about her black father's death.


Europe in the 1930s

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Gloria Whelan, The Impossible Journey (2003), about a thirteen-year-old girl in Leningrad who travels to Siberia in 1934 with her younger brother to find her parents, who have been arrested and sent into exile there.


The Beginning of Nazi Germany

Hitler Jugend

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Edith Baer, A Frost in the Night (1980), about a Jewish girl in Germany during Hitler's rise to power in 1932. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Edith Baer, Walk the Dark Streets (1998), about a Jewish girl growing up in Germany from 1933-1940 as Hitler comes to power and begins World War II; sequel to A Frost in the Night. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti, The Boy Who Dared (2008), about Helmuth Hubener, a German teenager imprisoned and put to death for resisting the Nazis. NA.

David Chotjewitz, Daniel Half Human and the Good Nazi (2004), about a boy who discovers, to his fury, that he can't join the Hitler Youth organization because he is half Jewish. BBYA.

Cameron Dokey, Hindenburg,1937 (1999), about a sixteen-year-old German girl who boards the Hindenburg in order to escape her Nazi brother's marriage plans for her.

Sid Fleischman, The Entertainer and the Dybbuk (2007), about a second-rate ventriloquist who becomes possessed by the spirit of a 12-year-old Jewish boy killed in the Holocaust. BBYA.

Anne Isaacs, Torn Thread (2000), about a twelve-year-old Jewish girl and her older sister as the struggle to survive in a German labor camp.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief (2006), about an orphaned German girl's efforts to survive the Nazis, and the help she finds in stolen books. BBYA. Recommended for ages 12 and up, including adults.


America in the 1930s

Dust Storm in 1935 Texas

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D.A. Brockett, Stained Glass Rose (2002), about a seventeen-year-old Italian-American girl in 1937 Colorado who is befriended by an older, street-smart girl just before the older girl is murdered; Christian message.

Christopher Paul Curtis, Bud, Not Buddy (1999), about an orphaned boy who escapes from the foster home in Michigan where he lives in order to search for the musician he believes is his father. NA. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Cynthia DeFelice, Nowhere to Call Home (1999), about a twelve-year-old girl who becomes a hobo after her father loses his savings in the stock market crash and kills himself. Recommended for ages 10-14.

Karen Hesse, Out of the Dust (1997), a novel written in verse form about a fourteen-year-old girl who has to leave her home in Oklahoma because of drought during the Great Depression. NA, SOA.

Jennifer Holm, Turtle in Paradise (2010), about a girl whose mother sends her to Key West to live with her aunt and her three boy cousins during the Depression. Recommended for ages 7-10. NA.

Jeanette Ingold, Airfield (1999), about a fifteen-year-old Texas girl whose mother died when she was a baby and whose father works as a pilot during the Depression. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Jeanette Ingold, Hitch (2005), about a seventeen-year-old boy who lies about his age so he can get work with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Recommended for ages 12 and up.


Jennifer Niven, Velva Jean Learns to Drive (2009), about a girl who, after promising her dying mother that she will use her singing talent to heal people, marries a young evangelist preacher who used to be a juvenile delinquent; #1 in the Velva Jean series. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Jennifer Niven, Velva Jean Learns to Fly (2011), about a girl from Appalachia who wants to become a singer until her brother gives her a flying lesson; #2 in the Velva Jean series. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Jennifer Niven, Becoming Clementine (2012), about a young Appalachian woman serving as a volunteer pilot who becomes a spy for the French Resistance during World War II; #3 in the Velva Jean series. Recommended for ages 12 and up.


Richard Peck, A Year Down Yonder (2000), about a fifteen-year-old Chicago girl who spends the summer with her grandmother in a small Illinois town in 1937. NA. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Matt Phelan, The Storm in the Barn (2009), a graphic novel about an eleven-year-old Kansas farm-boy during the drought years of the Great Depression who discovers the Storm King hiding out in an old barn. SOA. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising (2000; also available in a Spanish-language edition, Esperanza Renace), about a twelve-year-old girl from a wealthy Mexican family who must adjust to life as a migrant worker in California after tragedy strikes her family in 1930. BBYA. Recommended for ages 9-12.

Clare Vanderpool, Moon Over Manifest (2010), about a twelve-year-old girl who jumps off the train to explore her father's old home town after he sends her away when he accepts a railroad job. NA.

Pieter Van Raven, A Time of Troubles (1990), about a fourteen-year-old boy who travels to California with his ex-convict father during the Great Depression. SOA.


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