Risky Regencies

My Early Historical Fiction Reading

The first time I ever read Jane Austen, I was in eighth grade. The book was Pride and Prejudice, and I utterly loved it.

It’s recently occurred to me that this was by no means my first encounter reading a book set a ways in the past…and this might have had something to do with my ability to understand (for the most part) and enjoy Austen.

I began reading the Oz books when I was in first grade.

When I was eight, I (and the rest of my friends) all started reading the Little House books.

Then, when I was nine or ten, I started on Louisa May Alcott.

Elementary school also introduced me to Caddie Woodlawn, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Anne of Green Gables, The Happy Orpheline (and Luvvy and the Girls), Half Magic, and Ballet Shoes.

By junior high, I had encountered The Story of Treasure Seekers and Cheaper By the Dozen.

And I wonder if that made all the difference?

Would I lack my current interest in history (and historical fiction) if I hadn’t read so many of these books when I was young?

What do you think?

What books set in earlier times (whether written then or now) did you read when you were a kid? Do you think they inspired a love of historical fiction in you?

All answers welcome!

Cara King, who wouldn’t mind hanging out in Oz for a while

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Victoria Janssen
13 years ago

When I try to figure out why I became so interested in World War One, I keep coming back to Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey mysteries, which take place after WWI, but demonstrate its effects.

Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

I think my early introduction to Austen and Heyer and the Lymond Chronicles have a lot to do with my fascination with the Regency and history in general. I never new such worlds existed and then once I realized they did I never wanted to leave.

Of course I was always fascinated with the stories of King Arthur and the kings and queens of England.

I discovered I could sing because I wanted to win the prize in our school talent show when I was in England. It was a HUGE book of stories of the kings and queens of England. I sang Wandering Star from Paint Your Wagon and won that book. The rest is history.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

I’ll bet my reading history is different than many Historical romance readers. I never read Ann of Green Gables or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm or the Little House books, for example. I read a couple of Oz books, though, and Little Women (still have my book!).

One early historical book that really captured my imagination was We Were There with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, a book that I’m sure was aimed at boys.

I also think that my voracious reading of Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames led to a love of historical books. They were set in an earlier era. I loved that Nancy Drew drove a roadster.

Megan Frampton
13 years ago

Cara, you and I had much the same experience in terms of reading. For me, I don’t think I would have the current grounding and interest in history if I hadn’t read those books early on. And because life was less busy then, I re-read them constantly so they became part of the fabric and vernacular of my life.

And like Diane, I read a ton of Nancy Drew. Actually, I basically read all the time, since we didn’t have a TV, I was an only child, and both parents worked.

Keira Soleore
13 years ago

I read the “classics” before I was ten, and these were all the English ones, so all historical. As I read more and more poetry as a teen, I found myself drawn again and again to the Romantic poets, not the modern ones. It was the writing style and language usage in the prose and poetry that was a huge draw. I’ve now come to enjoy contemporaries, but I’m very selective there, whereas I’ll take risks with historicals any day.

13 years ago

I loved historical fiction as a kid and I still do as an adult. (Guess that’s why I hang out at RR) Many of the books already mentioned were also favorites of mine. Some other titles I enjoyed were The Witch of Blackbird Pond,
Across Five Aprils, Blue Willow, and Judy’s Journey. My all-time favorites, though, were the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.


Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

I think I read almost all those same books as a child! (loved “Ballet Shoes”, and all the “Shoes” books! They made me want to move to England and be a ballerina there…) They were a great intro to the historical world, and a different cultural viewpoint as well.

When I got a little older I was hooked on those “Sunfire” YA historicals, though they were set in America…

Great new pic, BTW, Louisa!!

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“My all-time favorites, though, were the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.

Oh, yes, the Betsy-Tacy books!!! I loved those so much, and wanted to live in their town and have a family just likes the Rays (always singing around the piano and such). 🙂

13 years ago

Little Women. And I had an illustrated, easy-reader version of Jane Eyre that I adored. Also The Secret Garden and Little Princess books. I don’t claim to have read Dickens as a youngster, but I did see the musical film Oliver!, which bestowed upon me a lifelong fascination with the Artful Dodger and his ilk.;-j

Has anyone else noticed that the Blogger word verifications now form actual, pronounceable “words”? I wonder what that board meeting was like? “Yes, let’s make the gibberish more memorable!”

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

Rosemary Sutcliffe, who wrote wonderful historicals set in Roman Britain, and who taught me a lot about creating a believable imagined world.

Also Alison Uttley’s amazing A Traveller in Time about a young girl who travels back to the time of the Babington plot in Elizabethan England. I’ve still never seen time travel done better.

13 years ago

“Little Women”,too, at 9. Since then, I’ve been fond of reading classics and historical novels in general. I’ve read the six Jane Austen’s at High School (and re-read them several times). If a story is set in the past, well, it is hundreds times more fascinating to me!
Now I try to pass on my passion to my students …not an easy task, anyway. Few teenagers like reading nowadays.

13 years ago


Thanks for a great thread! I am going to have to return to this page for reading ideas.

I didn’t read much historical fiction as a child … I was very much into fantasy, sf, and all kinds of animal books–Albert Payson Terhune, Marguerite Henry, Esther Birdsall Darling, James Herriot, Walter Farley. Also British boarding school stories.

13 years ago

I read all things horses until my teachers told me I wasn’t allowed to read anymore horse stories. I stopped reading. In middle school, I read Lord of the Rings and fell in love with Tolkien’s myth for England.

It was several years before I discovered my first Regency Romance by Elizabeth Mansfield and ended up collecting all her books. Unfortunately, my limited exploration of the genre landed me with too many books I didn’t like, so I moved on.

It wasn’t until I went back to college that I discovered such wondrous books as Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, The Secret Garden, etc, in a children’s lit class.

I did, however, grow up on movies like Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and Oklahoma and TV shows like Little House, Bonanza, etc. Of course, a lot of the appeal of those shows was the horses. 🙂

When the LOTR movies came out I rediscovered my love of reading. I also found a friend, on the other side of the country, who shared similar tastes. She was more than happy to share her love of romance novels and guided me to a great author (yes, Diane, it was you and you know of whom I speak). What a blessing.

Elena Greene
13 years ago

I read many of the same books you all mention but not until adulthood and my own start in romance writing did I associate novels with a love of history. My teachers in elementary school managed to make history so dry I thought I disliked it!

Tessa McDermid
13 years ago

Oh, some of my favorite childhood memories are listed here. I read all of the Louisa May Alcott books – loved Little Men and the continuation of the story, except that some of the characters died. Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames. And my dad was a big Ethan Allen fan and we all read his story. My son has my dad’s copy of the book.

Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, the Black Beauty books, the Wizard of Oz (I had to marry my husband – his family has the entire set of original Oz books!), the ‘Shoe’ books. The only ones mentioned I think I didn’t read were the Betsy-Tacy books. And my parents gave me a paperback set of classics when I was in middle school. ‘Count of Monte Cristo,’ ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips,’ ‘Les Miserables.’

Oh, what fond memories!

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Oh, Tessa, I forgot about The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Miserables, and A Tale of Two Cities.
Did you really read We Were There With Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys?

Judy, I’d also forgotten about the Black Beauty books. I loved horse books, too! I didn’t have a chance in the world of having a horse, but I loved to dream about it.

And I feel blessed to know you and our friend. Friends like you and so many others whom I’ve met through the Romance Writing have been an unexpected joy–the BEST part of this life of mine!

13 years ago

While I did read some historical fiction early on–I read almost everything I could get my hands on–as a kid and well into my teens I was much more drawn to fantasy and science fiction. I developed a love of history more from reading nonfiction–I still remember a couple of children’s nonfiction books that really struck me, one about the history of armor (Armor by Sean Morrison) and another about the inquisition (yes, gruesome, I know). I also liked books about other cultures, like the Polynesians, the Maya, and the Incas.

Later I started reading adult books on history–the books of Barbara Tuchman, for example, and the books on medieval history by Joseph and Frances Gies.

So rather than coming to love history from reading historical fiction, I think I came to love historical fiction because I love history. But then, I do a lot of things backwards.


Cara King
13 years ago

When I try to figure out why I became so interested in World War One, I keep coming back to Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey mysteries

I *so* have to read those, Victoria! I’ve been meaning to for years (my dh Todd *loves* those books)! Maybe this year…

Diane, I know what you mean about Nancy Drew and her roadster! I had some of the older books, and I loved Nancy’s 1930’s hats and longish skirts and the weird old cars and everything in the illustrations…

Mary, another yay for the Betsy-Tacy books! I didn’t discover them till college, so they weren’t on my list, but I was so glad to find them (I’d been looking for them for years — they’re mentioned in Edward Eager’s books, which I loved) and they did not disappoint! I adore the high school books in particular, and the one where Betsy goes to Europe just pre-WWI and has the most fascinating experiences…

Amanda, yay too for the Streatfeild books! I loved them all *so* much as a kid…and now I’m lucky enough to have US and UK editions of many of her books, some of which were changed more than others, from what I hear…

Jane George, I can’t believe I forgot to mention A Little Princess! (And Secret Garden, too, though I loved A Little Princess even more.)

And I also forgot to mention Joan Aiken! Her Dido Twite series was partly fantasy (or alternate history, take your pick), but it was also historical…

So glad to reminisce with all of you! Thank you!!!


13 years ago

Oh yes!

One of the many blessings of having a librarian for a mother and a History teacher for a stepfather 😀

Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, Emilio Salgari, Maurice Leblanc, Paul Feval, Jack London… and a whole lot of Spanish and LatinAmerican literature, of course.

I didn’t get to Louisa May Alcott until my teens, interestingly enough.

A mixed back, for sure, but I loved them all.

13 years ago

Well, I know my love of things England (and subsequently historical) came from movies, not books — Mom loves A Christmas Carol and Sherlock Holmes. But when I read, I was mostly science and astronomy. Historically speaking, it was still more nonfiction, Ancient Egypt, most specifically. So, it’s a little bit different of a road I took, but still, plenty of the same influence from young. 🙂


Georgie Lee
13 years ago

I can’t remember what sparked my love of history, especially British history. I think it was all the guide books my parents had in their library from their trip to Europe.

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