Thursday, October 20, 2016

Avi: King of the Middle Grade Historical Novel

There are many writers of middle grade historical fiction, but for my money Avi is king because despite adversity, he’s written a lot of highly readable works set in a wide timespan.

Avi is living proof that writing doesn’t always come easily, and that disabilities don’t have to become excuses or barriers. Avi has dysgraphia, which caused him to be labeled as sloppy, erratic and inattentive when he was in school He still reverses letters and misspells words, but that hasn’t stopped him from writing hundreds of thousands of them. Avi says that he persevered because he liked what I wrote, so he learned to refuse to listen to his critics. Now that he is an award-winning author, Avi likes to visit schools and encourage students with learning disabilities. He says those students “come in slowly, waiting for yet another pep talk, more instructions. Eyes cast down, they won't even look at me. Their anger glows. I don't say a thing. I lay out pages of my copy-edited manuscripts, which are covered with red marks. 'Look here,' I say, 'see that spelling mistake. There, another spelling mistake. Looks like I forgot to put a capital letter there. Oops! Letter reversal.' Their eyes lift. They are listening. And I am among friends.”

Avi is the author of over 30 books, many of which are historical novels. His novels range from ones set in the Middle Ages up to the present. Here are a few to try, each from a different historical period:

Crispin: Cross of Lead is a Newbery Award Winner. Set during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, this book tells the story of an orphaned peasant boy who flees his village after he is declared a "wolf's head," meaning anyone can kill him on sight. Carrying his mother's lead cross, Crispin goes on a journey to discover who he is.

Sophia’s War tells the story of Sophia Calderwood, who becomes a spy for the American Revolutionaries after witnessing Nathan Hale’s execution in New York City. As a maid for General Clinton, the supreme commander of the British Army, she discovers a traitor in the American army. When no one believes her, Sophia decides to single-handedly stop his treacherous plot.

Iron Thunder tells the story of the nautical battle between the Merrimac and the Monitor through the eyes of Tom Carroll Early, a thirteen-year-old who works in the Brooklyn ironworks after his father is killed fighting for the Union. Hounded by Confederate spies who offer him money for information, Tom must decide whether he trusts the crazy inventor who is building an iron-clad ship.

Catch You Later, Traitor, one of Avi’s most recent books, is set in the 1950s and is about a twelve-year-old kid who loves Sam Spade detective books and radio crime dramas, but finds himself in the middle of a real-life mystery when the FBI accused his father of communism.

Jennifer Bohnhoff is the author of three middle grade historical novels, The Bent Reed, Code: Elephants on the Moon, and On Fledgling Wings. Her next novel, set in New Mexico during the Civil War, is due out next spring. You can read more about her writing at her website,

Source for this blog post:


  1. A great tribute to a great author. I've always enjoyed Avi's books but didn't know his personal story. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Thanks for introducing me to a new author, Jennifer. I haven't seen any of Avi's works, I will certainly look for them next time I'm in the good old USA.