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Historical Fiction: Introduction

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What is Historical Fiction?

Historical fiction is a literary genre where the story takes place in the past. Historical novels capture the details of the time period as accurately as possible for authenticity, including social norms, manners, customs, and traditions. Many novels in this genre tell fictional stories that involve actual historical figures or historical events.

Elements of Historical Fiction

Fearless Frederic

The Boy and The Spy by Felice Arena - Reading - library at St Pius X  College Chatswood

An adventure set in Paris at the time of the Great Flood (1910). It tells the story of Frederic and 2 friends he meets at a shelter for families whose homes have been flooded. They set out and find themselves an adventure each day rescuing animals and stopping looters and pickpockets. Along the way they also have the chance to bring some true villains to justice. At the heart of this book is courage and friendship, following your heart and being true to yourself. It gives a whirlwind tour of some of the monuments and places in Paris as well as a few French phrases along the way. 

Fearless Frederic Book Trailer

Fearless Frederic - Author's Note

Fearless Frederic by Felice Arena - 9780143786757


My first introduction to France was when I was in high school. I took Year 10 French, and I loved it, mostly because of my teacher, Mr Franzoni, who was so enthusiastic and engaging. He made France, especially Paris, sound like the most magical place on earth. I promised myself that one day I would visit the City of Lights.
A few years later, I was working as an actor on a popular TV show. I couldn’t believe my luck when I was invited to do a photo shoot in Paris for a teen magazine. Along with other young actors and models we raced around all the major landmarks of the city with the photographer. But all I wanted to do was to break away and explore the amazing city that I was only getting glimpses of.
Since then I‘ve been fortunate enough to visit Paris six times, but I still haven’t seen it all. In July 2016, the city was experiencing major flooding – the River Seine had risen higher than it had for years. I overheard locals make reference to another flood in Paris’s history – they called it ‘the Great Flood’.
When I looked it up, incredible black-and-white photographs of the flood of 1910 came up on the screen. The images of Parisians shuffling along gangplanks or rowing boats down famous boulevards are so evocative, so poignant.
But the flood didn’t come rushing down the river. The water rose up from the ground, from the sewers and the drains until the city was covered.
I started wondering, what would it have been like to wake up to discover your home was underwater? What were the shelters like in 1910? How did people help one another when faced with a catastrophe? Who were the heroes and the villains?
I wondered, if I were a kid in the shelters, how would I feel? Would I make friends while I was there? Would I want to help others in need? Little by little my story about Fearless Frederic started taking shape.
I read books and old newspapers from the time (yeah, my high school French was really put to the test), and I watched films and looked up images from this incredible period in Paris’s history – the Belle Epoque, the ‘beautiful era’. I spoke to locals and visited the landmarks where Frederic’s adventure was to play out.
The streets and major monuments I mention in the book are real, although I did take creative liberty with businesses like the boxing hall, horse stables and the book and toy stores. There’s a little nod to The Boy and the Spy in there too – see if you can find it!
I had so much fun researching this book. I had to find out what police uniforms looked like back then, and what kinds of people were likely to have bought kites, and how the streets looked and sounded packed with horse-driven carts, bikes and early automobiles. I needed to do a lot of research on French desserts (yum), but I also needed to learn how the sewer system worked (ew!).
One of the things I enjoyed most about writing this story was Thierry’s love of books. One of my all-time favourite stories is The Hunchback of Notre Dame by the legendary French author Victor Hugo. There was no way I could ignore French literature when writing a book set in Paris. France has given the world some of the greatest writers of all time, and in a very small way Thierry was my homage to them.
At the heart of this adventure are courage and friendship. Bravery isn’t always about being physical. Following your heart and being true to yourself and your friends can sometimes take more courage than going into battle against an entire team of savate boxers.
And the things that make you different from your friends can sometimes be the very features that bind you to them. Frederic, Thierry and Claire are all very different, but somehow I get the feeling they will be friends forever. Don’t you?

Paris Flood 1910

The 1910 floods in Paris lasted for two months and took the lives of five people. After a rainy summer and autumn in 1909, the water levels rose and rose and rose. Soon the city looked more like Venice than Paris.
The city became unfamiliar and dangerous. Between January 21 and January 28 that year, thousands of people evacuated. Government engineers built wooden walkways that people could use to get through the flooded streets once the train tracks were submerged. The electricity failed and even judges needed to bring blankets to court in the cold winter weather.
On 15 March, the Seine returned to its normal levels, and the Paris Metro re-opened in April. More than 14,000 buildings had been flooded, including the seat of the National Assembly, the Palais Bourbon.
Click on the vertical 3 dots to view the slides in full screen.

Introducing Felice Arena

Felice Arena is one of Australia's best-loved children's writers. He is the author and creator of many popular and award-winning children's books for all ages, including The Boy and the Spy, Fearless Frederic, A Great Escape, Whippersnapper, the bestselling Specky Magee books and the popular Andy Roid series.

The Boy and the Spy


Life has never been easy for Antonio, but since the war began there are German soldiers on every corner, fearsome gangsters and the fascist police everywhere, and no one ever has enough to eat. But when Antonio decides to trust a man who has literally fallen from the sky, he leaps into an adventure that will change his life and maybe even the future of Sicily…

The Boy and the Spy - Author's Note

The Boy and the Spy by Felice Arena | 9780143309284 | Booktopia


The setting and characters in this story are especially close to my heart. My name means ‘happy’ in Italian and my mother was born in Sicily two years after World War II ended. My father, who is a few years older than my mum, grew up in a seaside town in the nearby southern Italian region of Calabria.
Life had become very difficult in Italy during and after the war and many Italians from these regions made the huge decision to leave. They emigrated to places like Canada, the US and Australia to seek better conditions for themselves and their families.
I’ve always wanted to write a novel about my parents’ experience, but every time I started to write it I’d struggle. I even took my parents on a trip back to their hometowns hoping that a story would present itself. But it didn’t. So I decided to let it go.
A couple of years ago, though, over dinner with my parents, the subject of ‘rotas’ came up. I hadn’t heard the term before and I was fascinated. It comes from the term ‘ruota delgi esposti’, meaning ‘the wheel of the exposed children’. Rota is an alternative spelling and I decided to go with that as I thought it would be easier for readers to pronounce.
My mum and dad were telling me about the stigma attached to being a ‘rota child’ back in ‘the old country’. Suddenly I could hear Antonio’s voice, loud and clear: ‘Write my story!’ he said. ‘I don’t want to be invisible any more!’
I had just finished the Andy Roid books – a series about high-tech secret agent missions – and I’ve always loved spy books and movies, so before I knew it, I was madly writing the story of Antonio’s adventures in a world of wartime espionage.
This story is fiction, of course, but I wanted to recreate the mood of that dark period in history and at the same time present Sicily as another character in the book. I visited and talked with relatives in Italy, read stories of the second world war and watched old newsreel clips.
The invasion of Sicily by the Allies was codenamed ‘Operation Husky’ and it was the first of a series of attacks on German-occupied Europe – attacks that eventually ended one of the most terrible wars in history.
But not everything happened exactly as I’ve written it here. For one thing, the publication of The Little Prince was April 1943, and I set this story in May 1943 (two months before the invasion of Sicily). Chris would have left America for training in Africa before the book was published, but it’s one of my favourites and there are parallels with Antonio’s story. Maybe your students could borrow The Little Prince from the library and try to figure out why I chose it.
As much as I loved writing the adventure and action in this story, this was always going to be more than a spy adventure. For me this story is about family and what that means. When I was a kid one of my closest friends told me he was adopted, and my first response was, ‘Are you going to find your real parents one day?’ He explained to me that his adoptive parents were his real parents. Families come in different shapes and sizes – your students will know lots of different kinds of families. Each one quite different, but each one just as important and real.

Setting of the Story

Sicily, the largest Mediterranean island, is just off the "toe" of Italy's "boot." Its rich history is reflected in sites like the Valley of the Temples, the well-preserved ruins of 7 monumental, Doric-style Greek temples, and in the Byzantine mosaics at the Cappella Palatina, a former royal chapel in capital city Palermo. On Sicily’s eastern edge is Mount Etna, one of Europe’s highest active volcanoes. 

Map of Sicily. Fly in/out of Palermo, really want to see Marsala, Cefalu,  and Taormina. Going to be a busy week! | Sicily italy, Sicily travel, Sicily

Invasion of Sicily 1943 - Operation Husky

In 1943, people received their news from newspapers, radio and news reels which were played in cinemas. This is a news reel that explains the Invasion of Sicily by the Allies in the early hours of July 10th 1943.

Other Historical Fiction Novels in Wyvern Library

After reading one of Felice Arena's Historical Fiction novels, you may be interested in reading more Historical Fiction by other authors. 
Top 10 Historical Fiction Novels in Wyvern Library
  • Words on Fire by Jennifer Nielsen  5-6 WRC NIE
  • Black Sunday by Evan McHugh  5-6 PRC MCH
  • My Brother's War by David Hill   FICTION HIL
  • The Felix Series by Morris Gleitzman 7-9 PRC GLE
  • Hotaka by John Heffernan 5-6 SERIES READS THR
  • Within these Walls by Robyn Bavati  5-6 WRC BAV
  • The Night They Stormed Eureka by Jack French 5-6 WRC FRE
  • Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief by Katrina Nannestad FICTION NAN
  • Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth  5-6 WRC BUT
  • Bushfire by Sally Murphy  5-6 WRC MUR 

Different Text Connections Explained

Reading Challenge Information

Great News!

All three of these Felice Arena books are on both the Premier's and Wyvern Challenges.

PRC ID Numbers

Fearless Frederic PRC ID 23177

The Boy and the Spy PRC ID 5075

The Great Escape PRC ID 587855

A Great Escape

A Great Escape by Felice Arena | 9780143794042 | Booktopia


A wonderful story  set during the time of the construction of the Berlin Wall. Heartwarming and full of hope, the book captures the wonderful child-like naivety and optimism of overcoming challenges through invention and imagination. .
Imagine your city has been divided by a wall and and your family is on the other side…
Peter stays with his grandparents when his parents and sister go on a trip across the border to the West. They wake to find the government is building a wall through their city. It is guarded by soldiers, tanks and fierce dogs so nobody can get through and people can no longer go to the West. Peter feels trapped and is scared he might never see parents and little sister, Margrit again. Finding a way past the wall will require courage and ingenuity. Peter and his friends Otto and Elke desperately want to escape, but whose daring plan will succeed…
A Great Escape is an exciting adventure story, but it is also a reminder of how strong the love of family can be, even when a wall tries to separate them. Peter’s story will tug at your heart.

A Great Escape - Author's Note

Better Reading Kids - A Great Escape Trailer | Facebook

Ideas strike you at the oddest times and places. Many of my stories have come to me while I’ve been travelling or on the move, when I can allow my mind to drift and let my imagination run. And my stories are so often born out of curiosity and asking questions.
A few years ago I visited Germany and went to Berlin. I did all the touristy tours and, like millions of visitors to that incredible city, I learnt a bit about its fascinating history. I was particularly taken by the Berlin Wall and the idea that someone would cut a city down the middle and stop families from seeing each other, stop people going to work or to visit their friends. I asked my local friends a lot of questions. Why did the government do that? How did they do that? And then I asked myself a question: What if this were to happen today? How would I react? What would I do?
I wondered what I would be willing to sacrifice to see my family again. Or to be with my friends. Would I risk living in a refugee camp? Would I live in poverty? Would I leave the people I cared about who wanted to stay? Would I even risk or sacrifice my life like so many East Germans did to get to the West?
One thing I knew – I would do anything to be with my family.
After the wall went up, East Germany became an increasingly dangerous place to be. The terrifying Stasi, the secret police, helped by people like Max who turned on their friends, made East Germany a very scary place to live.
There have been lots of films and books about the Wall and the Cold War between the Soviets and America and its allies, and I had a moment of doubt – thinking perhaps it wasn’t my place, especially as an Australian, to write a story centred around this famous episode in European history. Even though the East German refugees’ dangerous quest for freedom and escape appealed to my sense of adventure, I put the story aside for a while.
Then one day I was talking to my neighbour in my building. He’s a German Australian in his seventies who loves to walk his Labrador. One day we were talking about books, and I said I was thinking of writing a story set in Berlin. ‘Oh, Berlin,’ he said. ‘I’m from Berlin. Did you know I was a guard on the Wall?’
I couldn’t believe it! What are the chances? I took this as a sign that I should start writing this story. I threw myself into researching more about the escapes and watching videos of people who shared their harrowing experiences. And, of course, along the way I was able to knock on my neighbours’ door to ask him questions.
The escapes mentioned in this story are based on real-life events (successful and unsuccessful). I have taken liberties with the timeline and the details – not all of them occurred within the two weeks covered in Peter’s story. I hope you will be curious to do your own research on the actual people who risked their lives to be safe or to be with their loved ones, and learn more about refugees everywhere who take those risks today.
The saddest thing for me about Peter’s story is that I knew when I was writing it that it would take twentyeight years before he would be able to cross the border again.
Like millions watching around the world, I saw the Wall come down live on television in 1989. I clearly remember the elation and tears of families and friends being reunited after so many years apart.
I like to think that Peter was among them, rushing to embrace his family. Perhaps he would have children of his own, who would be meeting Margrit’s kids for the first time. I imagine Sabine, Elke and Otto there too. Or perhaps one of them had migrated to a country like Australia to start a new life like my neighbour did. I would love to know their stories!
I hope that readers will come away from this story with hope in their heart, knowing that goodwill and kindness will eventually find a way to break through any barriers that divide us. We all want a life in which we can be free to grow, play, laugh and love.
And, by the way, my German neighbour’s name is Peter and his Labrador is Otto. Thanks, Peter. They sounded like pretty good names to me!

Daring Escapes from East Berlin

Felice Arena wrote in his author's notes that the escapes mentioned in this story are based on real-life events (successful and unsuccessful). Can you identify the escape methods he used in his story? 
Click on the vertical 3 dots to view the slides in full screen.

The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall

Watch this presentation to find out why the Berlin Wall was erected and why it eventually was taken down.

Reading Reflection Prompts

Each week after completing your reading of your chosen Historical Fiction novel, choose one of the following prompts to complete your Reading Reflection sheet.

1. Write down something you learned or discovered about the historical background of your book while reading today.

2. Make a prediction of what you think will happen next in the story.

3. What was most surprising or intriguing in your reading today?

4. Finish this sentence. Today's reading was important to the storyline because..............

5. Think about your reading today. Can you make a connection to yourself or the wider world or another text you have read? Choose one to use to write your prompt.

6. Choose one of the main characters. Explain two things you have learned about them.

7. Compose a question you have about the reading today.

8. Explain one thing that you have learned so far about the time period that you are not likely to forget.

9. Characters in Historical novels can be real people from history. Name a Real Person mentioned in your reading. What was told about this person in the reading?