This is the third post in my series of book recommendations for fiction to accompany topic work in school, or to provide recommendations if you are a parent who has a child who is obsessed by a particular theme and you are running out of books to buy them.
Standard terms and conditions apply, i.e.
I will state if I have read the book. If I do not say I have read it, I haven’t and I cannot be held responsible if you purchase/read this book to a child and are unhappy with the content. I recommend reading all material you tend to use beforehand just in case the book is not suitable for purpose.
All the books I recommend here are fiction. It is easy to search for non-fiction books as you simply Google the topic, or stick the topic in the search box in Amazon. Fiction books are trickier to track down, hence this list.
If you have any recommendations please e-mail me or pop them in the comments box below.
This post concerns books about Ancient Rome.
Tiger Tiger by Lynne Reid Banks – Set in the rein of Caesar, this is a novel about Caeser’s daughter, Aurelia. Aurelia is devastated by her father’s cruelty when he imports two tiger cubs into the imperial household. One becomes her pet, one is to perform in Caesar’s brutal circus. She makes a dangerous bargain with Caesar’s slave, Julius, the tiger’s keeper, to try and save the tiger cubs. We use this book in primary school as a guided reading book for older years, five and six. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to younger readers, simply because some of the content might be quite upsetting for them. It is suitable for both boys and girls. It is still currently in print, and also available on Kindle and as an audio book.
The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence – This is the first in Caroline Lawrence’s enduring popular Roman Mysteries series. Flavia Gemina is a sea captain’s daughter living in Ostia in AD79. She has a knack for solving mysteries, and soon gathers a gang of like minded children around her who assist her in her detection. The stories take a lot of their background detail from historical fact, and as such, make excellent books for supporting topic based work in the classroom. The series ranges far and wide across the Roman empire and give a real flavour of the scope and ambition of Rome. We use these in school from year three (aged 7-8) up. They are suitable for boys and girls, and their mystery element makes them exciting to read as well as historically useful. They may be a little too long for guided reading sessions, but are wonderful to dip in and out of, or to have as background flavour in the classroom. They are all currently in print, and also available as audio downloads, cd sets and on Kindle.
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff – This is the first of a trilogy, the others of which are The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers. This is the story of Marcus. His father is a member of the infamous Ninth legion, sent to conquer the land north of Hadrian’s wall during the Roman invasion of Britain. The Ninth set off, and never returned, and the honour of the legion has been tarnished by the loss of their Eagle standard. Marcus is determined to find out what happened to his father and to return the Eagle and the legion to glory. This is a wonderful adventure story by the queen of historical fiction writing for children. I absolutely loved this book both as a child and an adult, and unlike some of her other fiction I think this has aged very well and will not be considered too old fashioned for modern readers. It is suitable for independent readers from about the age of 7 up, although it is quite sophisticated and would only really suit really confident readers. It is too long to use for guided reading, but would be great in the class room as additional topic material or to recommend to a child who is excited by the topic. It is probably angled more at boy readers, but girls who like great adventure stories would probably enjoy it just as much. It is still in print and is also available on Kindle, and on audio CD. The first book has been made into a film called: ‘The Eagle’. I have not seen this so am not sure whether it is suitable for classroom viewing. It is possible to read the first book as a stand alone story. I am unsure as to the following volumes as I have yet to read them.
Geronimo Stilton: The Coliseum Con by Demetrio Bargellini – This is the third in a series of books about Geronimo Stilton and his mouse detective agency. This adventure is set in AD79 at the opening of the Coliseum. The books are full of humour, and lots of comic book style illustrations which make them suitable for about six years and up. They are not very factual, and as such would be better at providing more background colour and amusement than for topic based work, but are great for children who want to explore the topic more in their fiction reading, and who are not particularly bothered about the factual content. They are suitable for boys and girls.
Asterix The Gaul by Rene Goscinny – This is the first in the classic cartoon book series about Asterix. Their comic book format makes them impossible to read in class in groups, or to use as guided reading. These are best appreciated by the individual reader. These are really only for very confident readers, as although the books are brightly coloured, the stories are not too taxing and the comic book format is fun, the text is small and difficult to follow, and lots of the jokes require sophisticated understanding which is really only appreciated by older, more confident readers. These are ideal to have in the classroom to add colour to your topic. They might be useful if you could blow up the images on your interactive white board, or even link them to the movies and cartoon series that came after them. I would really recommend them for year five and six children. They are suitable for both boys and girls. The series covers a great deal of the activities of the Roman Empire. They are also useful if you want to introduce the idea of Latin into your topic work.
The Orchard Book of Roman Myths by Geraldine McCaughrean – This is a beautifully illustrated, modern re telling of the classic Roman myths. Its format means it is great for children from year 3 upwards. It is suitable for both boys and girls. It is an excellent resource for Roman topic work in the class room, and the individual myths could be used for guided reading purposes.
The Roman Record by Paul Dowswell – This is a spoof version of a modern day newspaper but which retells important events from Roman history. Technically it is a factual book, but the humorous element means I have snuck it into the fiction list. The format means it is not particularly useful for guided reading purposes, although it could be introduced on a larger scale via the interactive white board to create some interesting lessons about journalism and reporting, as well as historical facts. It is suitable for year 3 and up, and would work equally well for boys and girls. It would make an excellent classroom resource, and a novel way of introducing what might otherwise be considered ‘dry’ historical material in a new way.
Why are you Calling me a Barbarian by Birgitte Petren and Elizabetta Puttini – This is a picture book format story set in the third century BC. It concerns the Roman Imperial Army as they march north across the empire they are creating. They pitch camp outside Cologne in Germany and Martilla, a young Roman slave girl creates a friendship with Marboard, the son of a Scandinavian merchant. They compare their lives, each competing to show how sophisticated their people are, contrasting lives and habits. It is a story about tolerance, and this could certainly be an interesting take when looking at the Roman Empire, given how far it spread and how many cultures and peoples it encompassed. It is unclear what age group it would suit best, although one reviewer said that her seven year old loved it. It is suitable for both boys and girls, and would work well for guided reading in class.
The Roman Conspiracy by Jack Mitchell – Aulus Spurinnus is a young man, forced to take over the rule of his homeland Etruria when his uncle is killed in mysterious circumstances. His rule is threatened by a league of rebel soldiers, fronted by the experienced and dangerous soldier, Manlius. Spurinnus goes to Rome to seek help and advice from Cicero, the consul. He teams up with Cicero’s daughter, Tullia, and together they try to foil an threat that could bring the whole empire crashing to its knees. Mitchell is a historical scholar, and this is his first novel. The setting and some of the characters are historically accurate and it provides a good grounding in Roman history. At 164 pages this might be perfect for guided reading purposes. It is not clear from the reviews what age group this is appropriate for. I imagine it would work well for both boys and girls.
Escape from Pompeii by Christina Balit – This tells the story of Tranio and his friend Livia in AD79. It describes daily life in a busy Roman city, but also tells of their escape from the eruption of Vesuvius which devastated the town. Balit is primarily known for her illustrations and this is a beautiful picture book, but which is also strong on historical detail. At about 36 pages it is perfect for use in class and can be used from year 3 upwards. It is suitable for boys and girls.
Escape from Pompeii by Terry Collins – This is one of a series of graphic novels which focus on the heroine Isabelle Soto and her travels through time. Isabelle jumps back and forth in time to show how we, as modern people view Pompeii and also to Pompeii in AD79 to see what happened at the time Vesuvius erupted. The book is full of facts, and the time travelling element works really well to show different opinions, versions, and views of the event. The nature of the graphic novel means that this will only work for classroom time if the material is somehow enlarged for everyone to see clearly. It is excellent for providing extra reading material in class. It is suitable for both boys and girls, from about aged seven and upwards.
See You Later Gladiator: The Time Warp Trio by Jon Scieszka – This is one in a series of graphic novels featuring The Time Warp Trio, Joe, Sam and Fred. They travel back to AD 120 to fight against gladiators in the arena. This book is currently out of print, but it may be worth picking up a second hand copy if you can, as there are cartoons on Youtube as well as a website with interactive games and activities featuring the Time Warp Trio. The books, and cartoons which followed them, are specifically designed to make teaching history fun, and there are links, tips and ideas on the website for teachers as well as children. The website is American, and some of the games involve American sports, terms and cultural norms which may not translate so well into UK schools, but a bit of exploration will show you what you can use. Scieszka is probably most well known for his retellings of classic stories such as the Gingerbread man becoming The Stinky Cheese Man. His books are enduringly popular in schools and always full of humour and interest. They are suitable for children from about the age of six up, although this series may be better suited to slightly older children.
The Time Travelling Cat and the Roman Eagle by Julia Jarman – This is one of a series about Ka the time travelling cat in which Ka finds himself in various exciting periods in history, and his modern day owner has to find him and either rescue him or help solve a particular mystery. In this book, Ka ends up in Roman Britain, and her owner, Topher, has to help Ka find a missing Roman Eagle Standard and help save his young friend Marcus from evil Druids. These books are suitable for Year 3 (seven year olds) and above. This would be excellent for guided reading, as it is only about 160 pages long, and is factually accurate about the Roman Empire it describes. It is suitable for both boys and girls.
Minna’s Quest by K.M. Peyton – This is the first in a series called ‘The Roman Pony Adventures’ which does exactly what it says on the tin. Minna is a young girl in Roman Britain who raises an abandoned foal who eventually gets taken into the Roman cavalry. Minna and her horse must join forces to save her tribe from an attack by bloodthirsty pirates. As an adventure story this seems appropriate for both boys and girls, although it will probably be slanted towards pony mad girl readers. It is not clear what age this is most appropriate for. At a guess I would say year 4 upwards (8-9 years). At 192 pages it may be suitable for guided reading, although the pony-centric slant might make it more of an extra interest in the class room book rather than a focus for class work.
Son of Rebellion: A Story of Boudica’s Britain by Sally Harris – This is marketed specifically as a Key Stage 2 interest book for topic work on Ancient Rome. At 64 pages it would be good as a guided reading book in class. It is currently out of print and there are no further details available.
Clottus and the Ghostly Gladiator by Ann Jungman – This is the first of a series for seven to nine year olds which follows the history of Clottus and his twin Twittus as they have a series of humorous adventures in Roman Britain. The illustrations and humour make it suitable for younger readers, but it can also add details to KS2 topic work on the subject. It is suitable for boys and girls. This book is currently out of print.
The Stone Street by Marilyn Tolhurst – This is an adventure story about a Roman girl called Lucianus. Living in her uncle’s household in Roman Britain, she decides to run away after being badly treated, and sets off on a dangerous adventure across the English Fens to find her father’s legion. At 88 pages this would be perfect for guided reading. It seems suitable for both boys and girls. There are no clear indications of what age group it is suitable for, but I would hazard that it would be appropriate for KS2 as it is one of the Flashback series, developed to introduce children to history through fictional accounts of children’s adventures in different historical settings.
Song for a Dark Queen by Rosemary Sutcliff – A novelisation of the life and campaigns of the famous British queen, Boudica, and her revolution against Roman rule, as told by historical novelist, Rosemary Sutcliff. At 176 pages this could be suitable for guided reading in KS2 classes doing the topic of Ancient Rome, but you will have to make sure that the language is not too old fashioned. Sutcliff is a writer who had a prolific and long career and some of her novels are more modern in style than others. It is suitable for both boys and girls.
The Capricorn Bracelet by Rosemary Sutcliff – This is a series of stories set in Roman Britain. They range from the fall of the capital city Londinium to the eventual exodus of the Romans from Britain. The stories span about 300 years in Romano/British history, but are all linked by the main character’s ownership of the Capricorn bracelet of the title. They were originally written as part of a radio series by Sutcliff for a children’s radio programme. One of the reviewers comments that the stories are ‘slight’ and suitable only for children, which means I would recommend them to aged 7 and up. They would be perfect to use in guided reading sessions. They are suitable for both boys and girls.
Outcast by Rosemary Sutcliff – This is the story of Beric, a young boy who survives as a baby when the Roman galley his family is travelling in is ship wrecked. Washed ashore, he is brought up as a member of one of the British tribes. When bad times befall the tribe, they abandon Beric, believing he has brought them bad luck. He finds his way to a Roman camp and ends up as a galley slave. The story describes Beric’s attempts to free himself and make a new, independent life. Reviewers rate this as one of the bleakest, and saddest of Sutcliff’s works and suggest that it may only really be suitable for aged 11 and up. It is suitable for both boys and girls. At 320 pages it would be too long for guided reading, and the disturbing subject matter also excludes it from a lot of class work. It may be suitable to recommend to those year six children who excel at literacy and have the emotional bandwidth and comprehension to deal with the darker nature of the material.
Across the Roman Wall by Theresa Breslin – This is one of the ‘Flash Back’ series, which are intended to give children a taste of a historical era through a fictionalised, yet historically accurate story told through the eyes of a child protagonist. In this book, set in 397AD, Roman Britain is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live. Marinetta lives near Hadrian’s wall, and in a time of intense danger she is forced to team up with Lucius, the nephew of a Roman official, to escape. At 96 pages this is a good length for using in guided reading sessions in school. The historical background will be factual enough for it to be a useful classroom resource, and the adventurous element makes it appealing to children. It is suitable for boys and girls. A reviewer recommends it as more suitable for lower key stage two than upper key stage two (7-9 year olds).
The Green Bronze Mirror by Lynne Ellison – This is the story of a young girl called Karen who finds a green, bronze mirror buried in the sand one day while she is playing on the beach. Looking into the mirror she finds herself transported back in time to Roman times, where she is a slave girl. She has to undergo a series of adventures to free herself and come home. This book was written by a young teenage girl, and as such is a little naive, but it is an adventure story which seems to be remembered affectionately by many reviewers. Although the heroine of the book is fifteen, the story seems less ‘mature’ and might well suit key stage two students perfectly. Critics of the book suggest that it is not particularly strong on historical fact, which may not make it the ideal book for say, guided reading, but it may be quite nice to have in the classroom for children who are enthusiastic to read around the subject. Reviews also suggest it may be more girl friendly.
The Fatal Fire by Terry Deary – This is one of a series of adventure stories which were written by Deary to accompany his perennially popular Horrible Histories series. These stories use a factual historical background as the basis for humorous adventures for a series of characters. These are written with educators in mind, and a teacher review suggests that these are suitable for lower key stage two children, aged about 7-9, and the shortness of the stories makes them perfect for using in class. They are suitable for boys and girls.
Victoria; Born to be a Warrior by Frances Hendry – This tells the story of 16 year old Victoria, neither one of the Iceni tribe, nor a Roman. She runs away from an arranged marriage only to find herself caught up in Boudicca’s revolt against the Romans. This is recommended for readers aged twelve and over, and the synopsis which mentions the issue of arranged marriages suggests that the material may well be too adult for even upper Key Stage Two children. There are no further reviews of the book available, and it is out of print.
The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter – This is about a young man called Coll, brought up on Orkney, and ruled by fanatical Druids, Coll one day finds himself under attack from a Roman landing party. The book shows how Coll goes from being considered worthless to being an asset to his people through his development of the idea of the Stronghold, to protect his people from future invaders. This book is out of print, and it is unclear whether it is suitable for primary aged readers.
Toss of the Coin by Rob Child – This is one of a series of time travelling novels in which a gang of children find themselves in different historical settings, experiencing the life of the time through a series of adventures. In this book the Time Rangers find themselves travelling through time when they are on an archaeological dig. They wind up in Roman times and are captured and sold as slaves. This is only 96 pages long, and published by Scholastic, which means that it is probably suitable for key stage two school children, and would make a good guided reading book. It is currently out of print.
Legions of the Eagle by Henry Treece – This book is currently out of print. The review says that it is the story of a young boy who experiences the Roman invasion of Britain. It also says that it is suitable for children aged 7-9. Secondhand copies are available through Amazon.
The Chance by Hils Wilson – This is a story about a modern teenage boy who in his ‘real’ life is on life support after a serious car crash. This is the catalyst for a time slip adventure where he is paired up with another boy and sent back to Roman Pompeii just as Vesuvius is about to erupt. This is the boys chance to make a difference. The description of the book suggests that this might well be a book for 12’s and up rather than for primary aged children. It is currently in print, and available on Kindle.
Roman Invasion: My Story by Jim Eldridge – This is the story of Bran, a member of the Carvetii tribe who is captured by the Romans when they invade Britain. This is one of the ‘My Story’ series written specifically for schools who are engaged in topic work. Each book focuses on a particular event or time in history and sets the fictional story of a child against the factual backdrop of historical event. They are suitable for Key Stage two students (from about the age of 7 upwards). They are short enough to work as guided reading books, but the quality varies from book to book and you would have to read ahead to make sure that it is a) suitable and b) not too dull for your children. This is suitable for boys and girls.
Eagle’s Honour by Rosemary Sutcliff – This is currently out of print and although it is available from Amazon sellers, it is not cheap. It is however, available on Kindle for about £3. It features two short stories about life in Roman Britain. The book is heavily illustrated. I have not seen the Kindle version to be able to comment on illustrations. The stories are: ‘Eagle’s Egg’, in which Quintus, a grandfather, is telling his grand children about how he met their grandmother and the soldiering he did in Caledonia that separated them. The second story is: ‘A Circlet of Oak Leaves’, in which a horse trader called Aracos who helps a soldier called Felix when he is suffering from battle stress. The shortness of the stories would make them ideal for use in classrooms as guided reading material or topic based work. Sutcliff wrote many books about Roman Britain and these stories link to and explore some of the earlier themes of her work. I have not read the stories, but you may need to explore these works in relation to what came before in order to get the most from them. You will need to check that they are not too old fashioned in tone for the modern child reader. Given that they were published as illustrated short stories I would imagine they are suitable for seven year olds and up. They are suitable for boys and girls.
The Roman Beanfeast by Gillian Cross – This is a humorous story set in a modern school which tells the tale of Davy, whose class is doing the Romans as a topic. Davy takes inspiration from the famous Roman soldier; ‘Julius Sneezer’, to beat his enemy in the class competition to make the best model, and win the Roman Bean Feast. This is a light hearted story which is aimed at 7-9 year olds. At 88 pages it is a good length for guided reading sessions in the class room, although how ‘factual’ it is, is unclear. Several reviews are from teachers who have used it with great success with primary year three and four classes, and who report that the book was universally popular with the children.
Gladiators Never Blink by Nick Warburton – This was recommended by a teacher of primary year 3 and 4 children who had also taught the topic of the Romans using The Roman Beanfeast by Gillian Cross. They recommended Gladiators Never Blink, which is the story of Corinna, a slave at the villa of Aponius Saturninus. Corinna overhears her master’s plans to turn his villa into a gladiator school, and plots to save two young slave boys from their fate as trainee gladiators. This book is currently out of print, although second hand copies are available from Amazon. It is suitable for boys and girls.
Roman Myths by Kathy Elgin – A selection of some of the most famous Roman myth stories, retold in modern terms by Kathy Elgin. This is an illustrated picture book which would be suitable for KS2 students aged about 7 years old and upwards. It would work very well for guided reading sessions, or as a book to display in the classroom during topic work on Ancient Rome. It is suitable for boys and girls.
Roman Myths by David West and Ross Watton – This is part of the Graphic Myths series in which myths and legends are retold in graphic novel/cartoon form. This book includes the Wanderings of Aeneus, the founding of Rome (Romulus and Remus) and Horatius and the Bridge. It is specifically designed to support Key Stage Two history topics and is suitable for boys and girls.
The Roman Soldier’s Handbook by Lesley Sims – This is a humorous and practical guide for the fledgling Roman soldier. Reviews suggest that it is perfect for Key Stage 2 students, aged seven years old and upwards. It provides a winning mix of illustrations, facts and humour, and reviews suggest it is like catnip to even the most reluctant reader.