Jenni Spangler's top books in a Victorian setting

Published on: 04 May 2020

Whether you're a lover of classic tales or spooky mysteries, you'll find something to read on Jenni Spangler's list of Victorian-themed books...

Victorian illustration of a child reading

I always wanted to write a Victorian book. Something about that time period caught my imagination, and I’ve loved researching and reading all about it. Here are a few of my favourite children’s fiction titles with a Victorian setting.

Horrible Histories: Vile Victorians by Terry Deary

Starting out with an obvious one here, but I adore Horrible Histories. I was hooked on them as a child. After fairly dry history lessons, it was refreshing to hear about the weird bits, the funny bits, the disgusting bits of life in the past! I’m still interested in the weirder parts of history and that’s where I find a lot of my inspiration. Even better, my daughter is now a huge fan of these books so we can bond over them!

Son of the Circus by Emma Norry

It’s really unusual to see a person of colour in historical fiction for children, and this one is about real father and son Pablo and Ted Fanque, Victorian circus performers. This is such a lovely, gentle story about belonging and figuring out who you are inside. It touches on the darker elements of Victorian life, but never dwells on them, for a really warm and comforting read.

Great Expectations, as illustrated by Jack Noel

I’ve always had a soft spot for Great Expectations. Miss Havisham rotting away for twenty years in her wedding dress is an image that has never left me! What Jack Noel has done here is really clever – illustrating the book in the style of a middle grade funny makes it accessible to much younger readers, while preserving the beauty of the original text. I wish I had thought of this! 

Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin

I’m cheating a little here, because this book won’t be out until next year, but I was lucky enough to read a proof copy and it is wonderful. Lindsay’s unique mix of mythical beasts with real history and science is spellbinding and the main character, Syms, is instantly likeable.

The House of Hidden Wonders by Sharon Gosling 

Hard to think of a spookier setting than the dark and cramped world beneath Edinburgh, and Sharon Gosling does it absolute justice. Like Darwin’s Dragons, real historical figures are woven into the narrative but the real star is smart, capable and loyal Zinnie who won me over immediately.

Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson

My daughter has read this book so many times it has fallen to pieces, and there’s no higher recommendation than that! Hetty comes from London’s Foundling Hospital, a place with many tragic stories to tell, and Jacqueline Wilson doesn’t shy away from the sad realities those children faced. Yet overall it’s a hopeful book, with spirited Hetty setting out on a much bigger adventure.

Rose Raventhorpe Investigates by Janine Beacham 

This series of mysteries is just a delight to read. Full of twists and turns, and packed with memorable characters, this was so much fun. Best of all is the touch of humour sprinkled all the way through. After finishing the first I was ready to dive right into the second.

What's your favourite novel in a Victorian setting? Let us know in the comments!

Author Jenni Spangler

Jenni Spangler's latest novel, The Vanishing Trick, is available now. Follow her on Twitter.

Topics: Historical, Features

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