In addition to considering literary quality what the other things should a 7th grade teacher consider in choosing historical novel.
Something that you might consider is teaming up with the history teachers and trying to coordinate historical fiction novels that tie into units they teach in history. This could also be turned into a joint writing venture as well. Students would learn more if they were receiving the information that was relevant in two classes.
All the above advice is excellent and essential to consider. One more thing I would add is that whatever you choose, you should have a passion for it. Kids can spot it a mile away if you don't particularly like what you're teaching. One other thing probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway--make sure the novel is actually historically accurate. Nothing's worse than having to excuse and explain lots of discrepancies between what they know and what they read. It's a real distraction. By the way, some non-fiction work can often serve the same purpose. Consider Night, by Elie Wiesel. Though it may be too intense for 7th-graders, it's a great addition to any study of the Holocaust.
I think using historical novels is an excellent opportunity to teach in an inter-disciplinary fashion. I am teaching A Tale of Two Cities at the moment, and it is a great chance to teach History as well as Literature. For me, one of the key concerns is the ability to provide students with a good grasp of the historical context before beginning the novel. The novel is going to be lost on them if they do not have a proper understanding of the period in which it is set. Therefore, time must be allowed and planned in to explore the setting fully, rather than quickly rushing over this element. Another historical novel I have read recently which was EXCELLENT was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, set in Tudor England.
You need to consider what historical issues you are interested in teaching or that you are trying to enhance with a fictional treatment of the subject. Or you can think about the following questions. Are you trying to specifically tie into a unit in a history class, or is the purpose to improve reading and comprehension skills? Determine what skills you want to the students to work on and choose a novel that will help them attain those skills. I agree with above posts that mention student interest. Choose a historical period that students have expressed interest in, or what are a natural extension of something they have studied.
I would say that the elements suggested in the previous post are powerful. I think that taking into account cultural factors would be important. It might be a challenge to propose a work, historical or otherwise, if it does not resonate with your community or group of students. I think that making sure that you can tell a story of meaning behind the work selection that will find some level of connection with your students can help make the selection of literature a powerful one. Seventh grade is a year where they need to feel some type of connection to the work and selecting one that has some level of social connection can assist a great deal in this process. I think that this is one element to be taken into account when making the decision of teaching a historical novel.
First and foremost, is it approved in your district for a group read. Each district tends to have a set of supplemental novels approved at specific levels. If you teach something in 7th grade for fun that is to be taught next year in 8th grade and is required, you just earned yourself at least 4 weeks of hate by those 8th grade English teachers. Trust me, I have been on both sides of this one. Likewise, check the high school novels. Many 9th and 10th grade texts are at 6th and 7th grade reading levels.
Second, consider your community. Is it a fairly conservative community? Then, watch out for touchy social issues. Is it a community that needs some hope? Look for an upper not a downer. The Diary of Anne Frank is a typical 6-7-8 book. The Giver or Number the Stars are likewise good reads. Even matching a historical novel with the backgrounds of the students sometimes creates greater buy-in.
In my class we are reading The Giver and this is an excellent book.
I suppose the first and foremost feature which you should have in mind is the interest of your students. You must be aware of the literary taste of your students and you must choose a text which will stimulate their interest and keep them interested till they have completed studying the text.
Next, the reading ability of your students. Do they have the ability to read the original text? Will they find the vocabulary and other aspects of the original historical novel difficult to grasp? If this is the case you should choose an abridged version of the original historical novel in question.
Two of the most popular historical novels which are recommended for beginners are Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe" and Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities."