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Summer Learning: Royal Reads

Stained glass of a medieval king wearing a crown.

Summer Learning keeps moving forward, and the librarians at San Jose Public are moving forward too! We've got another list to help inspire your reading and learning this Summer. If you haven't already, you should sign up for Summer Learning to log your reading and win prizes. We will also be releasing a weekly blog with a new booklist that we hope will pique your interest. This week we'll explore some stories from sovereignty.

Royalty has long been a fascination for many, and there is definitely a lot to be fascinated by. For some it is an affinity with the opulent lifestyle - beautiful clothing, lavish parties, and incredible feasts for monarchs and courtiers alike is a rich setting for stories to unfold. More than the setting, perhaps "regiphiles" are more drawn to the personal stories of monarchs where stakes are raised due to their position in society; after all, kings and queens are people just like us with wants, needs, and dreams, but all that is innately difficult to have when the wants, needs, and dreams of a country are in your power. Further still, maybe it is the political intrigue that goes along with many reigns of old that draws a royal watcher into the world of the ruling class. Regardless of what draws you to the subject, with books there are plenty of avenues for indulgence.

For this list, I have selected a number of books about kings, queens, emperors, empresses, princes, and princesses to hopefully satisfy any courtly craving. These are picks for children, teens, and adults, mixing both nonfiction and biographical, historical fiction into the mix. If you're looking for a novel fit for a king or queen (and anyone in between), start your search here.

During my quest for Royal Reads (full list available here), there were by far the most written with their intended audience as an adult. Many of these titles would be of interest to our teen/young adult readers as well.

Many of the titles that surfaced were relating to Tudor England, and for those of you reading that are already Tudor fans, you likely understand why. This was a period in  history filled with drama and tumultuous political change. One needs only consider the first title on this list, the Six Wives of Henry VIII, to get a clue as to why! This particular title is the only book I am recommending as an adult non-fiction pick, although there are undoubtedly other great titles out there. I chose this in particular not only because of the emphasis on Tudor England in historical and biographical fiction, but also because at times the identities of these women are reduced to something very two dimensional, when these queens of England were all fascinating historical figures in their own right.

Also included on this list, and perhaps a great follow up to The Six Wives of Henry VIII are the works of 'the queen of royal fiction' (USA Today), Philippa Gregory. The Tudor Court box set features six individual novels, many of which we have singular copies of - The Constant Princess, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Boleyn Inheritance, The Queen's Fool, The Virgin's Lover, and The Other Queen. These bestsellers are all set in a court of Tudor England, featuring the real players of the courts as well as some imagined.

For those that are a bit over Tudor England, we have books featuring other monarchs and time periods, such as the little known love affair of empress Sisi in The Accidental Empress, shedding light on the Hapsburg Empire. But if you would rather leave Europe behind altogether, The Heretic Queen is set in ancient Egypt, and The Last Empress in China.


There are no doubt many children interested in princes and princesses they meet in fairy tales and animated films, and there are hundreds of these books that I could recommend. This list is, however, focused around true historical figure, and while the books themselves may or may not be biographical, there are true historical elements in each.

All of these books are worth a read, but for teens I particularly like Nine Days a Queen, a story which takes us back to Tudor England. This pick is a fictionalized autobiography of Lady Jane Grey, who was the center of a plot to keep Mary Tudor (who would later come to be known as Bloody Mary, a title that is often the center of lively historical discussion) from ascending to the throne. It gives the reader a taste of the truly volatile times, and ultimately depicts the cost of playing the game of thrones (George R.R. Martin's Queen Cersei succinctly summarizes - "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.")

This selection of Royal Reads also highlights two exceptional series for the budding royal reader in your family, The Royal Diaries and the Who Was...? series. The Royal Diaires is a series of books written by different authors, but each diary focuses on a different princess throughout history. If you click the Royal Diaries link, you can see there are quite a few of them! What I love about this series is it also branches away from European princesses and represents other rulers from around the world. The two I selected to feature on this list, Jahanara, Princess of Princesses and Nzingha, Warrior Queen of Matamba, are from India and Angola, respectively, but the series features many others such as Lady Ch'iao Kuo of China, Anacaona of Haiti, or Kaiulani of Hawaii.

The Who Was...? series is not limited to royal figures. The series features biographies of famous figures, both living and dead. The two I chose feature King Tutankhamun (Pharaoh of Egypt) and Princess Diana, a modern princess of England. There are many more biographies to check out in the series, however, and this series also has the advantage of having some titles available in Spanish (such as Quien fue Maria Antonieta?).

The last book to highlight on this list is the single recommendation I have for pre-readers, Kings and Queens. This is an interactive eBook for families with young children, and is recommended for ages 4-5. This is a great activity book for parents to sit down and read with their children, and has guiding questions so kids and parents can explore the subject of real life kings and queens together.


As always, however you decide to read this Summer, we encourage that! Yet I do hope that if you are interested in the rulers of old that this list gave you a good launching point to indulge your curiosity and spark a desire to learn more. Remember to sign up for Summer Learning to log your reading and win prizes this summer, and we'll see you next week with more recommendations! You can also check out other great recommendations on our Staff Picks Page


Blog Category
Adult Fiction

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