World War II stories may hold a special appeal because this was a conflict that young people got swept up in — as refugees, Resistance fighters and youth soldiers — as dire circumstances forced them to behave like adults
So says Kristin Hannah, best-selling author of The Nightingale in this article in the New York Times. It gives three great examples of WWII books for young people, but here are my personal five favourites.
How would it feel to be related to Hitler? For young Gretchen Muller, that’s her reality, and when she makes friends with a Jewish boy, that can only lead to trouble. Forced into choosing sides, she goes with her heart, only to find herself in deadly danger. Especially as her brother has just joined the Hitler Youth. A fast-paced, edge of your seat adventure, with a little romance for good measure.
When all-American girl Patty Bergen meets a German Prisoner of war in her father’s shop she does not expect to make a new friend. Of course it is not a friend her parents would ever approve of, so it must be kept secret. Patty’s ally is her black family servant, Ruth, who is more like a parent to her than her real family. This novel is a study of racism, bigotry and growing up – all seen through the eyes of ever-curious Patty. I loved Patty’s voice in this novel, and the way her innocent eyes are gradually opened to the reality of the bigotry around her.
As the name might suggest, there’s a lot about truth and lies in this book. It centres around Verity herself, a nameless WWII spy who we think is gladly betraying her country to the Gestapo in order to survive. The novel begins as a confession. But in an unexpected twist it also turns out to be as much about Maddie: her best friend, a female flyer who dropped her into occupied France. Gripping, and intellectually stimulating, this is one of my top reads.
Translated from the German, this is the story of Ziska who is put on the Kindertransport to come to England to escape the Nazi persecution of her family. Taken in by strangers , she has to become part of her new family, who start to become as real to her as her distant parents. Against the backdrop of war-torn London, Frances, as she is now known, struggles with questions of identity, family, and love.
This Newbery-award winning book is the story of a ten-year-old Danish girl who courageously helps to save the family of her Jewish friend. Lois Lowry was apparently inspired by the letter of a young Dane, who, on the eve of his execution, reminded young and old to remember; and from that remembering “to create an ideal of human decency.” Although for younger children, I found this to be a mesmerising and poignant read.
And … if you are an adult, and like me, love books set in WWII, you can get a free copy of my WWII book Past Encounters, by emailing me or signing up for my newsletter.