Learning about World War II can be heavy, but with these books for young readers—some adapted from the adult originals and others novels—the history becomes more digestible. We have the true story of a girl who was separated from her family, and the tale of the deep friendship between a prisoner of war and his dog. We have the incredible feminist histories of women whose work in the war was kept quiet along with devastating novels about teenagers making sense of the world during and after the war. There’s something for every kind of young reader on this list.
by Mona Golabek
Adapted by Emil Sher
by Lee Cohen
When Lisa Jura was 14, she was enjoying life in Vienna as a musical prodigy with hopes of becoming a concert pianist. But then Hitler's armies arrived. Lisa's parents were only able to secure a spot on the Kindertransport for one of their three children, and Lisa was the chosen one. She went off to a home for refugee children in London, where music became even more meaningful to her life. The Children of Willesden Lane is Mona Golabek's tribute to her mother, Lisa, and her incredible life.
As is the case with most of history, stories about influential women get brushed under the rug. But Atomic Women brings the women to the front, sharing the stories of the incredible female scientists who were critical in inventing the atomic bomb. They were recruited from labs and universities across the world to work on the Manhattan Project, though many of them were unaware of the consequences of their work. Roseanne Montillo digs into these women's stories and the moral implications of the work they did.
by Monica Hesse
Zofia, 18 years old, is on a mission to fill in the voids left behind after she is liberated from a concentration camp. Three years prior, everyone in her family except for her and her brother, Abek, were sent to the left—to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Now free, she's on a journey through Poland and Germany to piece together a future. Everyone she meets in a displaced persons camp is in the same situation, from the girl searching for the twin she was separated from to the former heiress longing for a wedding. In this deeply researched novel, Monica Hesse will take you into Zofia's mind as she learns to live a new life.
No Better Friend is the true story of Frank Williams, a radarman in Britain's Royal Air Force, and Judy, a purebred pointer, who met as prisoners of war and took care of each other throughout World War II. Judy was the war's only official canine POW and a fiercely loyal dog who protected her fellow prisoners time and time again. This young readers edition of Robert Weintraub's book includes sidebars, maps, photos, and more to complement this story.
by Monica Hesse
It's 1943 in Amsterdam and Hanneke works in secret to find and deliver black market goods to paying customers. When she's not out working, she's hiding the nature of her work from her family and mourning the loss of her boyfriend, who was killed on the front lines when the Germans invaded. One day, a client asks for help finding a young Jewish teen the client had been hiding in a secret room. Hanneke wants nothing to do with the search at first, but her rebellious heart has other plans. She's drawn to the mysteries of the war and the heart of the resistance. Girl in the Blue Coat is a thoroughly researched and gripping novel from Monica Hesse about doing what's right.
by Liza Mundy
Thousands of women served as codebreakers during World War II. Code Girls is the story of those women. They were recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy and eventually cracked German and Japanese military codes during the war, saving countless lives. Every aspect of their stories was top secret, until now. Liza Mundy interviewed the surviving code girls to bring this story of courage and service to the forefront.
When a British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France, the fates of its pilot and passenger are sealed: only one will survive. Verity, the survivor, is captured and arrested by the Gestapo and is certain she doesn't stand a chance. Her Nazi interrogators offer her freedom for the price of revealing her mission; otherwise, she faces execution. So she confesses, uncovering her past and detailing her deep friendship with Maddie, the pilot who she left behind. Code Name Verity will give new meaning to friendship and rip your heart out.
Fifteen-year-old Louisa—whose parents were killed by enemy action—wants to do something to fight the seemingly endless war in 1940. She takes up a job caring for an elderly woman in Scotland and while there meets Ellen, a volunteer driver with the Royal Air Force, and Jamie, a flight leader. The three work together once Louisa finds an Enigma machine that can translate German code. Set three years before the story of Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein's The Enigma Game is another tale of young heroes in World War II.
Discover the Key Moments of Each Year of World War II
Ashley Holstrom is a book person, designing them and writing about them for Book Riot. She lives near Chicago with her cat named after Hemingway and her bookshelves organized by color.