As a child, I was completely fascinated by the Second World War and read anything I could get my hands on to do with the subject! These are some of my favourites – it was so hard to narrow done my choices, so let me know if you want a part two!
Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
This is a classic and probably the first one that everyone will think of, but I had to mention it. The story of the evacuee William and his blossoming relationship with his host Tom is beautiful and poignant. I don’t think I’ve ever cried more than reading the chapter when William returns home, before being rescued by Tom! Order here.
Back Home, Michelle Magorian
A lesser-known work of Magorian’s that looks at the flip-side of evacuation: what happens when you return home? We see the return of Rusty to a post-war home, which feels oppressive and rigid when compared with her life a an evacuee. It is a fantastic imaging of life after the war, but is pretty meaty. Confident readers will flourish here! Order here.
The Machine Gunners, Robert Westall
Westall, like Magorian, is a pro at children’s historical fiction, and this book is fantastic for reluctant readers (particularly boys)! A group of boys find a crashed bomber-plane in their hometown, and steal the fully-working machine gun for their fort. When they find and capture the German pilot, moral quandaries and discussions abound. Most suitable for top juniors because of sensitive topics. Order here.
Blitzcat, Robert Westall
This is such a fun and clever book! We see the highs and lows of life on the Home Front through the eyes of a cat in this novel. As the cat journeys through England, looking for her master we see the many different facets of the war from a widow to an army sergeant. Has a wide appeal; there are some details (the war widow has an affair!) that make it suitable for top juniors. Order here.
The Silver Sword, Ian Serraillier
Inspired by true events, but not based on a singular story, this novel looks three children’s journey from Nazi-occupied Poland to safer shores. It takes a good look at the hardships faced by children on the Eastern Front, and has a fantastic afterword about the experiences of real children. It is easily enjoyed as an adventure tale by children who are studying WW2 or not. Order here.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne
Utterly heartbreaking. Boyne’s novel shows the burgeoning friendship between the son on a Nazi Commandant and a Jewish boy in a concentration camp. Atrocities through the eyes of children really help your children to access the emotional poignancy of what happened. The ending is awful as our protagonist goes under the fence to play with his friend in ‘pyjamas’, but does bring the message home to children. Obviously only suitable for older children with sensitive handling of the Holocaust. Order here.
Rose Blanche, Roberto Innocenti and Ian McEwan
The only picture-book on this list, Rose Blanche is a poignant tale that provides a fantastic base for writing. Rose lives in a German town, and one day the Nazis show up the town begins to change. She sees the children who are hungry and ushered out by soldiers, and the reality of life in Nazi Germany is peppered through the illustrations. The ending is ambiguous and all the more heartbreaking for it. Order here.