Emily M. DeArdo

writer

Bookshelf: World War II Books

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Bookshelf is a new series that will focus on books that cover a particular topic or time period. I'm trying to recommend only books I've read, but sometimes I'll throw in recommendations from my friends and family members! 

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Today we're talking about World War II books. Unless you're my mother, who is a WWII nut, you are probably rolling your eyes. Every other book that comes out seems to involve WWII, even tangenitally. I'm a little burned out, myself!

But a friend of mine asked me for book recommendations about this time period, for kids and adults, and fiction and non-fiction, so I thought I'd comply, and list the good WWII books I've run across. 

 

Non-fiction

(I would recommend these for middle school and up. I read The Diary of Anne Frank young, and we read Night and Farewell to Manzanar in eighth grade.) 

  • The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom. This is one of my favorite books--I read it at least once a year. Corrie ten Boom and her family were part of the Dutch resistance, hiding Jews in their Haarlem home and procuring ration cards for Jews in hiding. Eventually, the family was arrested, and Corrie, her sister Betsie, and her father were sent to prison, and, eventually, the Ravensbruck concentration camp. The deep Christian spirit of the ten Boom family pervades the book, and that is what makes it stand out to me. Corrie isn't a paper Christian--her struggles are real, and she discusses them frankly. This would be a great book for family discussion with older kids, too. 

  • Farewell to Manzanar, by Jennie Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. This book is different from all the others, in that it focuses on the internment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast during WWII. Jennie, age seven, and her family were sent to Manzanar relocation camp, in the desert of California, during WWII. Their crime? Being Japanese-Americans. Jennie tells her story, beginning before the war, taking us through living in the camp, and ending with her family's release and attempt to settle back into "normal" life after their experiences. (A good book to dovetail with this, for younger kids, is listed in the next section.) 

  • The Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank/Otto Frank. Really, the quintessential WWII book. You have to start with this, I think. Anne's story has been made into movies, a stage play, and the house is preserved as a museum in Amsterdam, but this is the book that lead to all those. Anne's diary begins shortly before she and her family go into hiding, and ends a few days before they are arrested and sent to the concentration camps. Otto, Frank's father, published the diary after he returned to Amsterdam following his imprisonment. 
     
  • Night, by Eli Wiesel. Wiesel relays his account of life in a Romanian town before WWII, the arrest of himself and his family, and his experiences in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. 
Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
--Night
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand. A different book--this tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an Italian-American from California who competed at the Berlin Olympics, and then joined the armed forces as an airman. When his plane crashed over the Pacific, Zamperini and his crewmate survive--only to be rescued, weeks later, by the Japanese, and sent to a Japanese prison camp. 

Fiction: children/YA

  • The Molly series (book 1 and book 2), by Valerie Tripp. One of the classic American Girl stories--if you can find the original books, those are much better, especially for historical content in the back as a supplement. If you can't, the stories are still great. Molly lives in Illinois during WWII--her father is an Army doctor. On the home front, Molly's mom works at the Red Cross; the family has a victory garden; Molly and her friends participate in several events to help the war effort, and Molly's family takes in a British girl, Emily Bennet, whose family lives in London. The stories are rich in historical details, and Molly is a fun character. 

  • The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Ada and Jamie live in London with their mother, who hides Ada in their rundown apartment because Ada has a clubfoot. When the Blitz starts, her mother sends Jamie off to the country to stay safe--and Ada sneaks away with him. They are assigned to live with a woman named Susan, who is reluctant to take them in at first. These stories aren't just great for their historical content, but also for the character of Ada, whose stubborn determination drives the stories.

  • Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. Annemarie lives in Copenhagen with her little sister, Kirsti, and her parents, and enjoys going to school and playing make-believe with her best friend, Ellen, who lives in their apartment building. But Ellen is also Jewish. When her family hears of the plan to arrest the Jews of the country, Annemarie's family takes in Ellen. Can Anne-Marie's family save her best friend's life? This story is compelling, beautifully written, and is one of my favorite books, period--I re-read it a lot. I highly recommend it. Lowry won the 1990 Newberry Medal for this book. 
     
  • Dear America: The Fences Between Usby Kirby Lawson. To dovetail with Farewell to Manzanar, this story is the diary of Piper David, a "PK" (preacher's kid), whose father's Seattle congregation is made up of mostly Japanese-Americans. When most of them are sent to a relocation camp in Idaho, Piper's father announces that he is going with them--and is taking Piper. 
     
  • Dear America: Early Sunday Morning, by Barry Denenberg. Amber's family moves to Hawaii for her father's military job--he's assigned to Pearl Harbor. Her diary covers the months before, and after, the attack on Pearl Harbor. 
     
  • Dear Canada: Pieces of the Past, by Carol Matas. Rose is a Holocaust survivor who is living in Canada with various guardians. Her diary relates her experience of arrest, living in the camps, and trying to survive and rebuild her life in a new country, without her parents, afterwards. 
     
  • The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Liesel, a young German girl, is sent to live with a new foster family, Hans and Rose Hubermann. Distraught at the death of her younger brother, Liesel finds solace in books, as well as in the freedom fighter, Max, that the Hubermanns hide in their basement. A fabulous story with an...interesting narrator. 

Fiction: adults

  • The Nightingaleby Kristin Hannah. Hannah details the lives of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, who live in German-occupied France. The two sisters are estranged from their father, and from each other, and both must do what they can to survive the war. I don't want to spoil it, but let's just say it's worth reading, and is based on the life of a Belgian woman. 

  • Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly. Based on the true story of "The Rabbits", Lilac Girls follows three women: A Polish teenager, Kasia, who is involved with the resistance; Caroline, a New York City socialite who works at the French consulate in New York City, and Herta, an ambitious young German doctor. All three of these women collide in a memorable story, based on events that most people have probably never heard about. 

  • La's Orchestra Saves the Worldby Alexander McCall Smith. Lavender, or "La", moves to the Suffolk countryside to escape both the Blitz and a horrible marriage. In her tiny community, she decides to start an orchestra to bring the people together against the ravages and fear of WWII. She also meets a Polish man named Feliks, who will end up having a far-reaching impact on her life. 
     
  • Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave. Based on the experiences of Cleave's grandparents, the novel is set during the Blitz and the Siege of Malta, and follows two people: Mary, in England, and Tom, who has decided to ignore the war, until his best friend signs up--and then he can't ignore the war anymore. 
     
  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the novel follows Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives in Paris with her father, and Werner, a German orphan. Marie-Laure and Warner's stories collide in Saint-Malo, a town on the French coast, in 1944. Doerr's storytelling is intricate and absorbing, with great attention to detail and plot. 

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