This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. The war was a horrible time for so many, and a lot of people lost many loved ones to fighting, bombing and even the horrific events of the holocaust. Although the end of the war is to be celebrated, the most important message people came away with was to never forget about what happened so that future generations will never face the same brutal horrors that many of our families had to endure.
There are many books written about and set in World War II, from biographies, memoirs and non-fiction fact based books to a lot of historical fiction, some more disturbing than others, with some based on real events while others featuring some fantasy elements. When it comes to fiction based books there are many good ones aimed at different ages. Those aimed at children help introduce ideas of what happened in world war II and the holocaust to younger audiences, while many aimed at teens and adults show the more brutal side to what happened, some leaving a lasting impact on the reader. Today I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 books, some aimed at children, others at teens and adults, but all of them are must-reads and I would recommend each of these books for different reasons.
To read an in-depth review of each book click on it’s title below:
Yossi, Mordecai and Leo are among a group of children who arrive in England, a place of safety, after surviving the holocaust. As the children begin to recover and get used to life after the war, Yossi is haunted by his memories of the past and what happened to his family. This story is a wonderfully simple one and yet is really powerful at showing just how much life in the jewish ghettos and the concentration camps affected the children. Simple things like meal times or the weather affect the way the children react and shows how hard it was at first for them to adjust to a normal life. As tiem goes on they do settle down but there are moments both happy and sad that affect everyone especially Yossi. A lot of Yossi’s memories are very sad and even heart-breaking when you realise what happened to his family during the war.
It’s a book aimed at older children (middle grade) and does a good job of explaining the brutal holocaust in a way they will understand and while there are truly sad or difficult moments, the book is also one of hope and the ending is a good one. What makes this story even more special though is that it’s based on the true events of the ‘Windermere Boys’, who really did come over from the concentration camps and stayed in the Lake District near Lake Windermere!
This is a beautiful story aimed at older children (middle grade) with a magical/fantasy element mixed in. Karolina is a doll who lives in the Land of Dolls, but special magic brings her to life in the shop of an old man, the Dollmaker who created her. As she forms a friendship with the Dollmaker, they encounter the invasion of the Nazis into Kraków, and the beginning of the slow demise of the Jewish people’s liberties. This story moves between what is happening in Kraków and flashbacks with what happened to Karolina in the Land of Dolls. The two stories form a bit of a parallel with some of the most brutal things that happened to people being shown happening to the dolls in the Land of Dolls as they face a similar invasion. It’s a clever way of explaining some of the darkest things to children without scaring them too much, although what happens in Kraków is not sugarcoated either.
As Karolina and the Dollmaker see their Jewish friends go into the ghetto, the two work together to try to save them but along with some good moments are some sadder ones and the book does end up showing you a lot about the holocaust through a clever way. Although the book shows this sad side to what happened, it’s also ultimately hopeful and made me both cry and smile at the same time. It’s definitely one to read whatever your age and it has some truly very beautiful illustrations inside too.
This novel is dark and probably the most disturbing of all the books on this list, however this ya (older teen) aimed story is in my mind necessary reading, especially if we want to understand and stop the horrors of the war from ever happening again. Max is the perfect baby, born of the Nazi eugenics program. Even before he is born his mind already has the corrupt Nazi ideaolgy which you get to read some of in the first chapters. Narrated by him, the story begins with Max inside the womb and then as a baby growing up before later becoming a child. Although it might seem odd to start a story with the main character and narrator being a baby, it works well at showing you just how horribly corrupted his mind is. Everything he says is how the Nazis thought, with some horrible and brutal words about his flawed mother even making it into the start of the story.
As the book moves on Max is taken to different places, and sees some of what happened to many under Nazi occupation. The book doesn’t hold back from mentioning things like deaths, rape and some of the brutal truths of the holocaust, but while it does have a shocking impact on you as a reader, it also has a satisfying ending for the character. I wouldn’t say this is a happy story, it does go into a lot of details about what happened, and does show not only the Nazi brutality but that of some other nations too. However it does feel like a book that needs to be read, if you can cope with reading something so dark. The book really does show the true horrors of what happened, and all of it seen and narrated by a child who in the end isn’t even a teenager yet. It makes you think about the impact of the war on children as well as making you realise just how horrific some aspects of the war really were. A definite recommend for all teenagers, and adults too.
Although this story is set in the 1950s, a few years after world war II was over, it shows the lasting impact that the war had on many people and in particular a lot of children who were living in Germany. Inge is sixteen years old and lives in Munich with her parents but every year on her birthtday a letter arrives addressed to a girl called Kasia. Every year her parents take the letters away but this year there isn’t just a letter coming through the door, but a woman waiting outside of her house too. Inge’s parents won’t tell her who the woman is or why she is speaking in a foreign language, so Inge decides to find out for herself. But finding out the truth makes Inge realise she’s been lied to her entire life, and the woman at the door has a deeper connection to her than she first knew.
Although this story isn’t as difficult to read as some others, not featuring anything too disturbing or horrible, it does show a disturbing thing that happened to many children during the war. Inge’s past is more complicated than she first thought and she goes on a journey of discovering just who she is and what happened to her when she was very young. I personally felt a lot of connection with this novel as it goes into what happened in the past in Poland and perhaps the reason I love it so much is that someone in my own family very nearly had the same fate as Inge (something which still feels odd to think about today). Whether you realise what happens to Inge early on or not this is still a good novel filled with twists and it shows you just what a lasting impact the Nazis horrible regime had on people, more than a decade after the war was over.
Ashes by Christopher de Vinck (Adult) (realeased on 20th August)
This is an amazing and touching novel set in Belgium, a country that was supposed to be neutral in World War II, but was invaded anyway by the German forces. Before the war begins Simone and Hava become good friends after volunteering for the Red Cross. The two girls are like sisters and Simone soon feels a part of Hava’s family too. Hava’s family are Jewish and soon after the war begins Hava become separated from them and both she and Simone have to escape Brussels and the advancing Nazi forces. Set in Belgium rather than Germany or Poland this story gives a different view of how people were affected by the invading Nazis. Belgium was neutral at the time and so it didn’t expect to be invaded, which can be seen with the way some of the people at the time acted. But once they are invaded the two girls are on the run and go on a bit of an adventure in an attept to outrun the invading Nazis.
While rushing away from the invading forces they meet different people and see different things that are both hopeful and sad. The story is told from Simone’s point of view while the two girls are doing their best to escape the Germans who are invading across Europe. The girls meet different people along the way and this book does show how there was a split in how some people behaved or acted at the time, with some people being more compliant and ready for the Nazi invasion while others weren’t and you just knew they would end up being taken away if caught. Although this story is a moving one it has some very sad moments too especially when you read about what happens with Hava’s family. You find the truth about how the Nazis lied to people before taking them away, and you also learn what leaders like Hitler and Chrurchill were saying at the time with little excerpts of their speeches or books. The ending has you feeling a mix of emotions but despite the sad parts this novel is a hopeful one and being inspired by true events makes this feel all the more real and important to read.
I hope you like my list of my 5 must-read novels about World War II and I do hope you give some of these a go! There’s a book for all ages here and I’d recommend all of them to be read by adult and teen readers, with children sticking to the first two books until they are able to cope with the older ones. 😉 🙂
Have you read or heard of any of these books? What books about World War II would you recommend? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂