World War II is such an important part of history, but it can also be very difficult to teach children about this era because of its terrible realities. These children’s books help children understand the tragedies and sorrow of the war gently, without too many disturbing details, and also highlight some of the beautiful acts of compassion and selflessness that emerged in one of the world’s darkest hours.
The Secret Project by Jonah Winter and Jeanette Winter
Tells the true story of how American scientists developed the atomic bomb.
Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank’s Diary by Meeg Pincus
This is a moving, inspiring, and beautifully sorrowful telling of the story of Anne Frank through Miep’s eyes, based on her own first-hand account. Highly recommend!
The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren
Based on a real event, this is a fictional account of a Danish town that helped guide a Jewish family to safety during the Holocaust.
The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy
As the title says, this story is a legend; it is unknown whether the events in the story actually took place. The story, however, is a beautiful representation of the kind of courage and compassion that the Danish people truly demonstrated during World War II. It is about how beloved King Christian selflessly defied the Nazis and stood with his Jewish subjects. This is one of my favorite WWII stories.
The Greatest Skating Race by Louise Borden
This is a fictional story set in Holland about a boy who helps his neighbor’s children escape to safety across the border after their father is arrested by the Nazis. The illustrations are gorgeous!
Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind by Cynthia Grady
This is a true story about a librarian in California who wrote and sent books to children that were sent to internment camps during WWII. It includes excerpts from actual letters from the children, woven into the story. This book is a little window into what many Japanese Americans experienced during the war. Very good read appropriate for all ages.
The Harmonica by Tony Johnston
The story of how a young Jewish boy uses music to cling to hope and help others do the same. Based on the true story of a concentration camp survivor, Henryk Rosmaryn. While heartbreaking and raw, it is also beautiful and inspiring. Beautifully written with beautiful illustrations to match.
Tail-end Charlie by Mick Manning
This book tells about the experiences of the author’s father as an airgunner in World War II. The story is in kind of a scrapbook format, so it’s a little hard for young kids (meaning early elementary) to follow, but has some great info for older kids, especially those who are somewhat familiar with WW2 already.
The Girl Who Could Fix Anything: Beatrice Shilling, World War II Engineer – by Mara Rockliff
This is the true story of Beatrice Shilling and how she defied the limits for women of her time and shared her incredible intelligence and skill in the service of her country. Great story!
Bartali’s Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy’s Secret Hero by Megan Hoyt
This is an amazing true story about bicyclist Gino Bartali who used his speed and fame to help with the resistance during WWII. Bartali helped save over 800 Jews in Italy through his efforts. This is a fantastic story appropriate for all ages. I’d consider it a must-read!
Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II by Marisabina Russo
This is a true account of a Jewish family’s experiences in Germany during WWII, told by a grandmother to her granddaughter. There is some heavy material here – Kristallnacht and concentration camps are mentioned, though not in much detail – you may want to preview the story before reading it to young or sensitive children. I thought it was a very good window into what life was like for Jewish families during the war.
Virginia Was a Spy by Catherine Urdahl
This is a true story about Virginia Hall, an American woman and amputee, who, despite her physical limitations, assisted the Allied Forces as a spy and saboteur. Virginia’s determination, courage, and resourcefulness are inspiring!
30 Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman
This is a unique story of reconciliation between a Japanese pilot and the town that he bombed. The overall theme of the book is forgiveness and hope. It’s a lovely addition to WWII studies!
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto By Susan Goldman Rubin
An account of Irena Sendler and the hundreds of Jewish children that she managed to hide from the Germans during the occupation of Poland. This story shares a lot of tragic details about the way children had to part from their families in order to be saved, and disturbing events, such as the way Irena was tortured by the Germans when she was caught, so you may want to preview the book before sharing it with your children. Definitely a worthwhile read.
The Spy Who Played Baseball by Carrie Jones
The true story of Moe Berg, an American Jewish man who chose to leave his career as a baseball player and help defeat the Nazis by becoming a spy. One thing I really liked about this book was the account of the prejudice that Moe experienced as a Jew in the United States and how he refused to accept it. Great for all ages.
Luba: The Angel of Bergen-Belsen as told to Michelle R. McCann by Luba Tryszynska-Frederick
This is an amazing true story of a woman who went to great lengths at her own peril to save orphaned children in Bergen-Belsen. This story is deeply moving and inspiring but also heavy because of the terrible realities of the war. It recounts children being taken from their parents and being left in the woods to die, and gives details about the starvation and hardships experienced by the prisoners of Bergen-Belsen. I highly highly recommend this beautiful story, but exercise caution with young readers who might find it too disturbing. My sensitive seven-year-old handled it just fine, however.
Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss
Maggie had a dream of flying one day. When the United States entered World War II, she seized the opportunity to make her dream come true and serve her country at the same time by becoming a WASP – Women Airforce Service Pilot. She was one of only two Chinese American women to do so. Great story!
The Fearless Flights of Hazel Ying Lee by Julie Leung
This is the true story of one of two Chinese American women to become Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II. It gives lots of interesting details on what the WASPs did, and also gives us a window into the racism experienced by Asian Americans of that era. I really enjoyed this story!
One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II by Lita Judge
Lita Judge (the author) tells her mother and grandmother’s true story of helping poverty-stricken Germans in the aftermath of WWII. This story is tender, warm, and full of goodness. This one is a must-read at the end of your WWII study!
Star of Fear, Star of Hope by Jo Hoestlandt
As a rule, I only include books on my book lists that I really like. I’m breaking the rule with this one. While it is interesting and well-written, I do not like this book. I don’t like it because it’s sad and painful, but I’m including it because I think that is exactly why it is valuable to a study of WWII. This is the story about a young girl who loses her best friend to the Nazis, never to see or hear from her again. She never learns what has become of her. There is no happy ending here. It is sad with no real redemption, which mimics the reality, in a very small measure, of so much of the Holocaust.
Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming
This is a sweet story about a Dutch family who received boxes of supplies from America, which helped them and their community make it through the harsh winter that followed WWII. This is based on the real experience of the author’s mother, and helps children understand the extreme deprivation that much of Europe endured after the war.
The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida
This fictional story is told from the point-of-view of a young girl who is being forced to leave her home and move to an internment camp for Japanese Americans. It does a great job of relaying the sense of loss and injustice of this unfortunate event in history.
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
This is a story about the Japanese American internment from a young boy’s point of view. This is based off actual events and tells how baseball helped the prisoners endure.
Barbed Wire Baseball: How One Man Brought Hope to the Japanese Internment Camps of WWII by Marissa Moss
The true story of professional baseball player Kenichi Zenimura and how he kept hope alive through sharing his love of baseball.
Lumber Jills: The Unsung Heroines of World War II by Alexandra Davis
Tells the little known story of the young women who helped the war effort by taking over the lumber industry. The text is simple and the illustrations are sweet.
Anne Frank by Josephine Poole
This is the only picture book I have seen that really explains why Hitler targeted the Jews and how he was able to convince others to hate them as well. This is an excellent story about Anne’s life and experience in hiding, in a condensed picture-book form. It is tragic, of course, but touches the horrors of the Holocaust lightly enough to keep the book appropriate for young children.
The Promise by Pnina Bat-Zvi and Margie Wolfe
This is the true story of two sisters who helped each other survive Aushwitz. The story is sad and talks about life in a concentration camp, but with a light tough that keeps it suitable for young children.
The Cat Who Lived with Anne Frank by David Lee Miller
Tells the story of Anne in hiding through the point of view of the cat that lived in the Annex with her. This is a great book for young, sensitive children because the story is warm and upbeat in tone, but still effective at introducing the difficult subject of the Holocaust.
Nicky and Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sis
This is the true story of a young man who helped over 600 Jewish children escape from Czechoslovakia to the safety of London during the Nazi occupation.
Francesco Tirelli’s Ice Cream Shop by Tamar Meir
This is the sweet story of a man who hid Jews in his ice cream shop in Hungary to shield them from the Nazi’s.
The Little Ships: The Heroic Rescue at Dunkirk in World War II by Louise Borden
This is a really cool story! Though it is fictional, it is told as if it was the first-hand account of a young girl who helps her father rescue soldiers from Dunkirk on his fishing boat. The story is a bit long, so it is best suited to later elementary and up.
The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter
This is such a good book! It is a story about the heroic Navajo code talkers who created an unbreakable code that helped the Allies win WWII. It is a fictional account about real events and people, told in an easily accessible narrative about a boy and his grandfather. The code talkers are a very interesting aspect of WWII that doesn’t appear in many children’s books. I highly recommend this one!