The best middle grade books about England’s World War II evacuations

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by England’s World War II evacuations since I was a child. Appropriately enough, I first learned of this extraordinary historical event in a story: it’s the reason the Pevensies are sent to the Professor’s house in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the dark days of World War II, more than a million English children boarded trains, buses, and ships, to be picked up and cared for by strangers, in some cases for the duration of the war. It’s a historical event that is as astonishing to me now as it was when I first read of it all those years ago. 

I wrote...

Book cover of A Place to Hang the Moon

What is my book about?

William, Edmund, and Anna aren’t terribly upset by the death of their not-so-grandmotherly grandmother, but they do need a guardian, and in the dark days of World War II London, those are in rather short supply. Could the mass wartime evacuation of children be the answer? It’s a preposterous plan, but off they go, keeping their predicament a secret and hoping to be placed in a temporary home that ends up lasting forever. 

A Place to Hang the Moon is about the comforting power of stories and the dire importance of family: the one you’re given, and the one you choose.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Valley of Lost Secrets

Kate Albus Why did I love this book?

Not only is this a heartfelt evacuee story, it’s also a brilliant mystery. When Jimmy and his brother, Ronnie, are sent to the Welsh countryside to escape the bombings, Jimmy is angry at the adults responsible – “They think they know everything but all they do is leave or make wars or send their children away.” The boys eventually warm to their kind foster parents, but some of the villagers aren’t so welcoming. When Jimmy finds a skull in a hollow tree, he has no idea how it’s tied to an unsolved mystery, and the reader has no idea how it will figure in this story’s gripping, satisfying, and emotional conclusion. 

By Lesley Parr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Valley of Lost Secrets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Beautifully told. This appealing book is about losses healed, lies uncovered, cruelty defeated and goodness rewarded." The Sunday Times

September 1939.

When Jimmy is evacuated to a small village in Wales, it couldn't be more different from London. Green, quiet and full of strangers, he instantly feels out of place.

But then he finds a skull hidden in a tree, and suddenly the valley is more frightening than the war. Who can Jimmy trust? His brother is too little; his best friend has changed.

Finding an ally in someone he never expects, they set out together to uncover the secrets…

Book cover of Letters from the Lighthouse

Kate Albus Why did I love this book?

I adore all of Emma Carroll’s delicious historical fiction, but Letters from the Lighthouse is my favorite. After the Luftwaffe’s bombings separate them from their mother and older sister, Olive and Cliff are evacuated to Devonshire. There, they end up billeted with the shy and enigmatic young lighthouse keeper, Ephraim Pengilly, who is tasked with taking the children in “whether he likes it or not.” Gorgeously atmospheric (the lighthouse alone – “a beacon to guide the lost to safety” – would have been enough for me), Letters from the Lighthouse also features unexpected friendships, the glimmer of a love story, and a sister who may be a spy.

By Emma Carroll,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Letters from the Lighthouse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We weren't supposed to be going to the pictures that night. We weren't even meant to be outside, not in a blackout, and definitely not when German bombs had been falling on London all month like pennies from a jar.

February, 1941. After months of bombing raids in London, twelve-year-old Olive Bradshaw and her little brother Cliff are evacuated to the Devon coast. The only person with two spare beds is Mr Ephraim, the local lighthouse keeper. But he's not used to company and he certainly doesn't want any evacuees.

Desperate to be helpful, Olive becomes his post-girl, carrying secret…

Book cover of Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of "The Children's Ship"

Kate Albus Why did I love this book?

My own kids absolutely devoured non-fiction when they were middle-graders, and this book would have topped their lists. Torpedoed tells the story of the torpedoing and tragic sinking of the SS City of Benares, an ocean liner bearing English evacuees to Canada. Full of photographs, excerpts from letters, first-person accounts, and ephemera like packing lists, other evacuation paperwork, and even the ship’s emergency drill instructions, Deborah Heiligman’s book belongs in every middle-grade non-fiction collection. There is heartbreak and tragedy in these pages, but there is also extraordinary bravery and heroism. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

By Deborah Heiligman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Torpedoed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Amid the constant rain of German bombs and the escalating violence of World War II, British parents by the thousands chose to send their children out of the country: the wealthy, independently; the poor, through a government relocation program called CORB. In September 1940, passenger liner SS City of Benares set out in a convoy of nineteen ships sailing for Canada. On board were ninety CORB children, chaperones, and crew, along with paying passengers. When the war ships escorting the Benares to safe waters peeled off and the way forward seemed certain, a German submarine attacked and torpedoed the Benares.…

Book cover of The War That Saved My Life

Kate Albus Why did I love this book?

This book is perhaps my daughter’s favorite novel of all time. And she’s certainly not the only kid who feels that way. I can’t even estimate how many children (and adults!) have told me this book is their number-one. Ada’s abusive mother keeps her locked up in their London apartment because of her twisted foot, but when Ada’s brother, Jamie, is evacuated to the countryside to escape the bombings, Ada runs away to be with him. What follows is not only a page-turner, but a poignant, heart-rending, and harrowing story about the healing power of love and acceptance. Bradley’s evacuee tale has become a modern classic, for good reason.

By Kimberly Brubaker Bradley,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The War That Saved My Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

*Newbery Honor book
*Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award 

This #1 New York Times bestseller is an exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War II, from the acclaimed author of Fighting Words, and for fans of Fish in a Tree and Sarah, Plain and Tall.
Ten-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a…

Book cover of When the Siren Wailed

Kate Albus Why did I love this book?

Several evacuee novels published in the few decades after the war became beloved classics. Michelle Magorian’s Good Night, Mr. Tom, and Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War, for example, are extraordinary. But my favorite of this era’s evacuee novels is Noel Streatfeild’s. Laura, Andy, and Tim Clark are none too happy to be sent away from their London home, so it’s a pleasant surprise when they find themselves comfortable in the care of Colonel Launcelot Stranger Stranger (not a typo… that’s his name). But when the Colonel dies suddenly, the Clarks run away back to London and their mum. It’s Streatfeild’s ever-so-dry wit that made me fall for this one, and her wry portrayal of the children’s experience in both the countryside and the Blitz-torn streets of London.

By Noel Streatfeild,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When the Siren Wailed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

A thrilling and moving adventure story about evacuees in World War Two, perfect for readers of Goodnight Mister Tom

'A compelling heart-warming story about three children in the Second World War - I loved it.' Jacqueline Wilson

When war breaks out in September 1939, Laura, Andy and Tim Clark are evacuated to the countryside. The Colonel's comfortable home in Dorset is a huge contrast to their cramped terraced house in London, where their loving parents struggle to put the next meal on the table. Though unused to having children around, the Colonel proves to be a kind and generous, if…

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Book cover of The Secret Order of the Scepter & Gavel

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