The best books for children and young people about war and refugees

Annika Thor Author Of A Faraway Island
By Annika Thor

Who am I?

As a descendant of Jewish refugees, from pogroms in Russia and from Nazi persecution in Germany, I grew up with stories of war, exile, and loss. As a writer, these themes have been very important for me, not only in the series of four books about Stephie and Nellie, but also in a novel for adults and a picture book for younger children. As a reader, I am interested in stories that deal with the same themes – stories that may be set in the past, the present, or the future. As a mother and grandmother, I know that good books can help us talk to our young about the most difficult matters.

I wrote...

A Faraway Island

By Annika Thor, Linda Schenck (translator),

Book cover of A Faraway Island

What is my book about?

In the summer of 1939, the Jewish sisters Stephie and Nellie from Vienna arrive on a rugged island off the west coast of Sweden. They expect to spend a few months there, safe from Nazi persecution, and then continue with their parents to America. However, the world war forces them to stay much longer. Seven-year-old Nellie quickly settles into her new surroundings, while her older sister Stephie finds it hard to adapt; she feels stranded at the ends of the earth, with a foster mother who is as unforgiving as the island itself. Stephie's main worry, though, is her parents—and whether she will ever see them again. 

A Faraway Island is the first of a series of four books.

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The books I picked & why


By Janne Teller, Translated by Martin Aitken,

Book cover of War

Why did I love this book?

The idea of this book is so simple and so brilliant! What if war broke out, not in some faraway part of the world, but in your own home country? What if your house had been bombed, your sister injured, and your grandparents killed? What if you, a European teenager, had to flee with your family to a country in the Middle East, where you are barely tolerated and forced to live in poverty? 

On 64 pages, in a book the size and shape of a European Union passport, Danish writer Janne Teller makes the reader understand what it really means to be a refugee from war and persecution.

By Janne Teller, Translated by Martin Aitken,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Endorsed by Amnesty International. Imagine if war broke out - not in Iraq or Afghanistan, somewhere far far away, but here, in our country. In War, Janne Teller embarks on a thought-provoking experiment: by simply turning the current crisis on its head, she reveals what it is like to flee your home country, to be exiled, and to fight for survival in a foreign country.

In this illustrated short story, Europe has fallen apart and the only place at peace within reach is the Middle East. You follow a normal British family as they flee to the Middle East and…

How I Live Now

By Meg Rosoff,

Book cover of How I Live Now

Why did I love this book?

15-year-old Daisy leaves her conflict-ridden home in New York to spend the summer with her four cousins in the peaceful English countryside. When war breaks out, the rural atmosphere is shattered and the young cousins have to take care of themselves and each other. 

What makes this book so heartbreaking is Daisy's narrative voice: tough and vulnerable, funny and sad, yet always credible. Meg Rosoff has the courage not to oblige the reader with a happy ending: when Daisy decides to return to England after the war is over, she is well aware that life will be difficult – but this, she says, "is how I live now."

By Meg Rosoff,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked How I Live Now as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How I Live Now is an original and poignant book by Meg Rosoff

How I Live Now is the powerful and engaging story of Daisy, the precocious New Yorker and her English cousin Edmond, torn apart as war breaks out in London, from the multi award-winning Meg Rosoff. How I Live Now has been adapted for the big screen by Kevin Macdonald, starring Saoirse Ronan as Daisy and releases in 2013.

Fifteen-year-old Daisy thinks she knows all about love. Her mother died giving birth to her, and now her dad has sent her away for the summer, to live in…

Book cover of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

Why did I love this book?

Anna is nine when the Nazis come into power in Germany, forcing her father, a Jewish journalist, to leave the country immediately. After a few weeks, Anna, her brother Max and their mother are able to join him in Switzerland. They can take very few things with them, and Anna's beloved pink rabbit has to be left behind. 

It may sound strange to call a book about refugees "charming." but Judith Kerr always stays close to the child's perspective, describing both the difficulties and the pleasures of the family's everyday life in Switzerland and later in Paris. This classic book, based on the author's own experience and first published in 1971, is a perfect first introduction to the theme of exile for children between seven and nine.

By Judith Kerr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This semi-autobiographical classic, written by the beloved Judith Kerr, tells the story of a Jewish family escaping Germany in the days before the Second World War.

This beautiful new edition celebrates the fifty year anniversary of an adventure that Michael Morpurgo called "The most life-enhancing book you could ever wish to read."

Suppose your country began to change. Suppose that without your noticing, it became dangerous for some people to live in it any longer, and you found, to your surprise, that your own father was one of those people. This is what happened to Anna in 1933.

Anna is…

The Island on Bird Street

By Uri Orlev, Translated by Hillel Halkin,

Book cover of The Island on Bird Street

Why did I love this book?

"It was like living on a desert island. Instead of the sea, there were houses and people around me." Aleks, aged 11, uses a metaphor fetched from his favorite book, Robinson Crusoe, to describe his own struggle for survival. But his "island" is a ruined house in the ghetto, where he hides after having been separated from his father during a raid by the Nazis. Just as resourceful and inventive as his literary role model, Aleks manages to fend for himself while hoping for his father to return.

Uri Orlev, himself a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and Bergen-Belsen, succeeds in combining a classic adventure story with a realistic narrative of the Holocaust. I don't know how he does it, but I know that his book is a masterpiece.

By Uri Orlev, Translated by Hillel Halkin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Island on Bird Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During World War II a Jewish boy is left on his own for months in a ruined house in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he must learn all the tricks of survival under constantly life-threatening conditions.

Good Night, Mr. Tom

By Michelle Magorian,

Book cover of Good Night, Mr. Tom

Why did I love this book?

Will, the neglected and maltreated son of a fanatically religious, mentally disturbed mother, has never experienced love or kindness. At the outbreak of World War II, he and other children are evacuated from London to the countryside. In the home of his foster father, Mr. Oakley, whom he calls Mister Tom, Will slowly understands that life can be very different from what he has been used to – and Mr. Oakley, a widowed recluse, is brought out of his self-imposed isolation. Meanwhile, the war, at first a distant rumble in the background, comes closer and closer to the village and finally affects Will's life deeply. I can't remember how many times I read this classic to my own children, but it touches me just as much every time.

By Michelle Magorian,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Good Night, Mr. Tom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Puffin Classics: the definitive collection of timeless stories, for every child.

Tom tucked a blanket round him, drew up a chair by the fire and watched Willie fall asleep. The tales he had heard about evacuees didn't seem to fit Willie. 'Ungrateful' and 'wild' were the adjectives he had heard used, or just plain 'homesick'. He was quite unprepared for this timid, sickly little specimen.

Britain, 1940. With World War Two raging all around, young children are being sent from their homes in the city to the countryside for safety. When eight-year-old Willie Beech first arrives on Tom Oakley's doorstep,…

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