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

Annika Thor Author Of A Faraway Island
By Annika Thor

The Books I Picked & Why

War

By Janne Teller, Translated by Martin Aitken

Book cover of War

Why 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.


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How I Live Now

By Meg Rosoff

Book cover of How I Live Now

Why 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."


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When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

By Judith Kerr

Book cover of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

Why 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.


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The Island on Bird Street

By Uri Orlev, Translated by Hillel Halkin

Book cover of The Island on Bird Street

Why 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.


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Good Night, Mr. Tom

By Michelle Magorian

Book cover of Good Night, Mr. Tom

Why 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.


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