The best books for children about WW2—on the home front & across the ocean

Charlotte Herman Author Of My Chocolate Year: A Novel with 12 Recipes
By Charlotte Herman

The Books I Picked & Why

Lily's Crossing

By Patricia Reilly Giff

Book cover of Lily's Crossing

Why this book?

This is one of my all-time favorite children’s WW2 books set on America’s home front. The year is 1944, and Lily is off to spend another magical summer in Rockaway. The beach and the boardwalk, the swimming and fishing, and her friend Margaret are waiting. But the summer soon begins to fall apart. Margaret and her family are leaving for a town in Michigan where her father has a job in a wartime factory. And her own father reveals that he is about to work as an engineer for the army somewhere in Europe.

Loneliness sets in until Lily meets an orphaned boy named Albert, a Hungarian refugee who is spending the summer with relatives. Albert’s parents have been taken by the Nazis, and his sister, Ruth, is left behind in France. Lily and Albert have much to learn from each other, and much to share. This book tells a beautiful story of friendship and a cat, loneliness, letters, and hope.

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War and Millie McGonigle

By Karen Cushman

Book cover of War and Millie McGonigle

Why this book?

Even though I lived across the country from San Diego where this story takes place, and even though I was several years younger than Millie McGonigle, the picture of home front USA during WW2 is familiar in many ways. Soldiers and sailors filled the streets of Chicago, and kids scanned the sky for “enemy planes.” There was the fear of polio, the struggles with rationing, and the shortage of bubble gum. 

This story is filled with humor and memorable characters. But most memorable of all is Millie, who tries to deal with the death of a grandmother and her worries about the war getting closer to home. And even though she’s obsessed with drawing in her Book of Dead Things, she comes to understand what her grandmother had told her when she said, “Whatever is lost stays alive if you remember it.”

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A Place to Hang the Moon

By Kate Albus

Book cover of A Place to Hang the Moon

Why this book?

In this heartwarming novel, we meet William, Edmund, and Anna; three orphaned siblings who are among the children evacuated from London to the safety of the countryside in 1940. I was drawn to the three from the very beginning. They love and care for one another, and are determined to stay together. Despite the cruelty and neglect they face, they can still find humor in the most unlikely situations. But will they find a family that will keep them forever? If I were a character in the story, I would adopt them in a heartbeat.

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The Devil's Arithmetic

By Jane Yolen

Book cover of The Devil's Arithmetic

Why this book?

When you open a door, you might find something unexpected on the other side. And that’s what happens to Hannah Stern when she opens the door to welcome Elijah the prophet to her family’s Passover seder, and finds herself back in time to Nazi-occupied Poland. Hannah has heard the stories of her relatives’ lives during the Holocaust, so now, as she and the other Jews of the town are being rounded up and sent away, she knows where they’re going and what awaits them.

In the camp, Hannah experiences the horrors her relatives lived through. And the next door that opens to her brings her back to the present time, with a greater appreciation and understanding of her Jewish heritage, her family, and the importance of remembering.

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The Cats in Krasinski Square

By Karen Hesse, Wendy Watson

Book cover of The Cats in Krasinski Square

Why this book?

It would be hard to find a better, more beautiful picture book to introduce young children to the Holocaust. The lyrical prose and haunting illustrations tell the story of a young Jewish girl and her older sister who have escaped the ghetto and live as non-Jewish Poles. Now they’re part of the resistance and devise ways to smuggle food into the ghetto. The latest plan involves a train carrying resistance members with suitcases filled with food to be smuggled in. But word comes that the Gestapo has learned of the plan and is waiting at the station with their dogs. The girl and her sister, along with their friends, quickly gather up the many cats in Krasinski Square and let them loose just as the passengers pour out of the train. Chaos erupts. Dogs chase the cats, the soldiers chase the dogs, and the smuggled food reaches the ghetto walls. This story, based on an actual event, is about courageous children and young adults who are willing to take risks.

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