The best books about young characters with courage, resilience, and resistance in WWII

The Books I Picked & Why

Snow Treasure

By Marie McSwigan

Book cover of Snow Treasure

Why this book?

If you’ve read this, you’ll nod your head in agreement. If not, what are you waiting for? This novel was first published in 1942 and has remained in print ever since. Germany invaded neutral Norway on April 9, 1940, with massive, overwhelming forces, but was resisted from the start. I often read Snow Treasure aloud to students, hanging on every page-turn just as my students do. I always make it clear that this is a fictionalized account of the daring (and true) escape of Norway’s king and cabinet, along with their national treasure, which allowed them to continue the fight from England. When I speak about my own books, I am often asked about Snow Treasure—by adults! It’s the unforgettable book of their youth that they still believe to be entirely true. That’s a testament to terrific writing and reading!

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Number the Stars

By Lois Lowry

Book cover of Number the Stars

Why this book?

I was already a fan of author Lois Lowry when Number the Stars was released. My first reading led to years of read-aloud sessions with my students. Compelling writing and vivid scenes allowed us to experience the love and fears of ten-year-old Annemarie in Denmark in WWII. Tall boots and guns of the German occupiers signaled danger, of course, but why should her best friend’s family be under even greater threats, just because they are Jewish? The innocent perspective and confusion of a child feel immediate and intense. Annemarie’s choices, courage, and actions provide an age-appropriate vicarious experience with hatred and war. Threads of deep research reveal clever and coordinated resistance as they are woven throughout a heart-pounding story that spans a few hours… and a lifetime.

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Twenty and Ten

By Claire Huchet Bishop, Janet Joly

Book cover of Twenty and Ten

Why this book?

Reading aloud to students is my ultimate commendation for the best books, with a bonus for books that are short and powerful. Twenty and Ten is based on actual events in a French boarding school during World War II. When ten desperate Jewish children needed a sanctuary to survive, to avoid being sent to concentration camps, the nuns wisely discussed this with the twenty resident children. Those children would need to keep their life-or-death secret. Limited food and resources, barely enough for the twenty, would need to stretch to keep ten more alive, perhaps for years. If discovered, all might be taken, or killed. “What do you think they will do?” and “What would you do?” and “Why?” are among my favorite questions when sharing this book. Amazing conversations follow, for children and adults. Then eager hands reach for copies to read again.

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The Klipfish Code

By Mary Casanova

Book cover of The Klipfish Code

Why this book?

A more recently released historical fiction account of a young girl’s loyalty and daring decisions on a North Sea island off the coast of Norway is The Klipfish Code. Published two years before my own book, I had not read it until a reviewer compared my debut book to this suspenseful story. I read it immediately, humbled by the comparison. Twelve-year-old Marit is living with her grandpa, who she resents for not actively protesting the German occupiers of their island. She’s outspoken, angry, and eager to support the resistance, despite his cautions and concerns. I was intrigued by this transition period in German policy. They traded propaganda and persuasion for coercion, including arresting one in ten teachers across the country, sending them to labor camps to make them agree to teach Nazi lies within the classroom. The terror of this little-known action compounds Marit’s struggle to decipher a code, decide who to trust, and use her sea skills to save lives. 

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Shadow on the Mountain

By Margi Preus

Book cover of Shadow on the Mountain

Why this book?

This novel (historical fiction but inspired by real people and events) was released just a month before my novel. I read it immediately and was enthralled by the intensity and density of issues. Two best friends, Norwegian teen boys, choose opposite paths after the Nazi invasion of their homeland. One reveled in the potential glory and power of joining a German Youth club while the other pursued resistance and resilience in protesting the propaganda and power of the military occupation. The escalation of emotions and dangers, actual conflicts, high-stakes tension, and eventual climactic decisions are riveting. This has everything: emotional depth, action, suspicion, suspense, and complex characters in challenging situations. Add the Author Note with details about the truth behind the tale and you’ve got a guaranteed winner of a book.

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