Every once in a while, you have a student who wants to dive deep into a period of history and understand it in many dimensions. These recommendations for books about World War II will keep your history lover going for a while! If you teach a unit on WW II, consider pairing one of these titles with your textbook or a nonfiction account to bring in a new perspective.
1. The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper
This layered and fascinating historical fiction novel bravely combines the drama of pre-war Europe with the comic lightness of house parties and debutantes. The FitzOsbornes have lost their home and are royalty in exile. Forced to leave their island kingdom, Sophie FitzOsborne and her eccentric family move to England just as war is on the horizon. Historical events and real historical figures are woven into the fabric of the novel. It leaves readers with a deeper understanding of the years leading up to World War II. This book is the third in an addictive series. Your students will likely want all three.
2. Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport
Doreen Rappaport gives us the real-life stories of Jews who fought back against Nazi Persecution. Rappaport’s accounts are vivid, well-researched and filled with details that will help middle school or high school students connect deeply with the subject.
She describes how parents worked elaborate plans including forgery and impersonation schemes to send their children to safety. In another chapter, one man under careful watch by the authorities smuggles thousands of children out of Nazi-occupied France into Switzerland. In another, three Belgian resisters ambush a train, helping hundred of Jews escape the cattle cars. These are amazing stories and readers will be thankful Rappaport has brought them together in such a powerful, accessible book. If you’re looking for more ideas for teaching about the Holocaust, check here.
3. Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
A 2012 National Book Awards finalist for Young People’s Literature, Bomb tells the story of how the atomic bomb came to be. Sheinkin is a remarkable storyteller. And he spins an exciting tale of scientific discovery, espionage, and political wrangling that changed the world forever. Your mystery readers will love this book as well as your nonfiction lovers as it reads like a spy novel.
4. Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
Shadow of the Mountain tells the story of Espen, a 14-year-old Norwegian boy, during World War II. Espen joins the resistance and becomes a courier and then a spy. The final chapters tell the thrilling tale of how he escapes to Sweden on skis with the Nazis not far behind. Preus is a Newbery honor winner and the book is carefully researched and filled with rich historical detail. It will appeal not only to your history lovers but also to those who like stories of danger and adventure.
5. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
It’s 1943. Two women are aboard a British spy plane that crashes in Nazi-occupied France. In order to survive, Verity has to leave her friend Maddie behind in the crash. Verity is captured by the Gestapo and forced to make a difficult choice. Wein’s book is a beautiful and moving story about friendship and bravery and the cost of the choices we make.