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5 Chapter books about WWII and the Holocaust for kids

Illustration of WWII battle

Maxim Apryatin | Shutterstock

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 01/26/24

My kids and I have learned a lot from these books about the era. Share them with your own children or students for some great conversations.

Recently I was chatting with a friend who has five kids close in age to my four, and I mentioned that my son loves reading about World War II history. 

“You’ve already talked to him about that?” she asked in surprise. She had not told her kids about the Holocaust yet, understandably, as what happened is so horrific and upsetting.

While I wouldn’t talk about the subject with a younger child, my older children are aware of a broad outline of what happened during that dark time. 

I explained to my friend, “It’s horrible to have to tell our kids about this stuff, isn’t it? But I tell my kids, we need to learn about these things, even though it’s really hard to hear about. We have to know what happened so we can be part of making sure that it never happens again.”

History is one of the most important subjects kids can learn. History repeats itself, the same old human story told again and again: “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before,” author Willa Cather once wrote. We are powerless against a resurgence of the darkest parts of history if we do not study and understand the lessons of the past. 

Studying history is also a vital lesson in critical thinking and helps us understand who we are as human beings, able to see ourselves in the whole perspective of the greater human story. 

All this in mind, my older children and I have learned a lot from the following books about World War II. If you’d like to learn more about that time with your own students, children, or grandchildren, I recommend the following five books. (Of course, owing to the sensitive nature of the content, I would recommend them for older children, perhaps age 10 and up, but you know your child best!)

1
Number the Stars

One of the most extraordinary stories from World War II is how the people of Denmark helped almost every Jewish Dane to escape from the Nazis. 

Number the Starsis historical fiction, but is based on this awe-inspiring rescue mission, in which ordinary people took action that changed the course of history. 

The book tells the story of a 10-year-old Danish girl who risks her life to help her Jewish best friend and the friend’s family escape Denmark after the Nazi invasion. 

After reading it, parents and teachers might want to discuss the virtues of courage, loyalty, patriotism and friendship.

2
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

This book reveals a real-life child’s perspective on World War II, as it is based on the experiences of author Judith Kerr, who is of Jewish ancestry and fled her home in Berlin with her family as a young girl in 1933. 

Kerr wrote When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit after her eight-year-old son watched The Sound of Music and said, “Now we know what it was like when Mummy was a little girl.” Kerr wanted him to know what it was really like and so wrote this book, which is the first of a trilogy about her refugee experiences.

After reading it, parents and teachers might want to discuss the characters’ experiences being newcomers in a foreign country and the importance of welcoming and including others. 

3
Hugh O’ Flaherty: The Irish Priest Who Resisted the Nazis

This true story of a heroic priest who saved thousands from the Nazis during World War II is far more exciting than a Hollywood adventure movie! Check out our full review here, including lots of discussion questions to bring out the moral lessons in this book with children. 

4
Saint Maximilian Kolbe: A Hero of the Holocaust

Maximilian Kolbe’s decision to take the place of a condemned man in the Auschwitz concentration camp is one of the greatest stories of heroism to emerge from the Holocaust. The book Saint Maximilian Kolbe: A Hero of the Holocaust brings to life for a younger audience the incredible story of a Polish weaver’s son who grew up to be a priest, a missionary, and a martyr.

If your kids are into graphic novels (what kid isn’t?), we also recommendMaximilian Kolbe: The Saint of Auschwitz.

5
The Winged Watchman

Long-time readers will know of my slight obsession with author Hilda van Stockum (or as my five-year-old said yesterday, “Mommy, don’t we just love books from Hilda van Stocking?”). The Catholic mother of six wrote dozens of hilarious and warmly touching books for children, each of which captures with rare insight the joys and foibles of life in a big, loving family. 

The Winged Watchman is perhaps her greatest work. It’s the fictional story of a Dutch family who lived at a mill during the World War II German occupation. The two young sons help to rescue a British airman and assist in their parents’ underground resistance activities.

This book is so moving and beautiful; I really can’t recommend it highly enough. Read a powerful review of it here and consider talking with your children after reading it about courage, sacrifice, loyalty, and heroic virtue in everyday life. 

Tags:
BooksChildrenWorld War II
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