- Addressing War with Kids: To Talk or Not to Talk?
- Beyond the Battlefield: War Books That Offer Life Lessons and Hope
- My Son's First Encounter with War: Unraveling Biblical Stories Together
- Inspiring Change Through War Books: Encouraging a Better Future
- Learning from the Great War: Essential WWI Books for Kids
- The Second World War: Immersive Books for Children
- Exploring Wars and Conflicts Beyond the World Wars
Wars have shaped human history and continue to persist in our world today, causing unimaginable loss and suffering. As parents, it has become increasingly challenging to avoid a difficult conversation about war with our children. Books and literature offer a powerful gateway to initiate that discussion. In this article, we explore how you can use these compelling stories to foster understanding, help your kids navigate the complexities of a world in conflict, and guide them through honest and meaningful conversations about war’s impact on humanity.
Addressing War with Kids: To Talk or Not to Talk?
Children can hear opinions about wars and conflicts from their teachers or peers, in real life or online. Some may take sides, denounce, hail, protest or support. It can be very confusing for growing minds to make sense of it all. To help children navigate and process such difficult themes, I believe it is best to start conversations at home.
As parents, we often grapple with the question of whether we should introduce books about war to young children, and if so, at what age. Additionally, we may worry about how such books could impact our children, especially if they depict the horrors of war. This leaves us wondering if we should leave such conversations to their educators instead. In this post, I reflect on these questions based on my personal experience as a parent and my child’s exposure to literature about war, drawing on 25 books from our home library featured below.
Beyond the Battlefield: War Books That Offer Life Lessons and Hope
Books offer an excellent entryway into this conversation. However, what, when, and how to read such books would depend on the child’s age, emotional state, curiosity about history and preference for book formats. Therefore, in this post, I will offer a selection of books on war that found their way into our home library and were part of my child’s reading journey growing up. The selection includes picture books, chapter books, and novels, each written exceptionally well and illustrated by talented artists.
Most of the books in this post are stories of children who find themselves in predicaments brought about by war. Despite the hardships and woes of war, these children have dreams, hopes, and wishes that would resonate with a modern-day child reader, paving the way for deep empathy with these children’s experiences of war as shown in the examples below.
- In “Sadako and a Thousand Cranes,” a Japanese girl, Sadako, living in Hiroshima, dreams of making the school team for the running competition. Little does she know that she won’t make it until next year. A lethal case of aggressive leukemia developed from the atomic bomb explosion over Hiroshima will claim the girl’s life.
- Similarly, Alija in “My Dog” cherishes his school, friends, and delicious bread in his father’s bakery, but he is oblivious to the fact that the ethnic war in their village in former Yugoslavia will tear him away from his parents. His only companion on the journey to survival is his dog, but will Alija ever reunite with his family again?
- Rose, from “Rose Blanche,” loves the narrow streets, the old fountain, and the pigeons on the roofs of her hometown in Germany, but she is unaware of the unspeakable horrors she is about to witness in a Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of her town.
- Meanwhile, in “Bread of That Winter,” Lena, a Russian girl who loves music and books, and her family are caught up in the Leningrad siege by the Nazis. Despite their strong family bond, could severe hunger drive Lena to betray the ones she loves the most?
In the above books and in the others discussed later in this post, stories do not preach about the evil of war; instead, they enable the reader to experience its harsh reality by walking in the shoes of the book’s characters. Quite a few of these books are autobiographical. The empathetic response that these characters’ journeys evoke helps one to better comprehend the horrors of war and to appreciate the value of human life, ultimately emphasising the significance of prioritising peaceful resolutions over armed confrontation. Every character in these books hopes for the better – for overcoming all hardships, for death to spare their loved ones and for war to finish. Each book teaches that kindness, dignity, honour, and love enable people to survive during the most difficult times and in the darkest of situations.
My Son’s First Encounter with War: Unraveling Biblical Stories Together
Ironically, it was in the Children’s Bible that my son first encountered stories of power struggles, destruction, and wars. In grade 2 or 3, his class had to read the Old Testament stories as part of their religion subject. The story of how the Hebrews settled in God’s promised land after destroying the town of Jericho, killing all its people, looting all its treasure, and setting the town on fire was probably the first “war story” my son ever heard. It left him utterly bewildered.
He began asking questions, and though I struggled to answer some of them, I welcomed every question and each thought and remark. We reflected on them together, starting with the story of the great flood, where God punished the unfaithful by drowning all humans and animals on earth except Noah and those on his Ark. My child asked, “If God is always right, why did he kill everyone? Isn’t it right not to kill?!” Out of the mouth of babes!
The next big surprise for my inquisitive 3rd grader came in the form of the “Tower of Babel” chapter. This well-known account tells the story of people who worked together harmoniously to build a great tower that would reach Heaven. However, God watched as the people grew proud, thinking they could do anything, even become like gods. As a punishment, God made the people speak in many different languages, preventing them from understanding each other or working together effectively. Confused, they left the unfinished tower and city behind.
“But Mum, isn’t trying your best and thinking you could do anything a good thing?!” protested my son. I wouldn’t have thought about this if it weren’t for a school assignment, so I must credit the Old Testament for providing food for thought for my child. It prompted him to reflect on what was fair and unjust, and he questioned the rationale for punishment. As for me, it has once again demonstrated the indisputable power that stories and histories can have in engaging young minds and stimulating reflection and critical thinking.
Inspiring Change Through War Books: Encouraging a Better Future
The books shown in this post offer children an opportunity to gain insight into the experiences of other children impacted by war, fostering empathy and understanding. Rather than avoiding the harsh realities of war, these books allow readers to experience them vicariously through the eyes of the characters – by reflecting on and exploring their challenges, aspirations and dilemmas.
As we navigate a world with ongoing conflicts and an uncertain future, the lessons these books offer are more crucial than ever. They remind us of the resilience and courage of the human spirit, the power of compassion and the necessity of standing up for what is right. So, let us continue to seek out and share impactful stories that inspire us to make a positive difference in the world.
If you have read any of the books on this list or have recommendations of your own, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Learning from the Great War: Essential WWI Books for Kids
The Good Son: A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature
“The Good Son” is a thought-provoking picture book that tells the story of a French soldier named Pierre during the First World War. The story begins during Christmas 1914, while the war is raging. Pierre leaves his regiment quietly to visit his lonely mother for two days. Upon his return, he is accused of desertion and sentenced to execution. The regiment’s leadership made an example of him to deter others from leaving the front.
In isolation, Pierre reflects on what it feels like to be one little soldier caught up in a terrible war, the meaning of loyalty and patriotism, and the overarching power of friendship and love. He remembers his family and friends, the battles he has fought, and an unexpected encounter he had with enemy soldiers. He dreams of things he still wants to do with his life. Throughout his final night, Pierre is caught up in memories and dreams as he awaits his fate.
“I left to spend Christmas with you because I wanted to be a good son and I returned to the regiment because I wanted to remain a good solider… I didn’t want you to be alone for Christmas and now I’ll be leaving you alone for good. None of it makes sense”, writes Pierre in the final letter to his mother. “I’ll wear my new socks tomorrow. You’ll keep me warm, Maman, those were the best two days of the war”, he concludes.
The story of The Good Son is told through text and photographs of miniature scenes, staged using “little soldiers” and other miniatures, as well as pre-existing materials found at hobby shops around the world. The emotional power of photography conveys the emotional complexity of this haunting story. The use of miniatures and photography brings to life the landscape and events of the war in a way that other kinds of illustrations cannot, and lends the story an intimate perspective.
The book includes a great author’s note at the back explaining the challenges of the process. The creation of author and modeller, Pierre-Jacques Ober, and his wife, photographer Jules Ober, with designer Felicity Coonan, the story of The Good Son is a homage to all the men who fulfilled their patriotic duty, unprepared for the horror unleashed upon them.
Released to coincide with the centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, this picture is a heartrending reminder of the struggles of ordinary people caught up in terrible events.
And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda
This book is based on the song by the same name, written by Eric Bogle, a Scottish-Australian folk singer, songwriter and guitarist. The book is a tribute to the many young soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War’s Gallipoli campaign in 1915. The song was written in 1971 during the Vietnam War, at the height of the anti-war movement.
The story in the book revolves around a young Australian soldier who fought at Gallipoli and survived, only to lose his legs in battle. The song’s lyrics talk about the futility of war and the waste of young lives in conflicts, leaving soldiers physically and mentally scarred. The story’s protagonist is an old man who sits on his porch and watches the annual Anzac parade, reflecting on his experience and the senselessness of it all.
What makes this book unique is not only its emotive song-based text but also the evocative illustrations by Bruce Whatley, an acclaimed children’s author and illustrator. Whatley’s illustrations bring a heart-rending sense of reality to the tale, adding depth to the powerful lyrics.
The song “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is a hauntingly beautiful song that has become an iconic piece of Australian music. It has been recorded by numerous artists, including Joan Baez, Mary Black, Donovan, Slim Dusty, John Williamson, Billy Bragg, the Pogues, and the Furies.
“The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” is a moving tribute to the young soldiers who lost their lives in the Gallipoli campaign, and a poignant reminder of the futility of war.
"Now every April I sit on my porch And I watch the parade pass before me I see my old comrades, how proudly they march Renewing their dreams of past glories I see the old men all tired, stiff and worn Those weary old heroes of a forgotten war And the young people ask "What are they marching for?" And I ask myself the same question."
My Mother’s Eyes: The Story of a Boy Soldier
In this story author/illustrator Mark Wilson shares the tale of a young Australian farm boy who enlists for World War I at the age of fifteen, lying about his age, and is subsequently thrown into the horrors of the Western Front. The book is based on factual accounts of twenty-three teenage soldiers, including a fourteen-year-old, who fought with the Australian army and whose names are engraved on the Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour. The author’s own grandfather was also a boy soldier who lived to see the war’s end.
By using extracts from the young boy’s letters home, Wilson’s book conveys the tragedy of war and the toll it takes on naive soldiers who are promised a “great adventure.” The book is written in a simple and authentic style that evokes the true nature of this disastrous conflict. The book starts and ends with the solemn words of “The Ode” from “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon and an excerpt from the poem “In Flanders’ Fields” by John McCrae. This touching picture book serves as a tribute to the boy soldiers of World War I and serves as a poignant reminder of the cost of war on humanity.
Written by Michael Morpurgo, this is a captivating and emotional story that has touched the hearts of generations of readers. It tells the tale of the unbreakable bond between a boy and his horse, set amidst the tumultuous events of World War I. This book has been a favourite of readers of all ages for 40 years, and it’s not difficult to understand why.
The story follows the journey of a young boy named Albert and his beloved horse, Joey, as they navigate the chaos and brutality of the First World War. When Joey is sold to the army, Albert enlists as a private in the hopes of finding him. As they both witness the horrors of battle from opposite sides of the trenches, their unwavering love and loyalty for each other sustain them through the worst of times.
The illustrations in the picture book edition, by Tom Clohosy Cole, are truly beautiful. They bring Morpurgo’s words to life in a vivid and captivating way.”
More than just a story about a boy and his horse, War Horse is an evocative reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought in World War I. As we celebrate the book’s 40th anniversary, it remains an important book for young readers learning about the past and for anyone seeking to understand the human cost of war. If you’re looking for a book that will stay with you long after you turn the last page, then War Horse is an excellent choice. It’s a timeless classic that will touch your heart and soul.
The Little Stowaway
This moving true story is set in the period of the close of the First World War. It tells the story of Honore, a young French kid who has been orphaned by the war and has no known relatives. Honore finds the camp of the Australian Flying Corps, and an airman named Tim takes him under his care, and they develop a close bond. Tim becomes very attached to Honore and writes to his wife saying he wants to adopt him. When the war ends, Tim smuggles Honore onto the boat from France to England in an oat sack and then onto the boat from England to Australia in a wicker basket.
Illustrator Tull Suwannakit has done a remarkable job of complementing the story with his drawings, which feature nostalgic tones, adding to the authenticity of the time period. The illustrations are accompanied by copies of actual photos of Honore and Tim, which were provided by Tim’s family, and help to bring the story to life.
The Little Stowaway is an uplifting story that sheds light on the human impact of war beyond just those involved in fighting. The whole tone of the book is positive despite the sad circumstances that led to Honore becoming orphaned.
Only a Donkey
“Only a Donkey,” tells the inspiring story of the heroic deeds of a man and his donkey during World War I. The book opens with the donkey on a farm being teased by the other farm animals, but his dream of a magical place leads him and his animal companions to a statue of a donkey and a soldier. There, they hear the story of Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey Duffy, who together saved countless lives on the battlefield of Gallipoli by carrying them to safety over the rough track known as Shrapnel Gully, a treacherous path dotted with snipers. It was here that Private Simpson died himself, aged only twenty-two, after risking his life for so many.
The story inspires the farm animals to show kindness to each other, and the book concludes with the bull offering to pull the cart in place of the tired old horse.
This book would engage readers of all ages with its themes of humility, courage, and compassion. Its emphasis on kindness and selflessness can help children understand that even in times of conflict, people can still show empathy and care for each other. Overall, “Only a Donkey” offers a valuable perspective on war for readers of all ages. It is beautifully illustrated by the talented Australian artists Patricia Mullins.
Once a Shepherd: A Story of Love & War
“Once a Shepherd” is a tender and emotional picture book by Glenda Millard and Phil Lesnie that tells the story of Tom, a young shepherd who goes off to fight in World War I. The opening verse shows Tom living a carefree life in a field of emerald green, but as the war breaks out, his life takes a dramatic turn.
Once there sang a carefree shepherd In a field of emerald green . . . Once his world was all at peace.
Tom’s wife, Cherry, weaves a greatcoat for him from his wool, and he leaves behind his pregnant wife and his sheep to fight. The book captures the folkloric simplicity of the text and the quiet beauty of the illustrations, creating an emotional connection with families who want or need to discuss the realities of wartime with their little ones.
The story is inspiring and reminds us of the enduring power of love and loyalty even in the face of war and loss. The book uses beautiful green watercolours and sparse text with occasional end rhymes to tell a powerful and emotional story that will resonate with readers of all ages.
“Once a Shepherd” is a heartwarming and sobering tale of love, loss, and hope that is accessible to children while fostering a deep-felt desire for peace. It is a must-read for anyone looking to engage in a meaningful discussion of the impact of war on ordinary people.
Overall, “Once a Shepherd” is a heartwarming and sobering tale of love, loss, and hope that will stay with you long after you’ve read it.
When soldiers return from World War I in 1918, a memorial tree is planted. But generations later, what do those who pause in the shadow of the tree’s immense branches remember? This picture book which can be read for Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, or any number of other occasions, spotlights trees as living memorials.
It is illustrated by one of Australia’s most celebrated artists Shaun Tan, who noted the following about this book on his website:
“Memorial (1999) is a story about a tree planted beside a war memorial monument in a small country town by returned servicemen. Years on, the tree has grown to be huge and unruly, dislodging the statue next to it and creating a traffic hazard in what is now a much larger, busier town. A decision is made by a local council to cut the tree down, prompting four generations of one Australian family to reflect on the true nature of memory, both private and public. The story is made up of the family members reminiscing about things that happened to them near this particular tree.
Author Gary Crew and I collaborated quite closely in developing both text and illustrations, such that the two married in a way that was understated and thought-provoking. What made the book especially engaging for both of us was that it ended up being not about war, memorials or remembrance as ‘grand’ subjects, but rather the small, quiet memories that make up ordinary day-to-day lives. Really about the complex nature of memory itself. I tried to capture this in illustrations that were fragmented, sometimes worn and faded, relating to Gary’s anecdotal style. I incorporated collage into paintings and drawings to this effect, using fabric, leaves, wood, rusted metal, photographs, newspaper, dead insects and other found objects.“
The Second World War: Immersive Books for Children
This is a picture book by artist and illustrator Roberto Innocenti. Set in Nazi Germany during World War II, the story follows Rose, an innocent young girl who witnesses the horrors of the Holocaust. Through her eyes, the reader sees the initial patriotic optimism and flag-waving that accompanies the outbreak of war. However, Rose’s innocence is shattered when she witnesses a young boy escaping from a military truck, only to be recaptured by the mayor and handed back to the soldiers. Rose follows the truck to a concentration death camp, where she befriends the prisoners and smuggles them food. The story ends with Rose disappearing, and the reader is left with little doubt that she was shot and killed.
The book is illustrated in Innocenti’s distinctive style, and the text was written by Christophe Gallaz, with translations by Martha Coventry and Richard Graglia. Ian McEwan later provided a retelling of the story for the British publisher Jonathan Cape. The book has won multiple awards and is considered a classic of children’s literature for its ability to convey the horrors of war and the importance of standing up for what is right.
To find out more you can read my full review of this book here.
This is a picture book based on Eleanor Coerr’s famous novel “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes“. The novel became a classic and when Sadako’s story was to be made into a film, Caldecott medal winner Ed Young was asked to do the illustrations. He created nearly three hundred hauntingly beautiful pastels which bring Sadako’s story to life. Some of these illustrate this book
It is a story of hope, peace, and love based on the real life of a young girl named Sadako Sasaki. Set in Hiroshima, Japan, in the aftermath of the atomic bombing during World War II, Sadako is a twelve-year-old girl with a passion for running who discovers she has leukemia, an illness that the locals call “the atom bomb disease.”
Sadako is determined to fight the disease and regain her strength, believing that if she can make 1,000 paper cranes, the gods will grant her wish to be healthy again. Her best friend, Chizuko, brings her paper to fold the cranes, and Sadako sets about folding them, even as her condition worsens.
The story follows Sadako’s life as she spends time in the hospital, where she folds her paper cranes, hoping to complete her task before it’s too late. Throughout the book, we see how the legend of the paper cranes inspires not just Sadako, but also her family, friends, and the medical staff who care for her.
The book is a touching and heartwarming tribute to Sadako’s spirit and courage in the face of adversity. It also serves as a powerful reminder of the devastating impact of war and the importance of peace, hope, and love in healing the wounds of the past.
October 45: Childhood Memories of the War
This book by Jean-Louis Besson is a deeply personal account of World War II, recounted through the eyes of a seven-year-old French boy. Besson’s experiences, though not as brutal as some, left a lasting impact on him, and he shares these memories in a series of loosely chronological, individually titled vignettes.
Through his plain, nonjudgmental perspective, Besson gives us a glimpse into life in France during the war. From joining in school songs in honour of Petain to witnessing the production of counterfeit ration cards for bread, Besson recounts how the war impacted everyday life for ordinary people.
The book is filled with powerful moments, from seeing his uncle, a WWI veteran, weep as the Germans march into town, to witnessing a plane falling in flames from the sky. Besson also shares a particularly heart-wrenching moment when a teacher asks his students to recall their absent classmates, “those who wore yellow stars.”
The book is embellished with affectionately rendered illustrations that emanate hope, despite the somberness of the subject. Although the book is designed as a picture book, it is more appropriate for older readers as some of the emotional weight and importance of certain events may be missed by those who are unfamiliar with the basic facts of the war.
Besson’s unique perspective, combined with the book’s illustrations, makes it a valuable addition to anyone’s understanding of the war and its impact on ordinary people.
War boy: A Country Childhood
War Boy is a touching memoir by Michael Foreman, an award-winning children’s book illustrator, that provides readers with a vivid picture of growing up during World War II. In this memoir, Foreman recounts his childhood experiences living in a small village on the Suffolk coast of England, which was frequently under air raids.
His atmospheric illustrations capture the strangeness of a British coastline hastily fortified with pillboxes, barbed wire, and barrage balloons; a normally quiet seaside town swarming with servicemen; the drama and ferocity of bombing raids, with searchlights, anti-aircraft units, and fire-fighting teams in action, and the terrible beauty of blazing buildings.
Yet, amid the raids and rationing, life goes on in the idyllic Suffolk countryside and in the mother’s village shop, where busmen and soldiers passing through the village come to enjoy the reassurance of companionship, a cup of tea, and a Woodbine. In the strangely altered world of humbugs and Heinkels, gas masks and gobstoppers, the eternal childhood preoccupations endure: games of cowboys and Indians proceed among the tank traps and Morrison shelters. The author’s storytelling is simple yet captivating, narrating with unexpected humour and a child-eye view of war.
For some reason, we always liked to be the Indians. Cowboys were so clean and broke into songs an yodels. Also, we wanted to be the pirates, the smugglers, the highwaymen, the cut-throats every time, and never the ‘goodies’. Of course we played ‘British and Germans’ from time to time, but no one would ‘be’ the Germans, so we couldn’t indulge in the hand-to-hand grappling that we enjoyed. We had to be satisfied with long-range sniping at imaginary foes or a passing by old lady. ‘Dive bombing’, with arms outspread, thumbs firing and engine screaming, was a favourite with us and very unpopular with the old ladies. But none of us would ever ‘be’ the Germans.
War Boy is a valuable document of the period, providing readers with a glimpse into the daily lives of people in England during World War II. A young reader today may be captivated by the unique and intriguing perspective of a child’s experience growing up in those conditions. Better than any history textbook at school, this memoir offers a fascinating and unusual reference for this significant time in history.
Jacqueline: A Soldier’s Daughter
Jacqueline’s story takes place during World War II, as she and her mother flee to a farm while her father goes off to fight, leaving Jacqueline to cope with the challenges of a new and unfamiliar environment. Despite the company of a loyal dog, she yearns for a sister to share in her adventures.
The book tells the true story of Jacqueline Ober’s childhood, as recounted by her son, Pierre-Jacques Ober, and is the latest offering from Pierre-Jacques and Jules Ober, the creators of the CBCA shortlisted title, “The Good Son” (shown above). This book is a beautiful intersection of art book, photographic novel, and children’s picture book, which will leave readers feeling moved and inspired.
It features a unique combination of narrative and illustration, with miniatures bringing the story to life in a way that is both visually stunning and deeply evocative. Through the use of photographic novel techniques and a children’s picture book format, the book provides a powerful and moving reading experience.
My name is Jacquelin. I was just a little girl when war broke out. It was a time when all the adults seemed to have gone crazy. Papa wore the uniform and carried the gun, but Maman was the one, brave and fierce, who kept my world from falling apart. You’ll learn why I hate clocks, why sheep give me nightmares and how sisters can come from the most unexpected places!
Let the Celebrations Begin!
“Let The Celebrations Begin!” brilliantly weaves the challenging topic of World War II into a heartwarming and inspiring tale for young readers. This gem of a book is inspired by the true experiences of resilient Polish women in the Belsen concentration camp, who, amidst the chaos of war, hunger, and despair, found solace in creating stuffed toys for the innocent children of the camp – some of whom could hardly remember life before the war’s shadow engulfed their world.
As the story begins, we meet a young girl who introduces herself, saying, “My name is Miriam, and this is where I live: Hut 18, bed 22.” The younger children in the camp believe they’ve always lived in the hut, but Miriam knows better. She remembers her parents, her home, and her cherished toys. In this desolate place, there are no toys to bring joy or comfort. But Miriam and the women in the camp devise a secret plan – a plan to celebrate the day when the soldiers will finally open the gates to freedom. Using whatever scraps of material they can find, sometimes even sacrificing bits of fabric from their own meagre garments, the women and older children embark on a heartfelt mission…
The book’s research notes pay homage to Gwen White’s “Antique Toys and their Background,” which reveals that a small collection of these very stuffed toys made by the courageous Polish women in Belsen has been preserved. The story culminates with Dr Hadassah Rosensaft’s recollections, quoted at the end of the book, describing the exhilarating moment of liberation:
Suddenly we heard the sound of rolling tanks. We were convinced that the Germans were about to blow up the camp. But then… we heard a loud voice say in German: “Hello, hello, you are free! We are British soldiers, and we came to liberate you!”… We ran out of the barracks and saw a British army car with a loudspeaker on top going through the camp and repeating the same message over and over again. Within minutes, hundreds of women stopped the car, screaming, laughing, and crying, and the British soldiers were crying with us…From “The Liberation of the Nazi Concertation Camps 1945: Eyewitness Accounts of the Liberators” (published by United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Washington DC, 1987)
This tale will make your heart grieve for the characters but ultimately rejoice with them as the children and women find liberation at the hands of British soldiers. This remarkable book is sure to leave a lasting impression on young readers, teaching them not only about the past but also about the resilience of the human spirit.
Ethel and Ernest: A True Story
“Ethel And Ernest: A True Story” is a heartwarming tribute by Raymond Briggs to his parents, who were a part of the English working class and experienced the most tumultuous years of the 20th century. From their chance first encounter in the 1920s to their deaths in the 1970s, Briggs takes readers on a journey through the lives of Ethel and Ernest.
The book is full of sympathy and affection, yet clear-eyed and unsentimental. Briggs portrays his parents’ lives with small masterpieces of illustrations that evoke the exhilaration and sorrow, excitement and bewilderment of experiencing enormous changes, including the advent of radio, television, and telephones, the development of the atomic bomb, and the social and political turmoil of the sixties.
The story shows how Ethel and Ernest coped with the dark days of World War II, made a home, raised their son, and succeeded, or failed, in coming to terms with the events of their rapidly shifting world. Briggs captures the poignant and funny moments of their lives, such as their efforts to build a bunker or use a gas mask, while also tackling difficult themes such as aging, illness, and death.
This graphic novel is not just a personal account but also a social history, offering a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people living in extraordinary times. Brilliant in concept and artistic execution, “Ethel And Ernest: A True Story” is a moving tribute to those who have come before us and a reminder of the continuity that unites us all. Briggs has created a work that will touch the hearts of anyone who appreciates the moving ordinariness of everyday life.
This book is a touching story written in Russian, chronicling the struggles of a young girl and her family during the harrowing 871-day siege of Leningrad in World War II. The girl’s most treasured possession, a doll that was a family heirloom brought from Sweden by her grandfather, was lost during the siege. The girl and her mother moved to an orphanage outside Leningrad, where her mother worked as a caregiver, but the girl’s grandparents perished during the siege, leaving the girl and her mother with a heavy burden of grief.
Upon their return to Leningrad, the girl spotted her beloved doll in a thrift shop, but it was too expensive for her mother to afford. Her mother worked tirelessly to save up enough money to buy the doll back, but when she finally had enough, it was already sold, much to everyone’s dismay.
The poignant story of “The Doll” pays tribute to the survivors of the siege of Leningrad and highlights the significance of family, kindness, and hope in the face of tragedy.
The author, Gennady Cherkashin, based the story on the memories of his wife, who lived through the siege of Leningrad. Cherkashin himself was only five years old when the war broke out, but the memories of the loss of family and friends stayed with him all his life. The cities of Sevastopol and Leningrad played a pivotal role in both his life and his creative pursuits.
“The Doll” was illustrated by St. Petersburg artists G.A.V. Traugot, the name’s initial to father Georgy and sons Alexander and Valery. During World War II, Valery was evacuated to Siberia, while Alexander, after an unsuccessful evacuation attempt, stayed in Leningrad with his parents. Against all odds, the family survived the blockade, and after the war, they reunited. The Traugots’ personal experience of the siege and their love for St. Petersburg brings emotional depth to the illustrations.
Bread of That Winter
“The Bread of That Winter” by Ella Fonyakova is a powerful autobiographical novel about the life of a young girl named Lena during the siege of Leningrad in World War II. Through Lena’s eyes, readers are transported to a harrowing world of air raids, hunger, and deprivation.
Despite the difficult circumstances, Lena’s ingenuity and adaptability shine through as she learns to navigate through hardships. However, constant hunger takes its toll, and Lena finds herself struggling to resist the temptation of the meagre rations allotted to her family.
In one particularly heart-wrenching chapter “Crime and Punishment,” Lena is home alone for the day, dizzy and exhausted from hunger. She obsesses over three tiny pieces of bread and three little squares of chocolate, which are the family’s dinner rations for the night. Lena’s hunger leads her to eat all of the food, leaving only a tiny piece of bread behind.
What if I cut the tiniest of pieces from one chocolate square? Surely, no one will notice… Afterall, I shall cut it from my OWN chocolate square. Here, this tiniest of slivers… Oh, Heavenly taste! And no trace! I shall quickly slice just one more little slice and that’s it, the thinnest tiniest slivers… one more… And more. More. Now, a tiny crumb of a piece of bread…
When Lena’s mother returns home, cold and tired, she goes to the kitchen to retrieve the dinner rations. Lena, consumed with guilt and fear of disappointing her mother, blames her father for eating the food, shouting, “It’s not me! Daddy ate it!” Lena’s father has just returned and it is obvious that he could not have done it. Mother confronts Lena for lying. Overwhelmed, the poor child breaks into tears and insists hysterically, “It was daddy! It was him!“
As punishment Lena is made to eat the last tiny piece of bread whilst choking on tears of remorse. This chapter is both heartbreaking and relatable. My son’s distress was palpable as I read this chapter aloud to him, even though he had never experienced hunger, I could tell he could relate to Lena’s overwhelming sense of guilt.
Fonyakova’s writing has been widely acclaimed, including the award of the Gogol Literary Prize in 2005, and her expert storytelling is complemented by Lyudmila Pipchenko’s beautiful illustrations. At 220 pages, this book is suitable for independent reading by older children and is also perfect to read aloud to younger children. Overall, “The Bread of That Winter” is a compelling reminder of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity, making it an essential addition to any children’s book collection.
Madonna with Ration Bread
“Madonna with Ration Bread” is another autobiographical novel by Maria Glushko, which chronicles a young woman’s harrowing journey set against the backdrop of World War II. Written in Russian, this stirring journey follows 19-year-old Nina, a bright student at the esteemed Baumanka University in Moscow. Newly married to her equally youthful husband Viktor, Nina faces a life-altering decision when he leaves for war.
Heeding her father’s advice—a high-ranking Red Army general—Nina embarks on a challenging evacuation from Moscow to Tashkent, where her stepmother and brother await. Heavily pregnant and with her baby due any day, Nina begins her arduous journey.
Upon reaching Tashkent after an exhausting train ride, Nina finds herself unable to locate her relatives. Weak and famished, she boards another train with hopes of finding her husband’s family. Amidst the chaos of people fleeing the war front, Nina endures the painful ordeal of labour.
Overcoming countless obstacles and witnessing the unimaginable suffering behind the front lines, Nina arrives at her husband’s family’s home, newborn in arms, completely drained. Yet, her reception is far from welcoming. The relatives make it abundantly clear that both Nina and her baby are a burden and unwelcome.
With nowhere else to turn, Nina braves the bitter cold of minus forty degrees, wandering the streets and breastfeeding her fragile son. At the brink of physical exhaustion and despair, she finds help in the most unexpected place—the slums on the city’s outskirts. Here, the daughter of a Russian Army general, raised in privilege and sophistication, discovers life’s most profound lesson about compassion and humanity from the very people she once deemed beneath her.
The novel’s title, “Madonna with Ration Bread,” is a clever nod to Da Vinci’s “Madonna with a Flower” (also known as Benois Madonna), which Nina saw at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg before the war. Nina discovers a small reproduction of the painting in the humble dwelling where she finds solace, warmth, and shelter for years to come.
“Madonna with Ration Bread” is a powerful testament to the idea that we are never truly alone, even in our darkest moments. It is a story of survival and a tribute to the unsung heroism of mothers, as well as the sacrifices made by countless women who fought the war from behind the front lines.
We Are Wolves
In the chilling grip of winter in 1945 East Prussia, a young Liesl Wolf watches her father join Hitler’s dwindling forces. As the Russian Army approaches, the Wolf family, including Liesl, Otto, and baby Mia, embark on a treacherous journey to escape the invaders. Tragedy soon befalls the family, and Liesl is left to honour the promise she made to her mother: keep her siblings safe at all costs.
We Are Wolves by award-winning Australian writer Katrina Nannestad is a powerful novel that delves into the unimaginable hardships faced by children during wartime. Based on the true stories of the German Wolfskinder, the novel follows the Wolf siblings as they navigate a dangerous world in search of a safe haven. Along the way, they encounter kindness and compassion from unexpected sources, including Russian soldiers who offer them temporary refuge.
Despite their harrowing experiences, the children’s resilience and determination shine through. Liesl’s strong moral compass is tested as they resort to stealing, begging, and adopting new identities in order to survive. Their journey takes them through the German and Lithuanian countryside, where they learn about themselves and the world around them.
With atmospheric illustrations by Martina Heiduczek, We Are Wolves brings to life the moral dilemmas, identity crises, and life-altering experiences that arise during times of war. Nannestad’s evocative writing and skilful storytelling make this poignant and at times, disturbing novel a compelling read. It is a story of hope, courage, and the unwavering strength of the human spirit.
Shortlisted in the 2021 CBCA Book of the Year Awards, Winner of the 2021 Australian Book Design Awards, and Longlisted in the 2021 Australian Book Industry Awards, “We Are Wolves” is an unforgettable tale that captivates readers with its raw emotions and vivid portrayal of survival against all odds. By offering a window into the experiences of children during wartime, this powerful story provides an invaluable opportunity for young readers to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of war, fostering empathy and promoting meaningful conversations about conflict.
Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief
From the acclaimed author of “We Are Wolves,” Katrina Nannestad, in collaboration with talented illustrator Martina Heiduczek for the second time, brings us another multi-award-winning novel, “Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief.” This captivating tale transports us to World War II Russia through the eyes of six-year-old Sasha, a resilient and endearing protagonist. Inspired by the real-life story of Sergey Aleshkov, a young boy who lost his family but found a new one within the Red Army, the novel showcases love, bravery, and hope amid the horrors of war.
Spring 1942: Sasha’s idyllic life is shattered when his village is reduced to rubble and ash by the Nazis. Desperate and alone, he is taken in by the Red Army and finds solace in the company of his newfound father figure, Major Fyodor Gagarin, affectionately known as “Papa Scruff.” Sasha’s cheerful presence earns him the title “The Angel of Stalingrad,” and his love and empathy touch the lives of both German and Red Army soldiers alike.
The narrative unfolds in a unique structure, shifting between Sasha’s present-day recovery in a hospital and his past memories triggered by various stolen objects. Each stolen item reveals a significant moment in Sasha’s journey, creating a sense of intrigue and anticipation as the story progresses. The author delicately handles the atrocities of war, conveying the harsh realities while highlighting the beauty of nature and the strength of the human spirit.
Sasha’s authentic and innocent voice captivates readers of all ages, evoking a range of emotions from laughter to tears. The heartwarming relationship between Sasha and Papa Scruff emphasizes the novel’s central message: it is not people who are the enemy, but war itself, and the only way to combat hatred is through love.
“Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief” is a touching and thought-provoking story that explores the complexities of war, humanizes soldiers on both sides, and champions the power of love and compassion. As a CBCA Honour Book 2022, it is a testament to its quality and impact. Through the compelling lens of a child’s perspective, this story masterfully unveils the stark realities of war, inspiring understanding and empathy, and serving as a powerful catalyst for parents to engage in meaningful, sensitive discussions with their children about the challenging subject of war.
Waiting For the Storks
In Katrina Nannestad’s heartrending historical fiction, “Waiting for the Storks,” we follow the story of eight-year-old Zofia Ulinski, a Polish girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, kidnapped during World War II as part of Himmler’s Lebensborn Program. Ripped away from her loving family, Zofia is adopted into a wealthy German household, where she suppresses her past and becomes a “good and happy German girl.” Her forgotten memories resurface with the arrival of a Polish boy, forcing Zofia to confront her past and the choices she’s made in the name of survival.
Nannestad masterfully weaves a tale that delves into the complexities of wartime experiences, both Polish and German, as well as the impact of trauma on identity, love, and belonging. The author’s poetic language and vivid descriptions bring to life the harrowing experiences of Zofia and other Polish children ensnared in the Lebensborn Program. Balanced with emotional depth and sensitivity, the story is suitable for readers aged twelve and older.
Beautifully enhanced by Martina Heiduczek’s expressive black and white illustrations, “Waiting for the Storks” explores themes of cultural identity, family tradition, friendship, and the power of folk symbols. This is the third collaboration between Nannestad and Heiduczek, whose captivating illustrations add another layer of emotion to the story. Zofia’s journey of self-discovery and the search for her true identity culminate in a moving and thought-provoking conclusion, reminding readers of the importance of understanding the human experience of war.
Nannestad, the multi-award-winning author of “We Are Wolves” and “Rabbit, Soldier, Angel, Thief,” has crafted another exceptional novel that is both heart-wrenching and inspiring. A teaching guide, available on the publisher’s website, helps to bring the story’s historical context and themes to life for young readers.
“Waiting for the Storks” is a powerful and unforgettable story about the choices we make when we have no choice at all. A must-read for fans of historical fiction and those looking to explore the lesser-known aspects of World War II, this book is an excellent addition to the bookshelves of young adult readers. Its engaging narrative, complex themes, and relatable protagonist make it a compelling and meaningful read that young readers can appreciate and learn from.
Exploring Wars and Conflicts Beyond the World Wars
“My Dog” by John Heffernan is a touching and poignant story that portrays the horrors of the ethnic wars in former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. The author dedicates the book “To the victims of ethnic cleansing.” The book follows a young boy named Alija, who adopts an old man’s dog after witnessing the old man’s death in the street. As the violence intensifies, Alija and his mother flee their village, leaving behind his father. Later, they get separated, and Alija is left alone with the dog as his only companion.
Despite the adversities, Alija’s optimism and courage are touching and inspiring. The superb illustrations by Andrew McLean perfectly capture the landscape, mood, and warmth of the story.
John Heffernan is known for his other books, including “Spud”, “Rachael’s Forest”, “CBD”, and “More Than Gold”, but this is his first picture book. McLean, on the other hand, has illustrated many award-winning picture books, such as “Highway”, “Josh”, “Dog Tales”, and “Hector and Maggie”.
“My Dog” has won the Children’s Book Council of Australia award for Book of the Year: Younger Readers. It leaves readers hoping for Alija’s family to be reunited, but the question remains whether it is meant to be. “My Dog” is a powerful and emotional story that portrays the devastating impact of war on innocent lives, particularly on children, and how hope and companionship can help in overcoming adversity.
The Afghanistan Pup
The book, “The Afghanistan Pup,” tells a story of unexpected friendship, sacrifice, and finding hope in the most difficult of situations. The narrative follows the life of an abandoned puppy who is rescued and loved by a young Afghan girl called Kinah. However, after her school is destroyed, the puppy faces death once again but is saved by an Australian soldier who is there to help rebuild the school. As the war intensifies, the soldier tragically dies, but the puppy finds its way back to the school and is eventually reunited with Kinah.
Author Mark Wilson weaves together narratives of tragedy and hopes through his powerful and evocative illustrations, accompanied by snippets of newspaper clippings, reports, poems, and letters that add layers of meaning to the story. His work is both touching and accessible to all, as readers will bring their own understandings and memories to these stories.
“The Afghanistan Pup” introduces young readers to the tragedy of war in a realistic yet accessible way, showing not only the dark side but also how hope can be found even in the most difficult places. Wilson’s honest writing and impressionistic illustrations make for a poignant and unforgettable reading experience.
Mark Wilson is a versatile author who has written and illustrated several children’s books, including “The Last Tree” and “My Mother’s Eyes,” among others. His artistic talent and ability to tell compelling stories make him one of Australia’s most celebrated children’s authors.
Unspeakable, The Tulsa Race Massacre
“Unspeakable” by Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper is a moving and powerful children’s book that sensitively introduces young readers to the tragedy of the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in US history. The book tells the story of the thriving African American community in Tulsa’s Greenwood district in the early 1900s, with its own schools, libraries, churches, and businesses, which were destroyed by a white mob in 1921. The devastation left as many as 300 African Americans dead and over 8,000 homeless, and news of what happened was largely suppressed.
Illustrator Floyd Cooper‘s exquisitely rendered faces are masterpieces of empathy and add an extra dimension of emotion to the book, especially given that Cooper’s own grandfather was a member of the Greenwood community and passed down stories about the massacre. This bold and subtle book design provides a call for a better future for all. It is a tribute to Floyd Cooper’s life and legacy, as it was his last book before he passed away in July 2021. The book’s poignant and timely message reminds us that we must confront the difficult truths of our past to build a more just and equitable future for all.