compiled by Anne-Marie Strohman
Memorial Day was originally meant to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. The day was first widely observed in 1868. While some people today honor all those who have served in the military, it is primarily a remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives in all American wars.
On this Memorial Day week, we’d like to take a brief moment to honor those who have served through story. Most American kids don’t come face-to-face with war. What they know of war, they experience through history classes, or movies, or books–through the stories we tell.
Following are some of our favorite books that deal with the topic of war. Some create a fantasy world where the main character encounters warring factions. Some deal with the cost to those who stayed home. Some introduce veterans as key characters. All of them introduce children to war–the costs of war, the reasons for war, the effects of war.
In Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, the mysterious Toby, who forms a sort of friendship with the narrator Annabelle, is a WWI veteran. (See our craft reviews on setting in Wolf Hollow.)
Paper Wishes by Lois Sephaban is set in a Japanese Internment camp during WWII, and shows the consequences of war for the main character and her family, including her soldier brother. (See our craft review of Paper Wishes, and an interview with Lois Sephaban.)
Similar time period as Paper Wishes, but extremely different voice and style: A Diamond in the Desert, by Katherine Fitzmaurice.
Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, also has a section that deals with the consequences of the Japanese internment camps on farming in California, including one character’s brother who is a soldier.
Sylvia and Aki, by Winifred Conkling, is based on the true story of desegregation in California schools and the Japanese internment camps.
The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, takes place in England, and deals with the evacuation of children from London during WWII.
The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt, and its companion, Okay for Now, are set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai is wonderful. It starts at the end of the Vietnam War and follows a girl and her family as refugee immigrants to Alabama.
Darcey Rosenblatt’s Lost Boys is a story not easily forgotten, of a 12 year old boy who joins the army and finds out what his job is when he is roped to his friends and realizes, “We would never get rifles… we weren’t soldiers… We were here to die. We were human rags, walking straight into a minefield to wipe it clean.” (See our craft review of Lost Boys, and our interview with Darcey Rosenblatt.)
For overall series, Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander, first in the Underland Chronicles series, while fantasy deals with war and genocide.
The Crimson Skew, the third book in the Mapmakers Trilogy, by S.E. Grove, is in many ways a meditation on war.
Bay Area author A.E. Conran’s The Lost Celt deals with veteran issues from the perspective of Mikey, a fourth grader.
Pax by Sarah Pennypacker is about a boy and his pet fox who are separated by war. (See our craft review of Pax.
“People should tell the truth about what war costs.”
–from Pax, by Sara Pennypacker
What books would you recommend that deal with war?
Thanks to Sonya Doernberg, Beth Mitchell, Jen Jobart, Danielle Sunshine, Rusti Icenogle, Jill Diamond, and Anne-Marie Strohman for contributing to this post.
Anne-Marie Strohman (co-editor) writes picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult short stories and novels. She is trained as a teacher, an editor, and a scholar, specializing in Renaissance Literature. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is an active member of SCBWI. Find her at amstrohman.com and on Twitter @amstrwriter.
Great list, Anne-Marie! I’ve chosen two more for my reading list. Thanks!