The War That Saved My Life – 16 children’s books about World War II

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I just read this amazing 2016 Newbery Honor book and I highly recommend it. It was a book that kept me reading late into the night. If you are reading it to a child, it will be one of those “one more chapter, pleeeassse” kind of book.

My grandmother Ada, with Wendy, my mom, Noreen and Brian during World War II


There’s a soft spot in me for courageous World War II stories which take place in Britain. As many of you know my mother is British. My mom, Noreen was three years old when the war broke out. Her father and mother and older siblings Wendy and Brian lived in Harrow, near London, so she was in the thick of things.

She remembers the black out restrictions, the air raids, the damp and cold bomb shelters, the sound of enemy planes overhead and the few seconds between the dropping of the bomb and the explosion that ensued.

She remembers the long lines to buy a piece of meat, or a bag of tea.

She remembers her father’s absence at the dinner table, not knowing when or if he would return.

She remembers Winston Churchhill’s booming voice on the radio.

She remembers being evacuated from the London area several times, spending weeks at her grandparents house and on another occasion, in a small coastal village.

She remembers how strong her mother was, managing the home with three children and working to make ends meet, while her husband was away.

I have enjoyed hearing my mom share about her life during the war and the challenges their family faced. It has made her who she is, resilient, adaptable, better able to cope with all the changes she has faced throughout her life, as our family moved from place to place, (she has lived in 16 different places throughout her life) living in the England, US, France, Australia and now back in the US. Her experiences during the war have made her treasure family, relationships and hard work, not things or recognition. Her faith in God and her deep love and commitment to Him and His kingdom has also sustained her and continues to sustain her as she faces health issues and her dispersed family. She still misses England – the sights, the sounds … it will also be home for her…. I know she will enjoy this book.

In this novel, The War that saved my Life, Ada (that was also my grandmother’s name!) is a 10 year old girl, born with a club foot. She cannot walk and her mother, abusive and ashamed of her daughter’s deformity, does not allow her to leave her small flat in London. The story is set in Britain as the beginning of World War II. When her younger brother Jamie tells her they are evacuating children to the countryside, Ada jumps at the opportunity to leave her “prison” and escapes to the countryside along with her brother. Susan, a town recluse, is forced to take them in. Thus begins the story of Ada, Jamie and Susan as they each come to terms with who they are and discover the power and healing that love and acceptance brings. A deeply moving story. It’s amazing to see how the author manages to transform Ada from a fearful, dejected child into a blossoming young girl full of courage and hope in just 316 pages. As we witness her transformation, the reader is reminded of one’s own ability to be resilient in the face of life’s challenges and the difference we can make to those around us who need our love and affirmation. The book is also filled with historical facts related to World War II and is a great launching pad for a World War II study.

  • A Newbery Honor Book
  • Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle School)
  • Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Books of 2015
  • New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing
  • Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Books 2015
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2015
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2015
  • Horn Book Fanfare Book 2015 

An astounding novel. Will you cry and rejoice and hold your breath? Absolutely. Will you find the book as exciting, wise, and profound as I did? Yes. This book is remarkable.”. – Karen Cushman, author of Newbery Medal winner The Midwife’s Apprentice.

If you are looking for other World War II books in addition to the Dairy of Anne Frank, I would also recommend the following:

Good Night, Mr. Tom
by Michelle Magorian (1986)

This is very similar to The War That Changed My Life. It is one of my favorite British books. Michelle Magorian was born in Portsmouth, England. This novel won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, an International Reading Association Award and was also made into a film. Also, set in Britain during World War II, a young boy named Willie Beech is evacuated to the country side and is taken in by an older man, Mr. Tom, who seems gruff and distant. Raised by an abusive mother, Willie is thin, malnourished, and afraid of everything, especially adults. As the story unfolds, a beautiful relationship develops between the young evacuee and the elderly man, both blossoming in their own ways. When a telegram comes requesting Willie’s return to London, Willie must comply. After Willie leaves, Mr. Tom decides to go search for Willie, whom he has come to love and wants desperately to save and protect. A powerful story. Read this together with The War That Changed My Life, and compare the two stories. (**note: there is a very sad, and disturbing element at the end of this story that may be intense for certain sensitive children). (for ages 10 and up)

For Younger Children:

Picture books

The Butterfly
by Patricia Pollaco

Wow, Pollaco has done it again – packing in some real punch into a picture book. This story takes place in France during WWII. In a small village, a french family hides a jewish family in a cellar. When the little girl sneaks out at night to play with the little French girl, they become close friends. When a neighbor sees her through the window, the family fears imminent arrest and the Jewish family is quickly hustled out to a safer location.

 Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki. (1993)

This picture books captures well the struggles and heartaches of a young Japanese boy who is sent to an internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There, fighting the heat and dust, as well as loss of respect and dignity, Shorty and his father decide to build a baseball diamond and form a baseball league in the camps. (for ages 6-11)

Easy chapter books

Ten and Twenty by Claire Hutchet Bishop

This book tells the story of how twenty school children hid ten Jewish children in occupied France during World War II. This book is suspenseful, but it does not go into the details of atrocities, so it is suitable for younger children. (ages 8 +)

  Snow Treasure by Mary McSwigan (1942)

In this classic tale of courage and adventure, McSwigan tells the story of a group of children in a small Norwegian village who hid millions of dollars in gold on their sleds and slip right past the Nazi guards to save their country’s treasure from the invading Germans. . This classic has been in print since 1942 (in 1958, the publisher added black and white illustrations by Andre LaBlanc). A must read. (for ages 8-12)

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr (1977)

Based on a true story, this novel tells the tale of Sadako, a Japanese girl who is diagnosed with leukemia as a result of exposure to radiation from the atomic bomb. After her diagnosis, she begins to fold paper cranes. She is inspired by the Japanese legend that those who fold one thousand paper cranes, are granted a wish. (for ages 8-12)

An extraordinary book, one no reader will fail to find compelling and unforgettable.”. Booklist

Chapter books


Lily’s Crossing
by Patricia Reilly Giff (1997)

A Newbery Honor book, we get a glimpse of World War II through the eyes of a young girl growing up in New York. It’s 1944. Lily heads off to Rockaway Beach with her grandmother for the summer. There, Lily befriends a young Hungarian refugee. This story is about friendship between two children, forged by loss, grief and loneliness. Again there are no atrocities mentioned – the emphasis is on the bond of family and friends in the midst of difficult times. I highly recommend this book. (for ages 8-12)

When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (1971)

Based on the real-life story of the author, this moving, suspenseful novel has been a favorite children’s World War II book for many years. This story chronicles the war time years of a young Jewish girl and her family who escape Berlin, for Switzerland, and spend several years in exile, going from country to country, coping with learning new languages and culture, being poor, and searching for a place to call home. (ages 8-12)

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen (1988)

Winner of the National Jewish book award, The Devil’s Arithmetic is about Hannah Stern, a Jewish girl who lives in New York. During Passover Sader, Hannah is weary of listening to old family stories from the past. However, this year everything changes for her when she is transported back in time to 1942 Poland, during World War II and learns first hand the horrors that her family endured. (ages 10 and up)

A triumphantly moving book.” -Kirkus Reviews.

Number The Stars by Lois Lowry (1989)

Winner of Newbery Award, this is also a classic World War II tale, based on real events. In 1943, when the German invaders begin arresting the Jews in Copenhagen, Denmark, AnnaMarie’s family make the decision to take in her best friend Ellen and pretend she is part of their family. (for ages 9-12)

When My Name was Keako by Linda Sue Park (2002)

This award-winning novel takes place in Japanese-occupied Korea, from 1940-1945. The new government forbids the Korean language from being spoken and requires all citizens to change their names. The story of life during Japanese-occupied Korea is told through the eyes of Sun-hee (who becomes Keoko) and Tae-yul, sister and brother. With lots of cultural and historical details, this novel introduces children to the struggles faced by families in Asia during World War II. (for ages 9 and up)

The Year of the Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi

This novel also explores the world of Japanese-occupied North Korea, however the tension mounts for Sookan and her family at the end of the war as they make plans for a dangerous escape to South Korea, their only hope for freedom, as the Russian Communist troops take control of their country. (for ages 9 and up)

For older children and young adults

The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig (1968)

This is a memoir of a young Polish girl and her family who were arrested by the Russians and exiled for five years in Siberia. There they were forced to work weeding potato fields and working in the mines, struggling to survive. It’s about courage, about strong family bonds, about grief, and above all, about hope that sustains us in the darkest of times. (ages 10+)

I am David by Anne Holmes (1968)

Anne Holmes (1922-1998) was born in Denmark. She started her career as a journalist. Her novel, originally published in Denmark, became a million-copy bestseller and received numerous awards. David does not remember life before the prison camp, but when the guard gives him a chance to escape, he flees with only a compass and instructions to head North towards Denmark. The beauty of this novel is watching a child experience the world outside a prison camp for the first time. (ages 10+)

Escape from Warsaw (original title: The Silver Sword) by Ian Serraillier (1956)

In this gripping story, based on actual accounts, The Balicki children fight for survival after their mother is arrested in Warsaw, Poland in 1942. Edek and Ruth get word that their father is now in Switzerland and set out on a dangerous and uncertain journey to find him. A gripping and moving story that is hard to put down. (for ages 12 and up)


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