10 kids' books about war: 'A journey and a sense of hope'

Published on: 08 November 2018 Author: Vanessa Harbour

War is a difficult subject for anyone to comprehend - let alone children. But books are a brilliant way to put yourself in someone else's shoes, so Flight author Vanessa Harbour has picked ten that are definitely worth a read...

Vanessa Harbour and the cover of Flight

I love war stories, and so often you will notice these tales involve a journey and a sense of hope despite the characters being faced with real atrocities and fear for their lives. The stories show how resilient and resourceful children can be.

In this list, I've focused on the two World Wars, as that is when Flight is based. They are not ranked in order of preference - I love them all!

The covers of Letters from the Lighthouse, The Buried Crown and The Emergency Zoo

1. Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll 

Olive and her brother Cliff are evacuated to Devon and end up living in the lighthouse with Mr Ephron, who doesn't really want them initially. Olive starts to take messages from him to the villagers. She decides that these are secret messages and that there is a whole lot more to the village than you first think.

Olive also has a secret of her own - her older sister Sukie is missing following an air raid in London. There are wonderful twists and turns in this story that have you sitting on the edge of your seat.

Read our review of Letters from the Lighthouse

2. The Buried Crown by Ally Sherrick 

George, the main character in The Buried Crown, has been evacuated from London to somewhere safe... or so his brother thinks. His brother is a Spitfire pilot, and both their parents are dead. Unfortunately, George is being abused and runs away. He finds sanctuary with Kitty, a Jewish German refugee, and her grandfather.

Alongside this story is a plot where Hitler has tasked some Nazis to go to England and get hold of the Buried Crown. It is a thrilling adventure story with moments of magic realism. Kitty and George save the day - in more ways than one.

Read our review of The Buried Crown

3. The Emergency Zoo by Miriam Halahmy

This story is based at the beginning of the Second World War and deals with the little-known issue of what happened to everyone's pets! The two main characters, Tilly and Rosy, decide to hide their own pets as they cannot bear the idea that they might be put down.

Soon, other children hear what they've done and bring along their beloved animals too. Suddenly, Tilly and Rosy find themselves with a zoo of pets - but they also face the threat of evacuation and what they are going to do with all the animals. It is a story of hope and understanding.

Read our review of The Emergency Zoo

The covers of The Elephant in the Garden, The Goose Road, and Goodnight Mr Tom

4. An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo 

When you think about war stories and Morpurgo, you immediately think of War Horse and Private Peaceful, but this is powerful story of resilience. The tale is framed with a mother who works in a care home and takes her son Karl to work. Karl befriends one of the elderly ladies there, Elizabeth, who wants to tell her story about the elephant.

Sceptical, they sit down and listen. The story is all about how during the war, Elizabeth, her mother and her brother rescued a baby elephant from Dresden following the bombing and walked across Germany to safety. There are moments of tension, fear and love. A good reminder that there are always two sides in any war.

5. The Goose Road by Rowena House 

A wonderful story based in France during the First World War. Angélique, the main character, has vowed to keep the farm running following her father's death until her brother returns.

She faces so many unexpected difficulties, and in order to save her farm, she has to drive a flock of Toulouse geese across France. It is a poignant and evocative story that again tells a different aspect of the war.

6. Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian 

Many will probably know the wonderful film adaptation with John Thaw, but this is a fabulous story to read. It tells the story of evacuee William, who is placed with Mister Tom.

They are an unlikely match, but soon mutual respect and love grows between them; Mister Tom is perhaps finding the love he had lost many years before, and William is realising what it was to be loved by someone. This is definitely a story of hope.

Read our review of Goodnight Mister Tom

The covers of Once, The Silver Sword, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and I Am David

7. Once (Then, After and Now) by Morris Gleitzman

This is the story of Felix, who is determined to save his parents from the Nazis, and rescues Zelda from a burning building. The story is straight-talking throughout as it is always told from Felix's point of view.

It doesn't shy away from some brutal images, but Felix always finds a way of explaining them. Once is the first in the series; it is a classic and a must read.

Read our review of Once

8. The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

This is a story of survival. The children Ruth, Edek and Bronia - who are related - link up with Jan when they are in Warsaw after their parents have been taken by the Nazis. It turns out that Jan has a small silver sword from the siblings' father, Joseph, who had  asked Jan to promise to give it to them if he ever came across them and to tell them he was going to Switzerland.

So starts a long, dangerous and thrilling journey to get all of them safely to Switzerland as the war is coming to an end and the world is in turmoil.

Read our review of The Silver Sword

9. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

This story is all the more powerful because it is semi-autobiographical. It is the story of Anna and her family, who are Jewish and live in Germany.

Their father goes missing and then suddenly they are running for their lives. It is a tense and thrilling story that also highlights how politics can go on without a child being aware of what's happening.

Read our review of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

10. I Am David by Anne Holm

An evocative story as we join David, who escapes from a concentration camp to save his life. It is powerful as he sees people smile and tastes fruit, things he has never experienced before.

On his journey through discovering the beauty of the world and helping people, he finds his way to Denmark and his mother after many adventures.

Anne Booth chooses five books about war and peace

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