A collection of war stories

Hi and welcome to the last week of April!! On the 25th of April, New Zealand and Australia celebrated ANZAC day. Although ANZAC day marks the landing at Gallipoli during the Great War, this last post I will be featuring stories from the Second World War. The selection of titles in this post will take you to countries around the world and show you the lives of young people from both sides of the battle.

Hero on a bicycle boy on bicycle with red scarf on hilly road planes overhead over moon
WWII story

Title: Hero on a bicycle

Author: Shirley Hughes

Publication details: Walker; London; 2012

What this book is about: It is 1944 and Florence is occupied by Nazi German forces. The Italian resistance movement has not given up hope, though – and neither have Paolo and his sister, Constanza. Both are desperate to fight the occupation, but what can two siblings do against a whole army with only a bicycle to help them?

My review: One of the world’s most best-loved children’s picture books author, Shirley Hughes, has created an amazing first novel. Set in the mid 1940’s, in Nazi occupied Florence, this story tells of two siblings, Paulo and Costanza, who are desperate to fight the German occupation. In their own way, they manage to help the Italian resistance and the Allied Forces win back Florence, facing hardship and the loss of freedom, this fascinating story shows what country life was like for young teenagers during those troubled times. Like the many others, Paulo and Costanza are faced to grow up fast and face and endure many gruesome facts. Shirley Hughes has written an exciting and fascinating war-time story here. Having fallen in love with her picture books, this novel is refreshing and very well written. Recommended for older children.

My rating: 5 ⭐

Number the stars young girl necklace with Star of David and Newbery medal
WWII story

Title: Number the stars

Author: Lois Lowry

Publication details: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2011 (1st published 1989)

What this book is about: It is 1943, and for Annemarie Johansen, life in Copenhagen is a complicated mix of ordinary home and school time, food shortages, and the constant presence of Nazi soldiers. As the German troops begin their campaign to “relocate” all the Jews of Denmark, the Johansens take in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is part of the family. The girls live like sisters, until it becomes clear something more needs to be done to save Ellen, her family, and the Jews of Denmark. In this tale of an entire nation’s heroism, the story of the Danish Resistance and their plan to smuggle the entire Jewish population of Denmark – nearly 7000 people – across the sea to Sweden is told with pride and hope through one young girl’s eyes.

My review: An exceptionally well-written book!! I’ve read quite a few stories of the Second World War and how it affected the children in England, America, and even from Italy. This is the first of the Scandinavian countries. Lois Lowry has done a remarkable job in capturing the mood of the people of Denmark and what they went through in those years. I love how it’s based on a real person’s account. A better read for older kids!!

My rating: 4 ⭐

Additional notes: This title has won the Newbery Medal in 1990, the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature in 1990, the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award in 1992, and the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award in 1991 along with a few others.

Paper wishes young girl reaching out mountains behind row of houses paper flying off
WWII story

Title: Paper wishes

Author: Lois Sepahban

Publication details: Farrar Straus Giroux; NY, 2016

What this book is about: Ten-year-old Manami does not realize how peaceful her life in Bainbridge Island, Washington, is until the day it all changes. It’s 1942, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and Manami and her family are forced by the government to leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese American at a prison camp in the California desert. Manami is sad to go, but, even worse, her family must give up her dog, Yujin, to a neighbour to take care of. Devastated by the loss of her beloved pet and by her family’s sudden move, Manami finds refuge in drawing pictures of Yujin and writing promises to take good care of him if only he will return to her. Each morning she hopes he will come back and she sends her promise drawings into the air.

My review: Based on true events, this moving and poignant story paints a vivid picture of the harshness of life during those latter years of World War Two. I had known of the relocation camps of Japanese-Americans before but the fact that there were schools and hospital facilities there, was new to me. A very moving and touching story of one girl’s love for her dog and about her family’s tensions. Great read!!

My review: 4 ⭐

The last cherry blossom black cloud falling red flower ashes from flower trickling down
WWII story

Title: The last cherry blossom

Author: Kathleen Burkinshaw

Publication details: Sky Pony Press; NY, 2016

What this book is about: Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double wedding! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War Two is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear; with any battle losses being hidden from its people! Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbours who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s 12-year-old eyes that we witness the destruction and horror. This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s first hand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

My review: A profoundly amazing and poignant read!! To say I’m always moved by World War Two survivor stories would be an understatement to what I felt after reading this story!! Despite the injustices in her young life, Yuriko faces one of mankind’s cruelest acts and comes through it a survivor. They all say that those people who lived during those times, particularly adults, were stronger, more resilient, and made from sterner stuff than those of today. But to me, it was the children who were the braver and courageous. To have seen, heard and experienced all of that destruction, loss and grief; and to have had the courage to survive to tell their stories so that we of the future, don’t have to face or experience it; to me is exceptionally courageous. In the final note she mentions that her mother only told the story after the granddaughter requested it. And what a story that must have been. And although Yuriko is quite a character; we see through her young eyes, that although her family life was steeped in traditional cultural values; she would always be a force to contend with. She learns through it all the power of friendship, and what it means to honour one’s heritage and family. 

My rating: 4 ⭐

Letters from the lighthouse red and white lighthouse two children walking dog planes overhead
WWII story

Title: Letters from the lighthouse

Author: Emma Carroll

Publication details: Faber & Faber; London, 2017

What this book is about: February. 1941. A bomb blast – a chance encounter…her mother’s coat. This is all Olive can remember of the night her sister Sukie went missing. With London unsafe, Olive and her brother are evacuated to the Devonshire coast to stay with a mysterious lighthouse keeper. There Olive must solve a mystery of her own: a strange coded note which seems to link Sukie to Devon, and to something dark and impossible dangerous.

My review: Another astounding piece of history brought to life by leading historical children’s author, Emma Carroll. There are some great characters here; full of courage and resilience. I like how Olive’s character develops through the story and we get to see how much children had to go through during those years. From the vivid description you could almost feel the spray from the sea. For me the most poignant part was when Esther describes the tragic events that happened to her family during that historical moment: the Kristallnacht, when hundreds of Jews were captured and taken away. It was so hard to read that chapter and not cry!! A great read by an immensely talented writer.

My rating: 5 ⭐

Additional notes: This title has won the Leeds Book Award for the age 9-11 category in 2018, the Waterstones Children’s Book of the month in May 2017, and The Times Children’s book of the week.

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