You’ve taken down the black and orange bulletin board, the dangling spiders are packed away for another year, and the horror books are in a huge stack on the re-shelving cart when you suddenly realize there are only 5 school days left until Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day!
If you’re going to fit in some library or reading lessons about remembrance, peace, or war – you’d better get a move on it – and fast. Well, you’ve found a great place to start!
Today I’ve got a list of the most powerful books about war for kids – as well as some discussion questions for each selection to really get students thinking!
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The tricky part of teaching kids about war, of course, is that you want to make sure that the material is not too “heavy” for their age.
(Although I did have a grade 1 student tell me at length about the Bismarck battleship yesterday as well as the fact that the Nazis didn’t like people who didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes!)
That’s why I’ve read and categorized all the books below by grade level appropriateness, as well as provided a brief summary of each. I hope you find it helpful!
Powerful Books About War for Kids
Early Elementary Aged Children (Kindergarten to Grade 1)
It is difficult to find age appropriate books about war for very young children. However, there are several really great books about PEACE that can be used to introduce some of the same concepts.
The Peace Book by Todd Parr
A simple and colourful book that gets preschoolers and kindergarteners thinking about what peace means in terms they can understand using examples from their daily life, such as, “Peace is sharing a meal.” “Peace is sharing a meal.” “Peace is making new friends.”
- What does peace mean to you?
- What can you do every day to create peace?
We Share One World by Jane Hoffel
A charming book that shares ways that kids around the world are similar, no matter where they come from. Each page shows children from a different country engaging in activities which we all share – singing, playing, dreaming, exploring, etc. It ends with a call for peace and understanding. Simple and beautiful!
- How are kids around the world all the same?
- How are kids around the world different?
- What does the author want us to understand?
What Does Peace Feel Like? by V. Radunsky
A unique book where the author asked children what peace feels like, looks like, sounds like, etc. Answers were gathered from a variety of children and are fun and interesting to read.
This book can make a great starting point for creating a classroom book with your students answers to the same questions. Appropriate for K-grade 6.
This book asks the questions for you! Simply read the book to your students and have them answer each question in their own words.
Can You Say Peace? by Karen Katz
Although this book was written for International Peace Day, it could be used at any time of the year. Each page illustrates a different part of the world and how to say “peace” in their language. The illustrations are bright and colourful and sure to keep younger children interested.
- What kinds of things are the children in the pictures doing that show peace?
Peace Is…A Child’s Reflection Book by Susan Fraser (me!)
Because I had a difficult time finding age appropriate books about peace and conflict to read to my young son, I created this book for him. Each page features colourful photos of toy “Little People” interacting in ways that are peaceful.
I included the concepts of sharing, making amends, using words – not hands when upset, working together, helping each other and caring for one another.
At the bottom of each page, there is a question prompt to get students thinking about how they can apply these peaceful concepts to their own lives and at school.
You can download a FREE printable copy from HERE.
Lower Elementary Aged Children (Grades 1 – 3)
A Bear in War by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulant
A true story of a Canadian family living during WW1 as told from the fictionalized point of view of seven year old, Aileen’s teddy bear. In the story, “Teddy” experiences farm-life during the war, and then is sent to fight with Aileen’s father in Belgium where he is eventually killed. Teddy is returned to the family at the end and is cherished as a reminder of the father’s sacrifices.
- Who is telling this story? How do you know?
- Why did Aileen send Teddy to war?
- What evidence can you find in the story to show that Aileen’s father was brave?
The Enemy by Davide Cali
An incredibly powerful fictional story told from the point of view of a soldier, in a trench, shooting at an enemy that he believes is a “monster.” As the story continues, the soldier becomes disillusioned with war and decides to try to end it by secretly attacking the enemy at night. When he arrives at the other trench, he finds it empty and discovers that the “enemy” is not so different from himself.
- What does the soldier believe about the “enemy” at the start of the story? How does this change by the end?
- Who would have created the booklets that showed that the enemy was a monster. Why would they do that?
- What does the reader know about the enemy, that the soldier does not know?
The Wall by Eve Bunting
A simple story of a man and his son who visit the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall in Washington together to pay tribute to a grandfather who fought and died in the war.
The story is told from the point of view of the boy, who is trying to understand things that happened in the past, and why his grandfather is not with them now.
- Why is it important to honour those men and women who fought and died during times of war?
- Do you know of a place around your home which honours those who served?
The War by Anais Vaugelade
This is the tale of two countries, the Reds and the Blues, who have been engaged in a war for so long that no one seems to remember how it began. When the son of the Blue King decides that the war has to end, he comes up with a clever idea that bonds the two countries together against a common enemy and peace ensues.
- Why do you think the Red and Blue people continue to fight even when they don’t remember why they’re fighting anymore?
- Why is the Blue King ashamed of his son? Do you think he is right?
- Why do you think the Red and Blue people stopped fighting?
Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting
This story is the perfect way to introduce the concepts of the holocaust to young children, without mentioning the details of what happened during World War II.
It takes place in a forest where “Terrible Things” come to take away different creatures one by one. The white rabbits think it is better not to say anything, as long as it is not their species that is being taken. However, they are taken away too eventually.
In the end, a lone rabbit comes to the realization that he should have done something earlier. But sadly, he realizes he waited too long and now it is too late to do anything about it.
- Why were the white rabbits not worried when the other animals started being taken away?
- What did the lone white rabbit realize at the end of the story?
- What is the lesson of this story? How can we use what the white rabbit learned in our lives?
A Poppy Is to Remember by Heather Patterson and Ron Lightburn
Simply written with poignant but non-graphic illustrations, this book captures the history of World War 1 for kids, and explains why the poppy is a symbol of peace and remembrance.
The text is easy enough for grade 2 readers, and includes a copy of the famous “In Flander’s Fields” poem. At the end of the book are a number of background information pages for adults/teachers.
- Why is the poppy a symbol of peace and remembrance?
- What and who do we remember on Remembrance Day?
Middle Elementary Aged Children (Grades 3-6)
Why War Is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker
Although the title is deceptively simplistic, this creatively illustrated poem makes an incredibly powerful statement about war and how we are all connected – and hurt by the side-effects of conflict.
- Why do you think the illustrator showed war becoming a living creature.
- How does war negatively affect everyone involved – even those who “win”?
- Why do humans engage in war when they know there will be negative consequences for everyone involved?
In Flanders Fields by Norman Jorgensen and Brian Harrison-Lever
A bittersweet true story set in the trenches of a battlefield in World War I. It’s Christmas Day and a soldier decides to enter No Man’s Zone to rescue a bird tangled in the barbed wire. A temporary cease fire occurs and the soldier successfully releases the trapped bird. Both sides spontaneously sing “Silent Night” together.
- Why did the “enemy” soldiers not shoot upon the soldier?
- How do you think the soldiers felt about fighting on Christmas Day?
- Why do you think the soldier felt moved to risk his life to save the bird? Do you think the risk was worth it? Would you have done what he did? Why or why not?
Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin
I’m absolutely in love with this beautifully illustrated and written book about peace. At the beginning, the author ponders what needs to happen in order to bring peace to the world.
Through successive pages, filled with poignant quotes from famous peacemakers, the story guides the reader to see how creating peace is a responsibility that we all share.
- What can we each do to prevent bullying in our classroom? school? community?
- When we have a disagreement with someone, how can we best resolve things peacefully?
- Who do you think this book was written for? Why do you think this?
Bunny the Brave War Horse: Based on a True Story by Elizabeth MacLeod
A wonderful new picture book that tells the true story of one of the many “war horses” that was sent overseas to fight in World War 1. The story speaks of courage, bravery, and overcoming insurmountable obstacles and will certainly become a classic favourite.
- Why made Bunny an extraordinary horse?
- How did you feel at the end of the story when you learned that Bunny stayed in Belgium?
- What did you learn about what the conditions of war were like during World War 1?
Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War by Yukio Tsuchiya
Although you’ll find it difficult to read this story without breaking into tears, it has a powerful message about the futility of war that children will surely grasp.
Set in a zoo in Tokyo, Japan during World War 2, zookeepers are ordered by the government to put down many of the large and dangerous animals in case the area is bombed and they escape to endanger the local residents. The poison used to kill the other animals, does not work on the elephants, and so they are starved to death.
I said it was sad…
- What is the underlying message of this story?
- Is it fair that animals should die for the protection of people?
The Secret of the Village Foolby Rebecca Upjohn
This is the true story of a Polish man named Anton Suchinski who hides a Jewish family in his root cellar for over a year, at great risk to himself when his town is taken over by the Nazis in WW2.
The family survived the war because of his efforts, and at the end of the book, you get to see photos of the survivors and hear about how they forged a lifelong friendship with Anton after the war.
- Why do you think Anton risked his life to save the Zeiger family?
- Why did people think that Anton was foolish? How would you describe him?
Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti
A chilling tale of a young German girl who accidentally discovers a concentration camp outside her town and is moved to bring food to the prisoners. Near the end of the story, the town is overrun by the Allied forces and Rose is accidentally caught up in the crossfire and killed.
The story is told from the point of view of a child who is caught up in events she only partly understands – and represents the harsh realities of war and the
- Why do you think Rose Blanche brought food to the prisoners when the adults did not?
- What happened to Rose Blanche at the end of the story? Why do you think the author chose to end the story this way?
Novels About War for Upper Elementary Students
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
This beautifully written historical fiction chapter book by the author of The Giver, won the Newbery Medal in 1990. Annemarie and her family live in Copenhagen when the Nazis occupy the city and begin rounding up Jewish families for deportation to concentration camps.
Annemarie’s family helps her Jewish friend Ellen, escape to freedom, and the reader learns about the Danish Resistance that saved thousands of Jews. This is a highly suspenseful and fascinating tale of courage and bravery. It makes a wonderful read-aloud.
Camp X (first book in series) by Eric Walters
A personal favourite of mine by Eric Walters – this story (and the rest of the series) tells a fictional tale of two brothers, George and Jack, who live in Whitby, Ontario, Canada during World War 2.
The boys accidentally discover there is a secret spy training base (named Camp X in real life) near their home while playing a pretend war game, and they get swept up into working for the Canadian government as young Allied spies.
Exciting and historically accurate, this book is a hot commodity amongst grade 5/6 boys who like adventure and action stories.
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I love hearing your thoughts and ideas! Leave a comment below and let me know what you do to teach your students or children about war.
Best in reading,